White Buses - Swedish Help To The Prisoners

Swedish Help To The Prisoners

Sweden was the only Nordic country that remained neutral during the Second World War, but its neutrality fluctuated. Until the German defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad, Sweden was accommodating towards Germany; after Stalingrad Sweden altered its policy gradually to become closer to the Allies.

The Baltic German, Felix Kersten, was Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler's personal masseur. He lived in Stockholm and acted as an intermediary between the Swedish foreign department and Himmler. Himmler and his trusted subordinate Walter Schellenberg had long held the view that Germany would lose the war and were examining the possibility of a separate peace treaty with the Western powers; in this Sweden could be a useful intermediary. With Kersten's assistance the Swedish foreign department was able to free 50 Norwegian students, 50 Danish policemen and 3 Swedes in December 1944. An absolute condition for the release of the prisoners was that it should be hidden from the press; if Hitler got to know about it further repatriations would be impossible.

Ditleff sent a new memorandum on February 5, 1945, this time as an official Norwegian request. Sweden was solicited for sending a Red Cross delegation to Berlin to negotiate the position of the Scandinavian prisoners, and if successful to send a Swedish relief expedition. The Swedish foreign minister Christian Günther was in favour and the Swedish government gave permission for Bernadotte, second in command of the Swedish Red Cross:

to attempt to obtain permission in Germany for the transport to Sweden or Denmark of the interned Norwegian and Danish prisoners.

Bernadotte flew to Berlin on February 16 and met several Nazi leaders such as the foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA (Reich Main Security Office), Himmler and Schellenberg. Himmler, one of the most powerful persons in Nazi Germany, was initially negative to the transportation of prisoners to neutral Sweden. The prisoners could be trained as police troops, as Sweden already did with other Norwegians and Danes. Bernadotte had to fall back on his secondary proposal - that the prisoners should be assembled in one camp so the Swedish Red Cross could support them. Bernadotte told Himmler he estimated the number of Scandinavian prisoners to be around 13,000 while Himmler held it could not be more than two or three thousand.

During a second meeting with Schellenberg on February 21, Bernadotte got word from Himmler that he had accepted the proposal to assemble the Scandinavian prisoners in one camp. During the visit to Berlin Bernadotte also had several meetings with the Gross Kreutz group, Didrik Arup Seip, Conrad Vogt-Svendsen, Wanda Hjort and Bjørn Heger. Bernadotte's secondary proposal to Himmler, that he accepted, was prepared by Heger.

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