Mention Tage Erlander and most Swedes will think of the Social Democratic father of the country the man with a twinkle in his eyes who was equally good at cracking jokes on TV as of continuing his predecessor Per Albin Hanssons work to turn Sweden into a secure peoples home. Few have any idea that during World War II, the same Erlander was responsible for the camps where upwards of 3000 foreigners, Communists and people with dissenting views were locked up.
Concentration camps in Sweden let that sink in. Between 1936 and 1943 the Social Services Department was responsible for maintaining camps where various categories of people were incarcerated, largely outside the protection of the law. There were many kinds of camps: camps for foreigners, Communists, immoral women and others.
As Secretary of Stat in the Department of Social Services, Tage Erlander was the man behind the camps, whose official name was closed facilities. Before and during the war people with radical opinions were incarcerated. Some of them might probably be termed enemies of the state but many were locked up on very loose grounds. The inmates were primarily foreigners many for long stretches. A great number of German deserters were sent back to certain death in Nazi Germany.
When the camps were first set up, many left-wing newspapers were critical but they had a small circulation and could not be spread throughout the country due to state-imposed restrictions on their distribution. This meant that the debate was very one-sided. Newspapers with a nation-wide circulation such as Dagens Nyheter, Stockholmstidningen and Aftonbladet totally supported the governments line.
When the Nazis fortunes of war ran out in 1943, the Swedish government changed its tune and quickly struck a deal with the Allies. From 1943 to 1946, the composition of the inmates changed. Most of them were now Soviet citizens and German Nazis. After the war every single camp was demolished and all documents relating to the Swedish concentration camps were stowed away.
Subsequently, the Swedish policy of complying with the demands of Nazi Germany was heavily criticized both in the media and among common citizens. But the archives on the internment camps were closed for 50 years and all documents safely hidden away in the archives of the Social Services Department.
For reasons unknown, those incarcerated have very rarely told what happened behind the camp walls. And those willing to talk were met with little interest from the Swedish media. To be sure, a commission did investigate the purpose of the camps and particularly the abominable conditions in the so-called foreigners camps but its conclusions created no stir. The media completely accepted the governments explanation that all was done to keep Sweden out of the war.
One of the largest camps was in called Långmora and was situated in Dalarna. Its specific purpose was to lock up foreigners classified as serious security risks to Sweden. On February 6, 1940, the security police ordered a countrywide raid against Swedish Communists. The main objective was to look for documents that might reveal connections between the Swedish Communists and Moscow and the Comintern, the international Communist organization. On February 10 the same year, leading Communists and party offices were raided.
Here are some examples of people that were locked up: A German man and Communist sympathizer with the cover name Adam had been studying to become a rabbi in Frankfurt and been in a German concentration camp for several years before fleeing to Sweden at the last minute in 1939. Adam was apprehended and sent off to Långmora.
He has accused of having ridden his motorbike around the area of Kristanstad and promised to fix subscriptions to a Communist newspaper. He had also written a couple of articles in the Communist press about the social conditions of female agricultural workers.
The German syndicalist Fritz Benner, who fought against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War, was incarcerated in Långmora for two years. After his release, he became a textile worker in Borås.
At Långmora conditions were very tough. Rumors of torture and inhuman treatment have been leaked by relatives of the men and women locked up in the camp in some cases for up to three years without trial or any chance to do anything about their situation.
Camps such as Långmora, Rengsjö in Hälsingland, Sörbyn outside Örnsköldsvik and Axmar close to Bollnäs were set up because Swedes in general and the authorities in particular dreaded a Russian or German invasion. Even Great Britain showed an interest in including the strategically important Scandinavia in their zone of influence.
The rage over the Soviet Unions assault on Finland made many Swedes turn on the Communists with the result that the so-called Communist camps were subjected to much harsher regulations than other camps. Swedish Communists were generally seen as a potential fifth column. And to a certain extent that would appear justified.
The Swedish Communist Party took its orders directly from Moscow. The reality was that it planned to collaborate in a Soviet revolution in Sweden. A special police force with the objective of controlling the Swedish Communists was the start of our present-day Säpo, the Security Police. Even Swedish soldiers considered security risks ended up in so-called work formations, which were in reality closed camps for soldiers with Communist sympathies, syndicalists, radical Social Democrats and unionists siding with England.
The camps for soldiers relegated to the work formations were closed in 1943.
When Tage Erlander wrote his memoirs, he hardly mentioned the internment camps. And every time he was interviewed, he did all he could to avoid questions about the camps and why he thought that the security risks were so great that they appeared to be the only way of fending off these risks.
Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Dala-Demokraten, Borås Tidning, Aftonbladet, Wikipedia.