Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


SWEDEN, kingdom in N. Europe, part of the Scandinavian peninsula. It is unlikely that there were Jews in Sweden in pagan times or in the Catholic Middle Ages, nor was their presence favored in Lutheran Sweden. Several regulations issued in 1685, directed against the presence of Jews in the country, seem to indicate that Jews had resided there illegally for certain periods. In the first ordinance, which referred to the Jews as "revilers of Christ and his communion" and justified their removal from the country in order to protect the pure Lutheran faith, permission to stay was granted in exceptional cases only. Some Jewish creditors of Charles XII, who had followed the king from Turkey, were allowed to stay in Sweden with their families for about ten years.

The position changed under the rule of the enlightened monarch Gustav III (1771–92). In 1774 Aaron Isaac, a seal engraver from Buetzow, Mecklenburg, arrived in Stockholm; in the following year he received the king's permission to settle there, along with his brother, his partners, and their families. A cemetery was consecrated with royal permission in 1776; subsequently it was named Aronsberg in honor of Aaron Isaac. In 1779 Parliament, with the king's support, granted Jews the right to settle in Stockholm, Göteborg, and Norrköping, under certain conditions and with a measure of religious freedom. Accordingly, in 1782 the royal office of trade and commerce issued "regulations governing those members of the Jewish people who wish to enter the country." The Swedish regulations were modeled on those of other European countries, especially *Prussia, but in certain respects they were more liberal, so as to attract potentially useful Jewish immigrants. Jews were allowed to settle only in the three cities mentioned above, where they could hold religious services, acquire real estate, and engage in industry and in those trades that were not subject to the guilds. According to the country's constitution, non-Christians were excluded from all government positions and were not entitled to vote. On the other hand, following the practice of other European countries, Jews were allowed autonomy in their own affairs, including religious worship and welfare activities, inheritances, guardianships, and marriages. Intermarriage was prohibited, with the exemption of a few wealthy Jews. While these laws were in force, Jews in the cities were regarded as rivals and intruders, while the predominantly liberal-minded officialdom came to their defense. The accusations against the Jews, as well as the arguments in their defense, were basically the same as those found on the European mainland. The financial crises which afflicted Europe after the Napoleonic wars led to antisemitic agitations in Sweden as elsewhere.

To those influenced by economic liberalism, including King Charles XIV John and his minister of finance, the 1782 regulation governing Jewish immigration appeared increasingly obsolete. It was repealed on June 30, 1838, and replaced by a royal decree by which the Swedish Jews, hitherto a colony of foreigners enjoying defined rights, were incorporated into the Swedish state. From then on they were to be called "adherents of the Mosaic faith," an appellation which remained officially valid. The former kehillot were termed Mosaic communities and Jewish autonomy was abolished. The restrictions on Jews contained in the constitution and the civil code could not be lifted without the approval of Parliament, but virtually all administrative practices detrimental to them were wiped out. However, the new decree aroused such strong and widespread opposition that in September of the same year the government was obliged to abrogate the regulation entitling the Jews to settle anywhere in the country. Henceforth, foreign Jews were permitted to reside only in Stockholm, Göteborg, and Norrköping as before, with the addition of Karlskrona. Despite these concessions to anti-Jewish feelings, no reform in the history of Swedish Jewry can compare in significance with the decree of June 1838, which marked the beginning of a development that led to complete political emancipation and basic acceptance as citizens and members of the community. This decree, albeit modified in a few points, governed the civil rights of Swedish Jews until 1951. Due to the conservative immigration policy of the government, the number of Jews in 1838 was still small, amounting to about 900 persons, more than 800 of whom lived in Stockholm and Göteborg.

During the 1840s, free trade principles prevailed in Sweden; this led to the lifting of almost all existing restrictions on Jewish occupations and, in turn, to the elimination of the conflict of interest between the Jews and the rest of the population. On the initiative of the government and liberal-minded members of Parliament, the emancipation of the Jews was completed during the ensuing decades. They were entitled to reside in any part of the country, to acquire real estate, to intermarry, and to participate in municipal elections. The last barrier fell in 1870. After long debates the Jews (and the Catholics) were given the franchise and entitled to hold political office. Nevertheless, until 1951 membership of the Swedish state church was a requirement for ministerial office. Paralleling emancipation, assimilation made rapid gains. Religious services were modeled on those of German Reform Jewry. The psalms were chanted in Swedish and sermons delivered in that language. The liturgy, although shortened, continued to be in Hebrew, but Swedish prayers were interpolated. The community of Göteborg led the way toward Reform and was the first to introduce the use of the organ in the synagogue (1855). Members of the Henriques and Warburg families were

Jewish communities in Sweden, with dates of establishment. Jewish communities in Sweden, with dates of establishment.

especially active in favor of Reform, backed by the chief rabbi of Göteborg, Carl Heinemann (1837–68).

The rise of political antisemitism in Central Europe was of little significance for the Jews of Sweden. Their relationship with the non-Jewish population remained harmonious, although there was a perceptible increase in antisemitic manifestations. The Jews played a major role in the cultural life of Sweden, out of proportion to their numbers, especially in the fields of music, painting, and literary criticism. However, Jewish activities declined. During that period, the chief rabbi of Stockholm, Hungarian-born Gottlieb Klein (1882–1944), was the outstanding representative of liberal theology. Immigration from eastern Europe proved to be one of the most significant events of the period between the 1860s and 1933. The new immigrants were more pronouncedly Jewish than the old Swedish-Jewish families that dominated the congregations founded during the 18th century. They supported the existing congregations and founded new ones in the provinces, for example in Malmö. According to official statistics, in 1880 about 3,000 Jews lived in Sweden. The 1930 census recorded 7,044 Jews in the country, 1,391 of whom were non-citizens. About 4,000 resided in Stockholm, and the majority of the others in Malmö and Göteborg.

Holocaust Period

The victory of National Socialism in Germany (1933) created in Sweden a Jewish and a refugee problem. Efforts by Swedish Jewish refugee organizations to save German Jews by transferring them to Sweden were impeded by the country's restrained refugee policy. The authorities feared that the refugees would increase unemployment, from which Sweden suffered badly as a result of the 1929 world crisis, and that antisemitism would grow because of an increasing Jewish population. The upper echelon of Swedish society had been pro-German from earlier days, and although the Nazis were never powerful in Sweden, antisemitism increased as Hitler's power expanded. In 1938, when it became publicly known that the Jews in Germany were in imminent physical danger, the Swedish Jewish and other refugee organizations increased their pressure on the Swedish government to develop a more liberal immigration policy. The consequence was sensational counter-measures in business circles, polemics in the press, and even denouncements, by various student organizations and other bodies, of the so-called "Jewish invasion." The motivations behind these measures were usually not directly antisemitic, but stressed in particular the dangers connected with unemployment. The consideration of the so-called "racial question" was undeniable, however. The government yielded to public pressure, and the fact that Sweden abolished the regulation allowing every alien to remain in the country for three months without a visa was of far-reaching importance. The obligation to have a visa was from then on dealt with very strictly, especially for Jews, and thousands of requests were denied, even when the required material guarantees were provided by Swedish Jews. Up to the beginning of the war, about 3,000 refugees were able to leave Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia for Sweden, in addition to 1,000 so-called transmigrants who traveled on from Sweden to other countries. After Kristallnacht (Nov. 1938), 150 adults and 500 children (without their parents) were granted entry permits. A Jewish immigration committee was charged with the painful task of choosing out of the many applications, so that the quota would not be surpassed. Among those who were unable to continue their trip because of the outbreak of the war were a few hundred ḥalutzim (members of Zionist youth movements intending to settle in Palestine) who – following the Danish example – were admitted temporarily to agricultural and other training centers (hakhsharah). During World War II public opinion changed in favor of the refugees, for several reasons. The crimes of the Nazis, which many circles had previously refused to admit, became publicly known. Instead of unemployment there now was a shortage of workers. Moreover, it was realized that, with some good will, it would be possible to receive many more refugees than was previously thought. The turning point in the history of Swedish refugee policy and antisemitism came in November 1942, when Jewish persecutions in German-occupied Norway began. These provoked a general feeling of disgust and angry protests throughout Sweden. About 900 Norwegian Jews who were able to escape to Sweden were readily admitted.

How decisive the change of mind was became obvious in October 1943, when Danish Jewry took flight in order to escape deportation. After a fruitless démarche to the German Foreign Office, the Swedish government officially offered asylum to the fleeing Jews, setting an example of humane policy. Encouraged by the turning tide of the war, the unanimous public opinion in Sweden, and the acclaim of the free world, the Swedish government not only received about 8,000 Jews and some of their relatives from Denmark, but also an almost equal number of Danes fleeing from the German occupation. Moreover, it tolerated the establishment of a clandestine organization on its soil, providing the Danish resistance movement with steadfast communication with the Allies. The communication lines were initiated and maintained with the organizational and financial aid of the Swedish and Danish Jews, among whom Ivar Philipson, a Stockholm lawyer, took a prominent part. Some leaders of the Jewish community in Stockholm were also instrumental in bringing about the mission of Raoul *Wallenberg to Hungary (1944), where he became one of the main benefactors and rescuers of the Budapest Jewish community. Under the guidance of the *World Jewish Congress (WJC), toward the end of the war, Sweden became an important center for the dispatch of food parcels to concentration camp inmates, mainly in Germany. Finally the ties formed by the representative of the WJC, Hillel Storch, with Himmler's masseur, Kersten, led to the historic meeting of Norbert Mazur with Himmler on the eve of Germany's final defeat (April 20–21, 1945). Following their negotiations, many more thousands of concentration camp inmates were included in the rescue operation of Count Folke *Bernadotte. Among the almost 21,000 thus rescued were 3,500 Jews, mostly women. After the war some 10,000 more were brought to Sweden by the Red Cross and UNRRA. Altogether, more than 200,000 refugees – Finns, Norwegians, Danes, Jews and others – reached Sweden during and after the war.


GENERAL: H. Valentin, Judarnas historia i Sverige (1924); idem, in: YIVOA, 8 (1953); V. Jacobowsky, Göteborgs mosaiska församling (1955); W. Siegel, Mosaiska församlingen i Malmö 75 aʿr (1946). 17th TO 19th CENTURIES: M. Ivarsson and A. Brody, Svensk-judiska pionjärer och stamfäder … (1956); B. Tarschys, Chevra Kaddischa 150 år (1944). HOLOCAUST AND CONTEMPORARY PERIOD: L. Yahil, Rescue of Danish Jewry (1969); idem, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 6 (1967), 181–220; Adler-Rudel in: YLBI, 11 (1966), 220–41; H. Valentin, Judarna i Sverige (1964). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Mosaiska församlingen i Göteborg 200 år (1980); I. Lomfors, in: S. Scharfstein, Judisk historia från renässansen till 2000-talet (2002); F. Bedoire, Ett judiskt Europakring uppkomsten av en modern arkitektur 18301930 (1998); B. Moback, Livet är ingen banalitetjudiska röster (2001).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.