Sweden in World War II - across borders

Swedes in central Europe

On this page you find some information about more extensive activities by Swedes in European countries.



In 1901 several Swedes in Berlin, Germany, wanted to have a Swedish priest in Berlin. A priest arrived in 1902, and the following year the Swedish Victoriacongregation in Berlin was founded. Their church was consecrated in 1922. [s41].

Birger Forell became vicar in Berlin in 1929, for the Swedish congregation with 1400 members. He was from early on opposed to the Nazism, and had contacts with the opposition in German religious organisations. [s41].

For years jews and other pursued people were hidden in the church. Up to twenty people were there at the same time, and a few were there up to two years. False Swedish passports and other solutions helped them to leave. The Swedish church also managed to negotiate with Gestapo to set some prisoners free. Probably several hundreds of people were helped. [s41].

The church was under watch by Gestapo, but the normal police who had an office on the other side of the street warned the church about Gestapo operations. Tension with German authorities grew, and in 1942 Forell was called home to Sweden to avoid a formal order for Forell to leave Germany. But, his successor Erik Perwe continued the work with the few of the church staff that were involved in the secrecy. (Perve was killed in late November 1944, when the plane he travelled with was shot down south of Sweden.) [s41].

There were many Swedes in the congregation who supported the Nazism, and some were members of Swedish national socialistic organisations. Seemingly the Swedish minister in Berlin knew about the activities, but preferred to know as little as possible. In late 1943 both the church and the Swedish embassy was damaged by allied bombs, and during the first part of 1944 most of the staff at the church was evacuated. [s41].

Birger Forell returned to Germany in 1945, to Espelkamp in Westphalia. There he was engaged to help German prisoners of war who returned home, and refugees from the east. In the 1950s he was awarded a German medal. [s41].

On 20 May 1941 the Swedish minister in Berlin sent a report to the Swedish foreign office about the behaviour of Swedish sailors in German ports, with information from the Swedish consuls in various port towns. In Lübeck, Neustadt, Rostock and Wismar the problems had occured on board the Swedish ships, when drunk sailors returned from visits ashore. [s63]

Also in Stettin the most problems had connections to alcohol consumption, among others three deaths. But, there were relatively few problems. Between 1 June 1940 and 1 February 1941 there had been around 400 visits by Swedish ships in Stettin, and some 4,000 - 5,000 Swedish sailor visits. Two Swedes had been imprisoned, one due to violence and the other due to abuse of German authority. [s63]

In Danzig and Gotenhafen the time ashore had been limited for Swedish sailors after the summer of 1940, apparently due to negative political comments when they visited pubs. Gestapo in Bremerhaven had complaints about the Swedish sailors friendly approach to the prisoners of war who worked for the Germans in the port, where the prisoners were guarded by German civilians and elder soldiers. It was a crime in Germany to give the prisoners for example a piece of bread or some potatoes. [s63]

I the spring of 1944 eleven Swedish sailors were imprisoned in Germany. In most cases they were accused of helping war prisoners in the harbours with food. A couple of them were accused to try to help prisoners escape to Sweden, hidden on the ships. Other accusations concerned abuse of German politics and similar. Several Swedes had been condemned to years in German prisons. One death warrant was not carried out. [s63]

There had been several occassions when German war prisoners had been helped to escape to Sweden. [s63]

After their release from prisons, the Swedes complained about the submissive acting of the Swedish authorities toward the Germans. Even Swedes who were in bad condition were left without aid when they returned to Sweden. [s63]


In the summer of 1939 several Swedish companies were in business in Poland, among them Alfa Laval, ASEA, L.M. Ericsson and Svenska Tändsticks Aktiebolaget (STAB). The business was both sales and production. Around 100 Swedes lived in Warsaw, including diplomats. Some 20 of them, foremost wives and children, left Warsaw before the German attack on 1 September. [s67]

On 21 September the contending parties let foreigners leave Warsaw during a few hours of cease fire, before the main German attack on Warsaw. [s67]

In late December 1939 the first Swedish businessmen applied for permissions to return to Warsaw. Around 30 Swedes returned to Warsaw, damaged industries were repaired, former Polish employees were reemployed (when possible), and business began again. But, now under German control. [s67]

Around the turn of the year 1939-1940 the Polish resistance contacted Swedes. The Swedes could travel around in Poland and to Sweden, while communication between Poland and the Polish exile government abroad had been stopped when Germany occupied more of Europe. There were not so many radio transmitters, and to use them were hazardous. The Swedes were positive to help. [s67]

Among others messages and money were smuggled into Poland, and messages out from Poland. One of the Swedes had managed to get a pass to the ghetto in Warsaw, to take some photos and smuggle them to the Allies. (When they were published in newspapers in Britain and the U.S.A. they were seen as propaganda, and not true). When the same Swede visited Warsaw the last time during WW2 he brought 40,000 U.S. dollars. [s67]

These Swedes also gave information to Swedish authorities, among others about German troop movements. In April 1942 one of the Swedes in Warsaw was told that the former Polish national printing works had begun to print maps over Sweden, and this was interesting information for Sweden. Some information was also told to the French legation in Stockholm. [s67]

On 9 July 1942 Nils Berglind was on the way home to Sweden for a vacation, on a Swedish plane from the airport Tempelhof in Berlin. After half an hour the plane had to turn back to Tempelhof, where Berglind was arrested by Gestapo. Six other Swedes were arrested in their homes or offices a few days later. Many Polish were also arrested. Two other Swedes were in Sweden at the time, received warnings and remained in Sweden. In Sweden the press and relatives were asked to keep a low profile about this. [s67]

The Germans were pretty sure that the Swedish legation in Berlin was used and knew about the illegal activities, as well as some official Swedish persons in Stockholm. [s67]

On 30 June 1943 the Swedes were brought to court. The result was four death sentences, one life sentence and two were found not guilty but should be to Gestapos disposal. [s67]

Then diplomacy and other functions began to work, among others letters to Hitler from the Swedish king. The masseur Felix Kersten, who had Heinrich Himmler as a patient (and had good contact with Walter Schellenberg, head of the SS intelligence department "Ausland"), aided two Swedish directors from STAB to meet Himmler in October 1943 and plead for their colleagues. The war had begun to cause problems for Germany, and the attitude from Sweden changed over time. Among others the permission to transport German soldiers, on leave from Norway, via Swedish railroads had been stopped. Himmler was concerned about the German-Swedish relations. In November 1943 Hitler accepted that their death sentences were changed to lifetime. The four Swedes were moved to a prison in Bautzen, where the Swede who got a life sentence in court were held. At the time there were also around twenty Swedish seamen held in German prisons. [s67]

In early December 1943 Kersten mentioned the two Swedes who had been found not guilty, but still were held in Breslau prison, to his patient Himmler. He got no comment from Himmler, but a few days later they were released and went back to Sweden. [s67]

On 30 October 1944 two of the remaining Swedes were released, and were given positive aid for the journey to Sweden. In mid December 1944 the three remaining Swedish business men were allowed to return to Sweden. They landed on Bromma airport in Stockholm on 22 December, in secrecy. (This time Schellenberg was not able to attend, and Kersten paid their tickets and spent some money at the airport. Expenses he was never compensated for.) [s67]

This book (s67) has a translated letter from Himmler to the German foreign minister Ribbentrop, dated 31 December 1942. The issue is the activities of the Swedes who helped the Polish resistance, described on 14 pages. At the end he mentions among others that at the time (the letter was written) Germany had good contacts with the Polish representation in Stockholm, and also with the Swedish intelligence. Himmler also mentioned the use of the arrested Swedes to gain defence-economical advantages, and to investigate the possibilities to act against ASEA, L.M. Ericsson and STAB and eliminate the unwanted Swedish political and economical influence in Poland. [s67]

ASEA was one of the Swedish companies that was in business in Poland before the war, and continued during the war. Their factory had been damaged during the German attack in 1939, but it was repaired and in use until August 1944. After the Warsaw uprising the Germans moved all machines et cetera to Germany, and blew up the main building. [s67]

Director Sven Norrman, one of the wanted Swedes who were in Sweden when the others were arrested, went to Poland with the first flight after the war ended. [s67]


On 19 March 1944 Germany occupied Hungary. [s19]

In the early summer of 1944 the deportation of Jews from Hungary began. Hungary was under pressure from both Germany and the Allies. In June a question was made to Germany, and Hitler approved the emigration of 400 Jews with Swedish protective papers, 20000 Jewish children to Palestine and 7000 others under condition that the deportations in Hungary continued. The deportations stopped in early July, but discussions and pressure resulted in continued deportations from October 1944. [s27]

Sweden had a special relation to Hungary, since the neutral Sweden represented Hungarian interests on several locations on the planet. [s41]

At the time the Swedish authorities in Budapest had issued provisional Swedish passports to jews who had some kind of relation to Sweden. Valdemar and Nina Langlet issued 'protective documents' in the name of the Red Cross, and Asta Nilsson worked for the Save the Children Fund. The Swedish minister requested more staff from Stockholm. [s41]

The Swedish legation also wrote special certificates for Jews who had received permission to enter to Sweden. [s60]

Valdemar Langlet was delegate for the Swedish Red Cross in Hungary, and began his work in May 1944. The task, approved by the Hungarian government, was to give aid to all kinds of people in need, but foremost children, sick people, elder people and women without support. He began to issue 'protective documents'. [s60]

The Swedish king Gustav V sent a telegram to the Hungarian regent on 30 June 1944, with a personal appeal to save the Hungarian jews from persecution. [s28]

Raoul Wallenberg and helpers who worked with the Swedish legation had the task to give aid to Jews, especially those who had close relatives in Sweden or had had business contacts with Sweden during a longer period. The other Jews who could not be helped this way, searched for help at the Swedish Red Cross instead. [s60]

Prior to this assignment Wallenberg had worked as a businessman for a Swedish company, and had visited several countries in Europe. Now Wallenberg had the status as a Swedish diplomat, but his taskmaster and financier was the U.S.A. War Refugee Board. [s60]

Raoul Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944 to work as secretary in the Swedish legation. He produced 'protective passports' (Schutz-pass) with a more formal design, including photo and signature by the Swedish minister. Between July 1944 and January 1945 he and the Swedish diplomat Per Anger issued lots of them. Among others jews were housed in 'Swedish houses', and Wallenberg also intervened when jews were to be transported to concentration camps. Of the 50 000 jews that were saved, around half of them were helped by the efforts of the Swedes - most of them thanks to Wallenberg. [s41]

On Christmas eve Hungarian nazis attacked the Swedish legation, but the staff managed to escape. Asta Nilsson and Margareta Bauer were captured and placed at a wall for execution. However this was cancelled, and the women sent to the ghetto. They survived. [s41]

More than 100 000 Jews were rescued by the work of Swedish emissary Raoul Wallenberg, Swiss Consul Charles Lutz and others. [s27]

On 17 January 1945 Raoul Wallenberg was fetched by a Soviet Union officer and escort, and said goodbye to his collaborators [s41]. Maybe he died as a prisoner in the Soviet Union in 1947. [s26]


From around March 1942 the Swedish officer Torkel "Jimmy" Tistrand was stationed on the Swedish ship m/s Gripsholm, to organize exchanges of war prisoners. He participated in five larger war prisoner exchanges in various war zones. He came back to Sweden in early September 1944, after visits to among others Brazil, Mocambique and the USA. After WWII he joined the Red Cross, and became the head of a Red Cross camp in Essen, Germany, with 15,000 orphan children. [s49]

Another source: M/S Gripsholm, the first transatlantic liner with a diesel engine, was chartered by the USA during WWII. [s61]

2013-05-22. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss