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

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Consultants - OTE up to £35,000

£15000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue