Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Queen Silvia of Sweden—Opponent of Democratic Freedoms?

On November 28, 2010, the Swedish program “Kalla Fakta” (Cold Facts) on TV4 broadcasted a documentary about the Swedish Queen’s late father, Walter Sommerlath (1901-1990), and his Nazi past. The factual program raised some inconvenient truths—which the queen is now trying to suppress.
Queen Silvia’s father was a German national, who worked in the steel industry in Brazil in the 1920’s. There were many German expatriates in Brazil, and Sommerlath and his brother affiliated themselves with the German Nazi party in 1934. The Sommerlaths joined the National Socialists’ foreign division (NSDAP/AS) in Brazil. In 1938 Sommerlath returned to Germany where he was able, with the help of the National Social Democrats (Nazis), to expropriate a metal factory in Berlin from its rightful Jewish owner, Efim Wechsler. The factory was soon turned into an integral part of the war industry, producing tank parts and anti-aircraft guns for the German army.
Therefore, Queen Silvia’s father was, in fact, an active Nazi sympathizer who made his fortune by acquiring a factory owned by a Jew, Efim Wechsler. Wechsler, having had his property taken away from him by extortion, and left penniless by further Nazis taxes, was then destitute and forced to flee Germany.  
Perhaps this was new information for Queen Silvia, who has commented previously that “her father’s involvement in Nazism was neither politically active or as a soldier”.  In fact she claimedthat her father’s factory produced toy trains and hair dryers and civil defense items .
Yet, according to Swedish author Åsa Lindborg, the documentary has raised little attention in Sweden. It seems to be a common assumption in Swedish media and society that “it is inappropriate to follow-up the Queen in this manner”. 
Even more inappropriate—for free press advocates—is that  Queen Silvia decided to write a protest letter to Jan Scherman , the producer of the documentary on TV4. In her complaint she questioned the investigation and essentially also questions allowing freedom of speech.  As Lindblom remarks, this “should cause a stir in any healthy democracy”.
Jan Scherman himself comments in an interview with Aftonbladet that he is both surprised at and critical of Queen Silvia’s signed letter, which he received privately in an anonymous envelope. He states:
- The Queen can of course write what she wants to whomever she wants. The problem is that “Kalla Fakta” had been trying to reach her for a long time and she did not want to comment on the new leads”.
He continues:

- “Is this a way for the Queen to try avoiding having her opinions reach the public? I think this awakens something unpleasant and alarming. I see that the royal family chooses openness when they want  and not when they are being investigated.”
TV4 points out that, having returned to Brazil in 1947, Sommerlath never went through a de-Nazification process, and never compensated the [original Jewish] owner for any losses he concurred as result of the sale of his property back in 1939”.

One of the main tasks of the royal family is to promote Sweden, and the values it stands for in a positive manner. No one is blaming the Queen for by her father’s past, and no one should. Nonetheless, as an official representative of a liberal democracy, the queen has no business opposing freedom of expression. It is time that Silvia—as well as Sweden—takes a serious look at the past.
Only by using our freedom of speech to investigate and learn from the past, can we avoid losing all our freedoms in the future.


  1. Dear Sweden, Israel and the Jews!

    As an occasional commenter - but regular observer of your otherwise excellent website, I feel compelled to point out a problematic phenomenon.
    Let me make it perfectly clear that I by and large agree with this piece on Queen Sylvia and the surrounding controversy, questions about freedom of speech and so on, and so on.
    As we - or I - all know the respect for free speech is a bit odd for shady radicals and extremists to refer to in the Swedish system. Somwe of us outsiders critical of Sweden all know very well how utterly how unbelievably selective your press in geenral. It's enough if I mention the geenral reporting and tone on the Israel/Pal. conflict, but of course far from exclusively. Important aspects about Islam, the Middle-East, Israel, the United Sates and countless other objects/events/ohenomena are neglected, routinely distorted, twisted, spu even (!) simply lied about in the Swedish media and press. So it must be noted that howling about press freedom when the very same people would actually NEVER themselves dare to objectively eveluate the ttoally shameful details of Sweden's very own World War II history is let me say, a bit far too much! Many people know that Sweden has simply not come to terms with its uncomfortable past, never have and probably never will. A conutry/nation that could not make up its mind if the actual enemy to defeat was Adolf Hitzler and whom to side with has a quite a heavy and serious moral baggage. Meanwhile, Sweden puts on, dissembles and pretends as if everything was OK without the tiniest shred of self-probing cocnerning WWII. In this respect, and only in this context, sorry for me to say bringing - otherwise worthwile and valauable material on the Queen's past - is a little bit hypocritical, off-putting and betrays not just bad taste, but repugnance. Let us ALL hear Sweden if it dares to confront its shame that it didn't "know" whom to support between 1940 and 1945: Adolf Hitler or Winston Churchill. Then, and only then can it afford to allow free flow to embarrass the Queen.
    Thank You.

    Gábor Frännkl
    Budapest, Hungary

    P.S.: And next time no deleting of my talkback please if I allege - though might be wrong, but don't really think so - that Sweden is an antisemitic country. (Even though I erroneously said and fueled by my animonisty and general - why should I deny? - hostility to Sweden, that it's insitutuionally so, which is obviously a stretch to say the least...)

  2. i think that what you are saying is that until sweden owns up to being a press-restricting, propagandizing, nazi-past-denying state, it's ludicrous to criticize the queen for simply being another press-restricting, propagandizing, nazi-past-denying swede.

    however, isn't this the point? i always say that the microcosm is often a very good predictor for the macrocosm. for example, if jews can't identify as jews in the streets of malmo, because of muslim hate crime, which population is really threatened? talking about israel policy or the war in afghanistan is not to the point here.

    that's why we point out specific examples which characterize the overall situation in sweden. we hope these specific items can be treated. honestly, if queen sylvia sought out and recompensated efim wechsler's descendents, that would be a step towards choosing a better path for sweden. it's highly unlikely, but if someone in the government were to take it up, at least there would be open debate on the topic.

    our mandate is to open sweden up to outsiders by blogging in english. this is our way to widen the debate on what happens in sweden, instead of just letting things fester under the carpet.

    again, we are dealing with issues on the ground. our business is to discuss examples which illustrate the general modus operandi. that's what we do, post after post, example after example.

  3. I am basically in agreement with you and your way of looking at things is correct. The logic is excellent without a shred of sarcasm. Really you are right. But! My criticism concerning the shortcomings of Sweden's "neutrality", the very fact that it couldn't make up its mind which side of the tennis court to be allies with is a phenomenon that craves coming to terms with - and it's NOWHERE to be seen Chana. and this criticism in general I think is also true.
    Further: please take note that I don't hypocritically hide the utter and total shame, Nazi-type shame of my own country, Hungary, whose record - naturally - was worse many times that of Sweden. I readily admit. The thing however is that while here there were voices of left-wing intelligentsia honestly wishing to face up to our pro-Nazi crimes of partnership in genocide, was there/is there any meaningful sign of a similar process in Sweden????
    As for the "Malmö-story", you couldn't be more right. It's rapidly becoming Europe's "antisemitism capital" (of the XXIth century) as you yourself referred to.

    Yours Truely,

    Gábor Fränkl (32)