In October 1943, nearly the entire Jewish population of Denmark made a perilous crossing from their Nazi-occupied country to neighboring Sweden. Setting out from ports and beaches along the coast, some 7,000 people arrived in rowboats and canoes to the safe shores of the port city of Malmö.
Now, 78 years later, in the same city, Jewish books in a storefront have to be covered up due to fears of vandalism.
It was the Malmö City Archives that last week was preparing a display of Jewish literature to be open to the public on Friday. But at the end of the day, the books and posters were covered with a blanket — with the archivist fearing damage to the windows over the weekend, Swedish daily Expressen reports.
While the news sparked some outrage in the national press, it's only one of many reports of increasing antisemitism in the last few years in the Scandinavian nation so often praised for its welcoming atmosphere.
A declining diaspora
A 2019 EU survey shows that 70% of Swedes believe that antisemitism has increased in the last five years — the highest percentage of all the member states. Meanwhile, according to the latest available statistics, between 2016 to 2018, anti-Semitic crimes in Sweden rose by more than 50%, reaching a record 280 hate crimes. A large portion of these come out of Malmö, Sweden's third-largest city and home to people from 179 different countries — including Iraqis, Poles, Bosnians, Syrians, Lebanese and Afghans — all huddled together in a city that takes just two hours to traverse end-to-end by foot.
Meanwhile, the Jewish population has decreased drastically over the last two decades, with members of Malmö synagogues having fallen from 2,500 to 500 today.
Historically, threats, intimidation and violence against the Jewish community have mainly been attributed to right-wing extremists. While this issue persists, especially in a place like Malmö that is a voter stronghold for the far-right Sweden Democrats, a 2020 report shows that antisemitism today is more widespread among Sweden's Muslim community than the general population.
According to daily Dagens Nyheter, hatred of Jews in Malmö is often intertwined with anger over Israel's policy toward Palestinians. That was the case in 2009 when a peace demonstration with Israeli flags on a central square in Malmö was bombarded with bottles, stones and eggs; or more lately in 2017 when people protesting US President Donald Trump move to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem sang antisemitic songs about killing Jews.
Protesters denouncing nazism and antisemitism marching through central Gothenburg, Sweden, on Sept. 30, 2017.
Remembering the Holocaust
The city's rise in antisemitism was at the center of discussion on Wednesday at the Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism. The one-day event, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, brought together 400 delegates from religious organizations and dozens of countries, including heads of state from Finland, Latvia, Serbia, while Israeli President Isaac Herzog, French President Emmanuel Macron and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken addressed the event through video messages.
This year, the forum also hosted representatives from social media giants TikTok, Google and Facebook, as the event focused on the dangers of the online proliferation of hate speech, disinformation and Holocaust denial.
"The struggle for human dignity must never end with pretty words," Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said at the end of the conference. "It must be translated into practical action."
A continent-wide response
Such actions will include the opening of a Holocaust museum in 2022, better education for active citizenship to prevent antisemitism, as well as the appointment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry to consider whether Holocaust denial should be more clearly criminalized.
Of course, Sweden is not alone in facing the renewed historical hatred of Jews. Last week, Europe took another step to address its particular responsibility in combatting the issue, with the European Commission releasing its first official strategy on fighting antisemitism, The Times Of Israel reports.
Among the keys to the 26-page program are funds set aside to secure Jewish sites around Europe. One place that could use some help right now is the Malmö City Archives.
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