Sweden in World War II - across borders

Information in Sweden

In October 1939 Hitler had complained to the Swede Sven Hedin about the media in Finland, Norway and Sweden. He stated that he had no reason to feel any friendship towards countries where the press described him in such negative ways. [s57]

What discussions took place within Sweden in the summer of 1940? Sweden had been as unprepared for war as Denmark and Norway. By some reason the Germans had not attacked Sweden. In Sweden, as in many other countries, there were people who sympathized with the nazi politics both openly and more or less in secret.

There was also a fright for a German attack on Sweden. The German occupation of Denmark and Norway also meant that they could cut off the shipping between Sweden and the Atlantic Ocean.

During the summer of 1940 Germany defeated country after country in western Europe. Germany was allied with Italy. Britain seemed to be the only country that managed to defend itself from German occupation, but for how long?

There was a the possibility that Germany would win the war in Europe. During discussions in the Swedish government there were different views of the situation and the future. [s10]

What should Sweden do? What could Sweden do?.

Already when the war in Scandinavia began and Sweden declared neutrality, Germany had demanded that neutrality also should be applied on expressions of opinions. One reason was that a strong public opinion in Sweden against Germany would make it more difficult for Germany to press the Swedish government to give various forms of support to Germany. Anti-nazi articles in Swedish press was also used to put the Swedish government under pressure. [s10]

Long before the German attack on Norway on 9 April 1940, the Publicist Club in Stockholm had invited the president of the Norwegian parliament, C J Hambro, to give a lecture in mid April. Now he had arrived a few days earlier, for unofficial work in Stockholm for the Norwegian government. He was called to a meeting with the Swedish foreign minister who said that he couldn't forbid him to hold the lecture, but told that the Swedish representative in Berlin had been called to Ribbentrop a couple of times - where the German said that it would be seen as an unfriendly act to let the president of the Norwegian parliament hold a public lecture. No lecture was held. Later Hambro was invited to a group of members in the Swedish Riksdag (the Swedish Parliament) for a not public meeting, but - he was called to an official at a higher level than the Swedish foreign minister... No meeting took place. [s01]

Hambro also was asked by Norway to give an orientation of the status in Norway via radio. That was not allowed, he was told. Instead the speech was recorded in Stockholm, the record sent to London, and his speech broadcast on BBC 12 April 1940. The text was also printed in the Swedish newspaper "Trots allt" (Despite all). [s01]

From the early summer of 1940 the German pressure on Sweden grew. [s10]

German political pressure and threaths on Sweden was not known to the common Swedes. This made it difficult for the government to explain some decisions. [s58]

The Swedish government exhorted the press not to disturb Swedens relations with Germany. Most of the press used a self-censorship. Some went on to print anti-nazi texts. [s28]

When Britain seized four new Swedish destroyers, on the way to Sweden from Italy, the Swedish press did not write about it in capital letters. [s48]

After the Norwegian king and government had first legislated their possibility to continue their offices from abroad and then left Norway, the political pressure in Norway from both Norwegian nazis and Germans increased. One way was to dethrone the king. On 18 July 1940 Swedish newspapers told that Norwegians did not want to dethrone king Haakon [s10].

Poems from anti-nazi authors in Norway and Britain could sometimes be read in some Swedish newspapers. [s10]

Several Swedish newspapers had issues confiscated during World War II. Another way to stop unwanted newspapers was to ban the transport of them. In 1940 this was used to stop "Trots Allt!" and communist press. [s06]

Censorship stopped other things too. In 1940 the Karl Gerhard song "Den ökända hästen från Troja" (The famous horse from Troja) was banned, after complaints from the German embassy in Stockholm.

The Charlie Chaplin movie "The Great Dictator" from 1940 was stopped until 1945, due to the delicate relations with Germany. [s06]

There were also Swedish newspapers that were more or less pronazi and pro German.

Sweden and Germany had signed agreements about courier plane traffic over Sweden, and in general about how to handle planes and crew in case of emergency landings. One result was that info about these events were scarce in Swedish media, and when something was written it was without details like plane types and who were onboard. Nothing were to be written about what happened with the crew and the plane. [s77]

Swedish communists and other persons who were seen as unreliable for the nation were handled in special work companies. [s06]

It was not easy during the war for correspondents to get fresh news home to their newspapers, with for example prohibited use of telephones and censorship. Telegrams were often used.

On 10 September 1941 the Finnish armoured ship Ilmarinen (armed with several Bofors guns of various types) participated in a German naval operation. By some reason there suddenly was a large explosion while the ships were on their way to the operation area, maybe caused by a couple of mines that got tangled in the ships faulty anti-mine device, and Ilmarinen sank. 271 Finnish sailors were killed. Swedish newspapers were the first to publish the news. [s59]

The London newspaper "The Apocalypse", written in German language, published an article about German Jews deported to Soviet Union territory under German control. There they were to be killed in some kind of mass murder. "The Times" in London also mentioned this. The information source was a publication from the Swedish Social Democrats. (The deportations had just begun.) [s27]

A Norwegian who had been imprisoned in the Norwegian prison Grini wrote an article about the German torture. It was published in several Swedish newspapers in 1942, and 17 of them had issues confiscated [s06]. Another example: in one issue of Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfartstidning one half of a page had no text, only the headline of the article was printed - "In Norwegian prisons and concentration camps" (my translation) [s10].

When the Swedes began to understand more about their situation, and also due to strong foreign and domestic political interests, it was time to be silent in Sweden. Do not talk about industry production, transports and other issues that could be useful for potential enemies. You never know who listens. The phrase "En svensk tiger" (A Swede keeps silent, where the word "tiger" in Swedish means both the animal and the phrase "keeps silent") was published with an illustration of a blue- and yellowstriped tiger.

In Trondheim in Norway all Jewish men elder than 14 years were arrested in early October 1942, in mid November all Jews in Norway were ordered to register, and on 26 November 532 Jews were shipped to Germany. This deportation made the headline in many Swedish newspaper the following day, and around the end of 1942 an opinion poll showed that this was the news that influenced the Swedes most in 1942. [s60]

In 1943 Arvid Fredborg's book "Bakom stålvallen" ('Behind the steel rampart/bank', my translation) was published. The Berlin correspondent for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet wrote among others about the persecution of the Jews and the lack of legal rights of the individual. [s59]

At the end of 1943 all confiscations and transport bans for newspapers had been terminated. [s06]

On 30 November 1943 1,200 students and teachers at Oslo University were arrested, and were to be sent to Germany. The Swedish foreign minister presented a démarche to the German minister on 1 December, and the text was published on the same day. A sharp answer was given verbally in Berlin on 4 December, and this was also published. On 17 December a Swedish reply to the German message was given in Berlin, published on 18 December. [s60]

In 1944 the Swedish supreme commander bans the nazi newspaper Dagsposten from all military messrooms. [s06]

Also during the last days of fighting in Berlin, the few remaining Swedish correspondents worked to send news home to Sweden. One correspondent experienced 750 bomb attacks in Berlin, and every morning left a cellar or bunker to try to get reports to the newspaper in Stockholm. One comment was a late war example of Berlin humour: it was then possible to go from the east front to the west front by local tram. [s06]

Two Swedish correspondents stayed in Berlin until the fighting was over. Both were captured by Russians. One was released when he arrived to Moscow and put on a train to the border to Finland, while the other had to spend a year in a Soviet prison accused to have fought for Finland against the Red Army and suspected to be a spy later. [s06]

2019-04-07. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss