How could it happen – and why did the surrounding world not react? These have been two of the recurrent questions concerning the Holocaust and the persecution of the Jews between 1941 and 1945. A common answer during the first decades after WW II, was “we did not know”. There is no support for this thesis today; information about the Nazi atrocities was not the problem. We know that the German population to a large extent were witnesses and we also know that testimonies about the persecution of Jews and others were spread through international newspaper reports. But to what extend did this reach the Swedish citizens? Sweden, a so-called neutral nation, took a bystander’s position during the Second World War. However, state regulation and censorship of the media was introduced to avoid Germany’s disapproval. What kind of information about the escalating victimization of the Jews did Swedish press provide their readers with?
Previous research has presented different hypothesis about Swedish news reporting and the Holocaust. Koblik (1987) maintains the idea that the media in principally were indifferent to the fate of the Jews, Levine (1987) that the information was fragmented, without analysis and therefore without consistency. Svanberg and Tydén (1997) notice a rich documentation about the persecution of Jews in pre-war time, but less interest at the outbreak of the war. According to their study, the destiny of the Norwegian and Danish Jews had a dramatic impact on the Swedish press with increased publications. They also observe a greater outspokenness about the persecutions from the year 1943 – when Germany’s fortune of war turned.
None of the studies above represent a systematic analysis of wartime reporting; they build on qualitative case studies of selected periods. The purpose of my study is to fill the gap and give a better-informed answer about Swedish news reporting and the Holocaust, in the historical context of Swedish politics at the time. I follow four different dailies, all being important opinion-papers, from 1930 to 1946: Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning, Dagens Nyheter, Stockholms-Tidningen and Aftonbladet with different political affiliations and different attitudes, from protest to appreciation, toward Nazi-Germany. Quantitative content analyses are combined with qualitative case studies.
The result shows an interest for “Jewish questions” throughout the thirties with a culmination in 1938 (“the night of broken glasses”), a decreased attention thereafter with nearly no reporting at all in the years of 1940 and 1941. Here, the anti-nazi paper makes an exception. In 1942 the deportations of the Norwegian Jews, and in 1943 the rescue of the Danish Jews, get a great deal of attention. When Germany seems to loose the war, the reporting about the persecution of Jews increases. The German friendly papers adapt to the situation. The results of the study are discussed with an institutional approach to media and political organisations and in relation to new Swedish historical research about Sweden’s relationship to Nazi Germany (Åmark 2011).
Sweden, WW2, Neutrality, Holocaust, News Reporting, Institutional approach, New Historical Research