New Book: The Swedish Jews and the Holocaust

How did Swedish Jews assist the persecuted Jews of Europe between 1933 and 1945?

Since the Holocaust, there have been accusations that Swedish Jews did not do enough to help Jewish refugees because they feared that the emigration of Jewish refugees to Sweden would increase anti-Semitism in that country. In this exhaustively researched book, Dr. Pontus Rudberg, a postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University, seeks to reexamine the topic of Swedish Jewry’s attitude during the Holocaust by answering the following questions: What actions did Swedish Jews take to assist the Jews in Europe between 1933 and 1945? Why did they act the way they did? What determined their actions?

The Swedish Jews and the Holocaust focuses on the Jewish community of Stockholm, which was the largest Jewish organization in the country and represented Swedish Jews both to the Swedish government and to foreign relief organizations. One of the community’s main obstacles in helping their persecuted co-religionists was the restrictive policy of the Swedish government. The 1927 Aliens Act served as the basis for Sweden’s immigration policy. Its aim was to protect jobs for Swedish citizens and keep “unwanted groups of people” from settling in Sweden and listed Jews as one of the categories of unwanted immigrants. Jewish refugees were not considered political refugees, and only a few relatives and others with ties to Sweden and financial means could be admitted for temporary residence.

Throughout the period, Swedish Jews appealed to the Swedish government to try to save more Jews. The Jewish community of Stockholm obtained concessions in the case of four Jewish immigration quotas: children attending a Jewish boarding school, Jewish children who planned to emigrate to a third country, young people training for emigration to Palestine, and refugees transiting through Sweden. These quotas allowed a few hundred refugees to come through Sweden but only on temporary residence permits. The refugees were expected to emigrate to a third country. The Swedish Jews also tried to influence the immigration policy of other governments. Hence, they appealed to the United States government to ease its visas requirements for Jewish refugees, and they also protested against the British White Paper on Palestine.

Swedish policies changed after 1941 as German policy shifted from persecution and forced emigration to deportation, and the country accepted all Danish and Norwegian Jews who escaped deportation. In assisting the Jewish refugees, Swedish Jews worked closely with the JDC, which was the main financial backer of the Swedish Jewish community. The JDC became more involved in Sweden after the arrival of Danish Jews in October 1943, and in 1944, it sent Laura Margolis to report on Swedish refugee aid and relief work. Margolis appointed Ragnar Gottfarb, a Swedish lawyer and refugee activist, to be the JDC’s representative in Sweden and left him some funds to be used in food packages to be sent to Jews in concentration camps in Nazi-controlled territories. JDC’s work in Sweden continued after the war as it was one of the only countries that accepted refugees with TB for further care after the war ended.

This book was published in 2017 by Routledge as part of its Studies in the Second World War series. Dr. Rudberg conducted extensive research in the JDC Archives for his doctoral dissertation on which this book is based.