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'Queen Silvia shouldn't be blamed for her father's Nazi past'

The Local · 5 Dec 2011, 14:19

Published: 05 Dec 2011 14:19 GMT+01:00

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My grandfather was a Nazi.

He was an SS officer who served on the battlefields of World War II and actively participated in one of the darkest periods of modern history following an ideology that I cannot comprehend.

Like the majority of Germans, I do not descend from the heroes of the Nazi resistance or those who aided those deemed undesirable in the Third Reich.

My mother, born some five years after the war, grew up in a Germany built upon collective guilt and shame based upon the actions of her parents’ generation.

I was born more than thirty years after the war and have also experienced those same feelings of shame and guilt. For as long as I can remember I have heard comments about our German, and therefore according to far too many, Nazi heritage.

At last year’s “Independent Woodstock Literary Festival” Professor Bernhard Schlink, author of The Reader, told the audience that “contemporary Germany is not entirely free of this "second guilt" felt by younger generations for the "sins of their fathers."

According to The Independent he also spoke about how young Germans still have to “answer difficult questions” about their country’s past.

I believe in feeling shame for the heinous crimes committed by the Nazis during the Third Reich.

And indeed I am ashamed. I do not however believe I should feel guilt.

Guilt stems from responsibility. And I do not understand how anyone can be judged based on the actions of previous generations.

Yet it happens all the time, and it is happening right now in Sweden.

For more than a year the media in Sweden, and abroad, have been reporting on Queen Silvia’s father Walther Sommerlath’s actions during the Third Reich.

It began when a group of investigative journalists from TV4’s programme “Kalla Fakta” (Cold Facts) concluded that not only was the Queen’s father a member of the Nazi party (as had been previously reported) but he had also benefited financially by taking part in “the Aryanisation of Jewish-owned businesses”.

The result was a media frenzy culminating in Queen Silvia, along with members of the Sommerlath family, ordering their own investigation into Walther Sommerlath’s Nazi past.

These findings were released in August.

The Queen however continues to face criticism for everything from not distancing herself enough from her father’s actions (in a statement released by the Royal Court the Queen actually did say she was sorry that her father had joined the National Socialist Party in 1934) to the report being self-serving and defensive.

If the Queen is being defensive it is only natural, after all this man everyone is talking about in the media was her father. A man she deeply loved and cared for. The same way my mother and I felt about my grandfather.

In the end though what do the actions of, and interest in, Queen Silvia’s father have to do with her?

TV4’s motivation for investigating the Queen’s father was that it is “important to examine all those who have power in society. Whether it is the Migration Board, trade and industry, the police, healthcare, the Salvation Army or the Royal Court.”

However, the investigation and programme had nothing to do with the Royal Court or Queen Silvia. The Queen’s father was never a member of the Royal Court or a member the Royal Family and therefore never a man who held any “power” in Sweden.

Journalists and media in Sweden are considered to be among those who hold power in society.

Is it therefore relevant to investigate what the reporters’ of “Cold Facts” parents and grandparents did during the years 1932 – 1945?

I am sure that most people would agree with me that it should be irrelevant, just as the children and grandchildren of those Swedes who willingly enlisted in the Waffen-SS, or carried out forced sterilization in Sweden, or abused children in Swedish orphanages should not be held accountable either.

The journalistic profession is built upon scrutinizing, and thus reporters should investigate and question those in power, including the Queen and the Royal Family.

But then this scrutiny should focus on the Royal Family or the institution of monarchy and not Walther Sommerlath.

In an article in the daily Göteborgs Posten (GP) about the Queen’s own investigation into her father’s past, historian and active republican Henrik Arnstad wrote that “guilt is never inherited” but continues that the Royal Couple’s heritage gives rise to “responsibility” and that the history of Queen Silvia and her father only continue a “prolonged tragedy, both for the Bernadotte family and the Sweden they represent.”

While I agree the Queen has a responsibility to Sweden in her role as the wife of the Head of State, she cannot take responsibility for the actions of her ancestors. Words like Arnstad’s only fuel the belief that an entire people should feel guilty for events they have renounced over and over again.

In 2010, Holocaust survivor Anita Epstein wrote an article in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz asking if a Holocaust survivor can ever forgive the Germans.

Story continues below…

Epstein herself concluded that she could not. She wrote that “if the pain of the past is always present in me, as it is in many other survivors and their children, it does not trouble me that contemporary Germans live with the hurt from that past as well. After all, just as children inherit wealth and otherwise benefit from what their parents achieve, so do they sometimes inherit their parents’ debts, including this one.”

Although I respect Epstein’s answer and her choice not to forgive, I do wonder if we ever will be able to move on and let the post-war generations of Germans be judged for their own deeds as opposed to those of their predecessors.

In an interview with Göteborgs Posten (GP) the Queen told journalist Britt-Marie Mattsson, “I do not have any memories from that time, as I was so young. Afterwards, nobody could bring themselves to talk about the war. I assume that this was because their experiences were so hard to deal with.”

My mother rarely spoke with her father about that time either. They did not have to because the consequences were all around them. Germany was a devastated nation not only trying to recover from the ravages of all out war but also atone for its sins against humanity. The guilt and the shame were always there.

And they still are.

The atrocities committed in Nazi Germany hover over Europe and the world like a dark and heavy cloud. Many, both in Germany and abroad, looked on in silence while millions of innocent people were murdered in Nazi death camps.

I condemn these heinous crimes against humanity but I cannot take accountability for them. I do however have a responsibility, a responsibility I share collectively with everyone else; to make sure it never happens again.

Juan Navas is a public relations consultant and former journalist who previously worked as an information secretary at Sweden's Royal Court

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

00:27 December 6, 2011 by glamelixir
Ok, fair enough... now, why don't we enquire Sweden for their Nazi past instead?

Like selling iron to build the Nazi machinery and letting them pass by to invade Norway?

Just....some thoughts...
01:12 December 6, 2011 by redcrown
A person can only be judged on their own actions and deeds,not on nationality,parents or religion,these people who are digging into the past have another agenda
04:04 December 6, 2011 by swenrika
NOBODY should be blamed for their parents past - PERIOD and move along now, nazi is history so stop digging up the past !
07:55 December 6, 2011 by dukesy
Come on Sweden,give your Queen a break,....She wasnt involved,she had nothing to do with the Nazis,or their way of life. I thought Sweden was like the UK, where all are deemed innocent until proven guilty,so to these people i would say simply,....either prove your Queen guilty...beyond reasonable doubt,or `excuse the french....as we say in UK`... SHUT THE '''''''''K UP`.

Its not good journalism to accuse people of this sort of thing,its what I call `gutter press`, we are past masters of it in the UK.....remember....`News of the World`.....and others. I would have hoped your press in Sweden among others would have been above that.

Incidentally if you look back in history,our Royals in the UK are descended from the German and Greek nations,,,,,,,,I dont hear anyone accusing Queen Elizabeth of being a Nazis,as in her family line She has German blood,so why accuse Queen Silvia.....or has She been been seen ib SS gear.......I think not.

Give the Royals a break, after all no country was virgin clean between 1939/45.
12:00 December 6, 2011 by RobinHood
Why would any intelligent person blame anybody (even a Queen) for something done by someone else before they were even born? The whole concept is ridiculous and deserves our contempt. I won't even dignify those who suggest such a thing with a counter arguement.

Very soon the last Nazi will be dead and Germany's "guilt" should quite properly be reexamined; especially by the Germans. Modern Germans do not need to be ashamed and should be far more robust than they are in their own defence; for example by strongly rebutting the taunts of the Greek press, and reminding them who has been footing the bill for their fantastic party. Post-war Germany has pulled far more than its fair share, because of this obscure German "collective guilt" concept. If you are not proud of where you come from, you are not much of a person. When the last Nazi dies, the concept of "collective guilt" should die with him/her, and Germans should start being proud of being German again.
12:06 December 6, 2011 by gabeltoon
Well said "dukesy ". I wish the world would move on.The PAST IS THE PAST.The atrocities of the 20th century are documented for ALL to see and should not be forgotten but WE must move on and strive to live and make a better society.The guilt of our fathers should not have to be the burden that we carry with us as we progress.If anything the past should give us a lesson that these things never happen again.
12:27 December 6, 2011 by flintis
Unfortunately people keep forgetting the even greater atrocities of communist regimes.

There's a stigma attached to Nazism, even though the commies murdered 2 -3 times as many people it is still acceptable to be communist???????
13:44 December 6, 2011 by acidcritic
Those who blame the Queen for the nazism of her pather forgot that the original sin does not exist. Nobody is born sinful or misfit. The original sin is an invention of the catholic church.

On the other hand most of the european population, including many jews, supported the ideas of Hitler and the nazist party. In fact, Hitler took most of his ideas about the superiority of the aryans from jewish thinkers. Isn´t it ? Just now the party of Nethanjahou in Israel is, from all points of view, a nazist party
15:01 December 6, 2011 by eppie

The difference is that nazism had as goal to extinguish jews, gays, handicapped people, gypsies etc. Communism is about sharing. Stalin was a cold hearted dictator much like Hitler but being a communist doesn't mean that you support Stalin, while everybody that claims he is a nazi will for sure idolize Hitler.

@the rest.

Of course the queen can't be blamed for what her grandfather did. However, we have to realize that her social status has likely been influenced a lot by the high position her father had. Even nazi's probably find their children and grandchildren the most important thing in their lives. It is not a good thing if history shows that only a few generations later the offspring can become royalty.

However of course the swedish royal family is by far not the only example of this.
22:35 December 6, 2011 by swenrika
@RobinHood - #5

LOL, nice to see we agree on this one 100% :)
10:00 December 7, 2011 by Kevin Harris
On the memorial in Berlin commemorating Germans who resisted the Nazis is an epitaph that begins:

"You did not bear the shame …."

That epitaph applies to almost all living Germans. Modern Germany should be an aggressive watchdog protecting us against those who would seek to recreate the conditions that led to its downfall. That is more than enough penance from the great grandchildren of the Nazis, and might prove very useful if the Euro collapses and nationalism returns to Europe.
22:43 December 7, 2011 by BritVik
Unfortunately there are journalists in Sweden whose main aim in life is to dig up dirt, real or imagined, and splash all their so-called scoops onto the front pages of the scandal sheets and on TV. SVT has nothing against this, in fact one gets the impression that it encourages it. Do these journalists have ulterior motives? The answer to that is most likely a resounding YES, and the public falls for it every time.

It makes you sick to constantly read the rubbish that is printed as 'news', and that news so often is tainted by the writer's leanings. But how many of them would like to have their past, or that of their forefathers, investigated in the same way? 'Skeletons and cupboards' comes to mind. There is a press ombudsman, but he is one of them also, and impartiality - - -.

There are definitely quite a few skeletons in Swedish cupboards, just as everywhere else, and they mostly should remain there. There is little to be gained from revealing the sins of the past, and visiting the sins of the father's upon the children is pure journalistic spite.
07:00 December 8, 2011 by engagebrain
acidcritic ' In fact, Hitler took most of his ideas about the superiority of the aryans from jewish thinkers. Isn´t it ? Just now the party of Nethanjahou in Israel is, from all points of view, a nazist party'

If Israel was really a Nazi state the Palestinian problem would have been solved decades ago - no Palestinians.

Instead despite Israel's bad behaviour the Palestinian population has been among the fastest growing in the world, both inside and outside Israel.

As for Hitler getting his ideas from jewish thinkers, this is nonsense.

It is this kind of warped thinking that produces suicide bombers in Stockholm, get some kind of grip on reality.
09:16 December 8, 2011 by asteriks
If queen comes from Nazi family (and parents have influence on children) I am not surprised that there is discrimination of Slavic (East European) and other immigrants in Sweden. She is not any person than person with influence on society, so, we can't make the same rules about "not guilty for crimes of parents" as we do in the case of ordinary people. And even ordinary people are not independent from their parents, as I said, parents teach children this or that.
10:58 December 8, 2011 by procrustes
I agree with the article; however, in the case of the Queen or others who may have benefited from wealth stolen/extorted during that time I believe there is a string of moral obligation attached to them.

No one has the right to keep or benefit from illegally gained goods. Even today many art treasures stolen from Jews sits in either private or state owned institutions rather than in the possession of rightful heirs.
18:51 December 8, 2011 by rohermoker
The war is over and many of the persons are long dead, return what is possable, let go of the rest. If you are to return what was "stolen" we would have to empty the museums, 90% of all land titles, and 1/2 of all the worlls gold would be voided. This is commng from the off spring if imigrents, that held land title from lands taken from North American natives, that wared with each other for the very same land.
12:21 December 9, 2011 by robban70226
Come on Sweden,give your Queen a break!!! the Queen can't be blamed for what her grandfather did. NOBODY should be blamed for their parents past. enquire Sweden for their Nazi past, letting them pass by to invade Norway?

insteadenquire Sweden and dont be so hypocrites!!!!, The only ones to be a shame should be the namely journalist, Its not good journalism to accuse people of this sort of thing,its what Is called `gutter press`
17:19 December 9, 2011 by tadchem
Like it or not, the Queen is a political figure, and character assassination is a standard political ploy. The minority of people who think for themselves will find this witch hunt annoying at best. The ones involved will find this extremely irritating.

The False Accusers will have to be content with stirring a hornets nest to no productive purpose, and then hope and pray that in time everyone will forget who they are and what they have done, but remember the commotion they started. Thankfully, the Internet makes 'forgetting' very hard to do.
20:21 December 9, 2011 by motti
Acidcritic, you mean hypocritic. To even begin to compare Israel with the Nazis is typical of ignorant morons like yourself. Whether the queen's family had Connections with Hitler or Stalin (both responsible for millions of deaths) is unimportant. She herself cannot be blamed for the actions of thos before her. On the other hand, if she idolises what happened, then yes, criticism is fair.
18:46 December 10, 2011 by esvahnt
the move here is overreacting against a single signal of influence from the third reich to bury it if it want to appear as an influence in sweden

i think swedes can better decide what is better for them than a bunch of ridiculous screaming clowns
07:33 December 11, 2011 by dukesy
Just a last comment from a Brit,about all this `dig up the dirt`,by certain factions of the Swedish press........from my side of the water,in Uk, i look at this sort of journalism and my memory goes straight across the Irish sea,to the province of Northern Ireland. I have visited Ireland 2/3 times as a guest of various lifeboat families,its similar to Sweden,a very beautiful country,with some very friendly people,I was made very welcome in Courtmacsherry to name 1 such RNLI community. The problems that country had was that certain factions could not or would not live in peace together,and as a result,they ended up in a `civil war` situation. Now im not saying that would happen in Sweden,BUT,what I am saying is that unless we all live in a way that respects each other,and instead of rehashing past troubles,we accept that they happened and learn from them,by so doing we make sure that the past troubles can never reoccur, and we then move forward. If we dont we end up with history repeating its self.....nobody wants that.

Sweden,Norway,Britain.....you could name every country on the planet.......we all have our darker secrets, maybe its time ti bury them and help each other move forward. There is only 1 way forward,nobody can turn the clock back.....thank God.
12:01 December 12, 2011 by gabeltoon
My words exactly. I agree with you dukesy
00:38 December 14, 2011 by Coalbanks
If her father benefitted from "Aryanization" of properties owned by Jews then they & thier descendants may have a claim against his assets/heirs. Take the Queen to court.
13:00 December 24, 2011 by rumcajs
Well, it's easy to judge. I don't like the queen because she is a queen and I don't like royalties. I don't care if her granfather was a nazi coz that AIN'T her fault.

I've lived in CZ for about 6 years and there are lots of these kind of acusations, but with communism. That one was a communist, this one was a spy, that one was also a red and bla bla bla.... but I still would like to know how many of these "judges" would have been also communists if they had lived in those times. If they are willing to overcharge, sell crap claiming it's luxury and be mean to other people just because they have a nicer car, I'm sure that maaaany of them would've been quite willing to work for the communist intelligence 30 years ago.

Same here. I know lots of Americans, Czechs, Latins, etc who would've galdy worked for the gestapo or the kgb if they had been Germans or Russians 60 years ago.
05:58 December 27, 2011 by Shapla Amin
history is written by the winners....

there are many incidents of killing happened in the world during/after world war 2(Hiroshima,Nagasaki,Vietnam, Cambodia and so on and on ) , but the killers or there descendents are not ashamed of it.
11:33 December 29, 2011 by Tengo
hmm, probably alot of great grandfathers were theives and murders...but we shouldnt be proud of it because it was a criem against humanity..and then again descendants should be made to pay for the sins of their fathers..or grandparents, they didnt choose their parents or grandparents..
12:49 January 1, 2012 by NachoMan
May I just restate the blindingly obvious; the royal family is receiving their colossal largess complements of Sweden's taxpayers so they can act the part of the royal figureheads for Swededs and the sybolic face of Sweden for outside world. Instead we get this group of miscreants who just can't seem to behave themselves? The one saving grace is that the world doesn't pay as much attention to them as we do. Ironic but clearly Sweden isn't getting its money's worth.

No one blames or should blame poor Queen Silvia for her father. But, as Queen, she should be setting an example of honesty and dignity on this mattter and all others. Instead day after day we get petulent and dishonest denials along with a spoiled lack of contrition for the horrors, the horrors that her dear old dad helped perpetuate.

I love this country and sincerely hope that one day Sweden gets something better in the royal palace. I don#t say this lightly but I think it's time to consider a changing of the guard, something like that which occurred with King Gustav X!! when fresh blood was brought in and installed in the royal palace.

Maybe it's time for a changing of the guard
16:34 January 2, 2012 by planet.sweden
Swedes are a scary people. They don't understand irony and they don't realise when they are being led around by the nose.

This hysteria about the Queen's grandfather is of course deeply ironic given Sweden's own pro Nazi past. Before the war Sweden was orientated towards the Reich, with German taught in schools and Hitler enjoying widespread popularity.

The admiration was mutual with leading Nazis looking to Sweden for inspiration particularly in the field of eugenics. Sweden's original eugenics program provided the basis for Germany's far grander scheme.

And after the failed 1923 Munich putsch Hermann Goering fled to Stockholm where he lived for four years to avoid arrest.

During the war there was nej a German tank not built with Swedish iron ore. Indeed without Swedish ore the German army would never have marched anywhere let alone conquored most of Europe.

The Swedes also infamously failed to come to the aid of either of their two Scandinavian neighbours when they were invaded by the Germans, and equally infamously turned down Churchill's request for safe passage for British troops through Sweden, only to say yes to a similar request from Hitler for German troops.

It's all in the past of course, like the Queen's grandfather.

So why the witch-hunt now?

Alas it's all part of the general hysteria unleashed by the present government in the name of integration and multiculturalism. We had a similar phase in Britain during the 1990s which prompted the liberal media establishment to start imagining Nazis under every bed in the land, and when they couldn't find them making up the next best thing.

Swedes are a conformist people by nature, and that includes the media, so once a bandwagon starts rolling everyone jumps on and the affair rapidly reaches scary proportions without any sign of independent thought impinging on the hysteria.

The irony of calling the Queen a Nazi is lost on newspaper fools ignorant of their country's own past, and idiotic enough not to realize that witch-hunts based on peoples' grandparentage are just the sort of tyranny which the Nazis themselves were so fond of.
16:32 January 26, 2012 by Greysuede
"...and equally infamously turned down Churchill's request for safe passage for British troops through Sweden, only to say yes to a similar request from Hitler for German troops."

Churchill request for safe passage for Imperialist British troops?

Wrong! It wasn't request but blackmail!
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