Historical documents related to the capture of seven Swedes by the Gestapo in Poland in 1942 puts Sweden’s subsequent ball bearing deliveries to Nazi Germany in a new light, argue historians Susanne Bergerand Ingela Magner.
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A new review of document collections in the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet) shows that the arrest of the seven “Warsaw Swedes” by the Gestapo in Poland in 1942 not only seriously jeopardized the men’s lives but posed an existential threat to Swedish Match companies and other Swedish businesses throughout Eastern Europe.
The men’s release two years later was apparently secured not only through painstaking negotiations but payment of some type of compensation to Nazi Germany that included war materials.
The new information also casts Sweden’s wartime deliveries of ball bearings to Berlin in a new light.
After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, a group of Swedish businessmen from Swedish Match (STAB), LM Ericsson and ASEA joined the Polish underground and became its vital link to the Polish-government-in exile in London.
As feared, the activities of the so-called “Warsaw Swedes” were betrayed and in 1942 the Gestapo came calling.
Seven men were put on trial before the German High Court which on July 1, 1943 issued a stark verdict: four were sentenced to death, one to life in prison. Only two were acquitted but remained in custody.
In late 1943, the death penalty ruling was converted to life in prison, but the last of the men were not released until late November/December 1944.
Why the long delay?
That is the question former Swedish diplomat Göran Engblom addressed in a slim volume published in 2008.
The book called “Himmlers Fred” (‘Himmler’s Peace’) and published by Sekel offers an intriguing thesis.
Engblom argues that SS Chief Heinrich Himmler used the case of the ‘Warsaw Swedes’ as a way to gain concessions from Sweden to help him facilitate contact with Allied representatives in an effort to secure a separate peace agreement for Germany.
The Swedish businessmen’s arrest in 1942 had set off a tense two and a half year tug of war between Sweden and Germany, led on the Swedish side by Jacob Wallenberg (head of STAB’s Board of Directors), Alvar Möller, (director of STAB’s operations in Germany), Axel Brandin (STAB’s director in Sweden) and the Swedish Legation in Berlin. ->More