Sweden admits to racial purification

Forced sterilisation of 'inferior' women unchecked for 40 years

Monday 25 August 1997 00:02 BST

Stockholm - The Swedish government could face thousands of legal claims for compensation because of a Nazi-style campaign of forced sterilisation of women that historians say has been hushed up for years.

Swedes have been shocked over past days by revelations from Maciej Zaremba, a journalist, that Swedish governments sterilised 60,000 women to rid Swedish society of "inferior" racial types and to encourage Aryan features.

"What happened was nothing but barbaric," Margot Wallstrom, the social affairs minister, said on Saturday, adding that she was prepared to review legislation which said the sterilisations were written into law and that damages could not be paid.

Maciej Zaremba, whose revelations have been published by the liberal newspaper Dagens Nyheter, said that Sweden, Norway and Denmark pioneered racial cleansing "sciences" after the First World War.

In Sweden, the sterilisations began in 1935, peaking in 1946 and were not stopped until 1976. Officially voluntary, victims say that they were ordered to sign permission slips or risk losing any other children they had and all benefits.

Most of the victims were "inferior" or of "poor or mixed racial quality", meaning people with learning difficulties, those from poor families or those not of Nordic blood stock.

Most signs of 40 years of forced sterilisation have disappeared from school and history books, Maciej Zaremba says.

One victim, Maria Nordin, 72, said she was viewed as educationally "inferior" because she had no glasses as a child and could not see the school blackboard.

Thrust into a school for the mentally subnormal, Ms Nordin was called into an office at the age of 17 - during the Second World War - to sign some papers.

"I signed because I knew I had to to get out ... I was sent to Bollnas hospital where they took everything out. A Dr Ingvarsson said to me, 'you're not very bright, you can't have children'," she said.

Ms Wallstrom, who confessed to feeling ashamed that she originally rejected Ms Nordin's application for damages in 1996, said she would raise the subject in cabinet. "It's the least I can do. The silence surrounding this issue has been caused by it going so deep in society. People are defending themselves," she said.

Ms Wallstrom said the rise of neo-Nazism in Europe and the ability of scientists to manipulate genes meant this was a good time for such issues to be discussed.

Drawing comparisons between Sweden and Nazi Germany is like rubbing salt on a wound for many Swedes, who already feel shame about Sweden's neutrality during the Second World War and help offered by governments at the time to the German war effort.

The issue of forced sterilisation is also painful in a country which prides itself on a liberal tradition of a broad welfare state targeted at helping the needy. The most astonishing thing, Maciej Zaremba wrote, is the ideological difference. In Germany it was the Nazis, and in Scandinavia it was the welfare states that showed the most willingness to cleanse themselves of "racially" or "socially inferior" types.

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