Two nights ago I saw the movie “Dom över död man”/”Judgement of dead man” by Jan Troell. It told the story of a Swedish man who in the 1930’s and 1940’s became famous for his harsh criticism of Nazism and of Hitler. This man’s name was Torgny Segerstedt, (November 1st 1876 – March 31st 1945). Late last night I made the picture above after a photography from 1944. Torgny Segerstedt was educated in theology and became known for his comparative and non-dogmatic studies of religion. Later on Torgny Segerstedt became a writer and from 1917 chief editor of Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning/Gothenburg Trade and Marine Journal.
It was in that position that he, influenced by his Jewish mistress Maja Forssman, wife of the owner of the newspaper, began his longlasting and relentless criticism of Nazi Germany. The movie starts with his famous words from February 3d 1933, (80 years ago): “To force the politics and press of the entire world to deal with that character, that is unforgivable. Mr Hitler is an insult”. The reaction from Germany was swift and Hermann Göring wrote an angry letter to Segerstedt and hoped that he would write no more or he and Sweden would suffer for it. On February the 8th 1933 Segerstedt wrote in his newspaper GHT: “It seems that Mr Göring believed that Sweden was some kind of annex to the German realm”.
Torgny Segerstedt disliked Sweden’s participation in the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 and in 1938 he harshly criticized the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain for his naïvity towards Hitler after the peace treaty that year. Segerstedt also predicted World War II. The Swedish authorities many times disliked what Segerstedt wrote, even though he also had friends, even though they too often were angry with him. Among those were the financial mogul Marcus Wallenberg and the Prime Minister Per-Albin Hansson. In 1940 the Swedish government confiscated three days publications of the GHT, and later on that year once again. At that time Torgny Segerstedt was called to a meeting with the king, Gustav V, who was pro-German. The king scolded the editor and told him bluntly that if Sweden was drawn into the war it would be Segerstedt’s fault. The chief-editor nevertheless never gave in and continued to critisize Hitler and Nazi Germany. After a walk with his dogs in March 1945 he fell ill and died, though in the knowledge that Hitler’s days were numbered.
The movie also depicts the complex personality of Torgny Segerstedt, the sorrow of his rejected wife Puske who could see the romance with Maja Forssman going on, but also how his family and his daughters Toje, Eva and Ingrid Segerstedt reacted on the domestic problems. Torgny and Puske also had lost a child in 1920, and after that their marriage became increasingly more problematic. All the same Torgny Segerstedt remained appreciated by many, both men and women, until the very end. By that time both Puske and Maja had died too. This only proves that we are so complex as individuals and that our lifes always contain a mixture of goodness and failures in how we behave and react upon each other.
In Sweden we have two very different traits in our history and national identity, one cruel and racist and one humanitarian, benevolent and accepting. Today I intend to describe the darker side of our nationalism, and tomorrow the more positive aspects. Even if what I now write here concerns Sweden we must keep in mind that similar traits exist in all people and nations, just as good and bad. The still existing genocides in the world are clear but tragic evidence of that. By describing it we might be more aware and better prepared to deal with the darker forces inside of us and in our nations, which always appear in times of revolts, economic strain, times of war and social turmoil.
Between the beginning of the 17th century until 1718 Sweden was a super-power and as largest by 1660. Then Sweden contained what’s Sweden now, parts of Norway, all of Finland, parts of western Russia and the Baltic states and areas in northern Germany. As in all super-powers the nationalism turned into national narcissism, looking down on all others. But even after the days of super-power Sweden the nationalism was still very distinct. Carl von Linné, Carl Linnaeus who invented modern botany, and who’s disciple Daniel Solander joined James Cook on his journey with The Endeavour to Australia and Botany Bay, not only divided plants and animals into sub-groups, but also us humans. Carl Linnaeus divided us humans into five sub-groups: Americanus, Europaeus, Asiaticus, Afer and Monstrosus. The best of them all were the Goths (Swedes), a sub-group of Europaeus. Then he put them all in a hierarchy making them parts of a race/racist system. In the 1830’s and 1840’s the “scientist” Anders Petzius and others went out gathering human skulls in Europe, measuring skulls and gathering them in various “skull indexes”, dividing us into “short skulls” and “long skulls”.
The nationalism with racist tendencies developed even further and by the turn of the 20th century it was a common notion in northern Europe that the German tribes, the Scandinavians, were so much better than all other people on this earth. In 1909 The Swedish Society for Racial Hygiene was founded and in 1921 The State Institute of Race Biology. It was situated in the University city of Uppsala north of Stockholm and founded after acceptance from all parties in the Swedish Parliament. The State Institute of Race Biology was the first institute of its kind in the world, even though similar work was going on in England and the USA, even though not as far-reaching as in Sweden. This part of my national history is something I’m very ashamed of, but it must out in the open if we shall be able to deal with it in a better way. Nazis from Germany came to visit the institute in Uppsala and they were very impressed. The race biology “science” which was developed there influenced Hitler and his followers, and Swedish national socialists existed high up in the hierarchy. Many academics and others were Nazi sympathisers. The Institute SIFR in Uppsala studied the value of different groups in society. The Laps/Same population, the aboriginal people of northern Scandinavia, was treated as inferior, were not allowed proper schooling, and were maltreated in a similar way as the Inuits of Canada, American Indians or the Australian Aboriginals. Also how the Japanese treated the Chinese, or how Persians, Iraqi Arabs and Turks treated Armenians or Kurds to take a few examples. We see a similar behaviour all over the world.
Hitler had lots of support in Sweden during the 1930’s for his discipline, building of roads etc. In October 1943 most of the Danish Jews succeeded to escape deportation from Denmark to Nazi death camps, in small boats to Sweden. They came here but were often treated with disrespect and suspicion by Swedes. Here in Scania/Skåne the Nazis had a strong influence in certain places, a heritage that tragically has continued and still is very distinct in parts of Scania. Between 1934 and 1975 many people also were forced to sterilazation to keep the nation clean from unwanted genes and populations. In 2001 a report said that during those years 21 000 Swedes were forced to castration. The State Inistitute for Race Biology, SIFR, changed its name in 1958. In 1991 the Nazi association VAM, White Aryan Resistance, Vitt Ariskt Motstånd, appeared on the scene. The Nazi heritage still exists and finds fuel from extremism, twisted nationalism, bigottery, racism and fear of alien influence. In times of social turmoil many people turn to easy answers and fear of the others, xenofobia. That unbalanced nationalism becomes the foundation for more hatred and a foundation for wars of larger scales. Like Torgny Segerstedt I intend to fight the Nazism and fouler parts of humanity until the end. Tomorrow I will write about the positive forms of Swedish and global humanitarian values as well as a positive form of nationalism without racism.
Anders Moberg, February the 10th 2013