Home of Raoul Wallenberg
Sweden’s Jewish community holds a very unique place in the continental European Diaspora. During the mid-20th century, Sweden was one of the only European countries to actually witness a growth in their Jewish population. During the Second World War there was no systematic persecution by the neutral Swedish government, and, in fact, the country gave asylum to thousands of Jewish refugees. from Denmark and Norway.
The Jewish community in Stockholm was founded in 1774 and has continued to exist relatively undisturbed over the generations. Perhaps Sweden is best known in Jewish history because of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish humanitarian and diplomat working in Budapest during the Holocaust. By issuing protective passports to Jews, Wallenberg single-handedly saved 10,000 Jewish lives. He is remembered in downtown Stockholm near the Great Synagogue in a moving memorial in the shape of a huge stone ball – reminding us to be ever vigilant against anti-Semitism. In Stockholm you will also find the Great Synagogue built in an Assyrian style, whose organ resembles an open Torah scroll! Take a stroll through the picturesque Old Town, the Gamla Stan, where the city’s first synagogue once stood. Catch a glimpse of the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. Stockholm is home to “Paideia,” the famous European Institute for Jewish Studies, which trains scholars from the world over.
Did you know that Yiddish is an official minority language in Sweden? Courses are given at The Jewish Community Center, found in the Judaica House (Judaicahuset). The Jewish day school is nearby. The city also boasts a small but excellent Jewish museum with permanent and rotating exhibits.
For a comprehensive day in Stockholm one must include a visit to the country’s most prized possession, the Vasa! The Vasa was the Swedish ‘Titanic’ – a magnificent ship built in 1628 that sunk on its maiden voyage. It was salvaged almost intact in 1961 and has its own museum that is absolutely spectacular – definitely a must-see! Jewish Swedes have a long and accomplished history interwoven with the history of Sweden itself, best symbolized perhaps by the chanukkiah in the Great Synagogue. If you look carefully you will see the letter ‘G’ carved onto the base, for the 18th century King Gustav of Sweden. And where else but Sweden can one fine a synagogue where the beams look like parts of a Viking ship!?
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