24 March 2009

The Good Swede Harald Edelstam

By Marcelo Medrano

They were pleading, begging, crying. Behind them, the soldiers were getting ready to intervene. The grilled doors would not give way while the cries and shouts to let them in became louder. He looked at the desperate crowd, looked at the soldiers and ordered the opening of the gates. They came in worried, fearful, disconcerted, taking refuge in the Swedish Embassy in Chile. The Ambassador ordered the gates shut. Many lives were saved.

Harald Edelstam, Swedish Ambassador, had worked out the intention of the trucks and the tens of soldiers who had surrounded the building, firing at it, destroying windows and cutting off the light and electricity, about to enter it at any moment. In the middle of the shooting, alone and defiant, with the Swedish flag in one hand and his diplomatic passport in the other, he entered the besieged Cuban Embassy and, in a brave and historic act, declared it under the protection of the Swedish government. From the day of the fascist coup against the government of Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973, Edelstam, a forgotten hero, would challenge the military dictatorship in his own way, risking his life, as he had done so many times in the past.

In his youth, he was a diplomat in Berlin in 1941 and helped many Jewish families flee the Nazi regime; later, as Ambassador in Norway, he defended the right to confront the Nazi occupation and protected many in the resistance. Guatemala would be his new post between 1969 and 1971. There, against the wishes of the dictatorship, which preferred fearful diplomats who were not awkward, Edelstam defended the work of the popular organisations and human rights activists.

In 1972, he supported the initiatives of the socialist government of Allende, sympathising with its ideas and intentions. He was witness to the start of the cruel dictatorship, during which time he did not tire of interceding on behalf of hundred of refugees and the political victims, collaborating with the resistance. Nothing left him tired: neither the constant military siege nor the daily nocturnal helicopter flights above the Embassy.

That crowded Embassy, full of people and closed by Pinochet’s fascist regime, was an open door for asylum, protection and escape for many. It is thought that Edelstam’s actions saved the lives of more than 1,300 people in Chile and more than 50 Uruguayans whom he took out of the terrifying national stadium that had been converted into a centre for torture, disappearance and killings. In his life, Edelstam would have saved thousands of lives.

Asa Faringer and Ulf Hultberg have made a grand homage in the film, The Black Pimpernel. April 16 will be 20 years of his death and it is necessary to rescue from oblivion the contemporary epic.

More about the film at: http://www.listal.com/video/1569024
Harald Edelstam Foundation: http://haraldedelstam.cl
Source: ArgenPress


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this story!

If we can follow the law of our heart, freedom will emerge. More than ever we have to remember that this is the gentle power we all possess and this is the only power to last.

Mr. Edelstam and so many other unsung hero's are living momuments of this power... yet, we all have to stand up to free us from the tyrany of fear and follow freedom & love wherever we are... This is the gentle act I heared from so many people who went through wars and this is the face of true humanity which so seldomely is portraied!

This is a link with some comments from his son... even though I think any effort is important to bring the story of hope about is wonderful --- it adds to the character of Mr. Edelstam. http://wordsandart.blogspot.com/2008/01/raoul-wallenberg-harald-edelstam-and.html

Anonymous said...

wonderful story and a lesson and challenge to us all that we can emulate such actions and always reach out to another human being in need.Not necessarily in the same settings but nvertheless we can make a difference to someones life no matter how dire the circumstances or how much the odds are stacked against you.