Sweden: A commemorative project to restore the long-neglected graves of Holocaust victims who died soon after their liberation
Jewish Heritage Europe
Wintertime general view of the plot. Photo: Roman Wroblewski
A project is under way to restore the long-neglected graves of scores of Holocaust victims in Stockholm and to commemorate and identify those buried.
The graves in question — whose markers are sunken into the soil and located in a separate plot of the Jewish section of Stockholm’s Northern Cemetery — are those of about 100 people who were ill when liberated at Bergen-Belsen in 1945 and who died soon after being evacuated to Sweden for medical treatment.
One of the sunken grave markers. Photo: Roman Wroblewski
The project is spearheaded by Roman Wroblewski, the Polish-born son of Holocaust survivors who emigrated to Sweden in 1967. Wroblewski, an emeritus medical school professor, also conceived the main Holocaust memorial in Stockholm, dedicated at the city’s synagogue in 1998. That memorial lists around 8,500 names of Holocaust victims who were relatives of survivors who settled in Sweden after the war.
On the new memorial project, Wroblewski is working with city authorities and with the Stockholm Jewish community.
He presented a detailed plan for the project to city authorities at the end of 2018, and also contacted the director of the city museum earlier in the fall. Funds are now being sought for what he told JHE would be an approximately €145,000 undertaking.
Almost all of the burials in the plot are of women and girls who had been among survivors who were found at or brought to Bergen-Belsen after its liberation by British forces in April 1945. (Tens of thousands of prisoners were found starving or suffering from typhus and other diseases when Bergen-Belsen was liberated — Anne Frank had succumbed not long before liberation.)
recommended by: Roman Wroblewski
They received immediate treatment at a British field hospital set up in former SS barracks nearby, and then at a Swedish field hospital in the Baltic Sea port of Lübeck staffed by British, Swedish and German doctors. Some died, but thousands were transported to Sweden on Swedish Red Cross “White Ships” for medical attention.
According to “De vita skeppen — en svensk humanitär operation 1945” by Sune Birke, five “White Ships” were in operation and brought more than 9,200 Holocaust survivors from Germany to Sweden. Birke wrote that Bergen-Belsen had been chosen by British authorities “as a terminal for collecting [survivors] from all of the British occupation zone.” (You can read an English summary of this article by clicking HERE and scrolling down to page 94).
Victoria Martinez writes in an article in The Local that the people buried in Stockholm are believed to have been brought over on one ship:
All of the victims buried at the site share several similarities, starting with the fact that most of them had been transferred from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in Northern Germany, where they were eventually liberated on April 15th, 1945.
Though they managed to survive to liberation, they were seriously ill when they boarded the S/S Kastelholm, one of the Swedish Red Cross’ “White Ships” that transported survivors from Germany to Sweden, in the summer of 1945. In two crossings, the ship carried 400 survivors from Lübeck, Germany, to Stockholm’s Frihamnen port, including all of those buried in the Northern Cemetery.
Wroblewski told JHE that he became interested in the neglected cemetery plot in the mid-1990s, when he was working on plans for the main Holocaust memorial. He visited the plot and found it overlooked and neglected to the point where the horizonal gravestones, laid out in narrow rows, were sunken beneath the surface.
On his own, he began clearing the area and revealing the stones, one by one, row by row.
“I didn’t just want to reveal the gravestones but to make known the names and the stories of the people buried here,” he said.
Martinez described how the site is overlooked.
Anyone walking past the graves would probably never even know they were there, much less the stories they stood for. Most of the gravestones that lie flat against the earth have been rendered invisible: over time, they have sunk below ground level and been covered by moss and lichen. Other than small, numbered markers that rise just above ground level, and a stone marker standing off to one side, there is little to indicate that the area is more than a barren patch of land.
Wroblewski’s memorial plan includes the placement of six granite pillars in spaces in the rows of graves that somehow remain empty. These, he said, would symbolize the 6 million Jews killed in the Shoah and each would bear the name of a Nazi death camp — Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Chelmno, Sobibór and Bełżec. QR codes will be placed linking to information about the people buried.
Concept of the memorial project in Stockholm. Photo: Roman Wroblewski
In a blog post on January 30, Wroblewski wrote about his research into the young women buried in Row 3 of the site. They were named Lily, Eva, Flora, Sari and Regina:
What happened in Sweden is known mainly from their Medical Cards. To start with, all were transported from Frihamnen to Ropsten sanitary facility [where a Tunnelbana Ropsten station now stands], and from there to the Epidemic Hospital at Roslagstull [present-day Roslagstull Hospital] in Stockholm or the field hospital (beredskapssjukhuset) located in school buildings in Sigtuna. In those places, many of the survivors died as early as only days or weeks after arrival. These survivors are buried in row 1 and 2 and in the other area of the cemetery where the burials of Holocaust victims started in July 1945.
Lily, Eva, Flora, Sari and Regina were at about the same age as Anne Frank. They were in the same camp and they died due to the same cause, malnutrition, typhus other diseases like TBC at Bergen-Belsen. So Lily, Eva, Flora, Sari, and Regina’s lives lasted only a few months longer, dying of complications from malnutrition and typhus in Sweden.
Lily, Eva, and Sari were all buried during the January 1946. Flora and Regina in March 1946.When WWII started on September 1st, 1939, they were between 10 and 14 years old. All of them has been in the ghettos, concentration camps, ammunition factories, and slave labor camps.
Read Wroblewski’s January 30 blog post (in English — there are other posts about the project on the blog in other languages)