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Book re-ignites debate on Ikea founder's Nazi past

Book re-ignites debate on Ikea founder's Nazi past

Published: 01 Sep 2011 10:29 GMT+02:00
Updated: 01 Sep 2011 10:29 GMT+02:00

The founder of Ikea admitted long ago he foolishly flirted with Nazism in his youth, but a new book is making waves in Sweden with claims his ties to the fascist movement went much deeper than he has acknowledged.

Ingvar Kamprad, the 85-year-old Swedish billionaire who founded and still largely controls furniture giant Ikea, confessed in the 1990s that he had had links to the Nazi youth movement during World War II, when Sweden was neutral, describing it as the "greatest mistake of my life."

He has always described the decision as the "folly of youth," but a book published last week by journalist Elisabeth Åsbrink quotes Kamprad in an interview last year still hailing the Swedish fascist leader Per Engdahl.

"That was perhaps what was most surprising," Åsbrink told AFP.

"He has always said he got involved due to teenage confusion, but actually in August last year he was still loyal to this fascist leader."

"He told me: 'He (Engdahl) was a great human being and I will maintain that as long as I live'," she said.

Swedish media have in recent days debated the book's revelations, with an editorial the Dagens Nyheter newspaper ironically stating Thursday: "It was his life's biggest mistake. And yet he keeps repeating it, for the rest of his life."

Daniel Poohl of the anti-racist magazine Expo said the revelations were serious.

"Everyone has the right to make a mistake and get a second chance, but it is obvious that Kamprad still sees Per Engdahl as a great person," he said in an interview with public broadcaster SVT.

"This was not just about happening in on a meeting by accident," Poohl added.

Neither Kamprad, who lives in Switzerland, nor his spokesman could be reached for comment, but a statement on Ikea's website stressed: "What happened almost 70 years ago is something Ingvar has apologised for numerous

times ... and has nothing to do with Ikea's activities."

"Ingvar has dedicated his adult life to Ikea and the democratic values Ikea stands for," it added.

Åsbrink's book "And in Wienerwald the trees remain" (”Och i Wienerwald står träden kvar) tells the story of Otto Ullman, a Jewish boy sent from Austria to Sweden right before the outbreak of World War II and soon becomes friends with Kamprad.

"Ingvar said to me: 'don't misunderstand me, but I fell in love.' And they immediately became very close friends. They were 17 and 18 years old," the author explains.

She says she did not start the project to dig into Kamprad's Nazi past, but had wanted to understand how the Ikea founder could have been such good friends with Otto and at the very same time involved in a movement "with ideas that his friend was suffering the consequences of."

"His parents were murdered in Auswitz," she pointed out.

But when she repeatedly asked Kamprad to explain what he was thinking at the time, he had finally said: "I cannot see any contradiction in this."

Kamprad remained friends with Engdahl for years after the war ended, and Åsbrink's book details a wedding invitation the Ikea founder sent the fascist leader in 1950 describing how he was proud to belong to the same circle as him.

Åsbrink also discovered that Kamprad, who has admitted activity in the far-right New Swedish Movement, had previously been a member of the more extreme Swedish Socialist Unity (SSS) party, with the member number 4014.

Sweden's intelligence police Säpo had started a file on him in 1943, when he was 17, titled "Nazi", she said.

"They obviously thought he was Nazi enough to create a file," she said, adding she had been disappointed not to get access to possible file documents from after 1949 to probe how long Kamprad's link to the SSS had lasted.

According to the part of the file she had seen, though, she said Kamprad claimed he "had recruited members ... and doesn't seem to miss an opportunity to serve the party."

Åsbrink says she has received a lot of support, but also a number of angry letters and emails from people upset she was tarnishing a man widely respected for spreading a positive image of Sweden in the world.

"A lot of people think he's a good representative for Sweden," she said, adding: "I have also been criticised because he is an old man, but I didn't interview him in an old people's home. I interviewed him in Ikea's headquarters."

Earlier this week, Ikea announced in Geneva that it was donating more than $60 million to the United Nations refugee body, UNHCR.

While the donation was hailed by UNHCR, a statement from a spokesperson for the body suggests that the organisation fretted over accepting the gift in light of reports about Kamprad's past.

“It's about saving lives. Sometimes you have to make hard choices,” read the statement, according to the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper, prompting the paper's Geneva correspondent to comment on the timing of the donation.

“Ikea's generous donation can certainly help save lives. But the point is that there are other dimensions behind this donation,” correspondent Gunilla von Hall wrote.

“This is a part of good deeds that strategists call in these type of situations “damage control.”

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

06:56 September 2, 2011 by Frobobbles
I have a shocking revelation for you: germany was nazi once.
08:37 September 2, 2011 by Frank Arbach
... the article reminds me of a WWII cartoon showing a German character "The Straggler" ripping off his swastika, before the advancing Allies can reach him, saying "I was never a Nazi at heart"...

It makes you sick to think that sometimes these obnoxious beliefs can be defeated militarily, and can be seen as absurd, but if they're NOT, how many people (and Kamprad could well be one of them) just go on the same old way...?
10:31 September 2, 2011 by RobinHood
The Local flogs this particular dead horse so regularly it makes me wonder why. In weird synchronicity with the release of IKEA's latest catalogue, we can read over breakfast about the latest offers in flat pack furniture, and that Ingvar Kamprad was a Nazi sympathiser.

This "Revelation" about Kamprad's dark past has become The Local's Billy; a bland amalgamation of recycled pulp that neither the IKEA catalogue nor The Local would be complete without.

Thanks Nina for your insights, but next time the IKEA catalogue is released, please would you do a piece on why The Local insists on regurgitating this story once or twice a year, year after year? It's getting ……. BORING. Yes, we know Kamprad was a Nazi sympathiser. You already told us; several times. Stop expecting us to be shocked or suprised.
11:26 September 2, 2011 by Kevin Harris
The Local is launching its French edition with "Coco Chanel Spied For The Nazis". I assume they have outed a decrepid Swiss Nazi especially for their Swiss readers, but really can't be assed to look. It does make you wonder whether the Local exposes ancient Nazis in its German edition. Surely there wouldn't be any room for anything else if they did.
12:18 September 2, 2011 by Monitor Lizard
Oh leave the guy alone, he is entitled to his political beliefs.

Besides think of all the good he has done for society over the years by creating IKEA.
16:49 September 2, 2011 by Derek B.
So the UNHCR fretted over accepting the donation from IKEA because its founder used to belong to a Jew-hating, violence-glorifying organization, the Nazi youth movement. So what will the UNHCR do with the donation? It will give it to a Jew-hating, violence- glorifying organization, the Palestinian Authority.
12:50 September 3, 2011 by johan rebel
What's exactly the problem here? Anybody who doesn't want to put money into the pockets of an old Nazi can surely buy furniture elsewhere?
11:52 September 5, 2011 by sjuttiosjusköterskorpåsjukhuset
Lady, you are an avaricious rabble-rouser. While I am no fan of the Nazis, Mr. Kamprad is NO Nazi. He has apologised for his past mistakes repeatedly. What is Åsbrink after, blood? Leave him ALONE, he is in the "winter" of his life and has done more for Sweden and her people than you ever will or COULD. You are despicable. Your efforts do nothing but attempt to DIVIDE Sweden, a nation with enough divisiveness with all the many immigrants in it today.
08:34 September 6, 2011 by bells on the knight
kamprad doesn't give a rats azz. neither would i if i had billions in my bank accounts. the only reason why he's got a slight concern is for the publicity and the potential affect it has on sales in sweden.

does an ikea store in the rest of the world gets affected? Don't think so.
01:30 September 7, 2011 by jack sprat
He only denounced nazism because he had no other choice in order to save his business.

There have been numerous tell-tale signs over the years to suggest he is the just same nazi he has always been.

As for doing anything for Sweden,...thats a joke.

He couldn't wait to get out and go elsewhere to produce his goods as well as to avoid Swedish taxes.

He only retains the Swedish nameplate/connection because it sells goods better than made in China or wherever he chooses to base operations.

The Swedes are mugs for desperately hanging onto this guys coat-tails, though sadly the way their other big names are going to the wall, I suppose they have little left to brag about these days.
18:16 September 7, 2011 by Grokh
why is it ok to accept conservative muslims into sweden that use their religion as political ideology .

but not ok for nazis ? they both hate jews, they both want their way only to be the ultimate truth, they both claim they are the superior race/choosen ones....

I absolutely agree with no nazi ideologies, but why do people accept islamic ideology? they are both political and insane.
15:41 September 9, 2011 by spy
The title to this article should be changed to:

'The Local tries unsuccessfully to reignite an old story'
02:30 September 15, 2011 by stoogefest
Sweeedeeen... If you constantly remind your readers of the dark past, of nazis and death camps and killing... how do you expect to keep that liberal image and keep moving to the future?
18:10 September 15, 2011 by salalah
Next time on a shelf near you:

The bookshelf "Adolf" and desk "Himmler"
18:30 September 17, 2011 by Gamla Hälsingebock
Too many people forget that Adolf Hitler and his party were once highly respected in Europe and elsewhere.

Had Hitler not begun WWII he would have been thought of as the greatest leader Germany ever had.

In the beginning a lot of people admired him...not just the Germans.
12:39 September 18, 2011 by jostein
Yes, what kamprad did 70 yeras ago is sooooo important? Things that are not important is that 900 journalists, prominent state officials and politicians worked for stasi during the cold war and that our government know who these people are but keep it a secret. And that not one journalist demands that these lists should be published.
20:21 September 18, 2011 by RobinHood
Thanks for pointing that out Jostein.

Now there's a challenge for Nina and The Local. The Social Democrat journalists and politicians who betrayed their friends and country by spying for the East Germans. How about "re-igniting the debate" about that shady bunch every three months until we get to the truth, The Local? That story still has plenty of legs, and has yet to properly unfold.
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