Tag Archives: William Ranallo

Thank you, Hynrich Wieschhoff!

With gratitude, “The Elusive Truth About the Death of Dag Hammarskjold”, written for PassBlue by the son of Heinrich A. Wieschhoff. I’m sharing it here in full so everyone will read this, and know how the relatives truly feel about the UN investigation.

“My clock radio clicked on. The morning news bulletin announced that United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane was missing.

It was Sept. 18, 1961. I was 16.

Over the next hours, my mother and sisters and I learned that Mr. Hammarskjöld, accompanied by Dad and 14 others, had flown from Leopoldville, in the Congo, to Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia); that the plane, a DC-6, had not landed at Ndola, its destination; that an unexplained 15 hours went by after the airliner passed over the Ndola airport and before its wreckage was found lying not far from the runway; that all on board save one were dead.

My father, Heinrich A. Wieschhoff, was one of Mr. Hammarskjöld’s political advisers. Their party was headed for talks with the head of the breakaway Congo province of Katanga in hopes of quieting the fighting that had broken out between UN peacekeeping troops and the largely mercenary-led forces backing Katanga’s secession. It was a dramatic moment in the history of this mineral-rich country — a year after it gained independence from Belgium and quickly became embroiled in a violent quagmire involving the interests of not only Belgium but also France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States.

Days after the crash, we learned that the sole survivor had died. Now there was no one to shed light on what had occurred. My family’s experience was lived in one wrenching way or another by the families of the 15 other victims. The particulars were different; the pain was the same — and only worsened because no one could tell us why the plane had gone down.

From the outset, there were legitimate concerns about the possibility of foul play. Within months of the crash, three inquests were held in rapid succession. The report of a UN commission, relying to a large degree on groundwork done by the-then Rhodesian Federation, was inconclusive, as was a report by the federal civil aviation body. The report of a commission empaneled by the Federation arrived, by a curious turn of logic, at the convenient conclusion that the event was an accident.

At first we assumed the UN would be vigilant in looking for new clues and dogged in running them to ground, and for years that seemed to be the case. Dad’s UN associates fielded our questions about the results of the original investigations and new allegations of wrongdoing promptly and graciously.

Once those associates left the UN, however, I gradually began having doubts that anyone in a leadership position cared much, if at all. One exception was Jan Eliasson, the deputy secretary-general under Ban Ki-moon, who was seemingly alone in advocating a serious look at the death of his idol and fellow Swede, Mr. Hammarskjöld.

The UN’s public posture toward Mr. Hammarskjöld drips with veneration — naturally. Yet when it comes to actually unraveling the circumstances of his death, a certain callousness prevails, despite high-sounding pronouncements to the contrary. In my experience, concern about the other 15 victims is even lower.

One byproduct of this indifference has been a coming together of nearly all the families of the deceased. Partly as a result, I have sensed that the UN is paying more attention to their interests, at least in its public comments. Privately, I still encounter telltale signs that the organization views the search for answers as a housekeeping matter.

For instance, when a group of the relatives sent the UN Secretariat a copy of a letter thanking the UN members sponsoring a recent resolution bearing on the crash, the response was a form letter from the public inquiries team stating that “the matter you raise is one of domestic jurisdiction, and does not fall within the competence of the United Nations.”

In 2011, the inquiry hit a turning point. Susan Williams, who had no prior connection to the crash, published “Who Killed Hammarskjöld? The UN, the Cold War and White Supremacy in Africa.” A sobering probe of information that the three post-crash inquests did not have, or had but failed to consider properly, it presented the UN with a chance to dig deep.

Dr. Williams, a historian and senior research fellow at the University of London, did not identify a likely cause of the disaster, but she did present a number of startling claims, including that US intelligence services allegedly eavesdropped as an unidentified plane attacked Mr. Hammarskjöld’s during its landing approach.

The book sparked hope that the UN would finally give the crash its due. First, however, a group of private citizens established a pro bono commission of four jurists to evaluate her findings. In 2013, they determined that significant new evidence could justify reopening the UN’s original investigation.

The stage was set, at long last, to bring this unhappy affair to a definitive close. Unfortunately, instead of insisting that further exploration be unlinked from the agendas of individual member states, and Secretary-General Ban be given a free hand to deal with the crash as he saw fit, the office of the secretary-general solicited the views of certain members of the Security Council. Predictably, influential members signaled their lack of enthusiasm for a full-fledged re-opening of the investigation.

In other words, the UN ducked — in my view, avoiding discomfiting questions about the roles of Belgium, France, South Africa, the Soviet Union, Britain and the US in events related to the crash, and possibly about the UN’s own handling of its original investigation and subsequent new evidence as well.

What followed was five years (and counting) of a piecemeal, woefully ineffective process fashioned to give the impression of rigor. Through resolutions organized by Sweden, the General Assembly first relegated the crash to a “panel of experts” for yet another assessment of new information (2014), then to an “eminent person,” the former chief justice of Tanzania, Mohamed Chande Othman, for follow-up (2016).

The resolutions asked member states to search their archives for relevant material and to declassify sensitive records, namely intelligence and military files. But genuine cooperation from the key players has been slow and halting. Russia and the US, as of a recent date, failed to comply fully with the General Assembly’s resolutions, and South Africa and Britain appeared bent on frustrating the process altogether. To my knowledge, the UN has rarely generated information on its own, so that leaves Chief Justice Othman to rely heavily on private sources.

As far as I am aware, the Secretariat has not engaged at a high level with recalcitrant member states to get them to adhere to the General Assembly resolutions. It has done little to publicize the activities of the chief justice. It has been slow to fully declassify its own archives and still refuses to release some documents.

In their Dag Hammarskjöld Lectures, in Uppsala, Sweden (Mr. Hammarskjöld’s home base), Secretaries-General Ban and António Guterres each mentioned the search for the truth about the crash but at the tail end of their presentations, almost as an afterthought. Instead of taking a meaningful stand, they repeated the hollow refrain: the UN was doing all it could do to find answers and member states should comply with the call to declassify relevant records.

Equally revealingly is the fact that in 2017, Secretary-General Guterres’s office sought to end the Judge Othman probe. Thanks to Sweden’s insistence, the General Assembly renewed his appointment. Did the secretary-general tip his hand last year when, rather than appear in person before the General Assembly, he sent a subordinate to present Judge Othman’s interim report?

His findings were impressive, especially considering his meager support. For his current engagement of about 15 months, Judge Othman has only himself and an assistant, working part time and in different countries, on a budget so small that nearly a third will go toward translating his reports into the UN’s official languages.

The opportunity presented by Dr. Williams and the jurists’ commission still stands. And we may learn more from Judge Othman’s final report, due this summer. I worry, though, that unless that report or a new sense of purpose by the UN can pry the facts out of Britain, the US and other key states, what happened and why will once again fade unanswered into the past.”

56 Years Ago Today

In memory of the 16 who died in Ndola, here is some of the collection from my mother-in-law, Olga Fabry, who carefully saved all the documents and mementos I share here. Vlado was only 40 years old when he died, a man who was very much loved by his family and friends, and my thoughts are with all the relatives around the world who remember their family on this day. The struggle against racism and white supremacy continues for us, let us not forget their example of courage to resist, and to fight for justice.

Program from the first wreath laying ceremony at UN Headquarters, one year after the crash, 17 September 1962:



Invitation from Acting Secretary-General, U Thant, to Madame Fabry:

Letter and commemorative UN stamps from U Thant to Olga Fabry:


Signatures from UN staff were collected from all over the world to fill this two-volume set of books in memory of Vladimir Fabry:

Signatures from UN Headquarters in New York include Ralph Bunche, and his wife Ruth:


Signatures from Geneva Headquarters and a message from John A. Olver:

Telegrams from friends in every country:

Among them, a message of sympathy from the King of Sweden relayed through Ralph Bunche:

And a cable from Jozef Lettrich:

UN cables express the loss of a dear friend and highly valued colleague:


Newspaper clippings from 1961 and 1962, the first one with a photo of Olga Fabry and her mother at the funeral in Geneva, Switzerland:







The investigation will coming up for review in the General Assembly, and for those who think we should give up and be quiet about it already after all these years, Dag Hammarskjold said it best: “Never, “for the sake of peace and quiet,” deny your own experience or convictions.”

“…the dreamt kingdom of peace…”

From the family archive, here is the program from the United Nations memorial service for Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, and the 15 others who died with him, on 17 September 1961, while on a peace mission to Ndola. As the anniversary nears, I send kind thoughts to all who have been touched by this event. Included in the memorial program, held on 28 September 1961, is an address by the late Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold “on the occasion of the United Nations Day Concert, 24 October 1960” – it is one of Hammarskjold’s shorter speeches, but full of his warmth and optimism for humanity, so I have transcribed it here.

To further appreciate Hammarskjold’s sentiment towards music, to feel a little of what he felt when he listened to Beethoven, I have included the Christmas Day 1989 Berlin performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall – it is perfection, one of the most beautiful and moving concerts of all time.

(click images to enlarge)
UN Memorial program, 28 September 1961

IN MEMORIAM, 17 SEPTEMBER 1961

Dag Hammarskjold
Per Hallonquist
H.A. Wieschhoff
Nils-Eric Aahreus
Vladimir Fabry
Lars Litton
William Ranallo
Nils Goran Wilhelmsson
Alice Lalande
Harald Noork
Harold M. Julien
Karl Erik Rosen
Serge L. Barrau
S.O. Hjelte
Francis Eivers
P.E. Persson

28 SEPTEMBER 1961

UN Memorial program, 28 September 1961, p.2

UN Memorial program, 28 September 1961, back page

“ADDRESS GIVEN BY THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON THE OCCASION OF THE UNITED NATIONS DAY CONCERT, 24 OCTOBER, 1960”

It is the tradition that the Organization marks United Nations Day with a concert including the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Today we shall, for the first time in this hall, listen to the symphony in its entirety.

It is difficult to say anything, knowing that the words spoken will be followed by this enormous confession of faith in the victorious human spirit and in human brotherhood, a confession valid for all times and with a depth and wealth of expression never surpassed.

When the Ninth Symphony opens we enter a drama full of harsh conflict and dark threats. But the composer leads us on, and in the beginning of the last movement we hear again the various themes repeated, now as a bridge toward a final synthesis. A moment of silence and a new theme is introduced, the theme of reconciliation and joy in reconciliation. A human voice is raised in rejection of all that has preceded and we enter the dreamt kingdom of peace. New voices join the first and mix in a jubilant assertion of life and all that it gives us when we meet it, joined in faith and human solidarity.

On his road from conflict and emotion to reconciliation in this final hymn of praise, Beethoven has given us a confession and a credo which we, who work within and for this Organization, may well make our own. We take part in the continuous fight between conflicting interests and ideologies which so far has marked the history of mankind, but we may never lose our faith that the first movements one day will be followed by the fourth movement. In that faith we strive to bring order and purity into chaos and anarchy. Inspired by that faith we try to impose the laws of the human mind and of the integrity of the human will on the dramatic evolution in which we are all engaged and in which we all carry our responsibility.

The road of Beethoven in his Ninth Symphony is also the road followed by the authors of the Preamble and of the Charter. It begins with the recognition of the threat under which we all live, speaking as it does of the need to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which has brought untold sorrow to mankind. It moves on to a reaffirmation of faith in the dignity and worth of the human person, and it ends with the promise to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours and to unite our strength to maintain peace.

This year, the fifteenth in the life of the Organization, is putting it to new tests. Experience has shown how far we are from the end which inspired the Charter. We are indeed still in the first movements. But no matter how deep the shadows may be, how sharp the conflicts, how tense the mistrust reflected in this hall and in this house, we are not permitted to forget that we have too much in common, too great a sharing of interests and too much that we might lose together, for ourselves and for succeeding generations, ever to weaken in our efforts to surmount the difficulties and not to turn the simple human values, which are our common heritage, into the firm foundation on which we may unite our strength and live together in peace.

Medal of Saint Bernard

From the estate of Vladimir Fabry, here are a few items of interest. First, the “Notice of Death” from Ndola, Northern Rhodesia:
(click images to enlarge)
Vlado Notice of Death Northern Rhodesia

The same notice would have been sent to the families of the other crash victims, who should be remembered here for their sacrifice:
H. A. Wieschoff
William Ranallo
Alice Lalande
Harold M. Julien
Serge L. Barrau
Francis Eivers
Per Hallonquist
Nils-Eric Aahreus
Lars Litton
Nils Goran Wilhelmsson
Harald Noork
Karl Erik Rosen
S.O. Hjelte
P.E. Persson

The post mortem of Vlado says his body was badly burned, and that he was identified by a monogrammed signet ring, so it was surprising to find this letter, and to learn I was in possession of at least one artifact from the crash:
Estate of Vladimir Fabry

November 9, 1961
ESTATE OF VLADIMIR FABRY

Memorandum re contents of a sealed package delivered by Geneva Headquarters of United Nations to Miss Olga I. Fabry on October , 1961.

The box was tied with brown cord and the cord sealed with a metal U.N. seal. Attached to the box was an envelope from the United Nations Organization in the Congo marked “Urgent, Confidential”, addressed to Mr. John Olver of the the European office of the United Nations in Geneva. The envelope was marked “If Mr. Olver is absent, to be opened by Mr. A. Marx, Chief of Personnel.”

On opening the envelope it was found to contain a letter marked “Confidential”, dated September 29, 1961 addressed to Mr. Olver and signed by Mr. B. Grunzweig. The letter concerned the estate of the late Dr. Vladimir Fabry and stated that the writer understood that the package contained partially destroyed or burned money, travellers’ checks and notebooks belonging to Dr. Fabry. It was requested that the package be delivered to Dr. Fabry’s family, since it might be possible to recover some of the money contained therein. A copy of the letter is attached hereto.

On breaking the seal and opening the package, it was found to contain an envelope in which the following documents and currency were enclosed, all party burned and in the case of some of the currency, badly burned and difficult to decipher. The badly burned currency was in a separate envelope. On the top of the package of burned currency there appeared to be a partially burned folded bill on which the letters “llars” appeared. From what could be seen of the bill, it appeared to be U.S. currency, the denomination unknown. The bills in this package are compacted and stuck together, and they are badly burned. For that reason no attempt was made to separate these bills in order that the same in their present condition might be presented to the proper U.S. officials for examination.

The other contents of the envelope are the following:

1. A number of identification cards of the late Dr. Fabry.
2. American Express travellers’ checks partially burned on one side although readily decipherable, consisting of seven checks of $20 each bearing serial numbers Z35-790-419/425.
3. U.S. currency partially burned along one side but decipherable, consisting of 3 $10 bills and 5 $1 bills.
4. 2 Swiss 20 franc notes, partially burned along one side but readily decipherable.
5. 3 Belgian franc notes in denominations of 20, 50 and 100, respectively.
6. One singed blank airmail envelope.
7. One St. Bernard’s medal.

Though I have looked, I have found no sign of the burned notebooks. Here is all that remains from the crash, from the last moments of Vlado’s life, one St. Bernard’s medal, which I now carry as my own good luck charm:

Vlado St Bernard Medal 1
Vlado St Bernard Medal 2