Sweden: not an easy place for a Jewish community

At a time of increasing anti-Semitism around the world, coupled with an increase in denial and trivialization of the Holocaust, it seemed to be a positive development that Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven recently convened, in the city of Malmo, the International Conference on the Memory of the Holocaust and the Fight against Anti-Semitism. A primary objective was to promote acceptance of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) by European countries.

The event hoped to attract European leaders and was partially successful, with the virtual participation of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron; however, the majority of Scandinavian heads of state and ministers chose not to participate. President Isaac Herzog participated via live video and World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder participated in person.

What struck me the most was the choice of Malmo as the host city. In 2003, as chair of the World WIZO Public Affairs Department, I was invited to address the WIZO Sweden National Conference which took place in Malmo. At that time, some 900 Jews resided in the city; Jews who were increasingly concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism. The city had attracted numerous immigrants from Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. I remember being told that one in five children born in the city that year was named Muhammad. I also learned of the growing number of areas that had become “no-go areas” for non-Muslims.

To find out what is happening today in Sweden in general and in Malmo specifically, the Magazine spoke with the president of WIZO Sweden, Susanne Sznajderman-Rytz. His parents were Holocaust survivors who miraculously survived Nazi camps and forced labor. They initially returned to Lodz in Poland in hopes of connecting with other family members who might have survived, but none were found. They began to rearrange their lives when they experienced a pogrom in Kielce, the catalyst for them to leave.

At the displaced persons camp in Zeilsheim, Germany, they discovered that their father’s three sisters had survived and were now living in the Swedish city of Boras. Once again, her parents packed their bags and came with other refugees to Sweden, joining the three aunts from Sznajderman-Rytz. The Boras Jewish community was established solely by survivors of World War II.

Lauder visits Malmö Synagogue on the eve of the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and the Fight against Amthisemitism along with Minister for Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai (left) and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on October 12 (credit : JONAS EKSTROMER / TT / REUTERS)

Being the son of Holocaust survivors contributed to Sznajderman-Rytz’s determination to work from 1997 to 2000 to include the Swedish Jewish community in the European Convention on Minority and Minority Languages ​​(Yiddish in this case). Sznajdeman-Rytz refused to accept the initial decision not to include the Jews of Sweden. He contacted former Prime Minister Goran Persson; As a result of the personal letter he sent him, the decision was reversed, which allowed the Jewish community to be included in the European Convention on Minority and Minority Languages. Sznajderman-Rytz continues to be actively involved in this project to this day.

CURRENTLY, SWEDEN’s population amounts to about 9.5 million souls, of which 880,000 belong to the Muslim faith. Why have Muslims been attracted to Sweden? Once a person is accepted and lives in the country, this allows other family members to emigrate to Sweden. These immigrants receive all social rights and are financially supported without having to work.

Figures for the Jewish community range from 20,000 to 25,000; it is difficult to obtain a definitive number as there are those who choose not to identify themselves as Jews.

Being a practicing Jew in Sweden is challenging. Ritual slaughter is illegal, inspired by anti-Semitic legislation in Europe dating back to the 1930s. Importing kosher meat generates high prices for the consumer. Circumcision is allowed only with the use of an anesthetic plus a nurse present.

The Muslim population of Malmo amounts to 344,166 and its Jewish community is reduced to 550 souls. There is limited cooperation between Jews and Muslims through Amanah, a joint Jewish-Muslim project based on collaboration between Imam Salahuddin Barakat and Rabbi Moshe David Ha-Cohen (the city’s visiting rabbi, based in Israel). Unfortunately, the project has little impact on the growing anti-Semitism felt by members of the Jewish community who live in daily fear of physical and mental abuse.

An opinion piece by Petra Kahn Nord of the WJC, Aron Verstundig of the Central Jewish Council of Sweden and Nina Tojzner of the Swedish Jewish Youth Union that appeared in the Swedish newspaper Expressen gives an example of what Jewish students in Malmo schools they hear from their fellow students: epithets like “Stingy Jews!” and “I’ll spend you!”
A study by Mirjam Katzin, Malmo coordinator against anti-Semitism, reveals that all the Jewish students interviewed, each of them, experience verbal or physical attacks. Teachers admit that their lack of knowledge about anti-Semitism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict often causes them to ignore the situation because it is too inconvenient to address.

At the time of the Swedish conference promoting the importance of the IHRA definition of the Holocaust, I saw an Israeli television interview with the Swedish ambassador to Israel, HE Eric Ullenhag, who spoke about the importance of fighting anti-Semitism in Sweden. What I found revealing was that no connection was made between the wave of anti-Semitism and the rapid growth of the Muslim population, specifically in Malmo. It’s called “political correctness.” The closest recognition of the Muslim connection came from Lofven, who noted: “Anti-Semitism, present in all parts of society, has been fueled in Europe by the arrival of immigrants from countries where anti-Semitism is widespread.” This implicit reference to Muslim immigration is the closest to linking Malmo’s high rate of anti-Semitism to its Muslim population.

Snazjderman-Rytz says: “The Malmo Conference shows more concern for dead Jews and Holocaust survivors than for what is happening today with living Jews. Malmo is a household name for all anti-Semitic actions in Europe, just as Auschwitz is a name for all evils. “

The magazine asked Snazjderman-Rytz why the conference and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde’s visit to Israel happened now.

He explained that Lofven resigned in August this year and his resignation became effective in November. It appears that his tenure was not covered in glory, in part due to the handling of COVID-19. She believes that Israel’s new government, along with Lofven’s desire to start on a positive note, created the momentum for these events.

Acknowledging the positive tones of both the conference and the Swedish Foreign Minister’s visit to Israel, some might quote the old saying “Don’t look at a gift horse in the mouth.” Yet for those who experience anti-Semitism on a regular basis, many of whom are descendants of Holocaust survivors, these diplomatic events are not the answer to what has become a traumatic existence for too many.

The writer is president of Israel, Great Britain and the Commonwealth Association. She is also the president of public relations for ESRA, which promotes the integration of immigrants into Israeli society.


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