In 2014 the old European Super Power and former war nation Sweden celebrated 200 years of peace.
In that time two World Wars have passed in which Sweden managed to stay out of affray, neither declaring war nor being attacked by a foreign military power. Though don't think that Sweden was unaffected by the war's that set the rest of the continent on fire or that Sweden wasn't a player in both World Wars.
In this article I want to concentrate on World War
II and explore what part Sweden and its people played in the war. If we
are lucky, we might find a reason or an understanding on why there aren't
any public celebrations to mark this incredible achievement of 200 years of
Today we know that Sweden played both ways during the Second World War, everything was accepted if it meant that the country stayed "neutral" and out of the war.
As a democratic nation there is no doubt that Sweden's heart belonged with the democratic nations in the western alliance, but we also know that a large part of the population admired Hitler and Nazism, and we also know that a large number of Swedes volunteered as soldiers to fight for Hitler. Not only for Hitler, as young Swedish men could be found fighting on both sides of the conflict.
*Finland's Cause is Ours*
On the 30th of November 1939 the Soviet Union declared war on Finland. The offensive was largely a result of the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin and to see the large Soviet behemoth attack its small neighbour left the world in shock, but a greater shock came when Finland surprised the world with their ability to fight back against the enormous Soviet army unleashed against them. This show of poor military prowess by the Soviets left Hitler convinced of the fallibility of the Soviet Military machine and bolstered his own military intentions against them.
In Scandinavia and particularly in Sweden a civic initiative, supported by the government "exploded" to support Finland not only with money and war material, but also with soldiers. Sweden didn't declare itself as neutral in the so called Winter War, but Sweden also didn't declare war on the Soviet Union either. Instead Swedish soldiers were recruited on a voluntary basis by the civilian organisation. Over 12 000 Swedes volunteered along with around 700 Norwegians and 2 Icelandic citizens to fight for Finland. Around 1000 Danish citizens also volunteered, but didn’t eventually embark for Finland. In total Sweden spent more money on the winter war in Finland then it did on its own defence budget of 1939-1940.
*The Finnish War Children*
Between 1935 and 1944 an estimated 72 000 war children were sent to Sweden from Finland. Among those children were both Swedish and Finnish speakers. Of the children dispersed across Sweden 15,000 never returned to Finland.
*The Strategic Player*
As a neutral country Sweden had the possibility to trade its vast natural resources with all sides in the war, an opportunity that Sweden made the best of and a game that Sweden played very well, always leveraging it as means to stay out of the war. As a neutral player it was out of the question to trade with war material, however, Germany was very interested in Swedish iron ore and everybody knew it would go to military production, but again Sweden used the expediency of neutrality to turn a blind eye to this breech of its own rules. In all Sweden covered about half of Germany's iron ore needs during the war.
Of the 20 European nations declaring neutrality at the beginning of the war, only 7 stayed neutral for the entire war and many would say that the breech of true neutrality came at the expense of other Europeans lives.
The two most evident examples on how Sweden was an important player on both sides of the conflict are highlighted below:-
1) Germany was given "permission" to use Swedish rail to transport soldiers and war materials between Finland and Norway. German soldiers on leave where also given permission to travel on Swedish rail between occupied Norway and Germany.
2). Sweden acted as a lifeboat for emergency landings by British and American pilots and with the help of Sweden thousands of pilots was smuggled back to British soil.
*The White Coaches*
On the 19th of April 1945 the white coaches from the Swedish Red Cross started their rescue operations to rescue, firstly, all Scandinavians from the German controlled concentration camps. The operation was orchestrated by Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish Diplomat and Nobleman. Most of the rescued where of Danish and Norwegian descent. The operation was made possible after negotiations with the SS and was carried out on the condition that no Jews were to be rescued from the concentration camps. However at the end of the war many SS and
Gestapo officers where bribe able and with big risk they managed to save many Jews and peoples from other nations.
On top of the Scandinavians saved, a further 12, 000 people were rescued from the concentration camps and brought to Sweden in the first two months alone.
How many Jews they managed to save is uncertain but it is most likely that we’re talking in the thousands. Following German capitulation another 10,000 were eventually saved from the camps.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish diplomat stationed in Hungary between July 1944 and January 1945. During that time he managed to save tens of thousands of Jews by providing them with Swedish passports and giving them housing in diplomatic buildings regarded as Swedish territory. In January 1945 Budapest was under the Red Army's control and Wallenberg was arrested by the Soviets and was never seen again.
It’s plain to see that the path of peace and true neutrality is a rocky road. Holding true to your own aims and desires for your countrymen not to be drawn into the field of battle often means that you must sit by whilst wrongs are done within your full view. Whether this right and just is a moral question that the neutral nation must battle with itself. It is clear that the Swedish Government and Swedish people did what they could to help the peoples of Europe to the best of their ability whilst staying neutral.
That they equally consorted with the Nazis to appease their needs is a case of balance, whether they got this balance right can sometimes be determined by what is gained materially from each side, though of course, this is always a case of perspective. Can a country gain from war but still do the right thing as a consequence? Ultimately Sweden did what it saw fit in very difficult circumstances and only history can judge whether they were right or wrong in neutral stance.