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Overview

In the 1930s, the Jewish community in Sweden consisted of approximately 7,000 people.  Sweden declared an official policy of non-belligerency during World War II (WWII) and served as a refuge for many Jews, some 3,000 of whom migrated to Sweden from elsewhere in Europe in the early part of the war.  Sweden helped rescue Jews mainly from Nazi-German occupied Norway (900 people) and Denmark (approximately 7,200 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives – almost the entire Danish Jewish community).  Swedes also worked within the warring states to save Jews from internment.  One Swedish diplomat in Budapest, Raoul Wallenberg, saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews by providing them with protective passports.  The Swedish Red Cross undertook an operation known as the “White Buses” and negotiated the release of more than 15,000 concentration camp inmates in Germany and occupied Czechoslovakia.  Although the operation was initially targeted at saving citizens of Scandinavian countries, citizens of other countries were also rescued.

The Government of Sweden is dedicated to the goals and objectives of the Terezin Declaration.  The government, museums, and banks have taken steps to return Holocaust victims’ assets; the government provides access to archives; and it supports Holocaust remembrance in the education system.  There are no reports of any unresolved property restitution claims.  In June 2019, the government initiated an assessment of Swedish compliance with the objectives of the Terezin Declaration in response to concerns among Swedish state museums over their ability to repatriate art acquired under questionable circumstances (more expansive than only Nazi-confiscated artifacts).  The government will report its findings in October 2020.  Sweden plans to host a head of government-level event in October 2020 focused on Holocaust remembrance and combatting anti-Semitism.  The event will mark 20 years since the 2000 Stockholm Declaration, the founding document of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

No private or communal immovable property of targeted groups was confiscated in Sweden in conjunction with WWII and the Holocaust.  As a result, Sweden does not have specific restitution legislation that applies to private or communal/religious immovable property.

According to the government, no Holocaust-era litigation or restitution claims regarding immovable property have, at any time, been initiated or submitted in Sweden or to Swedish authorities outside the country.  In June 2019, the Swedish government instructed the National Heritage Board to assess whether there is a need to take special action to clarify and facilitate Sweden’s compliance with the objectives the country undertook in endorsing the 1998 Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and the 2009 Terezin Declaration.  The assessment is to be carried out in consultation with the state museums, the Financial Management Agency, the Royal Library, the National Archives, the Jewish Central Council, the Association of the Holocaust Survivors, and other relevant actors.  The National Heritage Board must present its findings to the Ministry of Culture no later than October 16, 2020.  If the National Heritage Board determines there is a need for action, proposals are to be submitted to the government on appropriate measures describing the organizational, legal, and financial consequences to the State and museums.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art

Sweden has no legislation that specifically addresses heirless movable property belonging to victims of the Holocaust.  As a result, such property is treated as any other heirless property and transferred to the State Inheritance Fund, which liquidates the estate.  The State Inheritance Fund grants funding each year to civil society organizations, with a particular focus on people with disabilities.  The law regulating the fund does not earmark grants for assistance to needy Holocaust survivors, but the fund has provided grants to at least one Holocaust education project.

Starting in 1997, a government commission investigated the disposition of Jewish assets in Sweden and Jewish property brought into Sweden before or during WWII.  The commission investigated, among other things, whether Sweden’s central bank or commercial banks received looted gold and whether stolen Jewish property entered Sweden as part of trade exchanges with Nazi Germany.  The commission, which published its report in 1999, did not find proof that such actions had taken place but could not rule out the possibility that they had occurred in small quantities or in limited circumstances.

The commission established reliable evidence that the government, in a small number of cases, disposed of Jewish assets when it liquidated Nazi German assets as obligated by the 1946 Washington Agreement.  The government provided restitution to claimants affected by these actions in the decades immediately following the war.  In response to requests by Jewish groups, a number of Swedish banks in the 1960s voluntarily created a fund for victims of Nazism, which was distributed by the Red Cross.  The fund’s endowment was based on the estimated total value of unclaimed assets in Swedish banks that could have belonged to victims of the Holocaust.

The commission also investigated what happened after WWII to unclaimed Jewish assets deposited in Swedish banks.  In 1998, the commission published a list of banking assets unclaimed since the end of WWII and unknown to heirs of Holocaust victims.  Swedish banks subsequently made payments to the assets’ rightful heirs, where possible.  In 1998, bank assets of 7 million kronor (approximately $875,000 in 1998) were distributed to almost 600 accounts, which belonged to expatriate account holders.  According to the commission, only “a few” accounts belonged to victims of the Holocaust.  Most accounts belonged to descendants of emigrants to North America.  Assets for which no owners or heirs could be located were transferred to the General Heritage Fund.  The commission found no cases in which Swedish banks had failed to honor rightful claims and no accusations of Swedish banks making unreasonable demands for proof.

The 1999 government inquiry found that “dealings in looted art in Sweden during WWII were relatively modest, viewed in an international perspective.”  Although there were reports of looted art and jewelry entering Sweden during that time, including reports from the U.S. embassy in Stockholm, the inquiry could neither prove nor disprove the veracity of such reports.

Since the release of the report, heirs to victims of the Holocaust have made restitution claims for looted art in Sweden in two cases, both of which were resolved to the stated satisfaction of the claimants.  In 2009, the Modern Museum (Moderna Museet) in Stockholm settled a dispute with the heirs of Otto Nathan Deutsch regarding a painting that disappeared following Deutsch’s flight from persecution in Nazi Germany in 1939 and which the museum purchased from a Swiss gallery in 1961.  In 2018, the Modern Museum reached a settlement with the heir of Alfred Flechtheim to return a painting of his that the National Museum of Fine Arts (Nationalmuseum) purchased from a Nazi party member in 1933 or 1934.  Flechtheim’s heir is a U.S. citizen.

Judaica and Jewish Cultural Property

The Department is aware of no reports of looted Judaica or Jewish cultural property present in Sweden.

Access to Archival Documents

Claimants generally have access to archival documents that could be relevant to prove ownership.  The Swedish Constitution guarantees the right of access to all unclassified public documents, and the government and the courts abide by this right in practice.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports good cooperation with Swedish governmental archives.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

The government supports and conducts annual ceremonies of remembrance and commemoration.  August 27 is Raoul Wallenberg Day, commemorating the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust in Hungary.  The Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosts a memorial lecture, and a Raoul Wallenberg Award is given to a person who has worked against racism, discrimination, and injustice during the year.  In central Stockholm, there is a memorial to approximately 8,500 of the European Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis during WWII.  The Jewish Museum in the Old Town of Stockholm tells the story of Swedish‑Jewish history.

The government places significant importance on Holocaust education and the struggle against racism and intolerance.  Education about the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes, as well as human rights more broadly, is part of the required public education curriculum.  The government provides funding for teaching training and educational resources.  No Nazi concentration or extermination camps existed in Sweden, but the government funds student and teacher trips to such sites in other countries.

The Forum for Living History is a Swedish government agency commissioned to promote democracy and human rights, and it also focuses on Holocaust remembrance.  Reports and studies published by the Forum deal with various forms of modern intolerance amongst young Swedes.

In 2000, then Prime Minister Göran Persson announced Sweden’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day of January 27 and declared: “Our quest must be to increase our efforts to pass on the legacy of our past to future generations.  We must be able to say to our children, ‘There is always a choice.  Not to choose is also a choice.”  Prime Minister Persson, in cooperation with the U.S. Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State on Holocaust-Era Issues, convened the International Forum on Remembrance of the Holocaust in January 2000.  It was attended by 46 governments, including 23 heads of state or prime ministers and 14 deputy prime ministers or ministers.  The Stockholm Declaration was endorsed at the end of the conference.  The declaration supports Holocaust education, remembrance, and research, and includes commitments on commemoration days, educational initiatives, and the opening of relevant archives.  At the same time, Prime Minister Persson announced the creation of the International Holocaust Education Task Force to promote Holocaust education in school systems around Europe and the world.  That body is the forerunner of today’s International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

In October 2020, it will be 20 years since the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust and the establishment of what would become the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.  The government plans to host a high-level international forum in Sweden focused on remembrance of the Holocaust and combatting modern anti-Semitism.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

State welfare authorities provide comprehensive social welfare, including full medical and health coverage, to all citizens, including to victims of Nazi persecution.  The Jewish Community of Stockholm and the Jewish Community of Malmo also provide homecare services to Holocaust survivors and other victims of Nazi persecution.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: Sweden
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