Earlier this month, it was announced that a number of state museums in Stockholm will have free admission. Upon hearing this, it became my mission to visit as many as possible. Knowing each museum would offer a unique opportunity to learn something new about Stockholm and Sweden, my friend Lily and I created our “Museum Bucket List.”
Our journey began yesterday at The Army Museum. The museum explains Sweden’s history of war and peace, from 1500 to today.
Due to class lectures, I understood that Sweden (along with many other Nordic countries) had a policy of neutrality. While Sweden is a member of the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN), it turned down membership to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and takes a humanitarian and peacekeeping instead of combat role in international conflicts.
However, this policy isn’t without its challenges.
During World War II, Sweden was the only Nordic nation to remain a neutral player in the conflict. Norway and Denmark were occupied by Nazi Germany, Finland was an ally of Germany and Iceland was a member of the Allies.
However, Sweden aided both sides during the course of the war. During the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Swedish authorities allowed Germany to use their railways to transport soldiers, tanks and anti-aircraft weapons from Norway to Finland. Meanwhile, Sweden shared intelligence with the Allies that helped train refugees in Denmark and Norway that eventually lead to the liberation of both countries.
On a humanitarian level, many Swedes abroad played an active role in saving Jews, including diplomat stationed in Nazi-Hungary Raoul Wallenberg. Wallenberg is credited
Wallenberg is credited for saving tens of thousands of Jews by granting them protective passports and shelter in buildings designated as Swedish territory in Hungary, such as the Swedish Embassy. Wallenberg mysteriously disappeared in 1945 while in the Soviet Union. Since then, he has been granted numerous international honours, including receiving the first Honorary Canadian Citizenship.
Additionally, the Swedish Red Cross worked with the government in Nazi-occupied Denmark to execute an operation known as “White Busses”. Upon learning about this operation in the National Museum of Denmark, I couldn’t believe I was so unaware of this incredible humanitarian effort during World War II.
During the spring of 1945, the White Busses rescued over 15,000 concentration camp prisoners. While the operation originally sought to save Scandinavian prisoners, the mission expanded to save prisoners from non-Scandinavian countries, such as Poland and France. In total, 7,700 Scandinavian and 7,500 non-Scandinavian prisoners were saved.
Each White Bus (literally a white bus) was equipped with a driver, nurses, doctors and soldiers. Upon their rescue, concentration camp prisoners were treated and nourished back to health and warmly welcomed to Denmark and Sweden.
British diplomat Peter Tennant, who was stationed in Stockholm throughout the war, wrote:
The Swedish humanitarian efforts during and after the war did much to remove the dishonour the country had got during its acrobatic exercises in neutrality policy.
Tills nästa gång, (Until next time)