Murky truth of how a neutral Sweden covered up its collaboration with Nazis

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The Independent Online

More than 20 heads of state from around the world gathered in Stockholm yesterday to consider the lessons of the Holocaust against the background of a national awakening in Sweden to its own murky wartime record.

More than 20 heads of state from around the world gathered in Stockholm yesterday to consider the lessons of the Holocaust against the background of a national awakening in Sweden to its own murky wartime record.

Swedes have long enjoyed the illusion of innocence, of freedom from Nazi-related guilt, but now, amid a welter of revelations, the country is slowly coming to terms with an historical truth that is more complicated than the idealistic neutrality thought to have been maintained throughout the Second World War.

Some Swedes were in fact engaged in close collaboration with Nazi Germany and their government deliberately chose to draw a thick veil over their activities when the war ended.

What has particularly shocked and disgusted many people in the run-up to the Stockholm conference on the Holocaust is a television documentary exposing how several hundred Swedish soldiers volunteered to fight on the German side during the war. Some worked as guards at Treblinka, the concentration camp where 900,000 Jews were murdered.

The Swedish authorities, it has now emerged, never attempted to investigate the deeds of these soldiers when the true horror of Nazi Germany came to light.

The Prime Minister of Sweden, Goran Persson, haspledged to amend the law to allow war criminals to be brought to justice. But the timing is an embarrassment as he plays host to world leaders, including the Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schröder, and the Prime Minister of Irsael,Ehud Barak.

Sweden also enjoyed the profits of doing business with the Nazis. It is emerging now that some of the gold handled by its central bank, the Riksbank, had been looted from Jews by the German Nazis. There was evidence at the time that the gold was plundered but both the management of the Riksbank and the government turned a blind eye. Unclaimed accounts in Swedish banks at the end of the war were also handled ineptly.

In the wake of the recriminations which followed these revelations, Mr Persson was forced to concede that the "moral and political responsibility for what Swedish officials did - or failed to do - during the war years is something that we will always be forced to carry with us".

Most Swedes behaved honourably during the war and this is borne out by the fact that refugee status was given to thousands of Scandinavian Jews. Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved some 20,000 Hungarian Jews by issuing them with Swedish passports is, of course, the prime example of personal heroism against evil.

Nevertheless, Swedes have begun to look at their past from a new perspective. The morality of neutrality is being seriously questioned.

At the same time, the Swedish neo-Nazi movement is growing stronger.

Prompted by the activities of these groups and the fact that a recent survey showed that some schoolchildren had never heard of the Holocaust, the government has launched an education programme.

History makes it clear that among Swedes Raoul Wallenberg was an exception. The sad truth is that up until quite recently it was the policy of neutrality, and not his actions, which were held up as what made Sweden special during the war.

One of the most important lessons of the Holocaust is that for evil to prosper, all it takes is enough good men to remain silent. Sweden is finally learning this in its own way.

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