Sweden’s Refusal to Prosecute Nazi War Criminals: 1986-2002

, October 21, 2002

Jewish Political Studies Review 14:3-4 (Fall 2002)

Toward the end of World War II, an unspecified number of Latvian and Estonian Nazi war criminals escaped to Sweden among a wave of Baltic refugees fleeing the advancing Soviet Army. Although the Swedish government established a special commission to investigate their wartime activities, no legal action was ever taken against any of these escaped Holocaust perpetrators.

In 1986, the Simon Wiesenthal Center exposed the presence in Sweden of several Baltic Nazi war criminals and asked the Swedish government to investigate the entry of Nazi collaborators into the country and to take legal action against those who could be brought to trial. The Swedish authorities refused to investigate, let alone prosecute these cases, citing the existing statute of limitations which prohibited the prosecution of any crimes more than 25 years after they were committed.

This has remained the position of the Swedish government even after it was revealed in 2000 that those who had participated in Nazi atrocities were alive and living in Sweden. All the efforts to induce a change in Swedish policy on this issue have hereto failed. Sweden is currently weighing the abolition of the statute of limitations on genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes but will not do so retroactively, so there is no chance that any Nazi war criminal will ever be prosecuted in Sweden.

Background

In the fall of 1986, the Simon Wiesenthal Center began to intensify its efforts to help facilitate the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in various countries all over the world, focusing primarily on western democracies which had afforded a refuge to escaped Holocaust perpetrators in the immediate aftermath of World War II. The Center’s efforts were based on a discovery made by its Jerusalem office, which revealed that the files of the International Tracing Service (founded by the Red Cross and located in Arolson, West Germany), which were available on microfilm in the Yad Vashem Archives, contained extremely valuable information on the postwar emigration of numerous suspected Nazi war criminals. By cross-referencing master lists of Holocaust perpetrators with the files of the ITS, the Center’s researchers were able in a relatively short time to identify the postwar emigration destinations of numerous Eastern European collaborators who were alleged to have actively participated in the implementation of the Final Solution.

Since many of these suspected criminals had emigrated to countries which were democracies, but which had no legal mechanism to deal with crimes which had been committed in a different land at a time when the perpetrator was neither a resident nor a citizen of his current country of residence, the Center hoped that the revelation of the presence of numerous suspected Nazis would help influence these governments to investigate the Nazis’ entry and take legal action against them. In this regard, the Center’s hopes were based, to a certain extent, on the experience of the United States, where revelations regarding the presence of numerous Nazi war criminals and collaborators, who had entered the country as refugees during the years 1947-1952, had prompted the establishment in 1979 – in the framework of the Department of Justice – of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI), a special agency whose primary purpose was to take legal action against the Nazi war criminals residing in the United States. OSI’s relative success in prosecuting such cases (which were dealt with as civil rather than criminal cases for a variety of legal reasons)1 were the basis and the model for the Center’s efforts which, it was hoped, would induce additional countries to take similar or equivalent legal measures.

It is also important to note that the successful efforts of the American government to prosecute the Nazi war criminals residing in the United States had an added impact because they focused attention on the highly significant role played by local collaborators in the implementation of the Final Solution. This was the result of the fact that with a few exceptions, all the war criminals prosecuted by the Americans were East European collaborators, rather than Germans or Austrians. The trials of these perpetrators in the United States focused public attention on the active involvement of local collaborators in the mass murder of European Jewry, primarily in the areas in which the Einsatzgruppen had operated, and raised critical questions regarding the current whereabouts of war criminals who had escaped to countries other than the United States.

In this context, it should be noted that in two countries – Canada and Australia – the presence of numerous Nazi war criminals, who had entered as refugees, had already been revealed before the Center began its campaign, but those governments had still not decided what, if any, legal action to take against them. In that regard, the submission of lists of suspected Nazi war criminals who had immigrated to those countries was designed to increase the pressure upon these governments to take action against Nazi perpetrators. The Center’s working assumption in this regard was that the suspects it had discovered were the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” and that only a full-scale, adequately-funded governmental inquiry could reveal the scope of the postwar entry of Nazi war criminals under the guise of refugees in each of the countries in question. In all, a total of ten lists were submitted during the period from October 1, 1986 to March 1, 1987 to eight countries: Australia (3 lists – 65 suspects); United Kingdom (1 list – 17 suspects); Canada (1 list – 26 suspects); Venezuela (1 list – 3 suspects); Brazil (1 list – 1 suspect); Sweden (1 list – 12 suspects); West Germany (1 list – 44 suspects); USA (1 list – 74 suspects).2

 

The Swedish List

During the fall of 1986, the Center obtained information on twenty-one Latvian and Estonian suspected Nazi war criminals who had escaped to Sweden after World War II and were thought to still be residing in that country. The individuals in question ranged from national leaders who actively collaborated with the Nazis on a variety of key issues including security affairs and/or the murder of the Jews, to local officials who assisted the Nazi regime and participated in measures against the Jewish population in a specific geographic area, to journalists who worked for collaborationist newspapers. Among the most prominent Latvian collaborators were: Aleksanders Plesners who headed the Latvian SS-Legion; Karlis Lobe who organized the Latvian police battalions in Riga and later served as chief of police in Ventspils; Arvids Ose who was actively involved in the persecution of Jews in Riga and Alfreds Vadzemnieks who headed the Latvian Security Service (SD) in the Ventspils district and was alleged to have participated in the murder of civilians.3 Among the Estonians the most important suspects were Oskar Angelus, who headed the Estonian Department of Internal Affairs and organized the Estonian Political Police which carried out the murder of Estonian Jewry, Hugo Okasmaa and Leonid Laid who both served as officers in the Political Police in the Tallinn-Harju Prefecture and Vladimir Tiit and Arkadi Visnapuu who served as officers of the Estonian Security Police.4

Unlike the other lists presented to Western governments in the fall of 1986, the Swedish list was based primarily on allegations which appeared in Soviet publications published during the 1960s. And although there was a certain risk in presenting charges based on Soviet sources, the Center decided to submit the material for two major reasons. The first was that quite a few of the allegations which had appeared in similar Soviet publications had been confirmed independently, including some in Western courts.5 The second was that the Center believed that a Swedish governmental investigation would most probably find numerous additional suspected Nazi war criminals living in the country and would hopefully prompt legal action by the government against these criminals, a course of action which the authorities would never have initiated on their own without externally-produced evidence of the existence in the country of at least several Nazi war criminals. Although the Center was fairly certain that there were indeed numerous, additional, unknown suspects living in Sweden, it lacked the resources to carry out the kind of comprehensive investigation which can only be performed by a government, and therefore decided to submit the material despite the fact that it might be perceived as ostensibly less convincing than documents culled from Western sources.

On November 18, 1986, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, the Dean and Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, met in Washington, D.C., at the Swedish embassy with Swedish diplomat Ulf Hjertonsson and submitted a list of twelve6 suspected Latvian and Estonian Nazi war criminals whom the Center had reason to believe were residing in Sweden.7 In an accompanying letter to Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, the rabbis asked the Swedish government to “fully investigate these individuals and the overall question of how many Nazi war criminals may have made their way to Sweden after World War II.” After adding some details regarding the nature of the crimes committed by the suspects, the rabbis expressed their optimism regarding the response they expected from the Swedish authorities: “While we are very much aware of Sweden’s unique position in the world as a center of neutrality and asylum, we are certain that your democracy will want to act to help bring to justice those guilty of participating in the most heinous crime, the Holocaust.”8

As could be expected, the submission of the list, which was reported on briefly in Israel9 and the United States,10 became a major story in Sweden. In fact, coverage of the issue actually preceded the submission of the list by almost a month and helped build public interest even before the meeting in Washington.11 Thus, the submission of the names of the suspects marked the culmination of extensive local coverage on the presence in Sweden of escaped Baltic Nazi war criminals.12

While it was clear from the outset that the Swedish government would not respond immediately to the issues raised by the Wiesenthal Center, within hours after the list of suspects was submitted, there were already indications that the Swedes had no intention of taking any legal action against the Nazi war criminals residing in the country. Although Prime Minister Carlsson said that the government “will definitely look into it,” Justice Ministry spokesman Johan Munck said quite clearly that regardless of whatever crimes the individuals might have committed, no legal action whatsoever could be taken against them due to Sweden’s 25-year statute of limitations. According to Munch, “Under existing Swedish law they [the suspects – E.Z.] cannot be prosecuted and they cannot be deported to any other state. The only thing that can happen is that they could lodge a civil lawsuit for slander if their names were published in a newspaper.”13

This sad state of affairs was officially confirmed about three months later in Prime Minister Carlsson’s response to Rabbis Hier and Cooper. In a letter dated February 12, 1987, the Swedish prime minister informed the rabbis that all of the suspects were or had been residents of Sweden, that eight of the twelve were deceased, and that the government had decided that day at its Cabinet meeting not to take any action in response to the Wiesenthal Center’s request, primarily because of the existence in Sweden since 1926 of a statute of limitations of 25 years on the prosecution of the crimes alleged. Carlsson explained that the decision had been made following the presentation of an in-depth investigation of the legal status of the issues under consideration by a special committee composed of three undersecretaries for legal affairs: Johan Hirschfeldt of the Cabinet Office, Johan Munck of the Ministry of Justice, and Hans Corell of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He added, moreover, that “The idea of legislation that would retroactively change the legal position for the war criminals of the Second World War was strongly repudiated by Sweden as early as during the period of limitation. The three lawyers have therefore come to the conclusion that a change in this position must be regarded as out of the question.”

Carlsson was obviously aware of the problematic nature of his response and therefore asserted that Sweden’s refusal to take legal action against local Nazi war criminals should under no circumstances be misconstrued as a lack of concern regarding war crimes in general and those of the Holocaust in particular. In Carlsson’s words:

Finally, I should like to add this. The war crimes which were committed during the Second World War constitute one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind. It is important that these war crimes do not fall into oblivion. Knowledge of what happened in the shadow of the Second World War must be an important lodestar for existing and coming generations. Such events must be condemned and must not be repeated. The fact that the Swedish Government has now decided not to take any action in regard to your request must, therefore, under no circumstances give the impression that the Government does not fervently oppose all kinds of war crimes. However, the rule of law must be upheld. I am convinced that you understand that an amendment of the Swedish law would be contrary to fundamental principles which have been of guidance in legislation in our country for a long time.14

A careful reading of the report prepared for the government by the three undersecretaries for legal affairs affords interesting insights into the basis for the refusal of the Swedish government to take action against Nazi war criminals And in fact, it reveals Swedish officials who are oblivious to the trials of Nazi war criminals being held elsewhere in the world, ignorant of the history of the Holocaust in the Baltics and basically dismissive of the moral significance of the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators. Thus, for example, they consider the prospect of being able to conduct a “meaningful” trial of the suspects “unlikely” even though they openly admit that they were unable to verify the accuracy of the allegations against the suspects. In the same vein, despite the plethora of historical documentation on the active participation of Baltic Nazi collaborators in the persecution and murder of Latvian and Estonian Jewry,15 the authors write that “It is impossible to judge from the sources available how far native collaborators participated in the German genocidal actions and deportations.” Given this attitude it is hardly surprising that the report not only advocates a negative response to the Center’s request for legal action against the suspects, but even rejects the possibility of establishing a commission of inquiry, and advises against the initiation of a governmental investigation into the question of how many Nazi war criminals ever entered Sweden. “To initiate an inquiry into the matter in the present situation would be dubious from the standpoint of principle and from the material point of view hardly meaningful.”16

The unequivocally negative response of the Swedish government and its refusal to even consider, let alone pass, legislation of any sort to enable the prosecution of Nazi war criminals, dealt a harsh blow to the efforts to initiate legal action against Holocaust perpetrators living in Sweden. The fact that the basis for the decision was legal in essence thwarted whatever efforts might have been undertaken to induce a change in government policy, and practically paralyzed the Wiesenthal Center’s initiatives vis-a-vis Sweden. Finding additional suspects against whom there were more convincing documentation and witnesses would not make a difference since regardless of the evidence Sweden had decided that it could not prosecute Nazi war criminals.

Thus, in the aftermath of the February 1987 decision, the Wiesenthal Center was reduced to attempting to publicize Sweden’s refusal in principle to prosecute and thinking of ways to convince the Swedish government to change its policies. Opportunities to do so during the following decade and a half were few and far between, and with Swedish Jewry a relatively small and not particularly influential community,17 and with little public interest elsewhere in the issue, Nazi war criminals living in Sweden had no reason to fear for their future. In fact, the situation appeared so hopeless in this regard, that the Center did not even submit the names of additional suspected Baltic Nazi war criminals who escaped to Sweden towards the end of World War II which it uncovered in early 1989,18 because it was clear that the government had no intention of even investigating, let alone prosecuting, these cases. During this period, apart from a lecture by the author of this article which focused on Sweden’s failure to prosecute, which was delivered at the First International Jerusalem Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors and received a fair amount of media coverage,19 little was done – either publicly or behind the scenes – to attempt to alter the situation.

While the speech in question did succeed in arousing the ire of the Swedish ambassador to Israel who protested its contents, and expressed his government’s condemnation of “all kinds of war crimes,”20 nothing, of course, changed. Even worse, nothing happened in the wake of revelations by Swedish historian Helene Loow that in the immediate aftermath of World War II the Swedish authorities had refused to extradite Nazi collaborators to their countries of origin (because they feared that they might be subjected to summary trials and face a death sentence). In addition, Loow exposed the fact that although the Swedish authorities investigated all the arriving refugees, they adopted a lenient attitude toward escaped Baltic Nazi war criminals, who were regarded as having cooperated with the Nazis out of patriotism, and whose heinous participation in the murder of Jews was generally overlooked or ignored. In such cases, the Swedish authorities tended to regard evidence concerning war crimes in the Baltics from Communist – and even to some extent from Jewish sources – as questionable or motivated by “personal enmity.” Under such circumstances, it is hardly surprising that not a single Baltic war criminal was ever prosecuted in Sweden and that at least several others whose wartime activities were revealed during the investigations were allowed to freely emigrate elsewhere.21 In fact, the only legal cases in Sweden which related to crimes committed during World War II were civil cases, including one in the wake of an effort by Simon Wiesenthal to convince the Swedish authorities to take legal action against Latvian police commander Karlis Lobe who was accused of participating in the murder of Jews in the Ventspils district, among other crimes.22

More than an entire decade passed from the time that the Swedish authorities refused to take action in response to the Wiesenthal Center’s list of suspected Nazi war criminals until a serious opportunity presented itself to attempt to change Swedish policy on this issue. That opportunity arose in the wake of a very surprising development. Sweden, which during its entire history had never played a significant role in any global Jewish issue, assumed a leadership role in worldwide Holocaust education. This development created an opportunity to force Sweden to reassess its position under the spotlight of international attention, which had hereto never been the case. Thus, already at a preparatory conference held in Stockholm in early May 1998 to coordinate efforts to promote Holocaust education all over the world, the author of this article called upon the Swedish government to change its existent policy and investigate Nazi war criminals and establish a legal mechanism to enable their prosecution. Although this appeal was presented as a means to enhance and reinforce Holocaust educational activities in Sweden,23 it found no specific expression in the conference resolutions,24 nor was the author ever invited again – in any capacity – to subsequent meetings and conferences of the task force for international cooperation to spread knowledge about the Holocaust.

A year and a half later, however, as preparations were in high gear for the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust, which was to be attended by numerous heads of state and international leaders, new revelations regarding Nazi war criminals in Sweden finally forced the Swedish government to reexamine its position. The man behind the expose was a Swedish journalist named Bosse Schon who revealed that at least 260 Swedes had served in the Waffen SS, among them several who, late in the war, guarded Hitler in his bunker in Berlin and at least one (Harald Sundin), who served in Treblinka, participated in executions and was still alive and living in Sweden.25 The information which Schoen published in a book entitled Svenskarna Som Stred For Hitler (Swedes Who Fought for Hitler)26 also served as the basis for a three-part documentary film by the same name (produced by Rolf Wrangnert) which was broadcast on Sweden’s TV4 in late December 1999 and led to a serious political furor. Swedish MP Alf Svensson, leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, for example, said that his country had “to own up to its links to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust,” and demanded that Prime Minister Goran Persson deal with this issue before the international conference convened in Stockholm, lest Sweden’s ties to the Third Reich and its failure to prosecute Nazi war criminals overshadow its efforts to promote Holocaust education.27 Most important, five of Sweden’s seven parliamentary parties supported his call for action.28 On 4 January 2000, the director of the Jerusalem office of the Wiesenthal Center called upon Persson to initiate an official governmental inquiry to investigate those Nazi war criminals living in Sweden, to take measures to insure that those found guilty could be brought to trial, and to establish an historical commission to fully examine Sweden’s role in the Holocaust. In Zuroff’s words, “how can Sweden lead such a worthy educational initiative if a Swede who served in the infamous Treblinka death camp has never been investigated, let alone prosecuted by the Swedish authorities, and the same applies to numerous other Nazi war criminals.”29

This time, the response of the Swedish government was practically immediate, with Prime Minister Persson announcing on Swedish Television that he would consider appointing “a commission, research project or some other method to find out exactly what the Swedish Nazis did.” With four hundred delegates from 45 countries due to attend the Stockholm Conference, among them German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, French Prime Minister Lionel Jospen and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak,30 the issue could obviously not be ignored as it had been in the past. Thus the stage was set not only for a thorough evaluation of Sweden’s history during the Holocaust, but even for a reappraisal of Swedish policy on Nazi war criminals, with the media full of news and analysis of the issues, including reexaminations of the Wiesenthal Center’s 1986 list of suspected Nazi war criminals.31

On 19 January 2000, a week before the Stockholm Conference was set to begin, Prime Minister Persson addressed the Swedish Parliament and expressed his embarrassment that Swedes who had committed crimes against humanity had never been brought to justice. According to Persson:

The Swedish Security Service is in possession of documents containing information about Swedes who collaborated with Nazi Germany during the war, as well as information about suspected war criminals who fled to Sweden. Researchers already have access to this type of historical material. However, as a result of recent discussions, the question of how long documents should be classified has arisen. The Government is prepared to examine this matter once again.

Just like many other people, I too am tormented by the thought that Swedes who have been a party to Nazi Germany’s crimes against humanity have been able to go free in our country without the competent judicial authorities taking steps. The shame of our past is something that we Swedes must bear together.

The Government is well aware of the very difficult legal problems and matters of principle that are involved when instituting legal proceedings for crimes that fall under the statute of limitations, but will nevertheless reconsider the matter as and when the occasion arises. In addition, the Government will shortly be appointing a committee of inquiry assigned with the task of abolishing the period of limitation for inter alia war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.32

Although Persson’s comments appear to indicate a possible change in Swedish policy vis-a-vis Nazi war criminals, a careful reading of his statement makes clear that there was little room for optimism. If Bosse Schon’s revelations regarding Swedes who fought alongside the Nazis were not sufficient reason to reexamine the statute of limitations, it was extremely doubtful whether such a reason actually existed. And, indeed, once the Stockholm Conference was successfully completed, and the international focus on Sweden ended, there was no serious pressure on the government to change its policy.

This was clearly borne out in July 2000, when Swedish Prime Minister Persson notified the author of this article that the Swedish government had ruled out any possibility of changing the statute of limitations for crimes committed during World War II. According to Persson:

The periods of limitations for the crimes that the accused are said to have committed expired a long time ago. The longest period of limitation in Sweden is twenty-five years. The idea of introducing legislation that would retroactively change the legal position for the war criminals of the Second World War was repudiated by Sweden already during the European debate on this issue in the 1960s. However, many other European countries decided to prolong the current period of limitation concerning these crimes. Sweden took the position that a prolongation would be in conflict with general legal principles. Today, I can only regret this stand-point and lament the fact that nothing was done at that stage when it, in retrospective, should have been possible.

The Swedish Government has also thoroughly considered the possibility of reintroducing criminal responsibility for the crimes under the Second World War, for which the periods of limitations have expired in some cases more than thirty years ago. Any legislation reintroducing the criminal responsibility would come in conflict with general principles of the Swedish judicial system. It is not possible for the Government to suggest such legislation.

Since Sweden has no possibility of reintroducing the criminal responsibility for these crimes, no accusations against individuals can be tried by the Swedish judicial bodies. Any official investigation, established by the Government, could be said to evade the current legislation and to risk a conflict with the purpose behind the law on this point.

The Government has therefore decided not to take further action in response to your request to establish an official governmental investigation concerning crimes against humanity during the Second World War.

It is my hope that you will understand the situation in which we find ourselves. I want to stress that it is my opinion that an opportunity to change the statute of limitations existed during the 1960s. I deeply regret that a different decision was not made at that time.

However, during this year the Government will establish a commission with the task to deliberate the Swedish legislation as to war-crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The commission will also be charged with the issue of abolishing the statute of limitations for the future for these very serious crimes.33

The decision of the Swedish government to refrain from altering the existing statute of limitations – as expressed in Persson’s letter – in effect “closed the book” once and for all on any hope of achieving the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in that country. Under these circumstances, the only option available to those opposed to this decision was protest and indignation, which found frequent expression in the Swedish34 and international35 media in the immediate aftermath of the government’s decision. Yet, as powerful and as incisive as these responses may have been, they did not achieve any concrete result and thus it is almost one hundred percent certain that no Holocaust perpetrator living in Sweden will ever be held accountable for their crimes.

Postscript

On 19 April 2001 the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued its first Annual Nazi War Criminals Prosecution Status Report which graded the performances regarding this issue over the past few years of eighteen different countries which were either the site of Holocaust crimes or the current domicile of suspected perpetrators. The grades ranged from A for the best performance to F for “total failure.” While the U.S. Office of Special Investigations was awarded the former grade for its outstanding successes, Sweden and Syria were the only two countries to receive a failing grade.36 The fact that Sweden’s record was assessed so negatively, to the extent that it was grouped together with a notorious violator of human rights like Syria, aroused considerable public attention,37 as well as the ire of Swedish officials including Prime Minister Persson. “I am a bit shocked by the tone and the attack which continues although one must know what we have done and what we stand for,”38 he noted. In a statement to Swedish news agency TT, the Swedish leader explained that what was required in this matter was retroactive legislation, which is simply out of the question because it completely conflicted with Swedish legal principles. Six weeks later the author of this article utilized the publication of a report by an international commission of historians appointed by Estonian President Lennart Meri to investigate the crimes committed during the Nazi (and Communist) occupation of Estonia which named Oskar Angelus, who escaped to Sweden and lived there for many years, as one of those personally responsible for the murder of Estonian Jewry39 to once against raise the issue of unprosecuted Nazis in Sweden.40 A month later, Swedish journalist Maj Wechselmann who, over the years, has been one of the most outspoken advocates of Swedish action against Holocaust perpetrators,41 also wrote about the Estonian war criminals who escaped to Sweden after World War II.42

In early September 2001, Bosse Schon published another book on the war crimes perpetrated and/or witnessed by Swedes who fought with the Nazis.43 While it received extensive coverage in the Swedish media,44 it, like all of the abovementioned initiatives, did not produce any change in Swedish policy. Thus, by the time the Wiesenthal Center’s second Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals appeared in April 2002, and again awarded Sweden an F for its failure to investigate, let alone prosecute, suspected Holocaust perpetrators living in the country (this time together with Venezuela, Columbia and Syria),45 that fact received wider coverage in Israel than it did in Sweden.46 The publication in August 2002 of a book listing the names of all the members of the Swedish Nazi Party before and during World War II,47 likewise failed to bring about a change in Swedish policy.

In summation, Sweden remains one of the few countries in the world which refuse, in principle, to investigate suspected Holocaust perpetrators, regardless of their being Swedish citizens or not, and the places where they are suspected of having committed their wartime crimes. By comparison, three of the other countries to which the Simon Wiesenthal Center submitted lists of suspected Nazi war criminals in the fall of 1986, passed special legislation to enable the prosecution of the Holocaust perpetrators living in those countries: Canada in 1987, Australia in 1989 and Great Britain in 1991. (The United States opted for denaturalization and deportation, which did not require the passage of any legislation.) All four countries submitted indictments and conducted trials with varying degrees of success,48 and the United States and Canada are continuing to do so to this day. Faced with a similar (albeit not exactly identical) legal obstacle to prosecution, Sweden opted to ignore the problem, thereby granting a safe haven to those who least deserve such largesse.

 

Notes

1. For an account of American efforts to identify and prosecute Nazi war criminals resident in the United States, see Allan A. Ryan Jr., Quiet Neighbors; Prosecuting Nazi War Criminals in America (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984).
2. The Wiesenthal Center’s campaign to help facilitate the prosecution of Holocaust perpetrators in various western democracies is described in Efraim Zuroff, Occupation: Nazi-Hunter; The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust (Hoboken: KTAV, 1994).
3. “Suspected Nazi War Criminals in Sweden – List #1,” memo of Efraim Zuroff to Rabbi Marvin Hier, 10 October 1986, Simon Wiesenthal Center – Jerusalem Office Archives (henceforth, SWC-JOA), Sweden, file I (10 October 1986 – 10 December 1990); E. Avotins, J. Dzirkalis, and V. Petersons, Daugas Vanagi; Who are they? (Riga: Latvian State Publishing House 1963), pp. 14, 50, 54, 76-81, 142, 148; J. Silabriedis, and B. Arklans, Political Refugees Unmasked (Riga: Latvian State Publishing House, 1965), pp. 17, 20-21, 62, 67-69, 133, 134, 137-138, 156, 192, 194.
4. “Suspected Nazi War Criminals in Sweden – List #2,” memo of Efraim Zuroff to Rabbi Marvin Hier, 12 November 1986, SWC-JOA, Sweden; I. Raul Kruus, People Be Watchful (Tallinn: Estonian State Publishing House, 1962).
5. See, for example, E. Rozauskas (ed.), B. Baranauskas and K. Rukenas, Documents Accuse (Vilnius: Mintis, 1970); pp. 136-139, 246-247. Among the Nazi war criminals mentioned are Helmut Rauca, who was extradited from Canada to West Germany and Kaunas mayor, Kazys Palciauskas, who was stripped of his American citizenship in the United States.
6. Nine names were removed from the list prior to its submission at the insistence of the Center’s Washington counsel Martin Mendelsohn because based on their dates of birth, they were most probably no longer alive or because one of the persons was a Nazi sympathizer who did not commit war crimes. Fax of Rabbi Abraham Cooper to Efraim Zuroff, 17 November 1986, SWC-JOA, Sweden, I.
7. Don Shannon, “Nazi Hunters Give Sweden 12 Names From Data Bank,” Los Angeles Times, 19 November 1986.
8. Letter of Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper to Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, 18 November 1986, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file I.
9. See, for example, Eliyahu Zehavi, “Shvedya: Lo Nasgir Poshim Natzim,” Ha’aretz, 20 November 1986.
10. See, for example, “Nazi hunters give Sweden list of names,” Sun (Las Vegas), 19 November 1986.
11. The journalist who broke the story was Arne Lapidus, the Israeli correspondent of the Swedish daily Expressen. See his article, “Nazistiska massmordare bor i Sverige,” Expressen, 23 October 1986. According to Lapidus the list contained fourteen names (our original list of Latvian suspects), but we subsequently uncovered the names of seven Estonian suspects and removed the names of those who were obviously already dead. The appearance of the article by Lapidus prompted numerous additional stories. See, for example, Ann-Katrin Hagberg, “Nazist Jagarna Har Fel,” Folket (Eskilstuna), 25 October 1986, p. 1.
12. See, for example, the 19 November 1986 issue of Svenska Dagbladet, which devoted all of page 6 to articles regarding the list and the issue of suspected Baltic Nazi war criminals. See also Rolf Stengard, “Utpekade sakra i sverige,” Dagens Nyheter, 19 November 1986.
13. “Sweden Says It cannot Act on Suspected Nazis,” Los Angeles Times, 20 November 1986.
14. Letter of Swedish Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson to Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, 12 February 1987, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file I.
15. See, for example, Yad Vashem Archives TR-10/994, 1140; M-21/476; Wiener Library Archives 539/22, Dov Levin, Im ha-Gav el Ha-kir (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1978), pp. 158-159.
16. “Certain Allegations of War Crimes – A General Review,” 11 February 1987, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file 1.
17. According to community spokesperson Lena Posner-Korosi, there were about 20,000 Jews living in Sweden. “…it is a small community, mainly consisting of survivors and children of survivors.” Mordechai Specktor, “Stockholm conference puts spotlight on Sweden’s Jews,” American Jewish World (internet), January 2000.
18. “List of Suspected Nazi War Criminals – Sweden List #2,” undated, approximately February 1989, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file I.
19. See, for example, Charles Hoffman, “Jerusalem conference told ‘Sweden sheltering Nazi war criminals,'” Jerusalem Post, 21 December 1988; Natan Roi, “Shvedya Misarevet ‘Mi-Sibot Humaniteriyot’ Lachkor Posh’im Natzim bi-Tchuma,” Davar, 21 December 1988.
20. Letters of Swedish ambassador to Israel, Mats Bergquist, to Efraim Zuroff, 5 January and 6 March 1989; response of Efraim Zuroff, January 12, 1989, SWC-JOA. Interestingly, Bergquist stressed the importance of the crimes committed during World War II while defending Sweden’s refusal to prosecute such cases. Thus in his initial letter he wrote:

Finally, I should like to add this. The war crimes, which were committed during the Second World War, constitute one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind. It is important that these war crimes do not fall into oblivion. Knowledge of what happened in the shadow of the Second World War must be an important lodestar for existing and coming generations. Such events must be condemned and must not be repeated. The fact that the Swedish Government has now decided not to take any action in regard to your request must, therefore, under no circumstances give the impression that the Government does not fervently oppose all kinds of war crimes. However, the rule of law must be upheld. I am convinced that you understand that an amendment of the Swedish law would be contrary to fundamental principles which have been of guidance in legislation in our country for a long time.

21. Helene Loow, “Swedish Policy Towards Suspected War Criminals 1945-1987,” Scandinavian Journal of History, no. 14, (1989):135-153.
22. Ibid.; see letters of Simon Wiesenthal to Swedish Justice Minister Erik Kleng, 4 March 1969 and to Efraim Zuroff, 11 September 2002, both SWC-JOA, Sweden, file VI.
23. Shortly before the conference, Swedish radio journalist Bosse Lindquist broadcast a documentary report on the complicity of Swedish officials in the escape from Sweden of Estonian Nazi war criminal Evald Mikson. See Efraim Zuroff, “The Impact of Contemporary Political Issues on Holocaust Education,” speech delivered at Stockholm meeting on the Holocaust,…tell ye your children; summary from the meeting of 7 May 1998 in Stockholm, pp. 32-33.
24. “Conclusions” of the Stockholm meeting on the Holocaust; letter of Helene Lindstrand to Dr. Efraim Zuroff, 8 May 1998, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file III.
25. Ulle Lene ?sterhom, “Svenskar forsvarade Hitler’s liv i bundern,” Aftonbladet, 19 December 1999; Britt Peruzzi, “Hitlers Svenska Soldater,” Aftonbladet, 20 December 1999.
26. Bosse Schon, Svenskarna Som Stred For Hitler (Stockholm:BokforlagetDN., 1999). Tobiass Hubinette did much of the research for the book.
27. Belinda Goldsmith, “Sweden Urged to Admit Links to Nazi Germany,” 4 January 2000, Reuters.
28. Belinda Goldsmith, “Swedish PM Promises Probe Into Nazi Germany Links,” 6 January 2000, Reuters.
29. Letter of Dr. Efraim Zuroff to Prime Minister Goran Persson, 4 January 2000, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file IV. Arne Lapidus, “Nazistjagare tiill attack mot Goran Persson,” Expressen, 3 January 2000.
30. See note 27.
31. See, for example, Richard Aschberg and Ulf Wallin, “Sverige – detta ar skandal,” Aftonbladet, 12 January 2000, pp. 14-15; Belinda Goldsmith, “Sweden accused of double morals on Holocaust,” 19 January 2000, Reuters.
32. “Extract from Goran Persson’s statement during today’s debate between party leaders,” Press Release (of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust), 19 January 2000, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file IV.
33. Letter of Prime Minister Goran Persson to Dr. Efraim Zuroff, 11 July 2000, SWC-JOA, Sweden, file V.
34. See, for example, Arne Lapidus, “Nazist-jagaren till attack mot Goran Persson,” Expressen, 15 July 2000; Karl Viktor Olsen, “Wiesenthal Center Vill Att Persson Tanker Om Stockholm,” 18 July 2000, Swedish News Agency TT (Tidningarnas Telegrambyra).
35. See, for example, Anne Pandolfi, “Swedish statute of limitations can’t be changed to bring war crimes suspect to trial,” 13 July 2000, Associated Press.
36. “Nazi War Criminals Prosecution – Annual Status Report – April 2001,” SWC-JOA, Sweden, file V.
37. See, for example, Elli Wohlgelernter, “USA gets A, Sweden F on Nazi Prosecution,” Jerusalem Post, 19 April 2001, p. 1; Ramit Plushnik-Masti, “Nazi-hunting group points finger at Sweden, Syria,” 19 April 2001, Reuters.
38. Owe Nilsson, “Sverige och Syrien Samst Pa Att Jaga Nazister,” 19 April 2001, TT; see also Arne Lapidus, “Sverige samst pa att utreda nazistiska krigsforbrytelser,” (Sweden worst at prosecuting Nazis), Expressen, April 20, 2001.
39. “The German Occupation of Estonia,” Report of the Estonian International Commission for the Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity, http://www.history commission.ee, pp. 4-7.
40. Efraim Zuroff, “Sverige blev en fristad for Forintelsens bodlar (Sweden Became a Haven for the Hangmen of the Holocaust), Expressen, 2 June 2001, p. 3.
41. See, for example, Maj Wechselmann, “Judeutrotare mitt ibland oss,” Aftonbladet, 26 January 2000.
42. Maj Wechselmann, “Esterna som hjalpte Hitler,” Aftonbladet, 19 July 2001.
43. Bosse Schon, Dar jarnkorsen vaxer (Stockholm: BokforlagetDN., 2001). Swedish researcher Tobiass Hubinette assisted in collecting the material for this book.
44. See, for example, “Ondskans ogonvittnen, (Eyewitnesses of the evil),” Cafe, September 2001, pp. 72-78, 198-200.
45. Efraim Zuroff, Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals; An Annual Status Report, Jerusalem, 2002.
46. Haim Shapiro, “Sweden cited for failure to prosecute Nazis,” Jerusalem Post, 8 April 2002, p. 3; Nazistjagare domer ater ut Sverige, Aftonbladet, 9 April 2002; Fredrik Engstron, “Inrikes,” Svenska Dagbladet, 9 April 2002.
47. Tobias Hubinette, Den Svenska Nationalsocialismen;Medlemmar Och Sympatisorer 1931-1945 (Swedish National Socialists; Members and Sympathizers 1931-1945) (Stockholm: Carlssons, 2002).
48. For details on the passage of special laws to enable prosecution in Canada, Australia and Great Britain, see Zuroff, Occupation: Nazi-Hunter; The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust (Hoboken: KTAV, 1994), pp. 237-340.

 

 

 


Appendix

 

Correspondence Between Simon Wiesenthal Center Officials and Swedish Prime Ministers on the Nazi War Criminals Issue (1986-2000)

  1. November 18, 1986 – Letter of Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper to Swedish PM Ingvar Carlsson
  2. February 12, 1987 – Letter of Swedish PM Ingvar Carlsson to Rabbis Hier and Cooper
  3. January 4, 2000 – Letter of Dr. Efraim Zuroff to Swedish PM Goran Persson
  4. January 6, 2000 – Letter of Dr. Efraim Zuroff to Swedish PM Goran Persson
  5. July 11, 2000 – Letter of Swedish PM Goran Persson to Dr. Efraim Zuroff
  6. July 17, 2000 – Letter of Dr. Efraim Zuroff to Swedish PM Goran Persson

November 18, 1986

His Excellency Mr. Ingvar Carlsson
Prime Minister of Sweden
Statsradsberedningen
S-10333
Stockholm, Sweden

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has intensified its worldwide hunt for suspected Nazi war criminals. As a result of our investigations, our Jerusalem office headed by Efraim Zuroff, a Holocaust historian and formerly with the Office of Special Investigations U.S. Justice Dept., has found material which has enabled us to put together a list of suspected Nazi war criminals, murderers and collaborators who, based on our research, are believed to be living in Sweden.

Enclosed is a preliminary list of twelve suspected Nazi war criminals who, based on archives drawn from various places of the world, are suspected of having committed crimes against Jews in Latvia and Estonia during the Nazi occupation. This list of suspects contains varying degrees of culpability ranging from crimes against humanity, mass murder and torture, collaborators and those aiding the Nazi cause. For some suspects on the list, we have supplied important immigration data which, in some cases, indicates the individual’s last known address in Sweden.

During the period in question, of a population of 95,000 Latvian Jews only a few hundred managed to survive the brutal genocide carried out by Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian collaborators and supervised by the Germans.

We trust that your Government will fully investigate these individuals and the overall question of how many Nazi war criminals may have made their way to Sweden after World War II. While we are very much aware of Sweden’s unique position in the world as a center of neutrality and asylum, we are certain that your democracy will want to act to help bring to justice those guilty of participating in the mot heinous crime, the Holocaust.

The biological clock is running out on Nazi war criminals and the record of history should not read that those who committed unspeakable crimes against humanity had the final victory by depriving justice of its due course. Future generations must learn that the crime of genocide has no time limit and that even forty-five years after the event, governments will overcome any impediment in exercising their responsibility to bring those who committed such crimes before the bar of justice.

We look forward to hearing from you on the contents of this letter at your earliest convenience.

Cordially,

Rabbi Marvin Hier
Dean

Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Associate Dean


Stockholm, 12 February 1987

Simon Wiesenthal Center
9760 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035-4792
U.S.A.

Dear Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper,

Your letter of 18 November 1986, in which you requested that the Swedish Government should investigate suspected war crimes in Estonia and Latvia during the Second World War has now been dealt with by the Government, and I would like to inform you of the Government’s decision in this matter.

The Government immediately charged a group of lawyers (the Under-Secretaries for Legal Affairs, Mr. Johan Hirschfeldt, at the Cabinet Office, Mr. Johan Munch, at the Ministry of Justice and Mr. Hans Corell, at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs) to examine the material submitted to the Government and to review the legal position with regard to war crimes.

The group has now completed its work and submitted a memorandum to the Government. The Swedish version of this memorandum is attached to this letter. An English translation of the summary is also appended. The memorandum is presently being translated into English, and you will be provided with a copy of this translation as soon as possible.

As far as the findings of the group are concerned, I refer to the attached material. I should just like to add the following. The examination concerning the persons named has proven that all of them have been, or are resident in Sweden and that eight of them are deceased. The crimes that the accused persons are said to have committed came under the statute of limitations in Sweden a long time ago. Since 1926 the longest period of limitation in Swedish law has been twenty-five years. The idea of legislation that would retroactively change the legal position for the war criminals of the Second World War was strongly repudiated by Sweden as early as during the period of limitation. The three lawyers have therefore come to the conclusion that a change in this position must be regarded as out of the question.

At today’s Cabinet Meeting the Government decided not to take further action in response to your request.

Finally, I should like to add this. The war crimes which were committed during the Second World War constitute one of the darkest chapters in the history of mankind. It is important that these war crimes do not fall into oblivion. Knowledge of what happened in the shadow of the Second World War must be an important lodestar for existing and coming generations. Such events must be condemned and must not be repeated. The fact that the Swedish Government has now decided not to take any action in regard to your request must, therefore, under no circumstances give the impression that the Government does not fervently oppose all kinds of war crimes. However, the rule of law must be upheld. I am convinced that you understand that an amendment of the Swedish law would be contrary to fundamental principles which have been of guidance in legislation in our country for a long time.

With kind regards,

Ingvar Carlsson


January 4, 2000

H.E. Prime Minister Goran Persson
Prime Minister’s Office
Rosenbad 4
Stockholm
Sweden

Dear Prime Minister Persson,

This letter is being written to you out of respect and admiration for your efforts to initiate and promote Holocaust education in Sweden and throughout the world. At the same time, I cannot refrain from drawing your attention to the total failure of successive Swedish governments to investigate Swedes who participated in the crimes of the Holocaust, as well as Nazi war criminals who were granted a refuge in Sweden after World War II.

Yesterday’s documentary “Swedes Who Fought for Hitler” by Bosse Schon screened on TV4 clearly showed that individuals who actively participated in the persecution and murder of innocent civilians are currently living in Sweden. It would be unthinkable not to initiate legal measures against such individuals who openly admitted their complicity in the crimes of the Holocaust. At the same time we must remind you that the postwar entry into Sweden of Nazi war criminals has also never been investigated, nor have any legal steps ever been taken against any of these individuals.

Under these circumstances, we respectfully urge you to immediately take the following steps:

1. Establish an official governmental inquiry to investigate the crimes.

2. Take legal measures too ensure that those found guilty of crimes against humanity can be brought to trial (despite the existent statue of limitations which should not apply to genocide and crimes against humanity).

3. Establish a historical commission to fully investigate Sweden’s role in the Holocaust beginning with its refugee policy in the thirties and continuing with its actions once the implementation of the Final Solution began in 1941. Later this month experts from all over the world will gather in Stockholm to discuss the future of Holocaust education. But how can Sweden lead such a worthy educational initiative if a Swede who served in the infamous Treblinka death camp has never been investigated, let alone prosecuted by the Swedish authorities, and the same applies to numerous other Nazi war criminals?

I would welcome an opportunity to discuss this issue with you in person and look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Efraim Zuroff
Director


January 6, 2000

H.E. Prime Minister Goran Persson
Prime Minister’s Office
Rosenbad 4
Stockholm
Sweden

Dear Prime Minister Persson,

Allow me to congratulate you on your wise and courageous decision to call for an investigation of the Nazi war criminals currently living in Sweden. Even decades after these crimes were committed, the need to bring those responsible for them to justice remains as strong as ever.

For this reason it is imperative that the Swedish reaction to the recent revelations regarding crimes against humanity will include a practical, judicial component which will allow the prosecution of those who committed these terrible crimes. This subject cannot be relegated to the history books, while those responsible remain alive and are able to be brought to trial.

One of the major lessons of Holocaust education is personal responsibility and the role that each individual plays in society. The best way to reinforce that important message is to ensure that those who betrayed their civic duty and committed such crimes will ultimately be held accountable and we therefore urge you to ensure that Sweden will take the necessary measures to that a measure of justice, even if delayed, will finally be achieved.

We wish you much strength in your important educational endeavors and hope that the forthcoming conference will be a resounding success. With best wishes.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Efraim Zuroff
Director


11 July 2000

Dr. Efraim Zuroff
Simon Wiesenthal Centre
1 Mendele Street
Jerusalem 92147
Israel

Dear Dr. Efraim Zuroff,

I refer to your letters of 4 and 6 January 2000, in which you have requested that the Swedish Government should establish an official governmental inquiry to investigate the participation in the crimes of the Holocaust by Swedish citizens and other persons currently living in Sweden and that legal measures should be taken to ensure that those found guilty of crimes against humanity can be brought to trial. Further you have requested that the Swedish Government should establish a historical commission to fully investigate Sweden’s role during the Holocaust.

I would like to inform you of the Government decision in this matter. Lawyers at the Ministry of Justice have considered the Swedish legal position with regard to war crimes and especially the regulations on the statute of limitation. The Government has also studied the memorandum on this issue that was written in 1986 by three Directors General charged inter alia with the task to consider whether certain alleged war criminals in Sweden could be prosecuted. This memorandum was sent to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles in 1987.

The periods of limitations for the crimes that the accused are said to have committed expired a long time ago. The longest period of limitation in Sweden is twenty-five years. The idea of introducing legislation that would retroactively change the legal position for the war criminals of the Second World War was repudiated by Sweden already during the European debate on this issue in the 1960s. However, many other European countries decided to prolong the current period of limitation concerning these crimes. Sweden took the position that a prolongation would be in conflict with general legal principles. Today, I can only regret this stand-point and lament the fact that nothing was done at that stage when it, in retrospective, should have been possible.

The Swedish Government has also thoroughly considered the possibility of reintroducing criminal responsibility for the crimes under the Second World War, for which the periods of limitations have expired in some cases more than thirty years ago. Any legislation reintroducing the criminal responsibility would come in conflict with general principles of the Swedish judicial system. It is not possible for the Government to suggest such legislation.

Since Sweden has no possibility of reintroducing the criminal responsibility for these crimes, no accusations against individuals can be tried by the Swedish judicial bodies. Any official investigation, established by the Government, could be said to evade the current legislation and to risk a conflict with the purpose behind the law on this point.

The Government has therefore decided not to take further action in response to your request to establish an official governmental investigation concerning crimes against humanity during the Second World War.

It is my hope that you will understand the situation in which we find ourselves. I want to stress that it is my opinion that an opportunity to change the statute of limitations existed during the 1960s. I deeply regret that a different decision was not made at that time.

However, during this year the Government will establish a commission with the task to deliberate the Swedish legislation as to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The commission will also be charged with the issue of abolishing the statue of limitation for the future for these very serious crimes.

Concerning your request that the Swedish Government should establish a historical commission to fully investigate Sweden’s role during the Holocaust I am happy to inform you that we have started an extensive work in this field.

The Government has initiated a discussion to consider the need of a certain research program. The 28th of February a meeting was held between the Government and researchers from all over the country to discuss what we know today, the need for further research and what the Government can do to contribute to and facilitate such research. The Government will give financial support to such research.

This initiative is partly also an answer to some of the proposals made by the Swedish Government Commission on Jewish Assets in Sweden at the time of the Second World War. This Commission was set up by the Government in 1997 with the task of examining questions of looted gold and other assets which had belonged to Jews and which had ended up in Sweden because of the Holocaust. In its final report in March 1999 the Commission clearly states that its report is not the final answer to the complicated and intractable historical issues raised. The Commission views the report as a platform for continuing work and suggests that further research must be carried out concerning Swedish business relations with Nazi Germany.

But it is my firm belief that the research shall be carried out by independent researchers, not bound by any instructions from the Government. That is why I am not ready to establish a commission as you have requested.

Like you, I want to see a total disclosure of the Swedish public relations to Nazi-Germany. Research has been done to a large extent, but a lot of questions still remain unanswered and I can assure you that we do our utmost to seek the answers.

The Swedish project Living History started in the summer of 1997. The idea was to spread knowledge about the Holocaust, but also to generate an active dialogue between the generations on democratic and humanistic values. In Sweden, Living History was just the beginning. Now we seek greater knowledge and understanding of our own history. The 27th of January will be the official Swedish Remembrance Day for the Holocaust. We also prepare the establishment of a permanent Forum for Living History in Sweden. The Forum will serve as a permanent centre for remembrance, research and dialogue about the many atrocities of the Holocaust. The Stockholm Conference will be a recurring event and thus a yearly conference on the theme “Conscience and Humanity” will be held in Sweden.

Furthermore, in this context I am happy to tell you that 40 million SEK has been reserved to support Jewish culture in Sweden.

Information, education and research are not the only ways to be used in the fight against Nazism. The Government also considers possible ways to strengthen the legislation against nazi-related crimes. In the current Penal Code we already today consider it an aggravating the circumstance whenever a crime is committed with racial or ethical motives. As I mentioned earlier we will also deliberate our legislation concerning war crimes and our intention is to abolish the statute of limitations for this crime and others. Another commission has also been established the task of which is to consider whether it should be made a criminal offence to participate actively in an organisation, for example a racist organisation, whose operations involve criminal activities on a significant scale. Active participation could, according to the Commissions’ terms of reference, include financing or supporting the organisation in other ways. In this connection the Commission was also instructed to consider whether the provision concerning agitation against an ethnic group is sufficient to prevent racist organisations from functioning. The Commission is expected to present its report in October 2000.

As stated above the Government today decided not to take any further actions in response to your request. However, I can assure you that we are doing our very utmost to take other measures within our power to secure that the atrocities of the war will never be forgotten and to prevent these horrible events from ever occurring in the future.

I want to underline that we much appreciate the dialogue with the knowledgeable experts from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and that we look forward to continue the discussions from the first constituting meeting with the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust and Research in which you participated.

Yours sincerely,

Goran Persson


July 17, 2000

Prime Minister Goran Persson
Regeringskansliet
SW – 103 Stockholm
Sweden

Dear Prime Minister Persson,

It was with extremely mixed emotions that I read your letter of July 11, 2000, which was brought to my attention by AP reporter Anne Pandolfi, and later faxed to my office by your spokesperson.

On the one hand, I was very pleased to learn that the Swedish government intends to establish a commission to examine its policy regarding war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide and that it will consider the abolition of the statute of limitations on such crimes. If such a step will indeed be taken, it will be an important victory for justice, one which will have important implications on the future efforts to bring genocidists to the bar of justice.

On the other hand, I was very saddened by the government’s decision too reject the request by the Simon Wiesenthal Center to undertake legal action against Holocaust perpetrators currently living in Sweden. It is a decision which effectively grants total immunity to all those who committed crimes during the Holocaust, and gives a priceless reward to those who have hereto eluded justice, a reward they certainly do no deserve. In addition, it creates a situation in which Nazi war criminals might turn your country into a refuge from judicial prosecution.

Such a decision, moreover, sends the worst possible message to Sweden’s neighbors, particularly in the Baltics, where newly-independent former Soviet republics are struggling with the issue of the prosecution of local Nazi collaborators. In these states there is widespread opposition to the prosecution of locals who participated in the mass murders and Sweden’s refusal to even investigate, let alone prosecute, Nazi criminals will only encourage those opposed to this critically-important process. Thus instead of leading by example in the prosecution of those who actively participated in the worst mass murder in the annals of mankind, Sweden has chosen to refrain from doing so, thereby squandering an excellent opportunity not only to achieve a measure of justice but to encourage neighboring fledgling democracies to do the same.

Think back for a moment to the shameful speeches delivered at the Stockholm Living History Conference in January of this year by Lithuanian Prime Minister Kubilius and Latvian President Vike-Freiberga. Both tried to deny or drastically minimize the extensive participation of their countrymen in the crimes of the Holocaust. Both are currently facing concrete decision regarding the prosecution of their nationals for the crimes of the Holocaust. What effect do you think Sweden’s decision last week not to prosecute such criminals will have on Latvia and Lithuania? Such a decision will obviously hardly encourage them to undertake the difficult, but morally imperative, decisions that I assume you yourself would want them to take.

While I very much share the deep regret you express in your letter that Sweden did not change its statue of limitations on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in the sixties, I believe that there are remedies available in international law which could help solve the problem. In fact, there are distinguished jurists, such as Prof. Irvin Cotler, who is currently a member of the Canadian parliament and was recently appointed special advisor to the Canadian Foreign Minister on matters of international criminal law who are of the opinion that in the case of genocide, international law takes precedence over national law, thereby ensuring the possibility of prosecution of Nazi war criminals, even in Sweden. I again urge you to reexamine this issue and will be happy to put your experts in contact with Prof. Cotler.

In this context, it is important to note, moreover, that in recent years, several governments, most notably Canada (1987), Australia (1989) and Great Britain (1991) have passed special laws to enable the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and the United States had utilized immigration and naturalization laws to be able to take legal action against Holocaust perpetrators. Sweden’s failure to do so, underscores the lack of political will in Stockholm to tackle this difficult subject.

As far as the government’s efforts to fully investigate Sweden’s role during the Holocaust, I was very pleased to learn that extensive work has already been initiated in this regard. Your decision to entrust this project to independent researchers is certainly understandable and acceptable and we can only hope that their work will be carried out comprehensively and effectively in as brief a period as possible. In that regard, the Wiesenthal Center did not consider the government’s involvement in such a commission as absolutely necessary, although we assumed that governmental resources would be required for a thorough examination of the entire Nazi period to be carried out properly.

The other steps mentioned in your letter, whether it be support for Jewish culture in Sweden or strengthening current legislation against Nazi-related crimes, clearly manifest your grave concern that the lessons of the Holocaust never be forgotten and that they will reach – and be internalized by – as wide a public as possible. We fully support these steps and offer the Center’s fullest cooperation with Swedish officials and experts regarding these matters.

In closing, allow me again to express the Center’s support for the positive steps being taken by your government, but also to reiterate our call that justice be made part of Sweden’s otherwise excellent program in relation to the Holocaust. A failure to do so, not only rewards those least deserving of our sympathy, but also weakens the impact of the excellent work being done to commemorate the Holocaust and ensure that such tragedies never take place again.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Efraim Zuroff
Director

 

About Dr. Efraim Zuroff

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and coordinator of Nazi war crimes research for the Center worldwide. Since 2001, he has published the Wiesenthal Center's Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals.