On Monday, April 20 at Scandinavia House in New York City, Göran Rosenberg, one of Sweden’s best-known journalists and authors, discussed his latest book, A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz, with H.E. Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and a former Swedish ambassador to the U.S.

In August, 1947 Rosenberg’s father, a Polish Jew who had survived the Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Nazi slave camps, suddenly found himself relocated to Södertälje, Sweden, with the help of the Red Cross. The author combines his own childhood memories and extensive research into what had already happened to his father to describe the difficult new challenges he faced as a survivor in a quiet Swedish town so far removed from the horrors of his wartime experiences.


One especially heartbreaking story described in the book is how Rosenberg's father and his girlfriend — two teenagers in love — arrived at Auschwitz together only to be separated on the ramp as they entered the camp. For years he assumed she was dead, and it wasn’t until his arrival in Sweden that he discovered she was still alive. Rosenberg read a letter from his book in which his father wrote to her in Polish from Sweden for the first time since they were separated.

“I wrote the book from my perspective as an innocent child, not knowing what his father had been through,” Rosenberg said. “This is the life of a man who carried the holocaust on his shoulders. It’s a book about a man trying to survive and his need to prove that he is worthy of surviving. The world looks forward, and you try to do the same, but you can’t help but continue to look backward. It is impossible to forget.”

The book has sold over 200,000 copies in Sweden. “I didn’t expect that the book would be so popular,” said Rosenberg. “I hope that it helps us face some of these issues.”

Secretary General Eliasson agreed with the importance of making future generations aware of the holocaust. “When the camps were liberated and the pictures of their horrors first appeared in the newspapers, my father sat me on his lap and showed them to me. My mother was furious that a young child would be exposed to such things, but my father said, ‘He must know.’

“How could any human being fall so low? And how could bystanders accept this? To borrow the Swedish expression ‘We are walking on ice.’ How thin is the ice? Ethnic, religious and social differences continue to divide us into ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’”

Rosenberg said he has been researching Swedish newspapers from the time of the first Nazi aggressions against the Jews. “People knew it was happening, but they became bystanders.

“There was a sense of shame after the war. We knew it was crazy. But today, where is the moral order of human decency? We are the people who are allowing this to happen. Why is this happening today?

“We will lose control if we don’t listen to the first signals, the first vibrations. We have to stand up for the UN Charter’s Declaration of Human Rights. We have to have a system where we react early.”

Rosenberg asked, “How do we prevent our children from making the same mistakes? That’s why we must keep the holocaust in human memory. This atrocity has the potential to shock. ‘My God, people like us did this.’ The book reminds us that this concerns us today. We need to keep the lesson alive.”

Eliasson praised the initiative of Göran Persson, former Swedish prime minister, to teach about the holocaust in Swedish schools. “The period of 1930 to 1945 was the darkest period in human history, with the Soviet prison camps, the Nazi death camps, and WWII. In 1945, we had a dream of a new world."

Then he summarized some of the preamble to the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in his own words: We the people of the United Nations are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.…

“Your book reminds us of human dignity and the importance of Dag Hammarskjöld’s vision for where we should be going. Children are longing for values,” added Eliasson.
Rosenberg said, “In spite of the Declaration, there are many counter forces.”
“People are scared, and it is easy for politicians to exploit this fear,” said Eliasson. “Just look at the rise of anti-immigration parties.”
“And there’s the unsolved problem of immigration from Africa. I would hope the Pope and world leaders would create a drastic initiative to address this appalling humanitarian crisis,” said Rosenberg.
Eliasson added that conflict in the Middle East and Africa, poverty, the south-north divide in Europe are all bringing out the worst in people. We must get back to a strong set of values.
By John Rindlaub