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.
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.