I would like to thank Chairman D'Amato and the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs for this opportunity to participate in this hearing to examine results of the preliminary study issued by Ambassador Eizenstat.
The Swedish Government welcomes the report as a significant contribution to the efforts to shed as much light as possible on a dark chapter in the history of humankind. The Swedish Government, for its part, is also committed to leaving no stone unturned in this pursuit. We intend to continue a policy of total openness as regards the actions of the Swedish authorities during the Second World War. Actually, ever since 1945, the Swedish public has been debating the policies pursued by its government during the war. Indeed, the debate started earlier. Sweden remained an open and democratic society during the war. Although there were flaws, freedom of speech and of the press was upheld.
Soon after the war, a number of official reports were published. A comprehensive academic research project was launched in the 1960's in order to analyze Sweden's actions and policies during the Second World War. It has produced a number of interesting publications which serve to show the extremely complex political and military situation involving our three Nordic neighbors which Sweden had to face during the war.
Let me also quote from a paper on "The Roots of Swedish Neutrality" published by a Swedish scholar in 1986. It says: "Polemical discussion about the war time cabinet's neutrality policy continued in sharp tones during the first postwar years as the White Books about Sweden's wartime policy were published and the commissions of inquiry in the other Nordic states issued reports which showed how they regarded Sweden's attitude.
The points on which the government was open to attack were to some extent obvious. It was criticized for having pursued an excessively submissive policy towards Germany. The then Prime Minister Mr. Hansson and the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Gunther did not dispute that concessions had been made and that divergences from the rules of neutrality had occurred. As Prime Minister Hansson put it:
'On each occasion our overriding aim was to keep Sweden out of the war, if this could be done without loss of independence. It is clear that we could not ignore "the realities of power" in this connection. It has not been possible to follow a strict policy - what country has incidentally been able to do that? - and we have had to judge each time what was compatible with our essential objective'.
In the paper it is further stated that, "The concessions Sweden made during the years of German supremacy naturally favored Germany, as even the defenders of the war time government conceded. However, they argued that the importance of these concessions should not be exaggerated and that if they were viewed in the perspective of world war, their significance was extraordinarily limited. If one considered the consequences for the other Nordic peoples, Swedish policy had certainly not impeded their struggle for freedom or caused them increased suffering. On the contrary, Sweden had been able to help them within the limits of the possible, while an unbending policy might have led to a German occupation and complete control of the entire Nordic region" and, let me add, of all Swedish resources.
It is also stated in the paper that, "Most critics of the war time government --believed that it could have followed a firmer policy towards the Germans without running a great risk of attack. They argued that the government had exaggerated the risks in order to pursue an accommodating policy whose real roots lay in weak nerves or an indifference to the values which were at stake in the world war. The debate largely came to concern how great the risk of armed attack or overwhelming pressure had really been during the various crises of the war years. It was, of course, impossible to give a definite answer to hypothetical questions of this kind."
And here I leave the paper on "The Roots of Swedish Neutrality" which is hereby enclosed. In the late 80's and the beginning of the 90's, the debate on Sweden's war record has again flared up in our country.
Late in November last year, my Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Hjelm-Walle'n, received Mr. Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress. Mr. Singer asked the Swedish Government to assist in the efforts to reexamine the issue of Jewish property in Sweden.
Mrs. Hjelm-Wallen responded positively and assured Mr. Singer that Sweden was an open society and that our archives were open. An informal working group was formed with representatives from, among others, the Jewish Community in Sweden. In February this year, an official commission was set up by the Government: the Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the time of the Second World War.
According to its terms the Commission shall, in short, investigate the "gold issue" and the question of dormant accounts. It shall also analyze how the practical implementation of the Washington agreement of 1946 affected German-Jewish property.
As you can see, the Commission has been charged with investigating many of the issues touched upon in Ambassador Eizenstat's report. For the benefit of this Committee, I would like to enclose the Terms of Reference of our Commission. It should complete its work by March 1998.
The Commission is independent and is free to come up with any conclusions. The composition of the Commission, including its experts as well as its terms of reference, has been established in consultation with the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Community in Stockholm. The Commission comprises a wide array of expertise in this field such as historians, legal experts and a Holocaust survivor. The Commission will be able to scrutinize not only official documents but also private archives.
In addition to this, the Bank of Sweden, our national bank, in December last year initiated a special inquiry in order to make a compilation of the documentation in the archives of the Bank which contain information about the acquisition of gold from Germany during the war. It is expected that the results of the inquiry will be available in August this year. The result of the inquiry will be submitted to the Commission, which may make supplementary investigations if considered necessary.
As pointed out in Ambassador Eizenstat's report, it is vital that all facts are made public, that documents are declassified. In Sweden all documents held by public authorities (ministries, public administration, the Bank of Sweden etc.) are, in principle, open for anyone to see. If secrecy rules apply, they have strict time limits. The large majority of public documents relating to the Second World War have been open since the middle of the 80's. They were automatically declassified according to our legislation.
We note that the conclusions in Ambassador Eizenstat's report are preliminary and that a full picture of the issues and the events covered in the report will only emerge when the records of other countries have been studied. Ambassador Eizenstat's report has been handed over to our Commission for which it will undoubtedly serve as a valuable input. I am sure that the Commission would like to share its findings with Ambassador Eizenstat and his staff. In fact, the Commission has plans to visit the U.S. in order to study archives here.
Before coming to my comments, I would like to pay tribute to Ambassador Eizenstat and all the agencies involved for the extraordinary work they have achieved in the relatively short time span of seven months.
The two or three working days which have been available to us to study this comprehensive document is also a relatively short time span. Out of courtesy for the Committee, my Government has, however, authorized me to offer a few preliminary reflections of a general nature in the hope that they might be useful for this Committee.
The study states that commerce with Germany continued despite allied requests and warnings and that, "The neutrals continued to profit from their trading links with Germany and thus contributed to prolonging one of the bloodiest conflicts in history".
Actually, this trade was accepted in the Anglo-American-Swedish 1943 tripartite agreement. However, in 1944, especially the American side wanted to put an early end to all exports to the enemy. Sweden eventually gave in to allied requests, warnings and threats. Here I wish to refer again to "The Roots of Swedish Neutrality", pages 64-67, which gives you a Swedish perspective on this issue. As you may find, the ultimate reason for maintaining some contacts and trade with Germany was that the Swedish Government wanted to have a possibility of influencing Berlin to the advantage of our Nordic neighbors. Profits and wishes to prolong the war were far from its mind.
The Eizenstat report further describes the allied negotiations with Sweden after the war on pages 123-127. These negotiations were conducted in good faith, even if the negotiating partners did easily agree. Once the agreement was reached, it was also fully implemented by the Swedish side. In this connection we note the positive assessment on page xxix where it says, "Nowhere did these negotiations proceed as swiftly and successfully as with Sweden".
Finally, I would like to comment on the issue of morality and what was done by various countries to save the victims of Nazi persecution.
Winston Churchill called the Holocaust "the greatest and most horrible crime committed in the history of the world". How could it happen? Could it have been prevented? These are questions that will continue to haunt us for generations.
It is a historical fact that Sweden remained neutral during the war, or to put it more accurately, managed to stay outside the war. As the then Foreign Minister put it, all the states comparable with Sweden had followed or had tried to follow the same policy as Sweden. The fact that Sweden achieved what all had wished to achieve, namely to avoid war, was no cause for self-congratulation, but it was not a cause for self-reproach either.
Did we choose to be passive bystanders in the fight against the Holocaust? Were we in retrospect immoral?
We clearly agree with the report that no country did as much as it might have or should have to save innocent victims of Nazi persecution. We certainly do not claim that Sweden's record in this respect is spotless. On the contrary, the prevailing attitude immediately before the war and at the beginning of the war was a lack of real concern. This is quite clear from an official report which came out in 1946 concerning the treatment of refugees. Its straightforward conclusion was that our refugee policy at the outset lacked generosity. The policy was changed in 1941. But then it was too late for many.
Once it became known, however, that the Nazi regime had begun a program of mass extermination of European Jews, the Swedish Foreign Ministry organized a systematic effort to save Jews. Here I would like to refer to a doctoral dissertation by Paul A. Levine "From Indifference to Activism, Swedish Diplomacy and the Holocaust, 1938- 1944". Mr. Levine is an American citizen living in Sweden.
I would like to quote from page 62.
Let me recall the actions of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who was sent to Hungary by the Swedish Government to the Swedish Legation in Budapest in cooperation with the American War Refugee Board and the World Jewish Congress. This story has been told by Raoul Wallenberg's close collaborator in the Swedish Legation in Hungary, Ambassador Per Anger. I wish to refer to the enclosed book by Anger "With Raoul Wallenberg in Budapest". I would also like to refer to the enclosed book by Kati Marton "Wallenberg, Missing Hero". According to Marton, Wallenberg managed to save up to 100,000 Jews.
Of course these actions would not have been possible if Sweden had entered the war against Germany or if diplomatic relations with Germany had been broken off. Only a representative of a neutral country could have walked into the very jaws of evil to rescue victims. The same could be said about Count Folke Bernadotte who in 1945 in Germany managed to save more than 30,000 men, women and children from the concentration camps, a great part of them Jews.
These are some examples. I could also mention some 30,000 refugees from the Baltic States, 60,000 Norwegians and Danes and 70,000 Finnish children who found a safe haven in Sweden during the war.
The thesis that neutrality was immoral is nothing new in the debate. It was already put forward during the war, most notably by Americans after the United States itself had been drawn into the conflict. Towards the end of the war, when the full extent of Hitler's crimes became known, the Western powers began to argue more frequently that the neutral democracies had a moral duty to hasten the victory of the Allies, even if this involved disregarding the rules of neutrality or going so far as to enter the war.
Here we are fifty years later and we have certainly not come to the conclusion of that debate. We therefore warmly welcome the idea of an international conference of historians to examine the documentation now available.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
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