Introduction to Rescue by Sweden in the Holocaust


Jews had been living in Sweden since the 17th Century. 

By the 19th Century, Jews were fully integrated into the cultural and economic life of Sweden. 

There was a large influx of Jewish immigration between the 1860s and 1933.  Most Jews had come from Eastern Europe. 

In 1930, 7,044 Jews resided in Sweden, approximately 4,000 living in Stockholm.

In late spring 1933, King Gustav V of Sweden warned Hitler that the persecution of Jews would look bad in the eyes of the world.

Between 1934 and 1938, Sweden maintained a restrictive immigration policy in regard to refugees from Nazi Germany.  Sweden was a non-belligerent and maintained strict neutrality in the early part of the war.  In the early part of the war, it allowed German troops to cross its frontiers.  In addition, it provided strategic manufacturing supplies for the German war machine. 

Many members of the upper and wealthy classes in Sweden were pro-German. 

Throughout the war, Sweden was a major point for gathering intelligence about Germany and its territories.  Swedish diplomats, newspapers, were able to travel, unrestricted, throughout Europe.  However, due to strict censorship, many articles were not published.

On August 20, 1942, a Swedish consul in Stettin sent one of the first reports about the Holocaust in Europe.  He reported:  “The picture which my informant gave me concerning the treatment of Jews in Poland is such that it can hardly be expressed in writing… The intention is to exterminate them eventually… In a city, all the Jews were assembled for what was officially announced as ‘delousing.’  At the entrance they were forced to take off their clothes...; the delousing procedure, however, consisted of gassing and, afterward, all of them could be stuffed into a mass grave… The source from whom I obtained all this information on the conditions in the Generalgouvernement is such that not the slightest shade of disbelief exists concerning the truthfulness of my informant’s descriptions.”

On August 21, 1942, another Swedish diplomat, Göran von Otter, who was stationed in Berlin, received information about the use of poison gas in the murder camps of Poland from SS officer Kurt Gerstein.  Otter transmitted the report to his superiors in the Foreign Ministry in Stockholm.  There was no indication that the report was ever acted upon.

When the Swedish Jewish community became aware of the continuing persecution of Jews, they became active in promoting the rescue of Jews, particularly in Northern Europe.  Jewish community leaders continued to put pressure on the Swedish government to implement a liberal immigration policy.  This created an antisemitic backlash in some classes.  This was motivated largely by more economic than antisemitic factors.

Eventually, the Swedish government relaxed immigration regulations, allowing a number of Jewish refugees to enter the country, many without a visa.

Up till 1939, about 3,000 refugees entered Sweden from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.  Another 1,000 came from different parts of Europe.

After Kristallnacht in November 1938, 650 Jews were allowed to enter the country.

Public opinion in Sweden shifted after the horrendous crimes of the Nazis against Jews were made known.  In November 1942, the attempted deportation of Jews in Norway created a widespread feeling of sympathy for Jews.  About 900 Norwegian Jews escaped to Sweden.

Swedish diplomats in Oslo provided protection to Jews.

In the spring of 1943, Sweden initiated a major diplomatic effort to rescue 20,000 Jewish children trapped in Belgium and France.  This rescue plan was initiated by the Jewish Agency for Palestine.  The plan failed.

In October 1943, the Swedish government allowed 7,200 Jews to escape from Denmark.  Another 8,000 non-Jewish Danish refugees were accepted.  The Swedish government even allowed the Danish underground to operate and provided them the ability to communicate with the Allied forces.

Iver Olsson, of the newly-created War Refugee Board, who was stationed in Stockholm, and prominent leaders in the Jewish community in Sweden were instrumental to the hiring of Raoul Wallenberg and his rescue mission in Budapest.  Wallenberg and his fellow Swedish diplomats, Valdemar Langlet, Carl Danielsson, Göte Carlsson, Lars Berg, Asta Nilsson, Per Anger, and other members of the Swedish legation, were instrumental in saving tens of thousands of beleaguered Jews. 

At the end of the war, Sweden was a source of food and medical supplies to concentration camp inmates in Germany.  Funds for these parcels were supplied by the Jewish Joint and the World Jewish Congress.

In January 1945, Count Folke Bernadotte, President of the Swedish Red Cross, instituted a rescue action that helped save more than 21,000 concentration camp inmates, of whom more than 7,000 were Jews, mostly women.

After the German surrender, an additional 10,000 refugees came to Sweden under the auspices of the Red Cross and the UNRRA. 

More than 200,000 refugees, including Danes, Finns, Norwegians and Jews, were allowed asylum in Sweden.

King Carl Gustav V of Sweden

King Gustav V of Sweden sent a firm message protesting the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy.  This note, along with protests by the British and American governments, contributed to Horthy’s decision to stop the deportations in July 1944.  Gustav V of Sweden personally approved Raoul Wallenberg’s mission to Budapest.

Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson of Sweden

Swedish Prime Minister per Albin Hansson was initially reluctant to help Jews fleeing the Nazi onslaught.  He was concerned about violating Swedish neutrality and causing a German invasion.  Hansson had a change of heart after 1940 and allowed thousands of Jewish and other refugees to enter their country.  Thousands of Jews from Finland, Norway and Denmark were given safe refuge.  Hansson further agreed to accept Jewish refugees from Denmark during the German action of October 1943.  At that time, Hansson met with German diplomat Georg Duckwitz to make these arrangements.  

The Swedish government also encouraged diplomats throughout Europe to provide protection in the form of protective papers, visas and documents.  

Hansson and the Swedish foreign ministry agreed to empower Swedish diplomats in Budapest to rescue Jews in 1944-45.

Prince Carl of Sweden, Head of the Swedish Red Cross

Prince Carl of Sweden, Head of the Swedish Red Cross, expressed concern to German authorities regarding Jews who had been deported to the Eastern occupied territories.

Christian Guenther, Swedish Foreign Minister

In the autumn of 1943, Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs Christian Guenther negotiated for the release of Danish and Norwegian prisoners held in German camps.  This eventually led to the release of thousands of prisoners to the Swedish Red Cross under the supervision of Folke Bernadotte in March and April 1945. 

Gösta Engzell, Head of Legal Division of the Swedish Foreign Office, Stockholm, Sweden, World War II

Gösta Engzell headed the Legal Division of the Swedish Foreign Office throughout the war.  He was the individual most responsible for the positive switch in the Swedish government’s official policy and response to the murder of European Jews.  He convinced the Swedish government to help Jews in Nazi controlled territories.  He empowered diplomats in Norway, Denmark and later in Budapest.  He was responsible for empowering Swedish diplomats Carl Ivan Danielsson and Per Anger to issue Swedish protective papers to Budapest Jews.  By the end of the war, Swedish action on behalf of Jews in Europe, almost always initiated or supported by Engzell and his staff, contributed to the rescue and relief of 30,000-40,000 Jews.

Jewish Individual who Worked with Diplomats in Sweden

Rabbi Marcus Mordechai Ehrenpreis

Rabbi Marcus Mordechai Ehrenpreis was the Chief Rabbi of Sweden.  He was head of a Jewish rescue committee that lobbied the Swedish government for the protection of Jews.  He also raised funds for the maintenance of Jewish refugees in Sweden from Norway, Denmark and other countries.



Survival of Jews in Sweden


Jews of Sweden – 100%; number of Jewish refugees in Sweden in Spring 1944: estimated 12,000.  These included 7,200 Danish Jews who were given safe haven after the planned German deportation from Denmark in October 1943, and 900 Jews from Norway who were also given safe haven after escaping from Norway.[1]  In addition, Sweden accepted approximately 7,000 Jewish women who were liberated from the Ravensbrück German concentration camp by Red Cross representative Folke Bernadotte in the spring of 1945.[2]  More than 180,000 refugees in total were protected in Sweden during the war.[3]  No Jews were deported from Sweden.[4] Per Albin Hansson, Prime Minister of Sweden, and Christian Guenther, Foreign Minister, actively supported Sweden’s rescue efforts, allowing Sweden to become a refuge for Jews and other victims of the Nazis.[5]  The prewar population of Jews in Sweden was between 6,000 and 6,700.[6] 10 Swedes have been honored for rescuing Jews.





[1] Koblik, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Sweden,” pp. 614-616; Yahil, in Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, s.v. “Sweden,” pp. 1437-1440

[2] Koblik, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Sweden,” p. 617

[3] Koblik, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Sweden,” p. 616

[4] Gutman, 1990, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 1437; Koblik, in Laqueur, 2001, The Holocaust Encyclopedia, s.v. “Sweden,” pp. 614-618

[5] Yahil, 1969; Levine, 1998


[7] Bender & Weiss, 2007, The Encyclopedia of the Righteous among the Nations: Europe (Part I) and Other Countries, s.v., “Sweden,” pp. 514-517



Updated November 5, 2017