Inside the anti-semitism storm rocking Sweden’s most prestigious medical institute

STOCKHOLM – A Jewish doctor who works at the Swedish hospital accused of covering up repeated alleged incidents of anti-Semitism by a department chairman tells Haaretz the abuse consisted of both verbal attacks and professional decisions that adversely affected his and his colleagues careers.

Published in Haaretz:https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-anti-semitism-and-a-cover-up-rock-sweden-s-most-prestigious-medical-institute-1.6695780 

A former department chairman at the Karolinska University Hospital, who is also a researcher at the affiliated Karolinska institute that awards the Nobel Prize in medicine, is accused of anti-Semitic behavior toward Jewish doctors. Haaretz speaks to one of his alleged victims and to other sources close to the events.

The accused, a former department chairman at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm, allegedly bullied and harassed Jewish doctors working in his department. The physician has been forced to take time away from his duties while the accusations are being investigated, after the story broke in Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet at the end of October.

Haaretz is aware of the identity of the accused, but we are not naming him due to Swedish legal restrictions.

A senior Jewish doctor who has worked at Karolinska for almost 20 years (and who agreed to speak to Haaretz on condition of anonymity) says that, together with Jewish colleagues, he was systematically discriminated against by the department chairman.

The doctor says two of his Jewish colleagues had to quit the department because of the abuse and he is the only Jewish doctor still working there. He says all three had to pay both a personal and professional price for the conduct of a person whom Jewish organizations say posted anti-Semitic materials online.

“Our work environment was extremely hostile,” the Jewish senior doctor tells Haaretz. “The situation started over three years ago, he says, and escalated over the ensuing years”. He first told his superiors about the abuse in mid-2017, he says.

In one case, the doctor says the department head saw him talking with another Jewish colleague and remarked: "There goes the Jewish ghetto." The doctor adds that "the harassment included a series of damaging steps to our careers," such as being denied access to research funds and not being allowed to participate in medical conferences or courses.

The alleged discrimination also had a negative effect on their patients, the doctor says. "In some instances, we were not even allowed to meet patients and perform surgical procedures, which were an important part of our jobs," he says, citing cases in which the department head referred his patients to other doctors.

Another example centered on an international congress in which the Jewish doctor was invited to give the keynote lecture. The department chairman allegedly denied his request to attend, without supplying a reason, but then provided funding for five non-Jewish doctors to travel there instead – even though they had not received formal invitations. Karolinska University Hospital’s acting CEO, Annika Tibell, told Haaretz that the initial decision was overruled by senior management and a university representative, and the Jewish doctor was eventually able to deliver his keynote speech at the event.

In another case, the senior Jewish doctor was supposed to lead a multi-center study funded by the European Union, and involving an Israeli hospital, at the Karolinska Institute. But the suggestion that he would serve as the project’s local principal investigator was rejected by the chairman, with no official reason given.

Though some of these accusations could be attributed to professional differences or even office politics, the Jewish doctor and other sources with knowledge of the situation believe that they are the result of the chairman’s anti-Semitism.

As proof, the doctor and others cite material that the department chairman allegedly posted on his Facebook account. This material included cartoons that were deemed anti-Semitic by three anti-Semitism watchdog organizations: The Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism; and the Living History Forum, a Swedish public body that promotes human rights and educates on the Holocaust.

One cartoon depicts a bloodthirsty Israeli soldier with a large, grotesque nose, while another compares Israel to Nazi Germany.

Karolinska University Hospital’s acting CEO, Annika Tibell, tells Haaretz the institution has “a zero-tolerance policy regarding all forms of harassment and discrimination. In addition to a well-functioning working environment and respect for each other, this is fundamental for our hospital and for the care of our patients.”

Cover up?

The senior doctor who spoke with Haaretz, as well as sources with knowledge of the department’s inner workings, also detail how attempts to complain about the ex-chairman’s conduct were initially ignored, while subsequent investigations fell short.

According to the doctor, his initial complaint was ignored. It was only when he complained with the help of a lawyer that the hospital agreed to launch a probe into the department head's behavior, he says.

The Jewish doctor charges that, far from revealing the truth, these were essentially "cover-ups" designed to protect the accused department chairman. (In a response to Haaretz, Tibell rejected all accusations of a cover-up.)

"The first investigation was conducted (after the chairman was temporarily suspended) by the new head of the department – a professor at the Karolinska Institute who was also a close friend of the former chairman," says the senior doctor. "This professor was biased and asked non-Jewish doctors if they had experienced anti-Semitism in the department. These questions were asked face-to-face, and naturally their answer was negative.”

When one Jewish doctor confirmed "that he had indeed experienced anti-Semitic comments" and couldn’t rule out that "there was a problem, this information was ‘forgotten,’" the doctor alleges. "During the investigation, no protocols were written and eventually the conclusion was that there was no anti-Semitism problem,” he adds.

Tibell says an external investigation was deemed necessary following the first probe. The Jewish doctor reveals that this was to be conducted by two psychologists, but they removed themselves from the process, he says, "because they were not qualified to assess such issues and were not experts in anti-Semitism."

Tibell confirms that, saying that the initial external investigation "did not start as planned, due to lack of required competence in the specific area of harassment.”

She says the current (third) investigation is ongoing and will likely end in December. However, she notes that “with hindsight, I believe we could have acted more quickly and assertively in securing the prompt start of the present external investigation.”

The senior Jewish doctor remains skeptical about the latest investigation. “It is supposed to be an external [probe], but the legal firm conducting it has economic ties to the hospital and isn't really objective," the doctor claims. He also alleges that Karolinska rejected an offer that the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Swedish Committee Against Anti-Semitism serve as observers, which he claims is necessary to ensure the integrity of the investigation.

The former department chairman is still being paid while the investigation continues, and is still conducting research at the affiliated university. In addition, the Professor, who allegedly tried to cover up the events, is on a similar "time-out" although sources told Haaretz that he is still involved in the department's work both as consultant and as a professor.

Last week, another senior official who was responsible for the department in which the anti-Semitic incidents allegedly occurred, decided to quit. This was for both personal reasons and after admitting he didn’t react strongly enough to resolve the problem, according to an internal hospital email seen by Haaretz. He too will continue working as a doctor and researcher at Karolinska.

A dark history

Karolinska is the name of both a major hospital and an affiliated medical university that is regarded as one of the most prestigious in the world. The university's Nobel Assembly, which consists of 50 professors from various disciplines, selects the recipients of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Although the university and adjacent hospital are two separate legal entities, they are closely connected. The original Karolinska Hospital in Solna, just north of Stockholm, was founded over 80 years ago.

Sweden has a dark and complex historical relationship with anti-Semitism – one that has not skipped over the medical profession. Swedish doctors were prominent in the development of eugenics and race biology in the first half of the 20th century, and institutions, including Karolinska, actively rejected Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s and seeking work in Sweden. The country's dark past can still be found in the hospital grounds today, with one street named after Astrid Cleve – a Swedish researcher who remained a Nazi sympathizer even after World War II ended.

Asked about the street named after Cleve, Tibell told Haaretz: “This was just recently brought to the attention of the hospital, prompting a strong reaction from Karolinska University Hospital asking the local municipality to rapidly change the name of the street.”

The anti-Semitism scandal at the hospital comes at a time when Sweden has been facing a new wave of anti-Semitism. In the most recent election in September, for example, a party with Nazi roots made substantial political gains. And the last few years have also seen a string of anti-Semitic attacks in the country. Last December, for instance, a synagogue in Gothenburg was firebombed while an event was taking place; Malmö has been the site of numerous attacks against Jewish people and institutions in recent years; and recently a Jewish local politician in Lund, a town in southern Sweden, was a victim of an arson attack. Other cases of threats, harassment and vandalism have occurred in various places, including one town, Umeå, in northern Sweden, where a local Jewish center had to close down because of attacks and threats by neo-Nazis.

"The situation has become worse in the last few years," Aron Verständig, chairman of the Official Council of Swedish Jewish Communities, tells Haaretz. "This is not new and it's very worrying." Verständig says that though anti-Semitism isn't common in Sweden when it comes to the general population, for quite a few years now there have been many attacks, mainly in Malmö, committed by people with a Middle-Eastern or North African background. “In recent years the extreme right has become a problem too and there is also anti-Semitism within the pro-Palestinian movement and Swedish extreme left, although this is usually not violent", adds Verständig.

However, five Jewish doctors and researchers who currently work at Karolinska all said they have no recent personal experiences of being harassed, discriminated against or mistreated due to their Jewishness. According to these conversations, apart from a couple of minor incidents dating from a number of years ago, Karolinska’s anti-Semitism problem is seemingly confined to one department.

However, all five voiced strong feelings of discontent about the way Karolinska had chosen to handle the scandal.

One source talked about a "management culture of silencing critics and covering up scandals." Another said Karolinska has an organizational problem that allows employees to be subjected to toxic work relations for years, with no mechanism for respite. A third said they thought Karolinska’s management was hoping for "the storm to pass, while failing to understand how serious the allegations are and how much damage they caused staff and patients."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, one of the founders and the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, concurs. After being approached by one of the Jewish doctors who claimed harassment at Karolinska, Cooper sent a letter to the hospital's management last month, alleging that the hospital knew about the "obvious and open anti-Semitism," and ignored it.

Two weeks ago, Cooper traveled to Stockholm and met the hospital's acting CEO, Tibell. In a press conference held after their meeting, Cooper told journalists he had urged the hospital's leadership to fast-track the investigation.

"This needs to be fully addressed. If it isn't, there will be damage to the name of Karolinska – which is something the Wiesenthal Center doesn’t want to see," he said. "That's one of the reasons I got on the plane and came here."

Cooper added that the doctor who approached the center for help is "a brilliant physician, who wants to continue doing good work at this hospital."

The Swedish Medical Association has been criticized by some of its members on social media for its response to the situation. According to an article in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, the union has been reluctant to help the Jewish doctors, with the chairwoman of the union saying that mutual respect is needed by both sides in the dispute.

When asked how a Jewish person can show respect to a person who has been anti-Semitic and harassed them, her response was: “They can listen to each other. I don’t have a better answer. Harsh words are exchanged in every demanding workplace. In these cases, one should try to talk to each other and explain what happened.” One doctor reacted online by asking, “What exactly does the discriminated-against doctor need to understand about the bully’s racism?”

Karolinska Institute President Ole Petter Ottersen said in response: “Questions regarding anti-Semitism and discrimination are of great concern both to Karolinksa Institute and to me personally, and if we find out that there are issues of this sort within the institute, we will react immediately. We do not tolerate discrimination of any sort. Discrimination has absolutely no place in a university and goes against all what a university should stand for.”

Regarding the future of the doctor suspected of abuse and the professor involved in the first internal probe, he said the institute "will closely study the outcome of this investigation and make necessary follow-ups."

Auschwitz wasn't on another planet

יום השואה הבינ"ל, גניבת שלט הכניסה של אושוויץ וראיון עם פרופ' יהודה באואר

Published in The Local – Sweden's news in English, January 2010 http://www.thelocal.se/24616/20100127/

When writing about Auschwitz, it's important to start with the obvious. The theft of the camp's notorious entrance sign was an appalling act and those who are responsible for it must be punished. In a broader context, on the occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 65 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, it is important to point out that the original camp site, along with the museum and archive which were built on it, are in need of serious renovation. If the site's educational projects, research activities and ceremonial events, are to continue, there is need of a large investment, of international support and of course, a better security system.

So much for stating the obvious.

There is however another way of looking at the theft of the sign which naturally raised many angry reactions. Interestingly enough, statements made after the event were of the kind usually made when religious sites are desecrated. It's easy to forget that Auschwitz is not a holy site. It is not a vandalized grave or a burnt down synagogue, in fact it's as far from a holy site as one can imagine. Birkenau (Auschwitz 2) may well be the largest Jewish graveyard in the world and the site where thousands of Poles, Roma, Russians and many others were murdered, but the entrance sign of the main camp, Auschwitz 1, which simply states "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work liberates) is perhaps one of most profound symbols of evil and one of the most symbolic representations of Nazism. So much so that it is almost tempting to cry out to the thieves and to all the Anti-Semites and Neo-Nazis who support them: "If you want it so badly, just go ahead and take it!"

 There is a reason why that sign is so symbolic. Auschwitz wasn't on another planet, as Jewish writer and Auschwitz survivor, Yehiel Dinur, once put it. It was made from the stuff of our very own planet. It took all the evils of this world and brought them to a new level. Though it developed new and monstrous techniques, it didn't invent anything new. It was the most accurate representation of the world view of the Nazi movement which, while being politically revolutionary, was based on old and conservative values. Like Nazism itself, Auschwitz was hierarchical, racist, and murderous all of which are typical aspects of the twentieth century. It was a world where human beings had no value, where every part of their body and belongings was used to make profit before they were annihilated. It was a world of cruelty and ruthlessness, but not less interesting, it was a world of lies. And this is where the "Work Liberates" slogan has its deeper meaning.

The lies in Auschwitz weren’t limited to the lies told to the victims who were told, for example, that they are entering the showers when they were standing at the doors of gas chambers. They were deeper, almost philosophical. Auschwitz had every aspect of human life. There was music, medicine and even a judicial system. There were work places, sex life, trade and industry. But these were all distorted. Any trace of humanity was sucked out of them. Music, for example, was transformed from an expression of beauty and human emotions to a soundtrack of slave marches and executions. In the so called "Joy Division", sex was transformed from a source of pleasure and expression of intimacy to violent and repeated rape. In the torture chambers of Block no. 11, the judicial system served might instead of right and in Dr. Mengale's Block medicine did not save lives, but practiced diabolical experiments to glorify a mythical ‘master race.’

And then there's work. Work can define us; it can give us pleasure, release our creative abilities or at least provide for us. Work can liberate. But in Auschwitz work was the exploitation of people struck by disease and hunger by corporations, some of which, sadly enough, still exist today. All this makes the stolen slogan not only cynical but also a pure symbol of everything wrong in this world. As such, perhaps we can do without it.

Many, myself included, were shocked by the theft of the sign. But was the response proportional? Is the symbol really so important? I have visited Auschwitz many times and have seen how the sign has turned into a tourist attraction and how groups of laughing teenagers from all over the world gather beneath it to have their picture taken. Visiting Auschwitz is important and Symbols are important too but they are not everything. It's important to remember that although the war ended in 1945 genocide, racism and oppression didn't. Perhaps it would be more effective if some of the attention given to the stolen sign were diverted to the atrocities in Darfur for example, or to the many cases of minority oppression and discrimination worldwide.

The Israeli historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer, who is one of the world's greatest authorities on the Holocaust, says: "There are many places in the world today where mass murder and even genocide are possible. Everyone knows about Sudan but there are other places like Burma (Myanmar) and East Congo. The situation in other regions like Iran, with its complex ethnical problems, The Balkans, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Iraq and some places in South America like Guatemala could also deteriorate into mass murder". Bauer, who is visiting Stockholm this week, serves as an senior adviser to many institutes including the Swedish Government, the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research and the International Forum on Genocide Prevention. "The Holocaust was an unprecedented event because of its totality, universality and the pure ideological motives behind it", says Bauer, "But it was not unique, since it was an act of human beings on other human beings, it can happen again".

Though Bauer's work with the UN and other international organizations to prevent future crimes, may be more important to future generations than the preservation of old Nazi concentration camps, it can be claimed that the stolen sign, like the camp itself, is important as a witness of what happened and can be used in the battle against those who deny the Holocaust. There is truth in this. But there will come a day when not much will remain of the original camp. What then?

Even today parts of it are falling apart despite all preservation efforts. Like it or not, physical artifacts, just like the testimonies of living survivors, important as they are, will have a smaller role in remembering and understanding the Holocaust in the future. It is, after all, an event from the past century, and sadly its' survivors are becoming fewer and fewer. Camps like Treblinka and Sobibor were totally destroyed and many documents and artifacts are already lost. Future discussion about the Holocaust will have to be based on books, museums and films, and if we want it to have a future at all, public debate, educational dialogue and historical research will have to take the place of visiting the sites themselves.

From a Swedish perspective, these observations are particularly important. The apparent involvement of a Swedish Neo-Nazi in the sign theft last month reminds us that there is a need to continue the efforts to fight racism, Anti-Semitism and undemocratic trends in Swedish society. Sweden's ambivalent role in WW2 makes this even more crucial. As a vital exporter of iron ore to the German war machine, and as an industrial and sometimes political and ideological Nazi allay, Sweden has a moral and political obligation to deal with its past even if it is also responsible for saving many lives through its diplomatical efforts and generosity to refugees.

"Anti-Semitism in Europe is getting worse", says Prof. Bauer and explains that it exists in the extreme Right-Wing as well as in the left and in parts of the second generation of Muslim immigrants who rebel against their communities by targeting Israel and the Jews. He points out Sweden's efforts in fighting these trends, "Sweden dedicated time and money and has created The Living History Forum, a government agency commissioned to promote democracy and human rights, with the Holocaust as its point of reference". There is of course still work to be done and Bauer claims that studying the core issues of the Holocaust and especially the dilemmas of its victims are crucial to this process.

As for the stolen sign, I don't really know what the thieves who climbed on Auschwitz's gate and removed the sign on that cold December night had in mind. Truth be told, I don't really care. I was shocked when it was taken and I'm glad it is now back. But that is stating the obvious again.

Beyond the obvious is another thought. In one of his books, Yehiel Dinur describes a vision of an Auschwitz prisoner. He is sitting in a truck full of prisoners on the way to the crematorium and he's looking at an SS officer. He realizes, to his horror, that under other circumstances the roles could have been reversed and he could have been the killer. The worst thing about Auschwitz, he realizes, is that it is man-maid, not the work of the devil and it lies within the potential of human behavior. He describes the truck passing under the German words "Arbeit Mach Frei" and in his mind the German words are transformed into Hebrew ones: "In the image of God created he him". The symbol of Nazism becomes the cradle of Humanism. Now that would be a sign no one could steal.

וגרסה עברית:

כשעוסקים באושוויץ חשוב לפתוח במובן מאליו. גניבת השלט משער המחנה לפני יותר מחודש היא מעשה נפשע והאחראים לו חייבים להיענש. זאת ועוד, יום השנה ה 65 לשחרור המחנה ויום השואה הבינלאומי, שיצוין השבוע ברחבי העולם, הוא הזדמנות נוספת להזכיר את מצבו הקשה של האתר בו נרצחו מעל למיליון וחצי בני-אדם ולקוות כי השמירה עליו תשופר, שהכסף הנדרש לשיפוצו יגויס בקרוב ושמאמץ ניכר יושקע בשימור המחנה ובהמשך הפעילות החינוכית, התיעודית והטקסית המתקיימת בו.

עד כאן המובן מאליו.

גניבת השלט "העבודה משחררת" עורר מטבע הדברים גל תגובות בישראל ובעולם. רוב התגובות הזכירו דברים שנשמעים כאשר מטרות יהודיות מותקפות בחו"ל. אך גניבת שלט הכניסה של אושוויץ איננה דומה לריסוס גרפיטי על בית-כנסת, להשחתת ספר תורה או לחילול קבר יהודי. מחנה אושוויץ איננו מקום קדוש, הוא מקום מקולל. שדות בירקנאו הם אמנם בית-הקברות הגדול ביותר של העם היהודי, אך דווקא השלט בעל הכתובת "ארבט מאכט פריי", הוא הדבר הרחוק ביותר מהיהדות או מהאנושיות שניתן לעלות על הדעת. הוא אולי הייצוג הנאמן ביותר של הנאציזם ושל הרוע עצמו. הוא ארור ומאוס עד כדי כך שמפתה לומר לגנביו כמו גם לכל האנטישמים, הניאו-נאצים והפשיסטים למיניהם שחוגגים את האירוע: "אם אתם כל כך רוצים את השלט הזה, בבקשה – קחו אותו!".

אושוויץ לא הייתה, כפי שאמר ק.צטניק, פלנטה אחרת. להיפך, אושוויץ הייתה בנויה מהחומרים של הפלנטה הזאת. היא לקחה את כל הרעות החולות של העולם המודרני והביאה אותן לקצה. היא פיתחה אמנם טכניקות חדשות, מפלצתיות, אך היא לא המציאה שום רעיון חדש. היא הייתה התגלמותו הנאמנה של האידיאולוגיה הנאצית, שהייתה מהפכנית אולי מבחינה פוליטית, אך התבססה על עקרונות שמרניים ומוכרים, החל מהפרקטיקה הניהולית ועד השימוש בפסיכולוגיה של התליינים והקורבנות. במחנה אושוויץ, כמו בנאציזם עצמו, היה כל מה שהיה רע במודרנה. הייתה בו ההיררכיה, הגזענות והרצחנות שאפיינו את המאה העשרים (ושלא חלפו עדיין מן העולם). נבנה בו עולם בו בני-אדם היו פחות מסך כל חלקיהם, חפצים חסרי ערך שכל חלק מגופם ורכושם נוצל למטרות כלכליות. היו באושוויץ אכזריות, חוסר חמלה ודיכוי אך  מעניין לא פחות, אושוויץ הייתה מבוססת על שקר. וכאן בדיוק תפקידה של הסיסמא הידועה לשמצה: "העבודה משחררת".

ההונאה באושוויץ לא התבטאה רק בשקרים שסופרו לקורבנות שנכנסו לתאי-הגזים מתוך אמונה שהם מקלחות. השקר של אושוויץ היה עמוק יותר. כמעט פילוסופי. באושוויץ היו הרי כל ביטויי העולם האנושי, היו בה מוסיקה, רפואה ומערכת משפט, היו בה מקומות עבודה, חיי מין, מסחר ותעשייה. אך מחולליה של אושוויץ לקחו כל מה שהיה לו פוטנציאל אנושי והפכו אותו על פיו. המוסיקה באושוויץ, למשל, הפכה מביטוי של יופי ורגשות אנושיים לפס-קול של מצעדי עבדים והוצאות להורג. בבית-הבובות המין הפך ממקור של עונג ואינטימיות לאונס סדרתי ואלים. במרתפי העינויים של בלוק 11, המשפט לא עשה צדק אלא הנציח את שרירות לבו ואכזריותו של השליט. בבלוק 10 של הדר' מנגלה הרפואה הפכה ממצילת חיים לגיהינום של המתת ילדים וקטיעת איברים.

ויש כמובן את העבודה. העבודה מעצבת את מי שאנחנו, היא יכולה להיות מקום של יצירה ומקור של פרנסה, היא יכולה להיות משחררת. אבל לא באושוויץ. באושוויץ העבודה הפכה לעבדות, לניצול של בני-אדם מוכי קור, מחלות ורעב ע"י תאגידים כלכליים שחלקם, למרבה הציניות, קיימים עדיין היום. כל אלו מבוטאים היטב בשלט "העבודה משחררת". זוהי יותר מציניות, זהו הביטוי הטהור ביותר של השקר והרוע של הנאציזם.

רבים הזדעזעו, ובצדק, מגניבת הסמל החשוב הזה. אך האם הפרופורציות הופרו? האם הסמל הזה באמת כל כך חשוב? אני ביקרתי באושוויץ פעמים רבות. ראיתי כיצד השלט הזה הופך לאתר תיירות וכיצד קבוצות מצחקקות של בני נוער מכל העולם מתקבצים תחתיו כדי להצטלם. אין ספק, הביקורים באושוויץ הם חשובים וגם סמלים הם חשובים אך הם לא מראית הכל. המלחמה אמנם הסתיימה ב 1945 אך מעשים של רצח-עם, גזענות ואפליה הם לא נחלת ההיסטוריה. ייתכן שלא היה מזיק אם מעט מתשומת הלב שלו זכה השלט הנאצי באושוויץ היה מופנה לנעשה בדרפור, לדיכוי מיעוטים או לצמיחתן של תנועות פשיסטיות ברחבי העולם.

פרופ' יהודה באואר, אחת האוטוריטות החשובות בעולם בנושא השואה, אומר: "יש מקומות רבים בעולם כיום שהרג המוני ורצח-עם אפשריים בהם. כולם יודעים על סודאן, אך יש מקומות נוספים כמו בורמה (מיאנמר) וקונגו המזרחית. המצב במקומות כמו איראן, על המורכבות האתנית שלה, הבלקנים, זימבבווה, קניה ועיראק ומקומות מסוימים בדרום-אמריקה כמו גווטאמאלה, יכול גם הוא להידרדר לרצח המוני". באואר, המבקר בימים אלו בסטוקהולם, משמש כיועץ בכיר לפורומים בינלאומיים שונים הנלחמים בתופעות של הרג המוני ורצח-עם. "השואה הייתה אירוע אי-תקדימי במובן הזה שהיא הייתה טוטאלית, אוניברסאלית, שיטתית ומונעת ע"י מניעים אידיאולוגיים טהורים", הוא אומר, "אבל היא איננה ייחודית. מכיוון שהיא בוצעה ע"י בני-אדם היא יכולה לקרות שוב".

למרות שעבודתו של באואר ושל אחרים חשובה אולי לאנושות יותר משימור מחנות-הריכוז הישנים, יש הטוענים שהשלט הגנוב, כמו שאר שרידי המחנה, חשוב כדי להילחם בהכחשת השואה. יש אמת בטענה זאת אך יבוא היום שבו לא יוותר הרבה מהמחנה המקורי ומשרידיו. כבר היום חלקים ממנו מתפוררים ויש שרידים שיתכלו למרות כל מאמצי השימור. השרידים הפיזיים כמו גם העדים החיים, חשובים ככל שיהיו, לא נותנים היום מענה להכחשת השואה וגם לא להבנתה. אחרי הכל, מדובר באירועים מאמצע המאה הקודמת ובקרוב לא יוותרו להם עדים חיים. מחנות חשובים כמו טרבלינקה וסוביבור נהרסו לחלוטין ע"י הגרמניים וחומר תיעודי רב נהרס ונעלם. אם חשוב לנו שהשואה ולקחיה לא יישכחו ניאלץ להתרגל ללמוד אותם דרך ספרים, סרטים ומוזיאונים ובעיקר דרך מחקר היסטורי, דיון ציבורי ושיח חינוכי.

מנקודת ראות שוודית אבחנות אלו חשובות במיוחד. מעורבותו לכאורה של ניאו-נאצי שוודי בגניבת השלט בחודש שעבר היא תזכורת לחשיבותו של המאבק בגזענות, באנטישמיות ובמגמות אנטי-דמוקרטיות בחברה השוודית. זכר התפקיד האמביוולנטי של שוודיה במלה"ע השנייה רק מחזקת צורך זה. כיצאנית ברזל חיוני למכונת המלחמה הגרמנית וכשותפה עסקית, ולעיתים גם פוליטית ואידיאולוגית של גרמניה הנאצית, לשוודיה יש אחריות פוליטית ומוסרית להתמודד עם עברה, אפילו אם היא הצילה אלפי בני-אדם בתקופת המלחמה כתוצאה ממאמציה הדיפלומטיים ונדיבותה כלפי פליטים. זוהי מחויבות היסטורית שנוגעת גם למגמות מדאיגות בהווה.

"מצבם של היהודים באירופה גרוע יותר היום משהוא היה בעבר", אומר פרופסור יהודה באואר ומסביר כי יש היום באירופה אנטישמיות מסורתית, דומה לזו הטרום-נאצית וגם אנטישמיות חדשה יותר. האנטישמיות לדבריו מגיעה משלושה מקומות מרכזיים: הימין הקיצוני, השמאל והדור השני והשלישי של מהגרים מוסלמים שמפנים את המרד שלהם בחברות המערביות הקולטות נגד ישראל והיהודים. שוודיה, מציין באואר, מקדישה מאמצים, זמן וכסף רב להילחם במגמות אלו אך יש עוד עבודה רבה. השימוש בגרעין הקשה של השואה, ובעיקר בדילמות של קורבנותיה, היא הדרך הטובה ביותר להמשיך את הדיון החשוב הזה.

אינני יודע מה בדיוק עבר בראשם של החוליגנים העלובים שטיפסו על השער של אושוויץ, הבריגו החוצה את שלט הכניסה וברחו איתו. למען האמת, זה גם לא אכפת לי במיוחד. המובן מאליו אומר שהשלט חשוב להנצחת הקורבנות ולפעילות החינוכית של המוזיאון וטוב שהוא הוחזר. אבל מעבר למובן מאליו יש מחשבה נוספת.

הסופר ק.צטניק בספרו "הצופן" מתאר חיזיון של אסיר, שלד בין שלדים עירומים, היושב במשאית בדרך לקרמטוריום ומביט אל קצין SS. האסיר מבין שהזוועה האמיתית של אושוויץ היא בכך שהיוצרות יכולות היו להתהפך ושהוא עצמו, בנסיבות אחרות, יכול היה להיות קצין SS. אושוויץ הרי איננה יצירת השטן, הוא מבין, אלא יצירת בני-אדם, שכולם שווים וכולם נבראו בצלם. "המשאית עוברת את שער אושוויץ שמעליו האותיות הגרמניות: ARBEIT MACHT FREI", כותב ק.צטניק את חזיון האסיר, "והן מתחלפות באותיות העבריות: "בצלם אלוהים ברא אותו". כך הופך סמל הנאציזם לערש ההומניזם. את השלט הזה אין איש יכול לגנוב.