Malmö is a port in southern Sweden. The Jewish community, the third largest in Sweden, was founded by Polish Jews in 1871, when it numbered 250. In 1900, the congregation appointed its first rabbi, Dr Josef Wohlstein, and in 1903 the first synagogue was built. Most of Malmö's original Jews came from Germany and during the first two decades of the 20th century, many Jewish immigrants arrived from Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and the Baltic countries. Many of these new arrivals settled in the nearby town of Lund, creating a separate but related Jewish community there.
The closing stages of World War II saw the large-scale rescue of Danish Jews from German-occupied Denmark to Sweden by sea and at the end of the war, many thousands of survivors of Nazi concentration camps were brought to Sweden via Malmö. Many of these survivors, however, were in such poor health that they died on reaching Swedish soil, which explains the large number of Jewish "refugee graves" in Malmö. A monument to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust was later created at the cemetery by Willy Gordon, a well-known Swedish-Jewish artist.
Over the decades the community grew considerably, reaching a peak of around 1,700 in the late 1960s but subsequently declining to a 2004 figure of 1,200 despite the influx of immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, in particular from Russia, the Ukraine, Estonia, and even Kirgistan.
In recent years there has been an uptick of anti-Semitism in Sweden, most notably in Malmö. The torching of a Jewish chapel, defacement of Jewish cemeteries, disruptions of speeches by Holocaust survivors, and incidents of
Heil Hitler! shouting are among what has been reported. Most of the anti-Semitic incidents have come from Malmö’s Rosengard slum, home to a large proportion of the city's Muslim population, which comprises 15% of the country's total population. Rosengard's unemployment rate was 80% in October 2010, which may also contribute to the restlessness that breeds ideological prejudice against Jewish Swedes. Due to this sharp rise in anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Malmo, many of the city's Jewish residents are emigrating to Israel, among other places known for more tolerant attitudes toward Jews.
In September 2012, an explosive device was detonated in front of the Jewish community center in Malmö. Later that year, the Simon Weisenthal Center issued an advisory against travel to the city.
On December 8, 2017, anti-Israel protestors shouted threats against Jews in Malmö. Two firebombs later destroyed the chapel of the Jewish cemetery. On another occasion, bomb went off in front of the synagogue. A 2017 documentary included an interview with Rabbi Shneur Kesselman who said he is regularly harassed. He has been spat upon, cursed, and was nearly hit by a bottle thrown from a passing car. “Anti-Semitism here in Malmö today,” he said in 2015, “is threatening the existence of a minority.” Freddy Gelberg, a spokesperson for Malmö’s Jewish community, said more recently, “We are careful. You don’t want to display the Star of David around your neck or other Jewish symbols,” He added, “An Orthodox Jew does not find life easy in Malmö, he is subjected (to discrimination).”
The Jewish community in Malmö has shrunk by 50% to about 1,000 in the past 10 years in large measure because of fear.
H. Valentin, Judarna i Sverige (1964); L. Herz, in: JJSO, 11 (Dec. 1969), 165–73; I. Lomfors, in: S. Scharfstein, Judisk historia från renässansen till 2000-talet (2002). WEBSITE: http://www.ijk-s.se/jfm/jfmintro.htm.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved;
Karin Wells, “Anti-Semitism in Malmö reveals flaws in Swedish immigration system,” CBC News, (May 22, 2015);
David Stavrou, “Jewish Cemetery Attacked, in Sweden's Second anti-Semitic Incident This Week,” Haaretz, (December 11, 2017);
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “Sweden’s Ugly Ultraliberalism and the Jews,” Besa Center, (December 4, 2018).