Sweden helped the Nazis stop Germans and Jews marrying and suppressed criticism of Hitler and reports of atrocities, says new research suggesting neutral Sweden accommodated the Nazis more than previously thought.
“We are finding new areas of collaboration which we didn’t know about,” said Stockholm University historian Klas Amark, who coordinated the research commissioned by Prime Minister Goran Persson in 2000 in connection with a Holocaust conference.
The series of studies released on Tuesday into Sweden’s Nazi links shows it did not just avoid invasion by selling iron ore to Adolf Hitler and letting his troops through to invade Norway.
Swedish pastors stopped marriages between “Aryan” Germans and Swedish Jews for violating the Nuremberg laws promoting Aryanism. This was done on the advice of the foreign ministry.
“From 1937, Swedes wanting to marry Germans of so-called Aryan blood had to give written assurance that none of their grandparents belonged to the Jewish race or religion,” reads a study on Sweden’s church by Anders Jarlert of Lund University.
Newspapers gagged criticism of Hitler, of the occupation of Norway or the murder of millions of Jews in concentration camps, while cultural links between the Nazis and Sweden flourished.
“The government and authorities did what they thought was necessary to keep peace but I think they did more than was necessary,” Amark told Reuters in an interview.
“There was not much rationale for a German attack as Germany got what it wanted from Sweden,” he said. Although Hitler drew up plans to attack Sweden, it was easier to buy iron ore from Sweden than invade and risk it sabotaging iron mines.
He blamed Sweden’s attitude to Hitler on the ruling class’s links with Germany and on anti-Semitism that meant Sweden had — and still has today — its own small National Socialist party. While Hitler idealised the Nordics as tall, blonde Aryans, Nazi
propagandists who visited Sweden were disappointed to find a “peaceful people who had had Christianity for 2,000 years and had not been to war for 150 years”, Amark said.
Jan Larsson of the Swedish Research Council, author of a summary of the studies, said Sweden needed to produce conclusive research so that it could move forwards after years of foreign studies criticising Sweden for its “ambiguous” war record.
The research also helps understand Sweden’s attitude towards race and neutrality, as it continues to debate questions such as immigration and its decision to remain outside NATO.
“Sweden has a problem with the moral of neutrality. We don’t know if we did the right thing in World War Two or not,” said Amark, dwelling on the “moral responsibilities” of neutrality.
Sweden’s wartime reputation was partly salvaged by diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saving thousands of Hungarian Jews from Nazi death camps. But until 1941 it turned away German Jews unless they were political refugees, such as communists, said Amark.
In a later change of heart, in 1943 it gave shelter to about 7,000 Danish Jews saved from the Nazis by their non-Jewish neighbours, and saved many Norwegian Jews from death camps.
But a recent study by the Living History Forum shocked Jews in Sweden by suggesting that one in 20 Swedes still has strong anti-Semitic views and over a third were “ambivalent” towards Jews.