• Sweden's news in English

Introducing...the Wallenbergs

Paul O'Mahony · 15 Jan 2007, 17:46

Published: 15 Jan 2007 17:46 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Who are they and why are they famous?

The Wallenbergs are Sweden's most powerful financial family. Just over 150 years ago André Oscar Wallenberg started literally minting it when he established Stockholms Enskilda Bank. Since then the family's power has become almost regal in its scope. In fact one of them, Marcus "district judge" Wallenberg, was a Knight of the Order of the Seraphim and had a type of minced veal burger named after him, a wallenbergare.

Mmm, tasty. Are they involved in anything I might have heard of?

Yes. The family has formed a seemingly unbreakable bond with the Swedish economy. In 1916 they set up Investor, an investment company with a major interest in Scania, Ericsson, Saab, ABB, Electrolux, AtlasCopco, AstraZeneca, and a ridiculous number of others besides.

That's quite a list. They must be absolutely rolling in it.

They're not strapped, that's for sure. Although Marcus "Dodde" Wallenberg did once claim to have lived "a life of chronic herring weeks".

What in the name of Mammon is a chronic herring week?

No human being living or dead had ever mentioned such a fish-tinged seven day period prior to the man from the clan, but it is assumed that he meant something akin to living on the breadline.

I'd say he knew very well which side his bread was buttered on. Anyway, why are these Wallenbergs in the news?

National broadcaster SVT has just run a three-part documentary on the family, which has planted bums firmly on seats all over the land.

Why? They just sound like a bunch of suits with visible history stains.

Ah yes, but these particular suits constitute the very fabric of Swedish society. And they very rarely give interviews. If we look at Sweden as being divided between state and capital, they have supplied das Kapital.

And the Social Democrats have been der Staat?

Precisely. And since we've come over all German, it's probably worth mentioning that the Wallenbergs have a Second World War hero in their ranks. While off on business trips to the continent Raoul Wallenberg was soon confronted with the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany. In Budapest he acquired diplomatic status and saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by issuing them with false protective passports and claiming they were awaiting repatriation to Sweden.

Nice work! Was he treated as a hero when he returned to Sweden?

Unfortunately he never did return. He was arrested by the advancing Soviet forces, who took him to be a US spy. He was never seen again.

A tragic end...

Indeed, and there are other tragic tales too. Remember the bank that began the family fortune?


Well, Marc Wallenberg was its chief executive when, in 1971, it was to be merged with another bank to form what is now SEB. Marc committed suicide that same year, possibly because the onus on him to perform became too great. His father, Marcus "Dodde" Wallenberg had pushed the merger through against his wishes.

Dodde seems to have been a central Wallenberg.

Yes, he was. He was also a dab hand at tennis and competed for the Swedish Davis Cup team in the mid-1920s.

Good for Dodde. Are there any other Wallenbergs with silly nicknames?

Oh yes, tons of them. There was Jaju (Jakob) for example, who was Dodde's older brother. Both were involved in "the Bosch Affair" at the end of the Second World War, which led to them being accused by the USA of collaborating with Nazi Germany. The SVT documentary gives the brothers the benefit of the doubt on this score, particularly Jaju, whose name was mud after the scandal broke.

As if it wasn't bad enough being called Jaju! Any more?

Yes. There's Pirre (Peter), of course, born in 1926 and still a major power broker in what is commonly known as "the Wallenberg sphere". Then there's his son Poker (Peter), who's on the board of Investor. And Husky (Marcus), who is chairman of the board of SEB.

Story continues below…

Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen.

Hey, show some respect! Husky's younger brother Wawa (Axel) is moving back to Sweden this summer after six years in Italy and the USA. And let's not forget Gustaf Wally, a latter-day Billy Elliott who left the world of finance in 1929 to become a ballet dancer in New York.

What's going to become of them now that they have been giving an airing on the telly?

They will probably return to the motto that has served the family so well over the years: Esse non videri - to be, not to be seen.

Right, and I'll return to mine.

What's that then?

Aliquando et insanire iucundum est - It is sometimes pleasant even to act like a madman.

Yeah, thought it might be.

Paul O'Mahony (paul.omahony@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Hundreds protest Swedish asylum laws
Around 1,000 people protested in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Persson/ TT

Hundreds of people on Saturday demonstrated in Stockholm and in many other parts of the country to protest Sweden’s tough new laws on asylum-seekers.

Dylan removes Nobel-mention from website
The American musician has more or less responded to the news with silence. Photo: Per Wahlberg

American singer-song writer Bob Dylan has removed any mention of him being named one of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates on his official website.

Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available