October 31st, 2013
Queen Silvia of Sweden has been accused of “falsifying history” by playing down her father’s Nazi past and using powerful contacts to help clear his name.
In a new book, The Queen’s Secret, Swedish journalist Johan Åsard claims that the German-born Queen Silvia has constructed a skewed picture of her father Walter Sommerlath’s takeover of a Jewish-owned factory in Nazi-ruled Germany.
Sommerlath joined the Nazi Party in 1934, the year after Adolf Hitler became chancellor. In a 2010 investigative documentary on Sweden’s TV 4, Queen Silvia said: “He was not politically active, he was not a soldier. He was responsible for the factory workers. And if you went against it, then it was like going against the whole machinery.”
The same documentary, which Mr Åsard helped produce, reported that Sommerlath took over a factory owned by a Jewish businessman named Efim Wechsler in the late 1930s. The documentary suggested that Sommerlath’s transaction was part of the so-called Aryanisation programme, in which Jewish property and businesses were expropriated. The transaction happened just a few months after Kristallnacht, when Jewish-owned stores and buildings were destroyed across Germany.
The Palace hired Swedish historian and former director-general of Sweden’s national archives, Erik Norberg, to look into the affair — an investigation that took two years.
Mr Norberg concluded that Sommerlath had bought the factory at a fair price and that he helped Mr Wechsler acquire a Brazilian visa so that he could escape Nazi Germany. Mr Wechsler received a coffee farm and three plots of land in Brazil in return for his factory.
In a postscript to Mr Norberg’s text, the Queen wrote: “I have no reason to re-evaluate my image of my beloved father.”
The Palace said the study and an accompanying video message from the Queen would be her final word on the matter.
But Mr Åsard claimed that the two-year probe is “intellectually and factually a falsification of history”. In reality, he said, Mr Wechsler’s daughter, Ilse, had arranged a visa for her father two months before Sommerlath took over his factory. At the time, she had already been living in Brazil for four years together with her husband.
“The whole purpose of the inquiry is to push the thesis that Walter Sommerlath helped this Jewish man… In reality, he made an extremely profitable deal and it would not have been possible had it not happened during the Nazi programme of persecuting and expelling Jews,” said Mr Åsard.
“And the Queen then went even further in claiming that Sommerlath put his own life and his family at risk in order to save Wechsler. This deal was not illegal or punishable by death…Sommerlath did not help Wechsler take money out of Germany or anything like that,” said Mr Åsard.
Mr Åsard said the Palace should have hired more than one researcher instead of relying on just Mr Norberg, who is the Royal Court’s cabinet chamberlain.
In his book, Mr Åsard also claimed that the Queen tried to influence and silence critics by drawing on a wide contact network within business and politics.
“It seems as if the Queen has acted on emotion, that she has been unable to separate out her roles as a daughter and that of Queen… She has always been popular in Sweden and nobody has claimed that she bears responsibility for her father’s Nazi past so it is hard to understand why she wants to defend him and even wants to make him out to be a hero,” said Mr Åsard.
The Royal Court declined to comment.