The unprecedented character of the Holocaust will always hold universal meaning. It was a critical historical event – not only for the millions who were persecuted and murdered, but also for the post-war view of humanism and ethics. The murder, persecution and terrible suffering of the Jewish people, Roma and millions of other victims of the Nazis has left an indelible scar across Europe. Although the killing did not take place on Swedish soil, Sweden both influenced and was influenced by what happened. The Holocaust is also part of Sweden’s history.
As a society, we have an obligation to promote education, remembrance and research on the genocide committed by the Nazis and their allies so that new generations will be able to learn from history.
In the summer of 2018, Holocaust survivor Max Safir proposed that a museum be established in Sweden to preserve his and other survivors’ testimonies when they can no longer tell them. The importance of preserving these testimonies cannot be overestimated. These testimonies have reached generations of Swedes and are a vital contribution to cultural history.
In the Statement of Government Policy after the 2018 election, the Swedish Government announced that a new museum would be established to preserve and perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust. Today, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Government is taking the next step to realise this vision.
One of the proposals of an inquiry commissioned by the Government is that a Holocaust museum be established within an existing museums agency. By doing so, the museum can be incorporated into an established organisation with management functions and museum expertise, thus providing stability for the new museum. Facilities for storage, conservation, archives and other functions can be jointly used and coordinated.
The Government will proceed with the proposal to establish the Swedish Holocaust Museum as an independent museum within an existing museums agency. It is estimated that the museum will be ready to receive its first visitors in July of next year.
Memories of the Holocaust can be found all over the country: in Karlstad, where 150 Jewish women from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp arrived for treatment at Herrhagen School, which had been converted to an emergency hospital; in Landskrona, where many of the 7 000 Danish Jews who fled across the Öresund strait in October 1943 were received; and in Malmö, which became the ‘harbour of hope’ for survivors arriving in the White Buses. Memories can be found in all the local communities in which thousands of Swedes volunteered to help refugees and survivors by providing nursing, cooking, donations of clothing and toys, or simply by being someone to talk to.
The Holocaust and its remembrance are important to everyone in our country. If the museum is located in Stockholm, it will be easier for school pupils and the general public from around the country to visit. Organisations such as the Association of Holocaust Survivors in Sweden and the Roma organisation É Romani Glinda have recommended Stockholm. The Government has determined that the museum should be established in the national capital and will follow up with a decision on the construction of a dedicated building.
The Holocaust museum should collaborate with many key actors, such as the survivors and their close relatives, the Jewish and Roma communities and other stakeholders. County museums and local museums should also play a specific role, both in facilitating access for the country’s entire population to the museum’s work and because the accounts, testimonies, objects and places linked to the Holocaust are scattered throughout the country.
We see how the Holocaust is used around the world by various camps to score political points or to cast a positive light on their own country or group’s role in the historical event. It is critical that the new museum remain politically independent and autonomous in order to fulfil its mandate. A key element of the new museum’s future success and legitimacy will be collaboration with researchers and institutions in Sweden and abroad that work with Holocaust and Roma genocide remembrance.
Antisemitism, antigypsyism and racism – the driving forces behind the Nazi genocide – are still found in our communities and are taking on new forms. Hatred of Jews can be found in our history, in extreme right-wing groups, in certain left-wing groups and Islamist environments. We see antisemitism among adults and children who fled to Sweden from countries where hatred of Jews is fed by schools and state propaganda. Antisemitic messages are espoused by some of those who stormed the US Capitol building in Washington D.C. and by groups that spread conspiracy theories on vaccinations and the COVID-19 pandemic on social media platforms. Jews and Jewish communities and organisations are subjected to hate and hate crime, even in Sweden.
In October 2021, the Government will host the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. Heads of state and government from some fifty countries, as well as organisations, researchers, civil society and businesses have been invited to take part in the Forum and have been encouraged to propose new concrete commitments within this area. In conjunction with the Forum, a national initiative is under way to increase knowledge about the Holocaust and antisemitism and to strengthen teaching in schools and adult education.
Established in 2003, theLiving History Forum has been tasked by the Government to serve as a national forum promoting democracy, tolerance and human rights using lessons learned from the Holocaust. The Government anticipates a continued need to develop the Living History Forum as an expert government agency once a Holocaust museum has been established. The Forum has the important task of coordinating and following up on the Government’s national plan to combat racism, similar forms of hostility and hate crime. The Forum will also continue to be responsible for commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day, 27 January, and awarding the Per Anger Prize for initiatives promoting human rights and democracy. The Living History Forum will represent Sweden in the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, where Sweden will serve as presiding country from March next year.
Max Safir was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1925. He survived the concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and the concentration camp Ebensee. Max Safir came to Sweden in the middle of the 1950s and settled in Katrineholm, where he worked and started a family. In the 2000s he gave many lectures in schools about his experiences and travelled with young Swedes to Holocaust memorials in Europe. Max Safir died in June 2020 and will not have the opportunity to visit the museum that will be created at his initiative. But his name, and those of other survivors, will endure and their testimonies will not be forgotten. They will be a part of the cultural heritage that we preserve together for future generations.
Translation: Timothy Barbitta, The Government Offices
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