J Ó Z E F L E W A N D O W S K I
Early Swedish Information about the Nazis' Mass Murder of the Jews
in POLIN 13, 2000
EVERY state tries to keep
information secret that, if revealed, could harm it or reduce the advantage it
receives from having exclusive access to such information. In totalitarian
states the blocking of information is a working principle. The totalitarian
system and the free exchange of information are fundamentally contradictory.
The actions of totalitarian states are of a criminal nature; therefore, such
states try to prevent information about their activities from becoming public
knowledge. In such systems information is blocked off both externally, from
other countries, and internally, from their own societies. Various means can be
employed to achieve this end, such as censoring the press and correspondence,
making citizens' contact with foreigners difficult or impossible, and sealing
the borders-all of these enforced by a police endowed with extraordinary power
and a cruel penal system. That is why a substantial part of the study of Nazi
Germany is preoccupied with the problem of information, of what the world knew
and didn't know. Researchers have sought to examine to what extent knowledge
informed not only official structures but also individuals and societies.
These enquiries have not led to common conclusions. It appears that the meaning
of 'being informed' is flexible. In many cases, perhaps even in general, people
knew exactly as much as they wanted: only some facts were recognized and
internalized; others were rejected. Knowledge depended on the questions asked
and on sensitivity towards key issues.
In Hitler's Germany the
blocking of information increased gradually. During the first years of the
totalitarian regime the world was relatively well informed about what was going
on under the rule of Hitler and the Gestapo. In fact, before 1939 the Nazis
were unable to introduce an information barrier. They persecuted people for describing
the facts and for propaganda that they claimed to be slanderous, but
they themselves acted in a fairly open manner, even boldly, and they publicized
their actions. Only matters concerning decision-making by the Third Reich were
hidden from the world (although certain materials indicate that some shrewd observers
could precisely predict Hitler's successive moves on the basis of their
knowledge of Nazi ideology and its execution). At that time it was also hard
to hide knowledge of goings-on in Germany. Until the war started,
all countries maintained diplomatic agencies there. There was also a network of
consular offices, and among the foreign press correspondents were
outstanding journalists. If they failed to know, it was because they did not
ask questions in the face of reality. Another factor impeding an early
blocking out of information was the permeability of the borders.
Exiles were an important source of information about the Third Reich. In
addition, the inherited German state apparatus worked according to old
legalistic habits, and it absorbed the Nazi philosophy of state slowly
and not without resistance.
principal change came with the outbreak of the Second World War. Diplomatic
and consular agencies and journalists from the Allied countries disappeared
from Germany, although the many neutral agencies remained in place. More
importantly, the representatives of foreign countries were prohibited
from remaining in the territory of conquered Poland, which was where
the Nazis first applied on a large scale their plans for the genetic
reorganization of the lands they had conquered. It was here that the
Nazis intensified their persecution of the Jewish population they found
under their control. From the summer of 1941 they began to implement
their genocidal programmes, which had been planned as part of their
invasion of the Soviet Union.
amount of research has been devoted to the question of when and
how the outside world came to know about this genocide. In Sweden there has
been considerable public and private debate on this question centred on a
document from August 1942, known as the Vendel Report, which contains a
description of the situation in Germany and in German-occupied Poland.
Yngve Vendel, a 4s-year-old officer of the Swedish consular corps, was
transferred in January 1940 from Holland and appointed as consul in Stettin.
The consulate was only partly intended to take care of Swedes in the
area and deal with trade relations, for, as Vendel wrote several years later,
'There were hardly any strictly consular matters. Vendel's principal assignment
was to gather intelligence. Sweden feared German aggression, a justified fear,
for only several months later Germany was to attack Denmark and Norway and
conquer them easily.
tasks and methods were fairly simple: he watched ports and roads to see if the
Germans were regrouping their military force in away that endangered Sweden.
Such work was a standard part of consular work. Vendel's activity was
effective, as was acknowledged years later in Swedish specialist publications. The consul had been informed in
time of the preparations for the attack against Norway in the spring of
1940, and, a year later, about the invasion of the USSR. (That this
information was not used is a completely different matter.) Vendel asked many
different questions, and was extremely well informed. In addition, although the
German police probably were aware of the nature of his activity, he made many
acquaintances and friends in Nazi official circles, as well as outside them.
The Vendel Report is the result of one of these friendships.
August 1942 Vendel went to visit some German friends at their estate in east
Prussia. He stayed there until 13 or 14 August, and then he returned, not to
Stettin but to the embassy in Berlin. There he wrote a report of what he had
seen and heard during his trip. The top-secret report, dated 20 August,
consists of seven large pages. Two days after its writing it was sent to
Stockholm. The councillor of the legation, Erik von Post, provided a covering
I respectfully send this pro
memoria, in which Vendel summarizes his impressions from his conversations
with various people met by him primarily during his trip to eastern Germany
undertaken with the permission of Richert.
Enclosed in this memorandum is the description, which is based on the
conversation [with a person] close to the former minister of agriculture, Mr
Darre, about the conflict between Himmler and Darre. This conflict was the
primary cause of the latter's fall. I stress that the version depicted there
corresponds exactly to the information acquired by the embassy earlier from the
circles of the SS (compare Richert's letter to Söderblom of 8 July). Vendel
relates also what he learned about the conditions in the General Government;
about statements by Ribbentrop; about the situation on large estates in the
Yours, ERIK VON POST
The first two pages are indeed
devoted to 'dirty politics' among the Nazi dignitaries. But Vendel did not
stop there. As the narration progresses, the report deals with more and more
important matters. Vendel writes:
The above record gives a
frightening picture of the relations within the government of the Reich; it
confirms the past year's fear among wide military circles, also shared in the
industrial ones: that the leadership of Great Germany is slipping more and
more into the hands of Mr Himmler and his horrific organization, the SS.
He continues: It is well known
that Mr Himmler has publicly stated that the new policy of settlement in the
east is ruled by new principles; the old German settlement policy based
on imposing German customs on the indigenous population has failed. In
accordance with the new methods of settlement, cultivation of the land would be
entrusted only to the German race. In other words, through Himmler's settlement
project the theory of the master race and its slaves would be implemented. In
this respect, Mr Himmler serves as a tool for Hitler. I bring to your attention
the speech by Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop that I referred you to about a
year ago. Answering the question about German cruelties in Poland, and whether
such conduct could be excused, Ribbentrop said that it was impossible to
evaluate Hitler's projects at this time. Only in fifty years would the first
fruits of his actions appear, and in some hundred years there would not be any
Polish problem at all! Ausrotten (uproot) and vernichten (annihilate):
these two words belonging to the National Socialist terminology are used
particularly of ten, and put into practice with ruthlessness and brutality that
is unheard of. Mr Himmler's activity on Polish territories provides us with the
most terrifying examples of his settlement methods.
conditions in the General Government are much worse than in any other occupied
territory. The most obvious question one must constantly ask oneself is on what
and how the population manages to live, especially in the towns. On the one
hand, the rations received by Poles (640 calories a day, i.e. one-fourth the
needs of an adult) are so small that, with the passage of time, people would
have to die of hunger. But on the other hand, symptoms of mass malnutrition
cannot be seen, although from time to time one sees hungry people, especially
children. Apparently, the majority of the population can still procure the food
necessary to live. It is possible partially because everybody participates in
secret trade, and partially because of the selling of all goods and things to
get food. As in Germany after the last war, there are in Poland clear symptoms
of inflation. There is extreme poverty on one side, and on the other there are
war profiteers with large funds. Clerks with fixed incomes must take bribes in
order to survive. According to the person to whom I spoke, and who studied the
conditions in the General Government for several months, the opinion 'Die Juden
haben alles' is of ten heard.
If we consider the immense poverty in the Jewish quarters of different towns,
we have to say that this statement applies only to a handful of the Jews who
are still well off. As a matter of fact, the statement should say, 'Durch die
Juden kann man alle haben, die Juden beschaffen alles.' Owing to the old connection s
with producers and farmers who are accustomed to doing business with the Jews,
there still are possibilities for acquiring otherwise unobtainable goods.
was an attempt to put the entire distribution of produce in the General Government
under control and to organize a system of coupons to provide for the needs of
the population at a minimum level, but despite many efforts this project
completely failed. Lack of transportation makes distributing even the stored
stocks difficult, not to say impossible.
the cities, particularly Warsaw, with fats, milk, and eggs is carried out exclusive1y
by illegal trade. Prices have risen excessively. For example, the person to
whom I spoke presented me with data from spring 1942 in Kraków:
Bread, 1 kilogram: 16-19 zlotys
One egg: 1.10 zlotys
Butter, 1 kilogram: 50 zlotys
Milk, 1 litre: 4 zlotys
Pork, 1 kilogram: 50 zlotys
Coffee, 1 kilogram: 625 zlotys
Sugar, 1 kilogram: 55 zlotys (before the war: 1 zloty)
The exchange rate has not
changed for the Germans: 1 German mark equals 2 zlotys. As for salaries, for
example, in Kraków and Warsaw a German office clerk earns 1,500-2,000 zlotys
monthly, and a typist 800-1,000 zlotys. The salaries of Poles are completely
different. A typist gets only 120-400 zlotys. To provide his food needs, a
Pole has at his disposal mainly the 'black market'. The prices are determined
by bread: for example, in Kraków a costs 16-18 zlotys. These data portray how
terrible the situation of the Polish population is, especially in towns. To
overcome the scarcity of food, a system of bonuses has been introduced, by
which the Germans try to encourage the farmers to produce more, and to deliver
their produce to purchasing centres. Whether this can generate improvements
the person to whom I spoke was unable to say.
account of the situation of the Polish population in the General Government is
equally objective and frightening, even if limited to only one aspect of the
economic situation, the food supply. Vendel does not mention murder, violence,
terror, or robbery; nor is the Polish resistance discussed, either civil or
military. The account is by someone who is sympathetic to the Poles but has not
had real contact with them, and therefore perceives the reality as though
through glass, without actual contact. He does not describe how the Poles live;
he cannot imagine it. He only expresses his amazement at how they can be
subjected to the organized hunger and survive at all. We can see that he takes
at face value the information about attempts to take precautions against
hunger. It is possible that whoever served as the author's source of information
wanted to appear to him as a decent person. Let us also note as important for
our purposes the use of such terms as 'inflation', a word which at that time
was not at all current among the Poles, and the comparison between the
situation in Poland and the situation in post-First World War Germany, which
would hardly have been likely to cross the mind of a Pole.
account that Vend el had passed on is true and honest. It speaks well for the
German who portrayed the situation to him. This German undoubtedly opposed
Nazism. Moreover, in the conflict between the Nazis and the Poles he took the
side of the persecuted and hunger-plagued Poles. Still, the information is
hardly a revelation: Polish organized resistance had accurate data (even more
accurate than Vendel's) and had been sending it through its network to the
government in exile of the republic of Poland in London. In other words, the
part of the report quoted above is an important source for the history of
Germany; however, it was not a discovery that could have inspired
international discussion at the time. Such discussion could have been evoked
by the following paragraph:
The treatment of the Jews, as
described by the person to whom I spoke, is of the kind that is impossible to
express in writing. That is why I limit myself to a few brief pieces of information.
The treatment differs in different locations, depending on the number of Jews.
In some cities there are Jewish quarters; in others there are ghettos
surrounded by high walls, which Jews can trespass only at the risk of being
shot; finally, in some others Jews enjoy some freedom of movement.
Nevertheless, the aim is the extinction of them all. The number of Jews
murdered in Lublin is estimated at 40,000. The Jews over fifty years of age and
children under ten are especially subjected to extermination. The rest are left
alive in order to fill the gap in the workforce; they will be exterminated as
soon as they are no longer useful. Their property is confiscated; it mostly
falls into the hands of SS men. In the cities all Jews are gathered; they are
officially informed that it is for the purpose of 'delousing'. At the entrance
they have to leave their clothes, which are immediately sent to a 'central
warehouse textile materials'. Delousing is in practice gassing, after which all
are packed into previously prepared mass graves. The source from whom I
received all the information about the conditions in the General Government is
such that there can be no shadow of a doubt that his description is true.
account was one of the first revelations of the scale of the Nazi genocide to
be sent to the West. It was sent three months before the arrival in the West of
Jan Kozielecki-Karski, the courier of the Polish resistance, and also pre-dated
the dispatches of Gerhart Riegner from Geneva. The account was truthful, yet
it was incomplete. For example, the source knew about burying the corpses of
people who had been gassed as in Belzec, but not about burning them, as in
Treblinka or Auschwitz. But even more important than the information about
murdering the Jews is the statement, which Vendel did not doubt, that the
murder of Jews did not have the casual character of ordinary war cruelties but
that its goal was to kill all Jews who fell in to German hands.
note Vendel's emotionai attitude towards the information he transmitted. In
the last sentence of the paragraph quoted above he states that the person who
gave the account deserved complete trust and was undoubtedly competent. Vendel
does not mention the name in his report, as that would have been too dangerous.
But he would not have refused to reveal his source if his superiors had asked.
Besides, the head of the Berlin post, Ambassador Arvid Richert, knew whom
Vendel visited in eastern Prussia, and why. In other words, Vendel demanded
that his report be treated seriously in this principal point.
summarize the rest of Vendel's report. It contains information of a more
'routine' character, if such a word can apply to news concerning the Third
Reich. In it we read about the expulsion of Poles from the 'former Polish Corridor'
and the resettlement there of Germans from Bessarabia, and about conscription
into the Wehrmacht of the Poles who declared themselves ethnic Germans and
their deployment to the front.
This last fact cooled the readiness of Poles to sign the Volksliste: 'The
Poles prefer to bear their national sign "P", a bond that in the
present time ties all Polish elements more strongly than ever, rather than
allow themselves to be naturalized.' Then we read this: 'During my week-long
stay in the region of the Mazurian lakes in eastern Prussia, where in the very
same neighbourhood as the headquarters there are the quarters of the foreign
minister and his staff, I again had the opportunity to meet the people who have
intimate contacts with the headquarters.' We do not know who these were, but
they certainly could not have been unimportant from the point of view of
intelligence, since Vendel repeated Ribbentrop's outpourings about the planned
Japanese attack against Vladivostok, the future location of Hitler's
headquarters, the prospects and premises of the German summer offensive, and
the condition of supplies in Germany, including oil and rubber. Then details
follow about the situation in agriculture, the living conditions of forced
labourers (i.e. the Poles and the Soviet prisoners of war), the supplying of
German cities, etc. The last page presents Vendel's observations made in Sopot
and Gdynia. He noticed the testing of new raiding ships capable of transporting
tanks and trucks. We know that for Vendel's superiors this was important
information because Sweden still feared aggression. In the summer of 1942
Germany was at the height of its success, and it could afford to attack vulnerable
Sweden, which was surrounded by German armies, stationed also in Finland.
last paragraph of his report Vendel describes his meeting with an industrialist
(recall that Vendel mentions contacts in both military and industrial circles)
from the Ruhr, who informed him of the mood there. The industrialist was anti-nazi.
He assured Vendel emphatically, although not necessarily in full accord with
the truth, that 'in the entire Ruhr region there is no one who believes in
German victory' .
repor t was brought to light by Steven Koblik, an American scholar of Swedish
history and the author of a study of the attitude of Sweden towards the Jewish
problem in the years 1933-45.
The Vendel document had been in the hands of historians before, especially
those who worked during the 1970S on the huge project 'Sweden during the Second
World War', but they did not pay attention to it. Incidentally, Vendel himself,
even before it was brought to light, had described his report in his article
mentioned earlier, accurately evaluating the hierarchy of facts and events; he
emphasized the paragraph about the Holocaust, and quoted the whole of it.
monograph excited much discussion in Sweden, but generally not in the public
forum. Vendel's had been one of the first reports not of Nazi cruelties and
crimes (such details had been available even earlier) but of the Holocaust,
which was in progress not far from Sweden. It should have sounded the alarm, as
everybody would agree now. But it did not. Vendel's report was understood in
Stockholm, and it was made known to the leaders in the ministry and to the
prime minister, whose signatures appear on one copy of it. Nevertheless, it
remained hidden from the world. In the discussion started by Koblik the focal point
was the responsibility of respected, humanitarian Swedish politicians and
diplomats for their silence in the face of the crime, or even more for the way
they hid it. This was not the first such discussion in Sweden. Others like it
had surfaced from time to time ever since the end of the war. And they had
cited not only Vendel's report but also the 1942 conversation between Kurt
Gerstein and Swedish attaché von Otter.
Investigating the document,
Koblik asked the question: Why, in spite of their high-flown phrases, did
Swedish leadership, aware of the Nazi crime of genocide, conceal Vendel's
report as well as other reliable testimonies? His answer, well balanced and
based on almost every possible consideration, including Sweden's strategic
situation, is devastating from an ethical point of view. However, he did not
ask such questions as how the report came into existence, who spoke with
Vendel, and why they gave him their information.
questions are intriguing. Who were the people with whom Vendel spoke, and why
would they talk to a representative of a foreign country? Did they only pour
out their emotions, or did they have some aim, and if so, what? Where in
eastern Prussia, close to Hitler's headquarters, did this conversation take
place, and why there and not in Berlin or Stettin? Did the people realize that
Vendel was in Germany on a confidential mission? Did the y talk to him despite
their awareness that he would write a report, or was it rather precisely
because they knew that he would pass on their information?
conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the report itself, especially if we
compare it with the earlier ones he wrote. It appears that Vendel was friendly
with a Prussian junker (a big landowner), who possessed a large property in eastern
Prussia. That was why agriculture and the connection s in the ministry of
agriculture come up so of ten in his reports. Vendel spent that particular week
with the man's family somewhere near Hitler's quarters in Rastenburg.
Certainly, the junker families of eastern Prussia were not lacking in
outstanding personalities, and the names of more than one individual among them
who opposed Nazism spring to mind.
I set out
to learn whom Vendel visited that week and to whom he talked. My search
followed two paths. First I tried to find Vendel or- his descendants. Regretfully,
I learned that Vendel himself had died in 1980 at the age of 85. In the
registry of the inheritance court I discovered that he left no direct
descendants, and his more distant relatives could probably not tell me much. Thus
the first path reached a dead end.
turned, as a second possibility, to the archives of the foreign minis try in
Stockholm. The archivist, Sven Johansson, granted me help far beyond my limited
expectations. Not only did he tell me everything he knew about the report and
its author, but he also found out that the name of the estate visited by Vendel
was (until the end of the war) Gross Steinort. Its owner was Count Heinrich von
Lehndorff, a reserve lieutenant, at that time in the Heeresgruppe Mitte. This information
is reliable and concrete: Johansson found an official letter from 1951 in which
Vendel openly wrote about 'the tragic fate of my contact in the German
headquarters, Count Lehndorff'.
and Gross Steinort played well-known roles in the history of the war. Heinrich
von Lehndorff was one of the leading figures in the anti-Nazi conspiracy known
as the Generals' Plot. It was als o from here, from Gross Steinort, that Count
Claus von Stauffenberg was delegated to perform the failed attempt to
assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944. Moreover, Lehndorff was instrumental in the
last contact between Stauffenberg and the leader of the conspiracy, General
Henning von Tresckow. In Gross Steinort Lehndorff passed on to Stauffenberg the
words of Tresckow that 'the assassination must be carried out no matter what.
The attempt must be undertaken even if it fails. Now the point is not so much
the practical goal as in showing the world that the German resistance has the courage
to risk the life [of its people]. Compared to this, everything else is less
available literature expresses high regard for Lehndorff, but it did not
introduce anything new in to my investigation. Fabian von Schlabrendorff, one
of the few participants in the assassination conspiracy who survived and whose
memoirs constitute the canon of knowledge about the organization and its
people, apparently met Lehndorfflate, only after August 1942. There may also be other
reasons why Lehndorff remained in the shade. It seems he was especially trusted
by Tresckow and acted out a double conspiracy: first, because he lived near
Hitler's headquarters and his estate had been considered the base for the
assassination all along, and secondly, because he had contacts with the
outside world-that is, contacts with Vendel.
mentioned Lehndorff as his contact in the headquarters. This description is
naturally given in the language of intelligence, with a certain rationale
behind it. However, investigating Vendel's reports more closely may yield the
opposite conclusion: that, in fact, it was the conspirators who tried, through
Vendel, to establish contacts abroad and overcome the information barrier. Very
few Germans maintained contacts with the outside world in 1942, and that was
why even isolated citizens of foreign countries, or the rare official
representatives of these countries, would have been especially valued.
it was Lehndorff who found Vendel or vice versa is unclear, but it is not very
important: they needed each other. The rep orts indicate that for a certain
time Lehndorff tested Vende!, probing whether he could be trusted and to what
extent. At first he told him things that were attractive from an intelligence
standpoint and risky for anyone who revealed them, but that still fell within
the framework of glorified gossip. In the case of Vendel's possible
indiscretion or disloyalty (which undoubtedly was Lehndorffs concern), such
items would not have caused the unmasking of the conspiracy.
question arises. Why did Lehndorff, who had frequent meetings with the Swedish
consul in Stettin, not divulge his knowledge during one of them, and why did
Vendel have to go all the way to the Rastenburg area? The neighbourhood of Hitler's
field quarters and command post was heavily guarded. Access was difficult, and
the area was under special police protection. It would have been practically
impossible for Vendel to go there by train or in his own car. He was probably
delivered in the car of one of the generals, a vehicle that would not have
aroused the inquisitiveness of the police. If such steps were undertaken, it
was probably not just for theatrical effect. Then why?
seems to indicate that during this week-long stay close to Hitler's 'Wolfs
Lair', Vendel met not only Lehndorff. Erik von Post alludes to this in his
covering letter. But the names of those whom Vend el met were buried with him,
and all we have left is deduction. Nevertheless, an attempt can be made to
establish their names. Sven Johansson holds that the people from both military
and civilian circles who were involved in the plot and visited Gross Steinort
should be considered: the host's father-in-law, Colonel von Mellenthin; Fabian
von Schlabrendorff; General Henning von Tresckow; diplomat Hasso von Etzdorf;
and General Hans Oster.
the individuals Vendel met, and did the information he received come from them?
We can rule out Schlabrendorff. If he had given Vendel the information about
the Holocaust, or if he had known that such information was given, he would
undoubtedly have written about it in his book, especially as he was sensitive
to the issue of the murder of Jews. For different reasons, we should also exclude
General Oster, who was a deputy of Admiral Canaris, the head of military
intelligence. He had his own channels for sending information to the West; they
were at a higher level and therefore probably more efficient. Was it then one
of the remaining ones?
information that Vendel passed on to Stockholm undoubtedly came from a German
source. This is dear not only because Vendel himself said so, but also
because both Polish and Jewish tragedies were portrayed through the eyes of an
outside observer. In all of Vendel's reports I have found no trace of a Polish
or Jewish contact. If he had information from Polish or Jewish sources, he
would probably have considered it too partial and only credible to a limited
extent. He would not have characterized Polish or Jewish sources as trustworthy
in every respect.
had a lot of confidence in his host, but probably not enough for him to write
about Lehndorff that 'the source from which I received all the information
about the conditions in the General Government is such that there cannot be a
shadow of a doubt that his description is true'. Besides, Lehndorff did not
have to drag him to Gross Steinort. He had contacted Vendel earlier and they
had had meetings in both Stettin and Berlin.
data should undermine my hypothesis, I think that the mysterious person for
whom Vendel undertook his adventurous and risky trip to the Rastenburg area,
the trip that required approval from the head of the Swedish diplomatic agency,
was the first officer in the staff of the Heeresgruppe Mitte: General Henning
to the opinion of both his contemporaries and historians of today, Tresckow was
the spiritual father of the conspiracy. He was an outstanding general, one of
the best in the German army, which abounded with extraordinarily talented
officers. This factor, together with Tresckow's personal charm and persuasive
skills, made generals who were even higher ranked than he in the army hierarchy
willingly admit his intellectual and organizational leadership.
was Lehndorff's superior, both in the arm y and in the conspiracy. It is
impossible to believe that Lehndorff, his most trusted and loyal collaborator,
would maintain risky contacts with Vendel without Tresckow's knowledge and
approval. Therefore, Tresckow was almost certainly involved in passing on the
information about the Holocaust.
Why do I
think it was he who talked to Vendel? First of all, because Vendel's report is
so sophisticated in its presentation. Everything indicates that the report
follows the structure of the information he received in Gross Steinort. The
source did not want to estrange the recipients with the harsh and off-putting
facts. The world was not yet prepared for the bare truth of the Holocaust. Recall
the reserve that greeted Jan Karski, a courier from Warsaw and a witness to the
Holocaust, when he told the leaders of the anti-Nazi coalition what he had seen
spoke to Vendel understood this. Most likely for this reason, the communication
starts with gossip. What could attract a diplomatic reader more than gossip!
Posterity might disregard it as banal, but contemporaries never would! After
the gossip comes the statement that Himmler has more and more power. He had
probably always had tremendous power, but this statement prepares the listener
for further information. Until now the world could tolerate Nazism, suggests
the speaker, but it is now becoming ever more dangerous. While neutrality has
its justifications, from this point on it is impossible. Then follow the
details about hunger in the General Government, almost obvious and consistent
with what had already been known in Stockholm; none the less, this information
was formulated very cautiously: no hungry people could be seen on the streets,
the German authorities were trying their best. Only after this is the crucial
fact revealed, the one for which the trip of the Swedish consul and the meeting
had been arranged: the information about the Holocaust. Vendel's document
displays, in fact, a high-quality art of dialectics and great understanding of
the reluctance to accept such horrifying news.
One further argument supports
the Tresckow hypothesis: a surprising number of stock-exchange terms are
employed in the report's descriptions of the economic conditions. Such terms
were hardly applicable to the situation in the General Government. And
for some years after the end of the First World War Henning von Tresckow had
been a stockbroker in Berlin.
course of the report testifies to a sense of logic and a good knowledge of the
faulty human psyche. Tresckow's contemporaries agreed that unlike other German
high officers, preoccupied only with military matters, he was a man of broad
horizons. It has been claimed that his way of thinking more resembled a
philosopher's than a simple staff officer's. He was made aware of the murder of
the Jews even earlier: in the autumn of 1941 he had been a witness when the
specially dispatched SS men murdered the Jews of the German-captured town
Borysov in Belarus. Breaking the rules of conspiracy, Tresckow then led a
protest, almost a mutiny, of the staff officers in the group of the
the judgement of history will be regarding the problem of identifying who spoke
to Vendel - or who gathered these materials, for these did not have to be the
same individuals-the more important task seems to be to find out the purpose
for which they did it. Certainly, the information would not have been relayed
just so that Swedish intelligence would know. That would not have justified
dragging Vendel to Gross Steinort and having him meet the leaders of the
conspiracy. The aim was different-it was dearly to alert the world.
not attempt to present the attitude of the conspirators towards the Jewish
question. The materials indicate that there were diverse opinions within this
circle. There had to be differences between Dietrich Bonhöffer and Karl
Goerdeler, not to mention the generals. Most of the conspirators came from
aristocratic families embodying the caste system. It is thus more to their
credit that they felt obliged to alarm the world in defence of people who
seemed alien to them.
turn now to the fate of the report. The covering letter by Erik von Post was
already unpromising. It treated Vendel with contempt, mentioning him without
his tide and first name, which violated etiquette generally accepted in Sweden.
Maybe this lapse expressed a then frequent disrespect for the consular staff on
the part of even lower-ranking diplomats, but it seems that the purpose was
different. Expressing disrespect for the author probably served the purpose of
diminishing the importance of the report. When listing the problems addressed
in the document, Post skipped over its most essential con tent, the data about
the extermination of the Jews. It was a dear hint to Stockholm not to get
involved in that problem. Obviously, various hypotheses can be put forward, but
it seems doubtful that Post would have omitted this crucial part by oversight.
There are no grounds for accusing Erik von Post or Arvid Richert of being Nazis,
but there are even fewer grounds for regarding them as anti-Nazis. More
cautiously, we can conclude that they were both convinced that remaining on
good terms with the Third Reich was in the best interests of Sweden, and they
acted accordingly. They prevented, or tried to prevent, anything that would
loosen Sweden's dependence on Germany and avoided engendering discontent in
Berlin. They refused to act even in such obvious cases as possible intervention
in defence of the Swedish industrialists in Warsaw whom the Gestapo had
arrested and sentenced to death.
It is no wonder that in November 1942 (three months after Vendel wrote his
report), when the foreign ministry asked Richert, in regard to some incidental
information from an embassy report, if it was true that the Germans deported
the Jews from Polish towns, Richert answered: 'The truthfulness of this
information cannot be determined; therefore, it needs to be treated with
maximum reservation.' About reports of the evacuation of the Warsaw ghetto, he
added: 'I do not have access to -any credible information about this.' In his
next letter he thanked the ministry for not having made such details known to
Rabbi Ehrenpreis of Stockholm, and he demanded that 'information about the treatment
of the Jews, etc., whose source is the embassy, should not reach people on the
What more did he need? Yet already by the spring of 1942 the most credible
witnesses, the Swedes Sven Norrman, Sigge Haggberg, and Carl Wilhelm Herslow,
had told him about deportations. .
of Post's efforts, Vendel's report excited interest in the Swedish foreign ministry,
albeit not at once. After two weeks, on 8 September 1942, the director of the
political department, Staffan Söderblom, had copies of the report sent to the
offices in Helsinki, Rome, and Copenhagen; to the general staff; and to the
deputy governor of Stockholm. Söderblom' s copy was signed by several people to
whom the report was presented. Among others, the signatures of Deputy Foreign
Minister Eric Boheman and Prime Minister Per Albin Hanson can be deciphered on
his copy of Post's covering letter. However, those men did not receive their
own copies. It is therefore unclear whether they actually read the report or
were only informed about its content, most likely in a manner determined by the
covering letter. (I suggest this not without reason. Söderblom was a man of
low calibre who owed his career to family connections: his father, an
archbishop, was head of the Church in Sweden. At the time of Hitler's victories
Söderblom ingratiated himself with the Germans, and later he did the same
towards the Soviets. The failure to demand the release of Swedish citizen
Raoul Wallenberg, who had been kidnapped by the Soviets in Budapest, has been
attributed at least in part to Söderblom's lack of character.) As a result, the
information from the German anti-Nazi officer was sunk so effectively that
even the publication in the 1960s of Vendel's essay did not arouse interest.
Koblik thoroughly analyses all the factors that contributed to Sweden's undertaking
its particular course of action.
There was a fear of provoking Germany. Sweden was not able to fight a war
against Germany, certainly not for the purpose of saving the Jews. The politicians
and diplomats we have mentioned were not antisemites, but they had to think of
the interests of their own country.
On the one hand, on the
threshold of the war, Swedish authorities had issued a series of instructions
directed against German (and also Polish) Jews seeking help, but later they
displayed exemplary behaviour, saving the Jews from Denmark who faced
extermination. The Swedish public willingly recalls the truly heroic efforts of
Raoul Wallenberg, who towards the end of the war rescued Jews in Hungary, and
the mission of Folke Bernadotte, who in the war's last weeks saved thousands of
concentration camp prisoners of man y nationalities. In the end Koblik condemns
the behaviour of Swedish authorities. At the same time he finds circumstantial
excuses, asking what Sweden could have done.
could have done one thing that Koblik did not consider. It could have used its
channel to pass Vendel's information on to the West, to the countries of the
anti-Nazi alliance. Such action was not unheard of in diplomatic practice. But
it was not done. Moreover, the report was not made known to the director of the
information bureau in the Swedish foreign ministry, Sven Grafström, who was
anti-Nazi. He had proved in the past that he would not refuse to take unconventional
steps if they were necessary.
a copy of the report was made for the deputy governor of Stockholm, Hellgren,
who after the war was accused of having abused his power by collaborating with
the German police authorities. It seems that he also disregarded Vendel' s
report. There is in addition the possibility that a report originating from
Stockholm denounced the German anti-Nazis, but was suppressed, possibly by
Admiral Canaris or one of his collaborators.
the years that have passed, a reading of Vendel's report evokes mostly sadness.
Nothing can now help save the people who were murdered, even if there had been
a substantial chance that the Nazi death machine could have been stopped then.
Such was the aim of the leaders of the German officers who conferred with
Vendel in Gross Steinort in August of 1942. Their anxiety and sincerity
impressed Vendel, but their united efforts were in vain. Two years later
Lehndorff was to die, murdered by the Nazis, and Tresckow would commit suicide
when their assassination plot failed. Many of their comrades, the élite of the
nation, would share the fate assigned earlier to the Jews.
the materials to write this study, I felt, with clarity very rare in my forty
years' experience as a historian, how greatness and loftiness exist side by
side with ignominy, mediocrity, and pettiness. On one side there is Tresckow,
on the other Söderblom; Lehndorff and Richert can likewise be opposed. And the
one only briefly mentioned here, but nevertheless hard to forget, a member of
the conspiracy, the great Dietrich Bonhöffer, presents a striking contrast to
the petty archbishop of Uppsala, Eidem, who, even when absolutely no doubt
remained about the goals and actions of the Nazis, refused to sign a letter to
the Hungarian bishops in defence of the murdered Jews. Also at fault was the
Jewish congregation in Stockholm, worried about an influx of Jews from Poland
and eager to prevent this 'danger'. It is painful to study documents that show
how sacrifice and generosity can be annihilated by small-mindedness. But let us
do what we can and should do: pay respect and bow our heads to those who, at a
time when the wolves roamed freely, upheld the honour of humanity.
Translation from Polish by Gwido Zlatke
 The first draft of this chapter was
published in Biuletyn Zydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, 164/4 (1992).
 Karl Yngve Vendel, legatory councillor emeritus, 'Var
Sverige hotat under andra världkriget?',Effektivt Försvar: Fritt Militärt Forum,
5 (1965), 386.
 Editorial. 'Undensk personalpolitik'. Effektivt
Försvar: Fritt Militärt Forum. 6 (1965), 441.
 Arvid Richert was the Swedish ambassador
 Riksarkivet Stockholm, HP 324-84
 'The Jews have everything.'
 'Through the Jews you can get everything,
the Jews can obtain everything.'
 In the territories incorporated into
Germany in 1939 the Poles were forced to declare their German nationality by
signing the so-called Volksliste.
Koblik, The Stones Cry Out (New York, 1987); pub. in Swedish as Om vi
teg, skulle stenarna ropa (Stockholm, 1987).
 After receiving some unspecified signals,
Kurt Gerstein, a chemist, joined the SS in order to uncover the crime. He
obtained direct evidence of genocide. He tried to alert the world, but in vain.
The papal nuncio in Berlin, Archbishop Orsenigo, simply showed him the door
when he tried to relate what was going on in extermination camps. On 22 Aug.
1942, two days after the date of Vendel's report, Gerstein met the attaché of
the Swedish embassy, Otter, in the train from Warsaw to Berlin. He not only
presented him with a detailed account but also showed documents proving the
crime. It has been claimed that Otter made a report of this but somehow it got
lost. Scholars and archivists doubt whether such a report was presented at all.
See Walter Laqueur, The Terrible Secret (London, 1980)
 Above all, see the memoir documentary book by a participant in the
conspiracy: Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Offiziere gegen Hitler, ed. Gero
von Gaevernitz (Zurich, 1946). Also see Peter Hoffman. Widerstand.
Staatsstreich, Attentat. Der Kampf der Opposition gegen Hitler (Munich,
 Richert and Post are treated extensively
in the diary of Sven Grafström, Anteckningar (Stockholm, 1989).
 For more on this, see Ivarsson Martin,
'Att kunna men inte vilja' (1989), manuscript in the possession of the author.
 Koblik. The Stones Cry Out