Dag Hammarskjöld

Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld (/ˈhæmərʃʊld/ HAM-ər-shuuld,[1] Swedish: [ˈdɑːɡ ˇhamːarˌɧœld] (listen); 29 July 1905 – 18 September 1961) was a Swedish economist and diplomat who served as the second Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld is the youngest person to have held the post, at an age of 47 years upon his appointment. His second term was cut short when he died in the crash of his DC-6 airplane (whose cause is still disputed) while en route to cease-fire negotiations during the Congo Crisis. He is one of only four people to be awarded a posthumous Nobel Prize.[2]

Dag Hammarskjöld
Hammarskjöld on 18 September 1961, the day he died in a plane crash
2nd Secretary-General of the United Nations
In office
10 April 1953  18 September 1961
Preceded byTrygve Lie
Succeeded byU Thant
Personal details
Dag Hjalmar Agne Carl Hammarskjöld

(1905-07-29)29 July 1905
Jönköping, United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway
(now Jönköping, Sweden)
Died18 September 1961(1961-09-18) (aged 56)
Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland
(now Ndola, Zambia)
Cause of deathAirplane crash
Alma materUppsala University
Stockholm University

Hammarskjöld has been referred to as one of the two best secretaries-general of the United Nations,[3] and his appointment has been mentioned as the most notable success for the UN.[4] United States President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of our century."[5]

Early life and education

Dag Hammarskjöld was born in Jönköping to the noble family Hammarskjöld (also spelled Hammarskiöld or Hammarsköld). He spent most of his childhood in Uppsala. His home there, which he considered his childhood home, was Uppsala Castle. He was the fourth and youngest son of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1914 to 1917,[6] and wife Agnes Maria Carolina Hammarskjöld (née Almquist).

Hammarskjöld's family was ennobled in 1610 due to deeds of the warrior Peder Mikaelsson (after 1610) Hammarskiöld (approximately 1560 – 12 April 1646), an officer in the cavalry who fought for both sides in the War against Sigismund, where he took the name Hammarskiöld at his ennobling. Hammarskjöld's ancestors had served the Monarchy of Sweden since the 17th century.

Hammarskjöld studied first at Katedralskolan and then at Uppsala University. By 1930, he had obtained Licentiate of Philosophy and Master of Laws degrees. Before he finished his law degree he had already obtained a job as Assistant Secretary of the Unemployment Committee.[7]


From 1930 to 1934, Hammarskjöld was Secretary of a governmental committee on unemployment. During this time he wrote his economics thesis, "Konjunkturspridningen" ("The Spread of the Business Cycle"), and received a doctorate from Stockholm University. In 1936, he became a secretary in Sweden's central bank the Riksbank. From 1941 to 1948, he served as chairman of the Riksbank's General Council.[8]

Hammarskjöld quickly developed a successful career as a Swedish public servant. He was state secretary in the Ministry of Finance 1936–1945, Swedish delegate to the Organization for European Economic Cooperation 1947–1953, cabinet secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1949–1951 and minister without portfolio in Tage Erlander's government 1951–1953.[8]

He helped coordinate government plans to alleviate the economic problems of the post-World War II period and was a delegate to the Paris conference that established the Marshall Plan. In 1950, he became head of the Swedish delegation to UNISCAN, a forum to promote economic cooperation between the United Kingdom and the Scandinavian countries.[9] Although Hammarskjöld served in a cabinet dominated by the Social Democrats, he never officially joined any political party.[8]

In 1951, Hammarskjöld was vice chairman of the Swedish delegation to the United Nations General Assembly in Paris. He became the chairman of the Swedish delegation to the General Assembly in New York in 1952. On 20 December 1954, he was elected to take his father's vacated seat in the Swedish Academy.

United Nations Secretary-General

Nomination and election

On 10 November 1952 Trygve Lie announced his resignation as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Several months of negotiations ensued between the Western powers and the Soviet Union, without reaching an agreement on his successor. On 13 and 19 March 1953, the Security Council voted on four candidates. Lester B. Pearson of Canada was the only candidate to receive the required majority, but he was vetoed by the Soviet Union.[10][11] At a consultation of the permanent members on 30 March 1953,[12] French ambassador Henri Hoppenot suggested four candidates, including Hammarskjöld, whom he had met at the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation.[13]

The superpowers hoped to seat a Secretary-General who would focus on administrative issues and refrain from participating in political discussion. Hammarskjöld's reputation at the time was, in the words of biographer Emery Kelèn, "that of a brilliant economist, an unobtrusive technician, and an aristro-bureaucrat". As a result, there was little to no controversy in his selection;[14] the Soviet permanent representative, Valerian Zorin, found Hammarskjöld "harmless".[15] Zorin declared that he would be voting for Hammarskjöld, surprising the Western powers.[16] The announcement set off a flurry of diplomatic activity. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden was strongly in favor of Hammarskjöld and asked the United States to "take any appropriate action to induce the [Nationalist] Chinese to abstain."[17] (Sweden recognized the People's Republic of China and faced a potential veto from the Republic of China.) At the U.S. State Department, the nomination "came as a complete surprise to everyone here and we started scrambling around to find out who Mr. Hammarskjold was and what his qualifications were."[18] The State Department authorized Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the US Ambassador, to vote in favor after he told them that Hammarskjöld "may be as good as we can get."[19][20]

Journalist: "We understand you've been designated Secretary-General of the United Nations."
Hammarskjöld: "This April Fool's Day joke is in extremely bad taste: it's nonsense!"

–Exchange between a Stockholm journalist and Hammarskjöld, 1 April 1953[14]

On 31 March 1953, the Security Council voted 10-0-1 to recommend Hammarskjöld to the General Assembly, with an abstention from Nationalist China.[21] Shortly after midnight on 1 April 1953, Hammarskjöld was awakened by a telephone call from a journalist with the news, which he dismissed as an April Fool's Day joke.[lower-alpha 1] He finally believed the news after the third phone call.[13] The Swedish mission in New York confirmed the nomination at 03:00 and a communique from the Security Council was soon thereafter delivered to him.[22] After consulting with the Swedish cabinet and his father, Hammarskjöld decided to accept the nomination.[21] He sent a wire to the Security Council:[23]

With strong feeling personal insufficiency I hesitate to accept candidature but I do not feel I could refuse to assume the task imposed on me should the [UN General] Assembly follow the recommendation of the Security Council by which I feel deeply honoured.

Later in the day Hammarskjöld held a press conference at the Swedish Foreign Ministry. According to diplomat Sverker Åström, he displayed an intense interest and knowledge in the affairs of the UN, which he had never shown any indication of before.[23]

The U.N. General Assembly voted 57-1-1 on 7 April 1953 to appoint Dag Hammarskjöld as Secretary-General of the United Nations. Hammarskjöld was sworn in as Secretary-General on 10 April 1953.[21] He was unanimously reelected on 26 September 1957 for another term, taking effect on 10 April 1958.[24]


Immediately following the assumption of the Secretariat, Hammarskjöld attempted to establish a good rapport with his staff. He made a point in going to every UN department to shake hands with as many workers as possible, eating in the cafeteria as often as possible, and relinquishing the Secretary-General's private elevator for general use.[25] He began his term by establishing his own secretariat of 4,000 administrators and setting up regulations that defined their responsibilities. He was also actively engaged in smaller projects relating to the UN working environment. For example, he planned and supervised every detail in the creation of a "meditation room" at the UN headquarters. This is a place dedicated to silence, where people can withdraw into themselves, regardless of their faith, creed, or religion.[26]

During his term, Hammarskjöld tried to smooth relations between Israel and the Arab states. Other highlights include a 1955 visit to China to negotiate the release of 11 captured US pilots who had served in the Korean War,[6] the 1956 establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force, and his intervention in the 1956 Suez Crisis. He is given credit by some historians for allowing participation of the Holy See within the United Nations that year.[27]

In 1960, the former Belgian Congo and then newly independent Congo asked for UN aid in defusing the Congo Crisis. Hammarskjöld made four trips to Congo, but his efforts toward the decolonisation of Africa were considered insufficient by the Soviet Union; in September 1960, the Soviet government denounced his decision to send a UN emergency force to keep the peace. They demanded his resignation and the replacement of the office of Secretary-General by a three-man directorate with a built-in veto, the "troika." The objective was, citing the memoirs of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, to "equally represent interests of three groups of countries: capitalist, socialist and recently independent."[28][7]


In September 1961, Hammarskjöld learned about fighting between UN forces and Moise Tshombe's Katangese troops. Hammarskjöld was en route to negotiate a cease-fire on 18 September when his Douglas DC-6 airliner SE-BDY crashed with no survivors near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). Hammarskjöld and 15 others perished in the crash, the circumstances of which are still unclear. There is some evidence that suggests the plane was shot down.[29][30][31] Hammarskjöld's death set off a succession crisis at the United Nations,[32] as there was no line of succession and the Security Council had to vote on a successor.[33]

Göran Björkdahl, a Swedish aid worker whose father worked for the UN in Zambia, wrote in 2011 that he believed Hammarskjöld's death was a murder committed, in part, to benefit mining companies like Union Minière, after Hammarskjöld had made the UN intervene in the Katanga crisis. Björkdahl based his assertion on interviews with witnesses of the plane crash, near the border of the DRC with Zambia, and on archival documents.[34][35] Former U.S. President Harry Truman commented that Hammarskjöld "was on the point of getting something done when they killed him. Notice that I said 'when they killed him'."[36]

On 16 March 2015, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed members to an Independent Panel of Experts which would examine new information related to Hammarskjöld's death. The three-member panel, led by Mohamed Chande Othman, the Chief Justice of Tanzania, also included Kerryn Macaulay (Australia's representative to ICAO) and Henrik Larsen (a ballistics expert from the Danish National Police).[37] The panel's 99-page report, released 6 July 2015, assigned "moderate" value to nine new eyewitness accounts and transcripts of radio transmissions. Those accounts suggested that Hammarskjöld's plane was already on fire as it landed, and that other jet aircraft and intelligence agents were nearby.[38]

Over the years, multiple claims have been made that the plane was shot down, and that Hammarskjöld was actually killed in an assassination plot involving some combination of the CIA, MI6, a Belgian mining company, a South African paramilitary unit, because he was pushing for the Congo's independence, which would have hurt the interests of any of those forces.[39] Documents suggesting CIA involvement came to light when the South African National Intelligence Agency turned over a file to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission related to the 1993 assassination of Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party. These documents included an alleged plot to "remove" Hammarskjöld and contained a supposed statement from CIA director Allen Dulles that: "Dag is becoming troublesome … and should be removed." However the authenticity of these documents has not been established.[39]

In 2019 the documentary film Cold Case Hammarskjöld alleged that a Belgian pilot, Jan Van Risseghem, has been named as a possible attacker. Van Risseghem had extensive ties to Britain, including a British mother and wife, trained with the RAF, and was decorated by Britain for his service in the Second World War. The filmmakers investigating the 1961 crash found a friend of Van Risseghem who claimed the pilot confessed to shooting down the UN plane.[40]

In Hammarskjöld’s will from 1959 he donated his personal archive as a gift to the National Library of Sweden.[41]

Personal life

Following his appointment as UN Secretary-General, Hammarskjöld carried a copy of the oath of office with him on his travels. It was found in one of his books in the Ndola crash site.[42]

Hammarskjöld was never married and had no children.

Spirituality and Markings

In 1953, soon after his appointment as United Nations Secretary-General, Hammarskjöld was interviewed on radio by Edward R. Murrow. In this talk Hammarskjöld declared:

But the explanation of how man should live a life of active social service in full harmony with himself as a member of the community of spirit, I found in the writings of those great medieval mystics [Meister Eckhart and Jan van Ruysbroek] for whom 'self-surrender' had been the way to self-realization, and who in 'singleness of mind' and 'inwardness' had found strength to say yes to every demand which the needs of their neighbours made them face, and to say yes also to every fate life had in store for them when they followed the call of duty as they understood it.[43]

Hammarskjöld's only book, Vägmärken (Markings, or more literally Waymarks), was published in 1963. A collection of his diary reflections, the book starts in 1925, when he was 20 years old, and ends the month before his death in 1961.[44] This diary was found in his New York house, after his death, along with an undated letter addressed to then Swedish Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Leif Belfrage. In this letter, Hammarskjöld wrote:

These entries provide the only true 'profile' that can be drawn ... If you find them worth publishing, you have my permission to do so.

The foreword is written by W. H. Auden, a friend of Hammarskjöld's.[45]

Markings was described by the late theologian, Henry P. Van Dusen, as "the noblest self-disclosure of spiritual struggle and triumph, perhaps the greatest testament of personal faith written ... in the heat of professional life and amidst the most exacting responsibilities for world peace and order."[46] Hammarskjöld wrote, for example:

We are not permitted to choose the frame of our destiny. But what we put into it is ours. He who wills adventure will experience it – according to the measure of his courage. He who wills sacrifice will be sacrificed – according to the measure of his purity of heart.[47]

Markings is characterised by Hammarskjöld's intermingling of prose and haiku poetry in a manner exemplified by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho in his Narrow Roads to the Deep North.[48] In his foreword to Markings, the English poet W. H. Auden quotes Hammarskjöld as stating:

In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.[49]

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America commemorates the life of Hammarskjöld as a renewer of society, on the anniversary of his death, 18 September.[50]



People's views

  • John F. Kennedy: After Hammarskjöld's death, U.S. president John F. Kennedy regretted that he had opposed the UN policy in the Congo and said: "I realise now that in comparison to him, I am a small man. He was the greatest statesman of our century."[5]
  • In 2011, The Financial Times wrote that Hammarskjöld has remained the benchmark against which later UN Secretaries-General have been judged.[53]
  • Historians' views:
    • Historian Paul Kennedy hailed Hammarskjöld in his book, The Parliament of Man, as perhaps the greatest UN Secretary-General because of his ability to shape events, in contrast with his successors.
    • In contrast, the conservative popular historian Paul Johnson, in A History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1980s (1983), was highly critical of Hammarskjöld's judgment.

Eponymous structures

  • Libraries:
  • Buildings and rooms:
    • The Waterloo Co-operative Residence Incorporated has a student dormitory named after Dag Hammarskjöld.
    • Columbia University: The School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University has a Dag Hammarskjöld Lounge. The graduate school is dedicated to the principles of international peace and cooperation that Hammarskjöld embodied.
    • Stanford University: Dag Hammarskjöld House, on the Stanford University campus, is a residence cooperative for undergraduate and graduate students with international backgrounds and interests at Stanford.[54]
    • The Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations in Geneva, Switzerland, has a room named after him.
    • Dag Hammarskjöld Stadium is the main football stadium of Ndola, Zambia. Hammarskjöld's flight crashed in the outskirts of Ndola.
    • Dag Hammarskjöld College: founded in Columbia, Maryland, in 1972, educated international students from 1972–1974. The concept that international relations are relationships between individuals, and that the better we understand each other, the better chance there is for world peace, was the centerpiece for this college. The college admitted students from both undergraduate and postgraduate levels while they lived in an international community.
    • Makerere University in Uganda has Dag Hammarskjöld Hall of residence for graduate students.
    • Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick, New Jersey. It was established in 1961 and is one of the top-rated schools of New Jersey.
  • Streets:
    • Dag Hammarskjöldsleden is a road in Gothenburg, Sweden.
    • The Dag Hammarskjöld centre in Uppsala (housing the secretariat of the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation
    • Dag Hammarskjölds Gade is a street in Aalborg, Denmark.
    • Dag Hammarskjölds Väg is a street in Lund, Sweden.
    • Dag Hammarskjölds Väg is at about 8.2 km one of the longest streets in Uppsala, Sweden. Several other streets in Sweden share this name.
    • Dag Hammarskjølds vei is a residential street in Fyllingsdalen, in Bergen, Norway.
    • Dag Hammarskjölds Allé is a street in Copenhagen, Denmark.
    • The headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL) in Santiago, Chile, lies on Avenida Dag Hammarskjöld.
    • The headquarters of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Society for International Cooperation, GIZ), is on Dag-Hammarskjöld-Weg in Eschborn, Germany.
    • Hammarskjöldplatz is the wide square to the north entrance of the Messe Berlin fairgrounds in Berlin, Germany.[55]
  • Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza is public park near the headquarters of the United Nations in New York City;[56] several of the surrounding office buildings are also named after him, like:
  • There is a public square in Haedo, Buenos Aires, Argentina named after him.
    • Dag Hammarskjöldhof is a street and a shopping center in the town of Utrecht, Netherlands.
    • Dag Hammarskjöldlaan is a street in the town of Castricum, Netherlands.
    • Hammerskjöldstraße is a street in Bremen, Germany, close to Ghandistraße and Martin-Luther-King-Straße.
    • Dag Hammarskjöldhof is a street in the town of Gouda, Netherlands.
    • Dag Hammarskjöldlaan is a street in the town of Hellevoetsluis, Netherlands.
    • Hammarskjöldstraat is a street in the town of Hoofddorp, Netherlands.
    • Dag Hammarskjöldsvei street in Fyllingsdalen, Bergen, Norway
    • Hammarskjöld Road is a road in the town of Harlow, UK.
    • Hammarskjöld Drive in Burnaby, BC, Canada.
    • Dag Hammarskjöld is a street in Tunis, Tunisia.
  • Schools: Several schools have been named after Hammarskjöld, including Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick Township, New Jersey; Dag Hammarskjold Middle School in Wallingford, Connecticut; Dag Hammarskjold Elementary School in Parma, Ohio; Dag Hammarskjold Elementary (PS 254) in Brooklyn, New York; Dag Hammarskjold School#6 in Rochester, New York; Dag Hammarskjold Elementary School in Oakland (now an airport parking business) and Hammarskjold High School in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Other commemorations

  • Religious commemoration: He is also commemorated as a peacemaker in the Calendar of Saints of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on 18 September of each year.
  • Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation: In 1962, the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation was created as Sweden's national memorial to Dag Hammarskjöld.[57]
  • Memorial awards:
    • Medal: On 22 July 1997, the U.N. Security Council in resolution 1121(1997) established the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal in recognition and commemoration of those who have lost their lives as a result of UN peacekeeping operations.[58] Hammarskjöld himself was one of the first three recipients.
    • Prize in Peace and Conflict Studies: Colgate University annually awards a student the Dag Hammarskjöld Prize in Peace and Conflict Studies based on outstanding work in the program.[59]
    • Medallion by the sculptor Harald Salomon issued in Denmark 1962 to help financing the Danish Foreign Aid Program.
  • Postage Stamps: Many countries issued postage stamps commemorating Hammarskjöld.[60] The United Nations Postal Administration issued 5- and 15-cent stamps in 1962. They show the UN flag at half-mast and bear the simple inscription, "XVIII IX MCMLXI". The United States Hammarskjöld commemorative 4-cent postage stamp, issued on 23 October 1962, was actually released twice. Famous for its misprint, the second issue is often referred to as the Dag Hammarskjöld invert.
  • On 6 April 2011, Sweden's central bank, the Riksbank, announced that Hammarskjöld's image will be used on the 1000-kronor banknote, the highest-denomination banknote in Sweden.[61] The new currency was introduced in 2015.[62]

In the 2016 The Siege of Jadotville, depicting the events of the Congo Crisis[63] Hammarskjöld is played by fellow Countryman, actor Mikael Persbrandt.


  1. The nomination was leaked early by a delegate of the Security Council, who informed a correspondent of the vote as they left the council chamber to go to the restroom.[22] Earlier in March, Hammarskjöld had discussed the succession problem of the UN Secretariat with artist Bo Beskow. When Beskow suggested that Hammarskjöld would be suitable for the office, the latter replied, "Nobody is crazy enough to propose me—and I would be crazy to accept."[23]


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  • Lichello, Robert (1972) "Dag Hammarskjold: A Giant in Diplomacy." Samhar Press, Charlotteville, N.Y. ISBN 978-0-87157-501-2.
  • Lipsey, Roger (2013). Hammarskjöld: A Life (illustrated ed.). University of Michigan Press. ISBN 9780472118908.
  • Urquhart, Brian, (1972), Hammarskjold. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
  • Velocci, Giovanni, cssr, (1998), «Hammarskjold Dag», in Luigi Borriello, ocd – Edmondo Caruana, ocarm – Maria Rosaria Del Genio – N. Suffi (dirs.), Dizionario di mistica. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, pp. 624–626.
Cultural offices
Preceded by
Hjalmar Hammarskjöld
Swedish Academy,
Seat No.17

Succeeded by
Erik Lindegren
Positions in intergovernmental organisations
Preceded by
Trygve Lie
United Nations Secretary-General
April 1953 – September 1961
Succeeded by
U Thant
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Albert Lutuli
Laureate of the Nobel Peace Prize
Succeeded by
Linus Pauling
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