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Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg (2 January 1895 – 17 September 1948) was a Swedishmarker diplomat and nobleman noted for his negotiation of the release of about 31,000 prisoners from German concentration camps during World War II, including 423 Danish Jews from Theresienstadtmarker released on 14 April 1945. In 1945, he received a German surrender offer from Heinrich Himmler, though the offer was ultimately rejected.

After the war, Bernadotte was unanimously chosen by the victorious powers to be the United Nations Security Council mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1947-1948. He was assassinated in Jerusalemmarker in 1948 by the militant Zionist group Lehi, while pursuing his official duties.


Early life

Born in Stockholmmarker, Folke Bernadotte was part of the House of Bernadotte and the son of Count Oscar Bernadotte of Wisborg (formerly Prince Oscar of Sweden, Duke of Gotlandmarker) and his wife, née Ebba Henrietta Munck af Fulkila. Bernadotte's grandfather was King Oscar II of Sweden. Oscar married without the King's consent in 1888, however, thereby leaving the royal family, and was in 1892 given the hereditary title Count of Wisborg by his uncle, Adolphe I, Grand Duke of Luxembourg.

Bernadotte attended school in Stockholm, after which he entered training to become a cavalry officer at the Military Academy Karlberg. He took the officer's exam in 1915, and was commissioned a lieutenant in 1918, subsequently moving up to the rank of major.

Marriage and descendants

Folke Bernadotte in uniform.
On 1 December, 1928 in New York Citymarker, New Yorkmarker, he married Estelle Manville (Pleasantvillemarker, Westchester Countymarker, New Yorkmarker, 26 September 1904 - Uppsalamarker, 28 May 1984), daughter of Board Chairman Hiram Edward Manville of Johns-Manville Corp. and wife, a wealthy Americanmarker heiress whom he had met in the French Rivieramarker.

They had four sons:
  • Gustaf Eduard Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (Stockholmmarker, 20 January 1930 - Stockholmmarker, 2 February 1936)
  • Folke Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Pleasantvillemarker, Westchester Countymarker, New Yorkmarker, 8 February 1931), physician, married at Grangärdemarker on 2 July 1955 Christine Glahns (b. Örebromarker, 9 January 1932), and had four children:
    • Anne Christine Countess Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 22 November 1956), married in Stockholmmarker on 26 May 1989 Per Larsen (b. 19 June 1953), and had two children:
      • Sofia Annick Larsen (b. Stockholmmarker, 21 July 1990)
      • Simon Larsen (b. Lidingömarker, 19 September 1992)
    • Carl Folke Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 2 December 1958), married in Uppsalamarker, and had four children:
      • Lena Victoria Ingrid Countess Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 11 July 1983)
      • Johan Carl Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 23 March 1986)
      • Kevin Andreas Canavan Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 1 August 1992)
      • Jasonne Olaf Canavan Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. New Yorkmarker, 12 January 1995)
    • Maria Estelle Countess Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 27 April 1962), married in Uppsalamarker on 14 May 1983 Umberto Ganfini (b. Sienamarker, 11 November 1955), and had two children:
      • Luisa Maria Cristina Ganfini (b. Sienamarker, 17 June 1988)
      • Giulio Fulco Luciano Ganfini (b. Sienamarker, 23 October 1990)
    • Gunnar Fredrik Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 24 November 1963), married in Uppsalamarker on 2 June 1990 Karin Lindsten (b. Uppsalamarker, 15 May 1963), and had two children:
      • Folke (Ockie) Klas Vilhem Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 5 August 1996)
      • Astrid Ruth Estelle Countess Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Uppsalamarker, 10 February 1999)
  • Fredrik Oscar Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (Stockholmmarker, 10 January 1934 - Stockholmmarker, 30 August 1944)
  • Bertil Oscar Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Stockholmmarker, 6 October 1935), married firstly in Copenhagenmarker on 28 September 1966 Rose-Marie Heering (Copenhagenmarker, 7 June 1942 - Stockholmmarker, 1 November 1967), without issue, and married secondly in Londonmarker on 27 May 1981 Jill Georgina Rhodes-Maddox (b. 2 May 1947), daughter of George Burn Rhodes and wife Dorothy Ethel Maddox (Lincoln), and had three children:
    • Oscar Alexander Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Londonmarker, 1 March 1982)
    • Edward Gustav Count Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Londonmarker, 18 April 1983)
    • Astrid Desirée Estelle Countess Bernadotte af Wisborg (b. Londonmarker, 9 February 1987)

In September 2008 it was reported that Bernadotte also had an illegitimate child (b. 1921) with actress Lillie Ericsson.

Early career

Following his marriage, Bernadotte represented Sweden in 1933 at the Chicago Century of Progress Expositionmarker, and later served as Swedish commissioner general at the New York World's Fair in 1939-40. Bernadotte had long been involved with the Swedish Boy Scouts (Sveriges Scoutförbund), and took over as director of the organization in 1937. At the outbreak of World War II, Bernadotte worked to integrate the scouts into Sweden's defense plan, training them in anti-aircraft work and as medical assistants. Bernadotte was appointed vice chairman of the Swedish Red Crossmarker in 1943.

Diplomatic career

World War II

While vice-president of the Swedish Red Crossmarker in 1945, Bernadotte attempted to negotiate an armistice between Germanymarker and the Allies. He also led several rescue missions in Germany for the Red Cross. During the autumns of 1943 and 1944, he organized prisoner exchanges which brought home 11,000 prisoners from Germany via Sweden.

In April 1945, Heinrich Himmler asked Bernadotte to convey a peace proposal to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman without the knowledge of Adolf Hitler. The main point of the proposal was that Germany would only surrender to the Western Allies (Great Britainmarker and the United Statesmarker), but would be allowed to continue resisting the Soviet Unionmarker. According to Bernadotte, he told Himmler that the proposal had no chance of acceptance, but nevertheless he passed it on to the Swedish government and the Western Allies. It had no lasting effect.

The White Buses

Upon the initiative of the Norwegian diplomat Niels Christian Ditleff in the final months of the war, Bernadotte acted as the negotiator for a rescue operation transporting interned Norwegiansmarker, Danesmarker and other western European inmates from German concentration camps to hospitals in Sweden.

In the spring of 1945, Bernadotte was in Germany when he met Heinrich Himmler, who had become commander for the entire German army following the assassination attempt on Hitler the year before. Bernadotte had originally been assigned to retrieve Norwegian and Danish POWs in Germany. He returned on May 1, 1945, the day after Hitler's death. Following an interview, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet wrote that Bernadotte succeeded in rescuing 15,000 people from German concentration camps, including approximately 8000 Danes and Norwegians and 7000 women of French, Polish, Czech, British, American, Argentinian and Chinese nationalities. (SvD 2/5-45). The missions took approximately two months, and exposed the Swedish Red Cross staff to significant danger, both due to political difficulties and by taking them through areas under Allied bombing.

The mission became known for its buses, painted entirely white except for the Red Cross emblem on the side, so that they would not be mistaken for military targets. In total it included 308 personnel (approximately 20 medics and the rest volunteer soldiers), 36 hospital buses, 19 trucks, 7 passenger cars, 7 motorcycles, a tow truck, a field kitchen, and full supplies for the entire trip, including food and gasoline, none of which were permitted to be obtained in Germany. A count of 21,000 people rescued included 8,000 Danes and Norwegians, 5,911 Poles, 2,629 French, 1,615 Jews and 1,124 Germans.

After Germany's surrender, the White Buses mission continued in May and June to save approximately 10,000 additional people.

In total, around 31,000 people were taken to safety in the "White Buses" of the Bernadotte expedition, including between 6,500 and 11,000 Jews.

Bernadotte recounted the White Buses mission in his book The End. My Humanitarian Negotiations in Germany in 1945 and Their Political Consequences, published on June 15, 1945 in Swedish. In the book, Bernadotte recounts his negotiations with Himmler and others, and his experience at the Ravensbrück concentration campmarker.

Felix Kersten and the White Buses Controversy

Following the war, some controversies have arisen regarding Bernadotte's leadership of the White Buses expedition, some personal and some as to the mission itself. One aspect involved a long-standing feud between Bernadotte and Himmler's personal masseur, Felix Kersten, who had played some role in facilitating Bernadotte's access to Himmler, but whom Bernadotte resisted crediting after the War. The resulting feud between Bernadotte and Kersten came to public attention through British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. In 1953, Trevor-Roper published an article based on an interview and documents originating with Kersten. The article stated that Bernadotte's role in the rescue operations was that of "transport officer, no more." Kersten was quoted as saying that, according to Himmler, Bernadotte was opposed to the rescue of Jews and understood "the necessity of our fight against World Jewry."

Shortly following the publication of his article Trevor-Roper began to retreat from these charges. At the time of his article, Kersten had just been nominated by the Dutch government for the Nobel Peace Prize for thwarting a Nazi plan to deport the entire Dutch population, based primarily on Kersten's own claims to this effect. A later Dutch investigation concluded that no such plan had existed, however, and that Kersten's documents were partly fabricated. Following these revelations and others, Trevor-Roper told journalist Barbara Amiel in 1995 that he was no longer certain about the allegations, and that Bernadotte may merely have been following his orders to rescue Danish and Norwegian prisoners. A number of other historians have also questioned Kersten's account, concluding that the accusations were based on a forgery or a distortion devised by Kersten.

Some controversy regarding the White Buses trip has also arisen in Scandinavia, particularly regarding the priority given to Scandinavian prisoners. Political scientist Sune Persson judged these doubts to be contradicted by the documentary evidence. He concluded, "The accusations against Count Bernadotte ... to the effect that he refused to save Jews from the concentration camps are obvious lies" and listed many prominent eyewitnesses who testified on Bernadotte's behalf, including the World Jewish Congress representative in Stockholm in 1945.

UN mediator

On 20 May 1948, Folke Bernadotte was appointed the United Nations' mediator in Palestine, the first official mediator in the UN's history. This was necessitated by the immediate violence that followed the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and the subsequent unilateral Israeli Declaration of Independence. In this capacity, he succeeded in achieving an initial truce during the subsequent 1948 Arab-Israeli War and laid the groundwork for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The specific proposals showed the influence of the previously responsible British government, and to a lesser extent the U.S. government.

First proposal

On 28 June 1948, Bernadotte submitted his first formal proposal in secret to the various parties. It suggested that Palestine and Transjordan be reformed as "a Union, comprising two Members, one Arab and one Jewish." He wrote that: "in putting forward any proposal for the solution of the Palestine problem, one must bear in mind the aspirations of the Jews, the political difficulties and differences of opinion of the Arab leaders, the strategic interests of Great Britain, the financial commitment of the United States and the Soviet Union, the outcome of the war, and finally the authority and prestige of the United Nations.

As far as the boundaries of the two Members were concerned, Bernadotte thought that the following "might be worthy of consideration."
  1. Inclusion of the whole or part of the Negevmarker in Arab territory.
  2. Inclusion of the whole or part of Western Galilee in the Jewish territory.
  3. Inclusion of the City of Jerusalemmarker in Arab territory, with municipal autonomy for the Jewish community and special arrangements for the protection of the Holy Places.
  4. Consideration of the status of Jaffamarker.
  5. Establishment of a free port at Haifamarker, the area of the free port to include the refineries and terminals.
  6. Establishment of a free airport at Lydda.

Second proposal

After the unsuccessful first proposal, Bernadotte continued with a more complex proposal that abandoned the idea of a Union and proposed two independent states. This proposal was completed on September 16, 1948, and had as its basis seven "basic premises" (verbatim):
  1. Peace must return to Palestine and every feasible measure should be taken to ensure that hostilities will not be resumed and that harmonious relations between Arab and Jew will ultimately be restored.
  2. A Jewish State called Israel exists in Palestine and there are no sound reasons for assuming that it will not continue to do so.
  3. The boundaries of this new State must finally be fixed either by formal agreement between the parties concerned or failing that, by the United Nations.
  4. Adherence to the principle of geographical homogeneity and integration, which should be the major objective of the boundary arrangements, should apply equally to Arab and Jewish territories, whose frontiers should not therefore, be rigidly controlled by the territorial arrangements envisaged in the resolution of 29 November.
  5. The right of innocent people, uprooted from their homes by the present terror and ravages of war, to return to their homes, should be affirmed and made effective, with assurance of adequate compensation for the property of those who may choose not to return.
  6. The City of Jerusalem, because of its religious and international significance and the complexity of interests involved, should be accorded special and separate treatment.
  7. International responsibility should be expressed where desirable and necessary in the form of international guarantees, as a means of allaying existing fears, and particularly with regard to boundaries and human rights.
The proposal then made specific suggestions that included (extracts):
  1. The existing indefinite truce should be superseded by a formal peace, or at the minimum, an armistice.
  2. The frontiers between the Arab and Jewish territories, in the absence of agreement between Arabs and Jews, should be established by the United Nations.
  3. The Negev should be defined as Arab territory.
  4. The frontier should run from Faluja north northeast to Ramleh and Lydda (both of which places would be in Arab territory).
  5. Galilee should be defined as Jewish territory.
  6. Haifa should be declared a free port, and Lydda airport should be declared a free airport.
  7. The City of Jerusalem, which should be understood as covering the area defined in the resolution of the General Assembly of 29 November, should be treated separately and should be placed under effective United Nations control with maximum feasible local autonomy for its Arab and Jewish communities with full safeguards for the protection of the Holy Places and sites and free access to them and for religious freedom.
  8. The United Nations should establish a Palestine conciliation commission.
  9. The right of the Arab refugees to return to their homes in Jewish-controlled territory at the earliest possible date should be affirmed by the United Nations, and their repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation, and payment of adequate compensation for the property of those choosing not to return, should be supervised and assisted by the United Nations conciliation commission.

Bernadotte's second proposal was prepared in consultation with British and American emissaries. The degree to which they influenced the proposal is poorly known, since the meetings were kept strictly secret and all documents were destroyed, but Bernadotte apparently "found that theU.S.-U.K., proposals were very much in accord with his own views" and the two emissaries expressed the same opinion. The secret was publicly exposed in October, only nine days before the U.S. presidential elections, causing President Truman great embarrassment. Truman reacted by making a strongly pro-Zionist declaration, which contributed to the defeat of the Bernadotte plan in the UN during the next two months. Also contributing was the failure of the cease-fire and continuation of the fighting.

After Bernadotte's death, his assistant American mediator Ralph Bunche was appointed to replace him. Bunche eventually negotiated a ceasefire, signed on the Greek island of Rhodesmarker. See 1949 Armistice Agreements.


The Israeli government criticized Bernadotte's participation in the negotiations. In July 1948, Bernadotte said that the Arab nations were reluctant to resume the fighting in Palestine and that the conflict now consisted of "incidents." A spokesman for the Israeli government replied: "Count Bernadotte has described the renewed Arab attacks as "incidents." When human lives are lost, when the truce is flagrantly violated and the SC defied, it shows a lack of sensitivity to describe all these as incidents, or to suggest as Count Bernadotte does, that the Arabs had some reason for saying no... Such an apology for aggression does not augur well for any successful resumption by the mediator of his mission."


Bernadotte was assassinated on Friday 17 September 1948 by members of the Jewish militant Zionist group Lehi, whom the British called "the Stern gang." A three man 'center' of this extreme Jewish group had approved the killing: Yitzhak Yezernitsky (the future Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Shamir), Nathan Friedmann (also called Natan Yellin-Mor) and Yisrael Eldad (also known as Scheib). A fourth leader, Emmanuel Strassberg (Hanegbi) was also suspected by the Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion of being part of the group that had decided on the assassination. The assassination was planned by the Lehi operations chief in Jerusalem, Yehoshua Zettler. By most accounts, it was carried out by six young members of the Lehi group: Yehoshua Cohen, Shmuel Rosenblum, David Ephrati, Yitzhak Markovitz, Yehoshua Zettler, and Meshulam Makover. By other accounts, a three-man team ambushed Bernadotte's motorcade in Jerusalem's Katamonmarker neighborhood. Two of them, Yitzhak Ben Moshe (Markovitz) and Avraham Steinberg, shot at the tires of the UN vehicles. The third, Yehoshua Cohen, opened the door of Bernadotte's car and shot him at close range. The bullets also hit a French officer who was sitting beside him, U.N. Observer Colonel André Serot. Both were killed. In the immediate confusion, Col. Serot was mistaken for Dr. Ralph Bunche, the American aide to Bernadotte. Meshulam Makover, the fourth accomplice, was the driver of the getaway car. General Åge Lundström, who was in the UN vehicle, described the incident as follows:

“In the Katamon quarter, we were held up by a Jewish Army type jeep placed in a road block and filled with men in Jewish Army uniforms.
At the same moment, I saw an armed man coming from this jeep.
I took little notice of this because I merely thought it was another checkpoint.
However, he put a Tommy gun through the open window on my side of the car, and fired point blank at Count Bernadotte and Colonel Serot.
I also heard shots fired from other points, and there was considerable confusion… Colonel Serot fell in the seat in back of me, and I saw at once that he was dead.
Count Bernadotte bent forward, and I thought at the time he was trying to get cover.
I asked him: 'Are you wounded?'
He nodded, and fell back… When we arrived [at the Hadassah hospital], … I carried the Count inside and laid him on the bed…I took off the Count's jacket and tore away his shirt and undervest.
I saw that he was wounded around the heart and that there was also a considerable quantity of blood on his clothes about it.
When the doctor arrived, I asked if anything could be done, but he replied that it was too late."

The murders took place at Ben Zion Guini Square, off Hapalmah Street.


The following day the United Nations Security Council condemned the killing of Bernadotte as "a cowardly act which appears to have been committed by a criminal group of terrorists in Jerusalem while the United Nations representative was fulfilling his peace-seeking mission in the Holy Land." After his death, Bernadotte's body was returned to Sweden, where the state funeral was attended by Abba Eban on behalf of Israel. Folke was survived by a widow and a 14 year old son. He was buried at the Northern Cemeterymarker in Stockholm.

Lehi took responsibility for the killings in the name of Hazit Hamoledet (The National Front), a name they copied from a war-time Bulgarian resistance group. The group regarded Bernadotte as a stooge of the British and their Arab allies, and therefore as a serious threat to the emerging state of Israel. Most immediately, a truce was currently in force and Lehi feared that the Israeli leadership would agree to Bernadotte's peace proposals, which they considered disastrous. They did not know that the Israeli leaders had already decided to reject Bernadotte's plans and take the military option.

Lehi was forcibly disarmed and many members were arrested, but nobody was charged with the killings. Yellin-Mor and another Lehi member, Schmuelevich, were charged with belonging to a terrorist organization. They were found guilty but immediately released and pardoned. Yellin-Mor had meanwhile been elected to the first Knessetmarker. Years later, Cohen's role was uncovered by David Ben-Gurion's biographer Michael Bar Zohar, while Cohen was working as Ben-Gurion's personal bodyguard. The first public admission of Lehi's role in the killing was made on the anniversary of the assassination in 1977. The statute of limitations for murder had expired in 1971.

The Swedish government believed that Bernadotte had been assassinated by Israeli government agents. They publicly attacked the inadequacy of the Israel investigation and campaigned unsuccessfully to delay Israel's admission to the United Nations. In 1950, Sweden recognized Israel but relations remained frosty despite Israeli attempts to console Sweden such as the planting of a Bernadotte Forest by the JNF in Israel. At a ceremony in Tel-Avivmarker in May 1995, attended by the Swedish deputy prime minister, Israeli Foreign Minister and Labor Party member Shimon Peres issued a "condemnation of terror, thanks for the rescue of the Jews and regret that Bernadotte was murdered in a terrorist way," adding that "We hope this ceremony will help in healing the wound."

Ralph Bunche, Bernadotte's American deputy, succeeded him as U.N. mediator. Bunche was ultimately successful in bringing about the signing of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, for which he would later receive the Nobel Peace Prize.



  • Kushner, Harvey W. (2002). Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Sage Publications. ISBN 0-7619-2408-6
  • Schwartz, Ted (1992). Walking with the Damned: The Shocking Murder of the Man Who Freed 30,000 Prisoners From the Nazis. Paragon House, New York. ISBN 1-55778-315-2
  • Marton, Kati (1994). A death in Jerusalem. Pantheon. ISBN 0-679-42083-5
  • (Swedish title: Slutet.)
  • (Title: People I met.)

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