What Happened to my Scandinavia? Part III: Sweden

Stockholm felt more alive to me than the other Scandinavia capitals and, of the three, it has the largest Jewish community, at least 10,000 people. Swedish law provides support for “Indigenous Minorities” which includes the Jews. The restoration of the synagogue was therefore financed by the government. The same applies for the Day School.

On Rosh Hoshana of 1942, 8,000 Danish Jews, virtually the entire community, were ferreted out by boat to Sweden by Danish fisherman. They spent the remaining war years in safety. In addition, some 900 Polish Jews escaped occupied Norway and were granted safe haven in Sweden.

And, of course, there is Raoul Wallenberg, one of my most admired heroes. Aristocratic and privileged, he saved an estimated 100,000 Hungarian Jews at great risk to his life. He was arrested by the Soviets after the war for reasons not entirely clear and died in a Russian prison. Wallenberg is remembered in “The Garden of the Righteous Gentiles” at Yad Vashem.

It was important for me to learn what Swedes today know and feel about Wallenberg. I was touched to see that there is a Raoul Wallenberg Square where a path of bricks taken from the Budapest ghetto leads to the synagogue.

Despite its heroic and inspiring past, life in Sweden is problematic for Jews. As Michel Gurfinkiel of Mosaic Magazine points out in his article, How to Survive as a Jew in Sweden, “The only way to survive as a Jew in Sweden is not to be seen as one.”

On Friday night, entering the synagogue was an ordeal. I was stopped and interrogated by an Israeli armed guard. He had been informed of my visit, he knew I was an American rabbi, I had my American passport, we spoke in Hebrew, and it still took 20 minutes to enter.

The end of my trip coincided with Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. This is the day the Jews mourn the destruction of Jerusalem and the loss of our homeland 2,000 years ago. We were dispersed to the end of the world, and here I was, sitting on the floor of a synagogue in Stockholm, Sweden, with my fellow Jews, praying the same prayers to the same melodies.

We Jews do not give up.