April 2, 2020

Swedes, Jews & Stereotypes

Last week I took a group of older couples from Gothenburg, Sweden, on a 2-hour tour of Beverly Hills and Hollywood. I delivered a speech on Jewish-Mormon relations at the University of Gothenburg a few years ago, and enjoyed talking with them about their beautiful city. They were a well-heeled group, and asked to be dropped off at the elegant Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills at the end of the tour.

Naturally I wanted to show them sites that would be especially interesting to them, so I decided to pass by the statue and square honoring Swedish diplomat and businessman Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II. There is a monument to him in Stockholm as well, so I thought that my Swedish passengers would enjoy seeing the square. As we were approaching the square, I told them that we would be seeing the statue honoring Wallenberg, the only Swede honored with a monument or square in Los Angeles. When I asked them if they knew what he had done to deserve the honor, they all nodded their heads. A few seconds later, a man commented, “But wasn’t he Jewish? Wouldn’t you expect him to do that?” I responded that Wallenberg was part Jewish by blood, not religion.

When we saw the statue, a woman immediately asked why the statue was right in front of a bank. The woman sitting next to her said “I know why!” to the general laughter of the group. I was too stunned to point out that the statue has been on that corner for 26 years, long before Chase decided to open a branch there.

On one of my trips to Sweden, I spoke by phone with the American-born rabbi of Malmö. He expressed great concern over anti-Semitic hate crimes that were being committed in the city, which has been boycotted by many Jews in recent years. Although only 4% of Swedes polled in a recent ADL survey expressed anti-Semitic views, Sweden is widely viewed as a country that is less than friendly towards Israel. After this experience with the Gothenburgers, I wonder to what extent traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes are widely accepted in Sweden. One can only hope that the younger generation of Swedes will create a society where public comments like these are unacceptable.

"Please note that the posts on The Blogs are contributed by third parties. The opinions, facts and any media content in them are presented solely by the authors, and neither The Jewish Journal nor its partners assume any responsibility for them. Please contact us in case of abuse."