Swedish film recalls rescue of thousands of inmates from Nazi concentration camps (TORONTO STAR OP-ED) By Dow Marmur 04/29/12)
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Harbour of Hope is a new documentary by the Swedish filmmaker Magnus
Gertten. It describes how, in the last days of World War II, his
country rescued thousands of inmates from Nazi concentration camps.
The opening scene shows old footage of a girl looking into the
camera. It’s my wife, Fredzia, who together with her mother was taken
out of Ravensbruck concentration camp in April 1945 and brought to
safety in one of the famous white buses of the Swedish Red Cross.
We saw the film together with our children and grandchildren during
Passover, the week-long festival we celebrated earlier this month in
commemoration of the biblical Exodus from Egypt. The film was our
personal version of the perennial Jewish track from slavery to
freedom that Passover commemorates.
In the course of the more than 3,000 years since the Exodus, Jews
have endured many Egypts, mostly in Europe. A passage in the
Haggadah – the compendium that’s traditionally read at the Seder, the
meal that inaugurates the festival – reminds celebrants that in every
generation there’re those who want to destroy us. Participants
should, therefore, always see themselves as if they themselves had
been redeemed from bondage.
The Hebrew Bible sets the pattern for much of Jewish history; the
Swedish documentary turned it into our biography.
Some of the rescued were later able to bring relatives to Sweden.
Fredzia’s father, the survivor of another camp, was reunited with
them. Three years later, my parents and I came to Sweden from Poland
thanks to two aunts who had also been saved by the Red Cross. Sweden
became our Promised Land. It gave us a language, an education and,
above all, some security and hope.
When Fredzia and I married in Stockholm in 1956, our four parents
were with us, a virtually unique occurrence among survivors: a
blessing bestowed by the country that gave us shelter. Our gratitude
is as strong today as it was when we first arrived there, although
we’ve now lived elsewhere for more than half a century.
The harbour of the film is Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city. If
then it was the place of hope for survivors, today it’s the city of
discomfort and danger for them and their descendants. Malmo has
become notorious for its anti-Semitism.
Its mayor, Ilmar Reepalu, himself came as a small child to Sweden
with his refugee parents from Estonia. He has now become one of the
supporters of the many Muslims who more recently settled there.
Allegedly to please them, he has turned against the city’s 1,500 Jews.
Like most Jew-haters, he says that he’s not an anti-Semite, but his
actions and pronouncements belie it. Thus, for example, he has made
the bizarre and preposterous accusation that a political party with
Nazi connections has infiltrated the Jewish community: the stereotype
of Jews as sinister conspirators.
A couple of weeks before Passover, the representative body of Swedish
Jewry wrote to the president of the country’s Social Democratic Party
in which Mayor Reepalu is prominent. They referred to his hateful
accusations that often imply that the Jews have it coming to them for
Though the party president has now publicly reprimanded Reepalu, it’s
unlikely to make a difference on the ground. Some Jews have already
left Malmo and others may follow.
The Bible tells that oppression came when “a new king arose over
Egypt who did not know Joseph,” once a welcome and most distinguished
immigrant. Though the comparison flatters Reepalu, it may
nevertheless be apt to reflect that Malmo now has a mayor who’s
turning the harbour of hope into a pit of prejudice.
Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus at Toronto’s Holy Blossom Temple. His
column appears every other week. (© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2012
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