Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s speech at the opening of the Nordic Office of the World Jewish Congress
Speech by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the formal opening in Stockholm of the Nordic Office of the World Jewish Congress.
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Dear President Lauder,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by saying how honoured I am to be here with you today on the formal opening of the Nordic Office of the World Jewish Congress.
But the history of your organisation in Sweden – or in the Nordic countries – doesn’t start today. In fact, it has played an important role for Jewish life here since the 1940s.
Back then, in the evil times of the Holocaust, the World Jewish Congress was established in Stockholm, acting as a beacon in the European darkness – during a time when also the Swedish government did too little and even stopped Jews from coming to Sweden.
As many of you already know, the Swedish section of your organisation was one of the key actors engaged in recruiting Raoul Wallenberg to the mission in Budapest – to save Jews from deportation.
I really want to mention Gilel Storch, Fritz Hollander and Norbert Masur who were all representatives of the World Jewish Congress. And Masur in particular was very instrumental in getting Wallenberg onboard.
Thanks to his efforts, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was able to make contact with Wallenberg through the Chief Rabbi of Stockholm, Marcus Ehrenpreis.
Hence, it was partly thanks to your network, that Raoul Wallenberg could be sent on his life-saving mission, which we remember today as a profound example of human courage and moral instinct.
On top of that, Norbert Masur himself demonstrated the same courage, when he travelled to Nazi Germany at the end of the war, to negotiate with Himmler about releasing Jews from the concentration camps.
It was obviously very dangerous, but his efforts were successful. Thousands of Jews from Ravensbrück and other camps could be brought to Sweden in the White Buses Operation.
It was also thanks to the Congress’ presence in Sweden, that many people could be saved from starvation after the death marches in the final chapters of the Holocaust.
From the Swedish section, 80 000 food packages were sent to the camps, with the help of the Red Cross, and in cooperation with the Swedish Government.
And after Nazi Germany’s surrender, 200.000 more packages were sent to help people stay alive after liberation of the camps.
In short, this organisation has a long and very proud history in Sweden. And in one sense, today’s opening actually marks a return to history – because during the war, the Swedish section also became a hub for Danish and Norwegian Jews in exile.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Even if we have come a long way from the Holocaust, it is deeply disturbing and worrying to see that antisemitism is once again on the rise.
Just this week we saw an outrageous example of antisemitic hate on Twitter towards the Jewish Youth Association in Sweden. The message from their chairman Hanna Nir was just as clear as it was shocking to hear: this is routine, she said.
Neo-Nazis and right-wing extremists are spreading their conspiracy theories. Left wing extremists are spreading Israel-related antisemitism. And we also have the Islamists and their propaganda.
Let me therefore outline my view on these challenges – and how to tackle them.
From history we know that antisemitism is like a disease. It may have various motives and take various forms, but in the end – it’s the same kind of hate.
In Sweden, during past years we’ve seen how antisemitism, with roots in the Middle East, has grown.
In some cities, the hatred has become the order of the day in public places. And this becomes even more tragic when it happens in cities that once were home to many Jews, after the Holocaust.
On the other hand, we also see impressive efforts to combat the hatred – by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike. It’s important to acknowledge both perspectives.
However, one thing is clear: my Government and I will not remain silent in the face of shrinking freedom for Swedish Jews. Not only will we continue our work to combat antisemitism, but we will also actively strengthen the preconditions for Jewish life in Sweden.
First, safety. One of the tasks for the Government’s review of the Criminal Code will be to submit proposals on tougher penalties for hate crimes – for example with antisemitic motives.
In addition, to prove how seriously we take this, antisemitic hate crimes should more often lead to expulsion for foreign citizens.
Secondly, promoting knowledge is crucial. We know from experience that this can help combat hate and antisemitic attitudes.
We have for example seen how knowledge about the Holocaust among teenagers has increased in Sweden since the nineties.
For this reason, the Government has increased funding for the Living History Forum – a government agency created on the initiative of my predecessor Göran Persson – responsible for promoting democracy, tolerance, and human rights – using the lessons learned from the Holocaust and the persistence of antisemitism.
We also continue the support to the Jewish Museum, an important institution for spreading knowledge about the Jewish thought-world and the Swedish-Jewish cultural heritage.
Another important institution, of course, is the newly established Holocaust Museum, that will open its first exhibition in June. Thank you, Stefan Löfven, for this good initiative!
What we’re doing now, is increasing the support for schools, to give teachers the right tools in their work to prevent children from inheriting prejudices from their parents.
Thirdly, my Government wants to actively support Jewish life in Sweden. Jews are one of five national minorities. And just as Jewish life has long been a part of Sweden’s history, it is my profound conviction that it should also be a part of Sweden’s future.
In January the Government appointed a task force for Jewish life in Sweden, under the leadership of my State Secretary.
This task force will work cross government and propose measures to strengthen the conditions for Jewish life in our country, including both safety and security, culture and education.
Government can do a great deal – and we will – to fight antisemitism and defend everybody’s security and safety in Sweden.
But equally important are representatives of the Jewish community, like the World Jewish Congress. And I’m very well aware of the important work you do – Mr President – in supporting Jewish life all across Europe.
As history has shown, you do play an important role in standing up for democracy and human dignity, wherever these values are threatened.
Indeed, we must all be prepared to do our fair share. Because in the end – democracy, tolerance, and our civilisation itself, they all depend on our own commitment to standing up for them.
Let me therefore paraphrase John Stuart Mill when I say: “The only thing bad men need to triumph, is that good men look on and do nothing”.
That insight once guided men and women present here today in your noble actions. As it did guide Raoul Wallenberg in his.
May those words also guide all of us, in our joint actions to fight antisemitism, and to defend the open society against its enemies.