“We share a commitment to throw light on the still obscured shadows of the Holocaust.”
-- Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust
The Swedish Government proposed the establishment of the agency The Living History Forum in order to be able to guarantee the implementation of the Stockholm Declaration on a permanent basis. When the agency began its work in 2003, this gave a clear signal of the Government’s ambitions and view on the development of these areas of knowledge.
Sweden is one of the few nations, if not the only one, that has established a governmental agency just for the sake of fighting intolerance, promoting democratic attitudes and raising awareness of the danger of undemocratic ideologies. This agency, named the Living History Forum, has its starting point in the history of the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. The activities of the Living History Forum are mainly directed towards teachers as being the multipliers to reaching young people.
The Swedish government has commissioned the Living History Forum with several special missions, for example to compile an overview of the situation in Sweden regarding activities to prevent antisemitism and Islamophobia, emphasizing current good examples of activities aiming at preventing these forms of intolerance. Furthermore, the government has commissioned the Forum to produce educational material with the aim to safeguard democracy as a tool against violence - preventing extremism.
The Living History Forum also appoints the recipient of the Per Anger Award. This is a prize that was instituted in memory of Ambassador Per Anger who was the Swedish consul in Budapest and the superior of Raoul Wallenberg during his time in Budapest. The prize is awarded for efforts, past or present, in the field of humanitarian work and initiatives in the name of democracy.
The Living History Forum’s main target group is teachers. Through the years a growing demand for the variety of educational material and teacher training seminars produced by the Living History Forum is noticeable.
The national curriculum of mandatory subjects to be taught in Swedish schools is general rather than setting out in detail what each individual subject should include. This is why there are no specific directions concerning teaching about the Holocaust. Since 2011, there have been national regulations requiring secondary schools at the compulsory school level. Teaching of the Holocaust and other genocides is compulsory, as formulated in the national curriculum for History for school years 7 through 9. The Holocaust is considered to be an important part of the teaching and it is quite common for it to be covered in the teaching of History as well as other subjects such as social studies. Research into teachers' experiences of teaching about the Holocaust indicates that Swedish teachers are highly motivated to teach about the Holocaust and that students are receptive to the subject.
The main challenges for Sweden in the forthcoming years are to influence basic teacher training to enhance knowledge about the Holocaust and how to apply it in relation to present day intolerance and hate crime. Additional continuing education courses for teachers who have already embarked on their career are other important areas where we need to do more.
From the mid-1990s on, trips to Holocaust memorial sites have become increasingly popular and inviting Holocaust survivors to visit classrooms has also become more common. Enabling survivors' tales to live on after their deaths is another important task we are working on, while we are also looking at ways to improve the excursion methodology on education trips.
Sweden was spared Nazi occupation. The absence of traditional memorial ceremonies and monuments can probably be explained by over 200 years of peace in Sweden. However, there are of course a number of places that are linked to the history of the Holocaust in various ways. Examples include places where large numbers of refugees crossed the border from Norway and Denmark when fleeing Nazi policies. There are also places that received survivor refugees during the final stages of the war. There are also other places whose history serves as a reminder about activities in Sweden which indicate that there were advocates of Nazi ideology present in the country.
A public day of remembrance was held for the first time 50 years after the Holocaust. This event was initiated by Sweden's Jewish communities and attended by the Prime Minister, the Royal Family and other official representatives of Sweden and attracted a great deal of interest from the general public.
In the last couple of years there has been a significant growing awareness of the commemoration of January 27th in Sweden, the Holocaust Memorial Day. The Living History Forum is explicitly tasked by the Swedish government to spread awareness about this day. The agency has consistently and purposefully worked with information about this day and to disseminate and support the commemoration of this day of remembrance.
Every year the agency suggests a specific theme for the Holocaust Memorial Day. This theme is always described and explored in teaching material for schools, at the website of the Forum as well as for the public commemoration ceremony arranged by the Living History.
As regards the general level of academic interest in work on the history of the Holocaust, an increasing interest can be noted in Sweden over the past five years. It can also be noted, however, that this interest has grown in parallel with an interest in genocide studies in a broader sense. Since the end of the 1990s Swedish historians have sought to address the Holocaust to a far greater extent than previously and a number of doctoral theses, monographs and articles have researched the subject. A key factor in this development has been the establishment of a specific research and teaching institute at Uppsala University, along with two major research projects "Sweden's relationship to Nazism, Nazi Germany and The Holocaust" and "The Holocaust in European Historical Culture" that have resulted in a number of publications.
Sweden’s only university department specialised in studies of the Holocaust and genocide is the Hugo Valentin Centre located at Uppsala University. The centre is an inter-disciplinary forum at Uppsala University and has research within two prioritized areas as its primary task: on the one hand cultural and social phenomena and processes of change related to the ethnic dimension in human life, on the other hand the Holocaust and other cases of genocide and serious crimes against human rights. These subject fields include as well minority studies and Holocaust and genocide studies, as well as related and adjacent subjects, in which the Centre has a marked specialisation: Holocaust history, large-scale violence, discrimination, multilingualism, migration and integration.