Swedish town accused of failing to invite Jews to pogrom commemoration

FILE PHOTO © Brendan McDermid
A small Swedish town landed in the middle of scandal over an anti-Nazi event commemorating the Kristallnacht pogrom, which failed to feature anyone from the Jewish community. Organizers and defenders are contradicting each other.

Umeå is a town in northwestern Sweden with a population of about 80,000, including 300 Jews. On Monday evening it held an event commemorating Kristallnacht, the Jewish pogrom organized by the governments of Nazi Germany and Austria in 1938, which claimed at least 100 lives directly, but also resulted in the destruction of thousands of synagogues and Jewish businesses and the incarceration of 30,000 Jews.

The event was intended as anti-racist, but the organizers are now being accused by some of being anti-Semitic over failing to invite any Jewish speaker. Several Swedish publications cited chief organizer of the event, city councilor Jan Hägglund, as telling the local newspaper Totalt Umeå that the Jews were not invited because it could put then in an awkward and potentially unsafe position should pro-Palestinian protesters show up.

"In previous years, we have had a lot of Palestinian flags at these rallies, and even one banner where the Israeli flag was equated with a swastika. The Jewish community wasn't invited because we assumed they might be uncomfortable around that sort of thing," he was cited as saying.

The story was soon picked by foreign media, which expressed outrage and confusion over a decision to exclude Jews from a commemoration of Nazi Germany persecution.

Ynet, the web version of a popular Israeli newspaper, cited Karin Sjöberg, head of the Umeå's organized Jewish community, and member of the city council from the Liberal Party, as saying that the organizers wanted to focus the event away from Jews and towards the perils of predominantly Muslim asylum seekers who are descending in droves on Europe.

"The real reason was that he [Hägglund] wanted the event to focus on the Muslim refugees and not at all on the Holocaust or the Jews. After the story broke, he announced the rally was under the banner of 'Fighting Nazism.' In my eyes, this is an outrageous historical distortion. They're ignoring the memory of the Holocaust and the events of Kristallnacht," she was cited as saying.

The Jerusalem Post cited a local resident as describing the event as “memorial hijacking.”

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Hägglund, however, describes the story quite differently. On Tuesday, he told the Local that this year's commemoration was the first in about 20 years when a representative of the Jewish community, specifically Sjöberg, had been invited.

In previous years the event was a small gathering of leftists parties, According to Hägglund. He said Umeå Jews had never complained about being left out, since they held their own Kristallnacht commemorations. But this year the event was bigger, so he said he emailed an invitation to his fellow councilor two weeks ahead, which she declined as she was due to appear at the alternative gathering.

“I wanted the Jewish community to be involved… I supported it to the hilt,” he said. “Now I have been portrayed as an anti-Semite.”

There are several other versions of what has happened and who is to blame, the Local added. The rally was boycotted by some other local politicians such as council member Anders Ågren of the Moderate Party, who said in his blog that he was ashamed of Umeå hosting such an event. It appears the row may have more to do with local politics than with anti-Semitism.