- Although Sweden was officially neutral during World War II, its neutrality was tempered by the German occupation of Norway and Denmark. Surrounded by the Germans and subjected to the British blockade, Sweden was forced to rely on Germany for many of its raw materials as well as chemical products. In turn, Sweden provided Germany with iron ore, which was indispensable for its war effort. Early in the war, therefore, Sweden allowed Germany to use its railways and coastal waters to ship its troops to Norway and later to Finland during its war against the Soviet Union. With the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Germany gained even more influence over Sweden as it made demands regarding the shipment of soldiers and war materials to its Finnish ally.After the German defeat at Stalingrad during the winter of 1942– 1943, Swedish neutrality tilted toward the Allies as the German reversals in the Soviet Union and North Africa reduced the ability of the Reich to place pressure on the Swedes. By 1944, Swedish policy had become pro-Allied without interrupting its trade with Germany. Sweden’s bittersweet relationship with Germany mirrored its response to the issue of the Jews. Sweden’s response to the plight of the Jews may best be described as a cautious one. In January 1938, Sweden limited the number of Jewish refugees allowed to enter the country. Following both the Anschluss and Kristallnacht, Sweden did not alter its immigration law except to allow the entry of 500 Jewish children from Germany, but without their parents. In order to prevent additional Jewish refugees from entering the country, Sweden required that the letter “J” be stamped on German passports for all Jews. In the fall of 1938, the Germans introduced this requirement for Jewish emigres, and those German Jews who arrived in Sweden without the proper stamped visa were forced to return to the Reich. However difficult the Swedes made it for Jewish refugees to find a haven in their country, it is also true that between 1939 and 1944 approximately 12,000 Jewish refugees found asylum in Sweden. On the eve of World War II, there were approximately 7,000 native-born Jews in Sweden, most of whom lived in Stockholm. The Swedish-Jewish community in the late 1930s was active in lobbying the government to bend the immigration laws but found their petitions rejected. Sweden, however, maintained the tradition of cooperation with its Scandinavian neighbors, and for this reason its doors were open to Jews escaping deportation from Norway, Denmark, and Finland. In the fall of 1943, the Swedish government requested the German government to place Denmark’s Jews in camps in Sweden. When the Germans failed to respond to the request, the Swedish government announced its willingness to provide a haven for all of Denmark’s Jews. Sweden’s action resulted in the rescue of Danish Jewry from deportation to the death camps.As Sweden’s policy become more pro-Allied, it came to play an important role in helping Jews under German domination. In particular, the Swedish government cooperated with the United States War Refugee Board and sent Raoul Wallenberg to Hungary to help protect Jews from deportation to the death camps by issuing Swedish passports. The Swedish government also played an important role in the decision made by the Hungarian regent, Miklos Horthy, to halt the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to Auschwitz in July 1944.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.
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