The perception of the rescue operation ‘White buses’ and the unequal payment of tribute.

Recently I read an interesting comparison between Sweden and Switzerland by the Swiss historian Thomas Maissen. It concerns the assessment of the humanitarian efforts of both countries during the Second World War, including the rescue operation ‘White Buses’.

My research mainly concerns the details of the rescue operation from Ravensbrück and Hamburg to Sweden. The name of Izabela A. Dahl, a lecturer at the University of Örebro, who wrote several articles[i] on the perception of the ‘White buses’ rescue operation, is missing from the list of sources in my report. Interestingly, the outcome of my research does not contradict A. Dahl’s critical assessment of the perception of the rescue mission. I, too, regard the homage paid to Folke Bernadotte as overdone. Izabela Dahl goes as far as to call this a creation of a legend.

Thomas Maissen wrote a brilliant article[ii] subtitled as ‘Aspects of a Comparison between Sweden and Switzerland during the Second World War’. Although the article barely mentions the rescue operation ‘White buses’, it explains why the Swedes received much and the Swiss little praise for the rescue operation. Already at the beginning of my investigation, it emerged that the Dutch women did not even leave Ravensbrück in ‘White Buses’, but were taken to Denmark in trucks belonging to the Geneva-based ICRC (International Red Cross). The contribution of all non-Swedish participants to the rescue operation appears to have been underexposed, but in the course of the investigation, the lack of familiarity with the contribution of the International Red Cross and the interference from Switzerland was particularly noticeable. Taking in mind, that there is plenty of archival material about the ICRC’s assistance to concentration camp prisoners.

According to Professor Maissen, after the Second World War, Sweden had a better relationship with the countries of the Western Allies than Switzerland. In the last months of the war Sweden reoriented itself towards the Western Allies. In schools, German was replaced by English as the first foreign language. A similar development did not take place in Switzerland and humanitarian achievements remained unknown abroad. Quote Maisinger: It was not until around 1990 that the biographies and rehabilitations of Louis Haefliger, who saved tens of thousands of people from the Mauthausen concentration camp, the police commander Paul Grüninger, who covered the secret border crossings of refugees in St.Gallen in 1938, the engaged journalist of the ‘Nation’, Peter Surava, appeared. The most striking contrast shows the later fate of Carl Lutz and Raoul Wallenberg, who together and in a similar way saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews in Budapest by collective protective passports in 1944. Lutz is accused of exceeding his authority, and in Bern no one is interested in the diplomat’s achievement. Stockholm, on the other hand, declares the son of the by no means anti-German-minded family of industrialists Wallenberg, as Sweden’s humanitarian ambassador. Unquote.

Later, according to Maissen, the American Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington receives the address ‘Raoul Wallenberg Place 100’.

Fame and honour seem more or less subject to coincidence. Honour can also be swindled. A grave example of manipulation was the way Felix Kersten, Himmler’s masseur, claimed his share of fame. The Netherlands awarded him two high awards and even recommended him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

[i] Dahl, I. A. (2015). Kurz vor Schluss: Die Rettungsaktion ‘Weiße Busse’. In: Paul, Gerhard; Schwensen, Broder, Mai ’45. Kriegsende in Flensburg (pp. 32-41). Flensburg: Gesellschaft für Flensburger Stadtgeschichte eV.

Dahl, I. A. (2012). Rezeption der Aktion “Weiße Busse” in Deutschland. In: Oliver von Wrochem, Skandinavien im Zweiten Weltkrieg und die Rettungsaktion Weiße Busse: Ereignisse und Erinnerung (pp. 182-198). Berlin: Metropol Verlag.

Dahl, I. A. (2008). Die “Weißen Busse” und Folke Bernadotte: Zur Rezeption der Hilfsaktion in Deutschland und Skandinavien. In: Wolfgang Benz & Barbara Distel, KZ und Nachwelt: Dachauer Hefte.


[ii] Vom Umgang mit Deutschland – und mit der eigenen Geschichte. Aspekte eines Vergleichs zwischen Schweden und der Schweiz während des Zweiten Weltkriegs, in: Eva Lindgren/Renate Walder (Hg.), Schweden, die Schweiz und der Zweite Weltkrieg. Beiträge zum interdisziplinären Symposium des Zentrums für Schweizerstudien an der Universität Örebro, 30.09.-02.10.1999, Bern et al. 2001, S. 11-31.


Author: jansvano

Born 1937 in Amsterdam. Living in Germany near Hamburg

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