Next to Berzelii Park in Stockholm is a memorial to approximately 8,500 European Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. Covering an entire wall within the courtyard of Stockholm's Great Synagogue, each of the individuals listed on The Monument to the Memory of the Holocaust Victims was a relative of a survivor who avoided extermination and settled in Sweden.
“The monument is meant to serve as symbolic tombstones for those who have no marked graves. It is an attempt to give the victims back their personal identity, and dignity, which the Nazis and their accomplices tried so hard to obliterate,” said Roman Wroblewski, a second-generation Holocaust survivor who conceived the idea for the monument in autumn 1993.
Like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., the Stockholm Holocaust memorial is a name monument, a type that lists the names of individuals who were killed in the same general timeframe and location. In several respects, however, the Stockholm Holocaust memorial is unique.
“What is distinctive about the memorial in Stockholm is that the victims' places of origin are spread all over Europe, while the places of death are so few,” said Wroblewski. As a medical scientist with a keen sense of the importance of statistics and analysis, Wroblewski knew that including this information on the monument he envisioned was a crucial part of imparting depth and meaning to the fate of the victims.
Roman Wroblewski's original conceptual sketch for the monument, in which granite slabs were arranged as a symbolic menorah. Photo: Roman Wroblewski
A watercolor based on Wroblewski's sketch, designed and painted by architect Tadeusz Klimczak in June 1994. This was used by Wroblewski and Neujhar when applying for funding grants for the project. Photo: Roman Wroblewski
The result is that when looking at the columns of granite slabs listing the victims' names – grouped by the family name of the survivor or survivors who came to Sweden – along with their dates and places of birth and death, it is possible to comprehend how important a memorial like this is to the collective consciousness. It is a reminder that infants and the elderly were victims. That victims came from all over Europe. That the only reason why many names are on this monument is that someone from their family managed to survive to remember them. That many others are not on the monument because no one survived to remember them.
In addition to the victims who died in concentration camps like Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Chelmno, many of the victims listed on the monument were part of mass exterminations in places like Bikernieki forest in Latvia and in the Jewish ghettos of German-occupied territories such as Minsk in the Soviet Union and Lódz in Poland. One of the most devastating of these mass exterminations was Grossaktion Warsaw, which began on 22 July 1942, and continued through September. During that period, as many as 300,000 men, women and children from the Warsaw ghetto were exterminated at the Treblinka death camp.
The ramifications of mass exterminations like these can be found all over the monument. One short and simple inscription recalls the tragedy of Polish educator and author Janusz Korczak, who went to his death at Treblinka in 1942 along with 200 nameless children from the orphanage he ran in the Warsaw Ghetto. Longer inscriptions show how families were wiped out almost entirely in just one location, possibly even on the same day, such as the more than 100 members of the Ilicki/Rozenbaum family listed on the monument – all but one of whom were executed in Pinsk, in modern-day Belarus, in 1942. Long or short, the inscriptions are perhaps the only memorial to people whose final resting place is unknown.
Photo: Victoria Martínez
“Don't forget us”. Photo: Victoria Martínez
Pia-Kristina Garde, one of the countless individuals who helped gather victims' names for the monument, worked for many years with Holocaust survivors who came to Sweden, many of whom had no family, and was deeply affected by their experiences. She wrote a book about the fate of some of the survivors who came to Sweden, which was published in Swedish as “Mina föräldrars kärlek” (My Parents' Love).
“Before the monument, one of the survivors, the only one from her family who survived the Holocaust, said to me, 'When I die, no one will remember them',” Garde said. “This is what the monument is about. It is probably the only visible record that some of these victims existed, and it ensures that they will be remembered.”
Among the roughly 31,000 survivors of Nazi concentration camps who came to Sweden as refugees in the spring and summer of 1945, around 10,000 were Jewish. In 1995, when Wroblewski published the book, “6 tusen av 6 miljoner – ett requiem” (Six Thousand of Six Million – A Requiem), it was estimated that there were around 400 to 500 Jewish Holocaust survivors still alive in Sweden. The book included a comprehensive list of 6,000 victims – from among the six million European Jews who had been exterminated by the Nazis – related to these survivors. This information formed the foundation of what can be seen on the monument today.
Wroblewski's friend and colleague, the late Halina Neujahr, a professor at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm and first-generation Holocaust survivor, was instrumental in the quest to gather the support and funds necessary to make the memorial a reality. Neujahr brought the project to the attention of Föreningen Förintelsens Överlevande i Sverige, or FFO, (The Association of Holocaust Survivors in Sweden), for which she served as a board member, and the Jewish community. On the foundations laid by Wroblewski and Neujahr, and with the support of the government, survivors and their descendants, and friends of the project, the memorial became a reality in 1998 under the auspices of the FFO. The final design is attributed to artist Sivert Lindblom and architect Gabriel Herdevall.
Photo: Victoria Martínez
Along with Wroblewski and several prominent Swedish writers and historians, Neujahr wrote an essay in the book describing her and her family's experience during the Holocaust. Her final paragraph emphasizes the need to remember the Holocaust and restore the victims' identities:
“Nazism's total war against the Jews was carried out systematically in different stages. Initially, all Jews were demonized. Then they were stripped of, in turn and order: civil rights, property, freedom, health and individual identity. To constantly review this process… to constantly analyze the psychological and social mechanisms, all of which led to the macabre development, should be made a fundamental commitment for all people of goodwill and common sense, all who want to protect our western culture and ethics, all who care about the future of humanity.”
Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.
The Stockholm Holocaust memorial is open during weekdays and is free to visit.