Written by Robert Börjesson, translated by Yael W. Originally published here.
They survived the concentration camps- now Nazis are demonstrating outside their synagogue.
Nordic Resistance movement- Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen (NMR)
This Nazi organisation NMR was given permission to demonstrate in Gothenburg on the 30th September. The Jewish community in Gothenburg have protested against NMR being allowed to demonstrate near the synagogue and during the high holiday of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement.
Last Sunday a group from NMR protested through Gothenburg, despite not being given permission. Police in Gothenburg were strongly criticised for not stopping the demonstration.
They survived the horrors of the holocaust and found sanctuary in Sweden. Now Gothenburg’s older Jewish population are trying to understand why the Nazi organisation NMR are permitted to demonstrate outside their synagogue during the high holiday of Yom Kippur.
Michael Ben-Menachem was only eight years old when he was sent to a labour camp. He is just one of the survivors who are critical of Swedish law and Gothenburg’s police giving Nazis the right to demonstrate just 250 metres from the city’s synagogue, and furthermore on the holiest of high holidays, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur. “It’s a disgrace for Sweden,” says Michael Ben-Menachem.
The symbols awaken memories.
For Michael Ben-Menachem the Nordic resistance movement’s symbol reminds him of Hungary’s Nazi party. “The Nordic resistance movement has an arrow, and I am perhaps the only one who thinks about this, that we in Hungary had arrows. It awakens memories in me,” he says.
Since the Nazi NMR got permission to demonstrate on the 30th September many have reacted with concern for Gothenburg’s Jews. The Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has deliberated over the conflict of interest between defending the rights of the demonstration and protecting Gothenburg’s Jewish congregation. Well known cultural figures have written debate pieces. But few have spoken with the men and women who likely feel the worst about the demonstration, those Jews that survived the horrors of the holocaust.
Many still have nightmares
In Gothenburg’s Jewish aged care home people want to speak about how it feels that Nazis are allowed to demonstrate nearby the synagogue on Yom Kippur. Many who survived the concentration camps still have nightmares. One woman describes that every night, 72 years after the end of the war, she still has the same nightmare: that she is back in the concentration camp and is being hunted by Nazis. One after the other they come to meet us, some in wheelchairs, others walking slowly with assistance from their carers. In the end, there are 23 pensioners in the room.
Nadia, 82, survived antisemitism two times, first in the Nazi concentration camp and then in Communist Poland. “I don’t know if I will dare to go to synagogue now. I am scared. I fear what they can provoke.” She continues: “That they chose just this day. They knew what they were doing. And we support this. It’s terrible.”
Another survivor, an older man who was in five different concentration camps, turns towards me.
“I will ask you one thing. Have you ever felt anxiety? Since this started with the march I have felt anxious. Everyone feels anxious that they permitted the march in the city centre on the same day that we have Yom Kippur,” he says. “When we came here in 1945 the thought was: ‘Never again,’ and now it’s starting again. It feels horrible. And I wish that it wasn’t true that they are permitted to march out on the street and shout. It is a terrible experience.”
“Why does it have to be the 30th September?”
Many in the aged care facility are pondering whether the police didn’t know it was Yom Kippur, or if they chose to ignore this. The latter alternative is the most painful to process. “The worst is that I believe that they knew, but didn’t care. This hurts,” says the man who survived five concentration camps. That the police on Sunday didn’t stop the Nazis who demonstrated without a permit in central Gothenburg triggers strong feelings in the aged care home. “In Germany it was exactly the same way Nazism started, that they demonstrated without asking first, and I remember this as a child,” says a woman who sat quietly for a long time. She continues: “I came to Sweden 42 years ago, after being in several concentration camps, and I remember how I felt when I arrived, I felt that finally we are free! Here nothing can happen. I am really saddened that we sit here and discuss these things now. The police saying that the Nazis can go on this route and do what they want as long as they are quiet and nothing happens is naïve. I was always very proud to have become Swedish. I am so disappointed in Sweden now.”
Many in the room want to share their thoughts. “Why is it so hard for the police in Gothenburg to change the date? Why does it need to be the 30th of September, the most important holy day that we have,” wonders an older man with glasses and a determined voice. A woman continues: “I don’t understand why they are allowed to march in Sweden. They are forbidden in Germany. We know too well who they are. They are murderers who will demonstrate.”
One day for inner reflection, prayer and sanctity.
Next to her wonders a lady if there can be a counter demonstration and if so whether that can be violent. “There are a great many people who have expressed strong support for the Jewish community” says Benjamin Gerber. “They want to demonstrate, create a circle around the synagogue, but this is also problematic because this is a very special day. It’s a day for inner reflection, for prayer and sanctity. It is not a day for outer symbolism and demonstrations. There are other days when people can focus on this and on our part it takes a lot of energy and focus away from what the day means. So even if we have demonstrators that support us, in a sense we lose the atmosphere for this day.”
In the room sits Leopold who survived the second world war in Sweden. For him, antisemitism in Gothenburg is worse today then under the devastation of Nazi’s Europe. “I am born in Gothenburg and during the second world war there wasn’t the same pressure on us as Jews as there is now in Swedish society.” He says. “During the 30’s and 40’s we didn’t need protection, there wasn’t any. I remember that the front entrance was always wide open when I went to synagogue as a boy. Sure we were taunted many times when we left the synagogue, and sure, we felt the threat from the Germans, but we didn’t feel threat from local Nazis like we do now.”
Everyone in the room connects the NMR’s clothes and symbols with threat and death. “It’s a Nazi uniform,” many say at the same time.
Before we leave the old aged home one man, the man who asked if I had ever felt anxiety, explains that he dedicated a big part of his life to educated Swedish children on the Nazis evil and the holocaust. Recent headlines and Nazi demonstrations have made him doubt if it helped. “The way things are today it seems I have failed.” he says.
This article has been published in the AJDS magazine Just Voices, Issue 14, Nov. 2017: Antisemitism.