Sweden does not have many war heroes, largely as the result of a policy of avoidance over the last hundred years or so, while the rest of the world plunged itself into conflict. It managed to avoid getting drawn into the First World War, despite its links with the rest of Europe. Its hard for me to understand whether Sweden during WW1 was closer to Germany or to England. The queen of Sweden at the time, Victoria, was German, and even though she was married to the Swedish king she managed to spend a good deal of her life outside Sweden, a country which she apparently didn’t like much. She died, however, in Sweden between the wars. The next queen of Sweden was an English girl, the sister of Dickie Mountbatten (First Lord of the Admiralty), though her father was German.
In WW2 it would seem Sweden was ambivalent about which side to join, having strong links to Germany, but not really wanting to commit herself, unlike Norway which resisted Germany from the beginning and suffered much hardship as a result. Sweden thought it would be better to remain neutral and keep her options open. But there were many in Sweden who did not agree with the government’s decision. A recent book tells the story of “the forgotten agents,” volunteer soldiers, farmers, policemen, customs agents and others who helped the Norwegian resistance movement (De glömda agenterna, by Anders Johansson). Other Swedes took action by sheltering Jewish refugees escaping from the war ravaged continent. Such individuals recognized the evil of the Nazi regime and resisted in whatever way they could despite the strict neutrality of their national government.
There is one Swede that stands out, however, as a real war hero: Raoul Wallenberg, who was a Swedish diplomat in Hungary during the Second World War. In a report yesterday in the English language newspaper, The Local, it was observed that “Wallenberg is credited with saving 100,000 Jews while he was stationed in Hungary during World War II. He was last seen in Budapest on January 17, 1945, when Soviet forces took the city from German troops. Soviet records state he died in a Moscow prison in 1947. However, his exact fate remains unknown, much to the frustration of his surviving family.”
Earlier this year the Swedish Academy decided to dedicate August 27 to his memory. Sweden is not very big on naming days after people. Indeed, it is rather un-Swedish to celebrate people as heroes at all. Raoul Wallenberg has however been honored in many other countries of the world, not least Hungary, and Australia (where, according to Wikipedia, he was named Australia’s first ever honorary citizen in 2012). In 2001 Sweden also decided it was time to publicly recognize Wallenberg’s achievements, and since then two memorials to him have been unveiled in Sweden, one in Stockholm and the other in Gothenberg. Finally, yesterday, Sweden celebrated the first Raoul Wallenberg Day.