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Harald Edelstam

"I cannot tolerate injustice."

Harald Edelstam


"He continues to be an example to us when it comes to respect for the truth and the values of solidarity, and the defence and protection of the persecuted."

Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile

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A diplomat in the service of human rights

Gustav Harald Edelstam (March 17, 1913 - April 16, 1989) was a Swedish diplomat. During World War II he earned the nickname Svarta nejlikan ("The Black Pimpernel," a reference to the Scarlet Pimpernel) for helping hundreds of Norwegian Jews, SOE agents, and saboteurs escape from the Germans in the Nazi-occupied Norway. During the early 1970s he was stationed in Santiago, Chile, and became known as the "Raoul Wallenberg of the 1970s" when he helped over 1,200 Chileans, hundreds of Cuban diplomats and civilians, and 67 Uruguayan and Bolivian refugees escape persecution by dictator Augusto Pinochet after the coup, September 11, 1973.

The story

 Harald Edelstam

The Black Pimpernel

Harald Edelstam (1913-1989) was a Swedish diplomat and Ambassador, who distinguished himself as diplomat by his professional competence, his bravery and his civic courage in the fight for human rights. He was an early proponent and symbol of what is today known as the "Responsibility to Protect" and his memorable acts contributed to save more than a thousand lives. 

His first mission as a young diplomat was in Rome in 1939 during the Mussolini era, and already then Edelstam got to learn what dictatorships and wars do to people. However, it was not until he was sent to Berlin in 1941 he got truly to learn about the brutality's terror and the extent of the pogrom.

Through family relations Edelstam quickly was accepted in the high society and got to know many high military chiefs, which would come in handy later on when he was sent to the Nazi-occupied Norway in 1942.

Edelstam worked at the Swedish consulate, and came to function as a link between the Germans and the Norwegian resistance movement ”Hjemmefronten." Edelstam was also active in the smuggling of threatened Norwegian resistance fighters and Jews to Sweden; people whom Edelstam protected in his own private home. Edelstam's greatest achievements were, however, within the secret information operation, through the illegal press. As a diplomat, Edelstam had access to a radio, which he used to listen to broadcasts from London and had access to information through his good relations with the high militaries. By secret means, he managed to acquire printing presses, ink and printing paper and wrote newsletters based on British radio broadcasts that became an important counterweight to the German controlled Nazi propaganda in Norway. The Norwegians came to call Edelstam the ”Black Pimpernel."

After two murder attempts, he was forced to flee to Sweden, however, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unhappy with his activities and consequently, Edelstam was forced to sit in the Ministry of Foreign Affair's attic and correct travel expense reports, as punishment because of his actions in Norway, during 1944 to 1945. However, restitution finally came when a new Minister of Foreign Affairs was appointed and Edelstam was appointed as the Minister's Secretary, after a fax arrived to the Minister with the information that Edelstam was considered a hero in Norway, and was awarded with the St. Olav medal for his courage.

Undramatic years followed and he held positions in Holland, Poland, Austria, Turkey and in Indonesia before being positioned in Central America in 1969. Very fast he came into contact with those people fighting against the military regimes and assisted them in various ways.

In 1972 Edelstam was appointed the Swedish Ambassador to Chile  first and foremost to transmit Swedish assistance to the government coalition Unidad Popular in Chile. However, the assistance ceased at the time of General Augusto Pinochet's military coup d Ìtat on the 11th of September 1973. Edelstam had from the start in Chile openly expressed his sympathy for the socialist President Salvador Allende, elected by popular vote. Subsequent to Allende's overthrowing, Edelstam became famous for
his bravery, saving many lives of people seeking protection from the dictatorship. By opening up the Swedish Embassy and conducting major confrontations and negotiations with the Chilean military, and he managed to obtain the release of many doomed people from the notorious concentration camp at the National Stadium and elsewhere in Chile, who were then brought safely to Sweden. In these ways, Ambassador Edelstam challenged those who extended their power by curtailing democracy and persecuting others. 

The military regime did not appreciate Edelstam's engagement and in December 1973 he was expelled from Chile by the coup generals and declared ”persona non grata." Nevertheless, before leaving Chile, Edelstam managed to save more than a thousand lives, protecting them from death, prison, and torture.

Being courageous often comes with a high price to pay. Harald Edelstam died as a quite lonely man; many friends and colleagues turned their back against him. However, Edelstam decided to act, whatever the price. In every situation in which he was confronted, he had the option of using his diplomatic immunity for saving him self, or the choice of acting to protect others in imminent danger. His generosity left us a legacy of coherence and responsibility, a reference for our collectiveduty to act in protection of defenseless people who are the victims of serious abuses.

"Simply, I cannot tolerate injustice." - Harald Edelstam

Caroline Edelstam, President of the Edelstam Foundation and granddaughter to Harald Edelstam.

Caroline Edelstam