Established in 1775, the Jewish community of Stockholm numbers 5200 members. Its community center is situated near Raoul Wallenberg Square. The square was named after the Swedish diplomat who, after saving a number of Hungarian Jews, was arrested and then most likely assassinated by the Soviets. A sculpture by Willy Gordon representing a Jew fleeing with a Sepher Torah stands in front of the building.
The Jewish population of the city of Stockholm increased dramatically around the turn of the 20th century, mainly as a result of the arrival of Jews from Eastern Europe. If there were only 1,630 Swedish Jews in 1900, twenty years later the number increased to 2,750. World War II accentuated this increase with the arrival of other refugees, following a few more complicated years concerning the obtaining immigration authorization. The arrival of refugees from Norway in 1942 and then from Denmark the following year saved many lives.
A Memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust was erected in Stockholm in 1998. It was designed by sculptor Sivert Lindblom and architect Gabriel Herdevall. It was inaugurated by the Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav. It is made up of 8,500 stone tablets.
In the aftermath of World War II, there were 7,000 Jews in Stockholm. This figure declined at the turn of the 21st century, mainly because of the persistent wave of anti-Semitic acts, especially in Stockholm. The Swedish Jewish population of the city thus increased to 4,500 in 2020.
Swedish Jews express this link more through culture than religion, very little invested in it. Hence the few rabbis trained in Sweden. In 2020, for the first time in 250 years, a Swedish-born rabbi, Mattias Amster, was recruited.
The Jewish Museum was founded in 1987 by a patron of the arts named Aron Neuman. It consists of three rooms and houses, with, in one area, a collection of cultural objects (including an important collection of Judaica), and in another area, temporary exhibitions dedicated mostly to works of Scandinavian Jewish artists. The museum was closed until it moved to the Gamla stan (old city) neighborhood in the oldest synagogue of Stockholm. The Jewish Museum was reopened in 2019.
There are three synagogues in Stockholm. Built in an oriental style and completed in 1870, the Grand Synagogue in the city center follows the Masorti liturgy and can hold 1000 worshippers. The most interesting feature of the community center’s library of this synagogue is its excellent collection of the community’s publication Judisk Kronika and the volumes on the history of Sweden’s Jewish community. The Orthodox synagogue Adat Yeshurun contains furnishings that came from a synagogue in Hamburg vandalized during Kristallnacht. The other Orthodox synagogue, the Polish-rite Adat Yisrael, is situated in the Södermalm quarter in a seventeenth century building. In the cultural arena, the Swedish community has its own FR radio station, Radio Shalom.
There are several Jewish cemeteries in Stockholm. The first was built by grace of Aaron Isaac in 1776. It bears his name, Aronsberg. Used until 1888, it has nearly 300 funerary stelae. The Jewish cemetery of Kronoberg was built in 1787. It housed 200 graves until 1857.
These two cemeteries being very small, the Jewish community acquired more land. Thus, in Solna, the architect Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander built the chapel and the portals of the Jewish cemetery of the North. In 1857 this place was inaugurated, nicknamed the “mosaic cemetery in the north cemetery”. Scholander will also be the architect of the Great Synagogue in Stockholm. Among the people buried there, Nobel Prize for Literature Nelly Sachs.
Interview of Christina Gamstorp, Director of the Jewish Museum of Sweden
Jguideeurope: What were the major changes after the reopening of the Museum?
Christina Gamstorp: The major change was the shift in audience from more of a community-based museum to an open cultural institution aimed at anyone interested in Swedish and Jewish history. About the minority, for the majority as well as There are many ways of being Swedish, being Jewish is one of them are the main slogans of the museum. Furthermore, using the authentic site as a starting point for the museum´s new core exhibition, thus focusing a lot on the relationship between majority and minority was also something new for the new museum. Also, the collections has been made widely available to the public and there is a lot of work on Jewish presence over time on a nation level though collaboration with local and regional museums. We call the project Traces of Existence and it has drawn a lot of attention to Jewish history and religion.
Is the Museum participating in local educational programs?
Yes. We have a number of education programs aimed at schools reflecting the national curriculum in different ages and also just starting up a cooperation with Stockholm municipality to provide free workshop visits to the museum.
Can you share an emotional encounter with a particular visitor?
I am not sure I understand the question but we have public tours almost every day, school visits and group visits, so there is always a possibility to discuss both with the museum educators as well as the front desk. This is very important to the museum and happens quite frequently.
Has the public’s interest in Swedish Jewish culture evolved over the years?
It has grown tremendously over the years and the Jewish museum has also contributed to that growing interest by providing a much broader story of Jewish presence in Sweden. Most people are only familiar with the events linked to the war and the Holocaust.
Can you describe to us a particular object presented at the Museum? Its importance for the Museum, what it represents and how it was acquired?
Our newly acquired snuff box made by Michaelson & Bendix, being one of the first Jewish businesses as well as being the first Jew to become a Swedish citizen during the time it was prohibited. So, it fills a void in our small but very important collection.