Escape from the Third Reich: Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, Sune Persson

Escape from the Third Reich: Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, Sune Persson


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Escape from the Third Reich: Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, Sune Persson

Escape from the Third Reich: Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, Sune Persson

In the few weeks of the Second World War a Swedish and Danish rescue effort managed to transport at least 17,000 prisoners from German concentration camps to safety in Sweden.

The Swedish effort began in response to rumours that the Germans were planning to murder all of the surviving inmates of their concentration camps, including a large number of Danes and Norwegians and a smaller number of Swedes. Eventually around 8,000 Danes and Norwegians would be rescued, along with nearly 6,000 Poles, 2,500 French, 1,600 stateless Jews and members of at least twelve other nationalities.

The central figure in this rescue was Count Folke Bernadotte, the leader of the Swedish side of the expedition. He had the unenviable task of negotiating with some of the senior Nazi leadership, meeting Himmler four times, and was slowly able to get more and more concessions until eventually entire trainloads of people were able to reach safety. Bernadotte's reputation suffered unfairly in the post-war period, especially after he was murdered by Jewish terrorists in 1948. Persson's volume should go a long way towards restoring that reputation.

This book provides a rare view into the chaos inside Nazi Germany in the last few months of the war, with some senior Nazis scrambling for a way out, while others remained delusional right to the end, claiming that a new secret weapon would lead to victory even in the last week of the fighting!

Part of the success of the White Buses can be put down to a collapse in belief in ultimate victory on the part of most senior Nazis, combined with Himmler's increasingly delusion view of his possible role in a post-war Germany, but most credit has to go to the Swedes and Danes who risked their lives on long journeys into Germany, despite the danger from Nazi fanatics or Allied aircraft. This book is a fitting tribute to their courage.

Chapters
1 The Rescue
2 The Realm of Death: Hitler's Germany
3 The Jews and the Holocaust
4 Norway under German Occupation
5 The Danish People Under German Occupation
6 Sweden's Balance Between Neutrality and Activism
7 Folke Bernadotte and the Swedish Relief Expedition
8 The White Buses: Neuengamme
9 The White Buses: Night and Fog
10 The White Buses: Theresienstadt
11 The White Buses: Ravensbrück
12 Operation Rescue Norway!
13 Final Days

Author: Sune Persson
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 274
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2009



Escape from the Third Reich: Folke Bernadotte and the White Buses, Sune Persson - History

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The story of the White Buses is one of the most extraordinary humanitarian efforts of the Second World War. Yet it is a story that remains little known.

At a time when the Nazis were hanging on desperately for survival, and while chaos reigned in Germany, Count Folke Bernadotte, along with the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government, conducted negotiations with Heinrich Himmler. Between them they successfully engineered the release and transport of prisoners from concentration camps to a neutral country &ndash Sweden.

The mission became known for its fleet of distinctive buses. Painted entirely white, these vehicles carried the Red Cross emblem and Swedish or Danish flags so that they would not be mistaken for military targets. The various expeditions to the German concentration camps were long and highly dangerous, with every move watched by the SS and the Gestapo. The conditions the rescuers encountered at the camps were beyond comprehension.

Due to the chaotic conditions during the last weeks of the war in Europe, it is impossible to say exactly how many prisoners were liberated in the course of the operation, but according to conservative figures the so-called White Buses helped transport at least 17,000 prisoners to Sweden by 4 May 1945. Undoubtedly, the White Buses saved thousands from a miserable existence or, worse still, death in the camps. This is the story of their journey.

This is a fascinating insight into a little known rescue mission at the end of World War II. A well written and informative piece, the photographs give a brief insight into the white buses and how they saved many from death. Until I read this book I did not know the story of the white buses and the determination of those who wanted to save others from the death camps.

Sune Persson´s book is simply put one of the most important ones for any student of the Nordic states during WWII.

Read the full review here

Lars Gyllenhall, Blogger

The story of the White Buses is sad, moving, exciting and inspirational.

It is a complex story, full of torturous negotiations with overlapping Nazi agencies, yet it is told with precision and considerable elan by Persson. His book is a comprehensive and wide-ranging treatment of the subject.. As such, it is sure to represent the final word on a most heroic and courageous enterprise'.

BBC History Magazine

SUNE PERSSON was a Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of Gteborg, Sweden. The first edition of this work was published in Sweden in 2002 as Vi ker till Sverige: De vita bussarna 1945 (W e Are Going to Sweden: The White Buses in 1945 ).


Count Folke Bernadotte and the Escape from the Third Reich on Swedish busses

I never tire of seeing new pictures of these Swedish busses and their incredible mission, rescuing concentration camp prisoners and taking them to safety in Sweden, a key part of my novel, Lilac Girls.

The mission’s white busses were painted with Red Cross emblems, so they would not be mistaken for military targets. The convoys included 288 volunteer soldiers, 20 medics, 36 hospital buses, 19 trucks, seven passenger cars, seven motorcycles, a tow truck, a Swedish field kitchen and supplies. The operation rescued 15,345 prisoners from concentration camps– 7,795 Scandinavian and 7,550 non-Scandinavian𔃅,000 of those women from Ravensbruck. Despite the red crosses the convoys were hit three times by Allied bombers, unaware that the buses carried concentration camp victims. (The Nazis often painted red crosses on their transports to deter Allied fire.) Sixteen newly-freed inmates were killed.

Loved this great book on the subject: Escape from the Third Reich by Sune Persson. It tells the whole story in detail.

Count Folke Bernadotte headed up the rescue.

Volunteer soldiers and medics

The body of Count Bernadotte, assassinated by Jewish militants in Israel, taken back to Sweden.


The true story of a risky Swedish mission to liberate thousands of prisoners from the Nazis.

The Swedish Red Cross expedition to the German concentration camps in March–April 1945 was the largest rescue effort inside Germany during WWII. Sponsored by the Swedish government and led by Count Bernadotte of Wisborg, the mission became known for its distinctive buses. Each bus was purposely painted entirely white, except for the Red Cross emblem on the side, so that they would not be mistaken for military targets.

Due to the chaotic conditions during the last weeks of the war, it is impossible to say exactly how many prisoners were liberated by the expedition, but according to conservative figures, by May 4, 1945, at least 17,000 had been transported to Sweden by the so-called White Buses. Of these, some 8,000 were Danes and Norwegians, around 6,000 were Poles, and more than 2,000 were French citizens.

This is the first book to tell the full story of this remarkable and hazardous operation. It also details Bernadotte’s harrowing expedition to Ravensbrück concentration camp and his extraordinary negotiations with Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS who was in charge of the German concentration camps, and tells how, during the course of these discussions, Himmler also made an offer of German surrender—an offer that was rejected by the Allies.


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Escape from the Third Reich: The Harrowing True Story of the Largest Rescue Effort Inside Nazi Germany

The Swedish Red Cross expedition to the German concentration camps from March to April 1945 was the largest rescue effort inside Germany during WWII. Led by Count Bernadotte of Wisborg, the mission became known for its distinctive buses: Each bus was purposefully painted entirely white except for the Red Cross emblem on the side so that they would not be mistaken for milit The Swedish Red Cross expedition to the German concentration camps from March to April 1945 was the largest rescue effort inside Germany during WWII. Led by Count Bernadotte of Wisborg, the mission became known for its distinctive buses: Each bus was purposefully painted entirely white except for the Red Cross emblem on the side so that they would not be mistaken for military targets. According to conservative figures in May 1945, at least 17,000 prisoners were transported to Sweden by these white buses.

In this first book to detail this remarkable and hazardous operation, and with never-before-published photographs of the bus journeys, the details of Bernadotte’s harrowing expedition to Ravensbruck concentration camp and his secret negotiations with Heinrich Himmler are revealed. . more


Escape From the Third Reich

Escape From the Third Reich: The Harrowing True Story of the Largest Rescue Effort Inside Nazi Germany, by Sune Persson with Introduction by Brian Urquhart.

The Swedish Red Cross expedition to the German concentration camps from March to April 1945 was the largest rescue effort inside Germany during WWII. Led by Count Bernadotte of Wisborg, the mission became known for its distinctive buses: Each bus was purposefully painted entirely white except for the Red Cross emblem on the side so that they would not be mistaken for military targets. According to conservative figures in May 1945, at least 17,000 prisoners were transported to Sweden by these white buses.

In this first book to detail this remarkable and hazardous operation, and with never-before-published photographs of the bus journeys, the details of Bernadotte’s harrowing expedition to Ravensbruck concentration camp and his secret negotiations with Heinrich Himmler are revealed.


Renegotiation

On 6 March 1945, Bernadotte arrived in Berlin by plane from Stockholm and continued his negotiations with the German authorities. Himmler's masseur, Felix Kersten, had already arrived and the Swedish foreign department instructed the Swedish ambassador, Arvid Richert, to support Kersten so he could influence Himmler. Parallel with this, the Danish authorities - especially the Danish ambassador in Berlin, Otto Carl Mohr - tried to secure the release of more Danish prisoners. Swedish and Danish aims were somewhat different. The Swedes negotiated with Himmler and Schellenberg and concentrated on gathering the prisoners in Neuengamme. The Danes negotiated with Kaltenbrunner and tried to secure permission to have the prisoners released, or possibly interned in Denmark.

On 12 March the Danes obtained permission for three transports and until 21 March a total of 262 Danish prisoners of various categories were moved back to Denmark using Danish vehicles. From 21 March there were a break in Danish transports and the Swedes took over.


Diplomatic career

World War II

During the autumns of 1943 and 1944, he organized prisoner exchanges which brought home 11,000 prisoners from Germany via Sweden. While Vice-President of the Swedish Red Cross in 1945, Bernadotte attempted to negotiate an armistice between Germany and the Allies. He also led several rescue missions in Germany for the Red Cross. In April 1945, Heinrich Himmler asked Bernadotte to convey a peace proposal to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Harry S. Truman without the knowledge of Adolf Hitler. The main point of the proposal was that Germany would surrender only to the Western Allies (the United Kingdom and the United States), but would be allowed to continue resisting the Soviet Union. According to Bernadotte, he told Himmler that the proposal had no chance of acceptance, but nevertheless he passed it on to the Swedish government and the Western Allies. It had no lasting effect. [7] [8]

White Buses

Upon the initiative of the Norwegian diplomat Niels Christian Ditleff in the final months of the war, Bernadotte acted as the negotiator for a rescue operation transporting interned Norwegians, Danes and other western European inmates from German concentration camps to hospitals in Sweden.

In the spring of 1945, Bernadotte was in Germany when he met Heinrich Himmler, who was briefly appointed commander of an entire German army following the assassination attempt on Hitler the year before. Bernadotte had originally been assigned to retrieve Norwegian and Danish POWs in Germany. He returned on 1 May 1945, the day after Hitler's death. Following an interview, the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet wrote that Bernadotte succeeded in rescuing 15,000 people from German concentration camps, including about 8,000 Danes and Norwegians and 7,000 women of French, Polish, Czech, British, American, Argentinian, and Chinese nationalities. The missions took around two months, and exposed the Swedish Red Cross staff to significant danger, both due to political difficulties and by taking them through areas under Allied bombing.

The mission became known for its buses, painted entirely white except for the Red Cross emblem on the side, so that they would not be mistaken for military targets. In total it included 308 personnel (about 20 medics and the rest volunteer soldiers), 36 hospital buses, 19 trucks, seven passenger cars, seven motorcycles, a tow truck, a field kitchen, and full supplies for the entire trip, including food and gasoline, none of which was permitted to be obtained in Germany. A count of 21,000 people rescued included 8,000 Danes and Norwegians, 5,911 Poles, 2,629 French, 1,615 Jews, and 1,124 Germans.

After Germany's surrender, the White Buses mission continued in May and June and about 10,000 additional liberated prisoners were thus evacuated.

Bernadotte recounted the White Buses mission in his book The End. My Humanitarian Negotiations in Germany in 1945 and Their Political Consequences, published on June 15, 1945 in Swedish. In the book, Bernadotte recounts his negotiations with Himmler and others, and his experience at the Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Felix Kersten and the White Buses controversy

Following the war, some controversies arose regarding Bernadotte's leadership of the White Buses expedition, some personal and some as to the mission itself. One aspect involved a long-standing feud between Bernadotte and Himmler's personal masseur, Felix Kersten, who had played some role in facilitating Bernadotte's access to Himmler, [9] but whom Bernadotte resisted crediting after the war. [10] The resulting feud between Bernadotte and Kersten came to public attention through British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. [11] In 1953, Trevor-Roper published an article based on an interview and documents originating with Kersten. [12] The article stated that Bernadotte's role in the rescue operations was that of "transport officer, no more". Kersten was quoted as saying that, according to Himmler, Bernadotte was opposed to the rescue of Jews and understood "the necessity of our fight against World Jewry".

Shortly following the publication of his article, Trevor-Roper began to retreat from these charges. At the time of his article, Kersten had just been nominated by the Dutch government for the Nobel Peace Prize for thwarting a Nazi plan to deport the entire Dutch population, based primarily on Kersten's own claims to this effect. [13] A later investigation by Dutch historian Louis de Jong concluded that no such plan had existed, however, and that Kersten's documents were partly fabricated. [14] Following these revelations and others, Trevor-Roper told journalist Barbara Amiel in 1995 that he was no longer certain about the allegations, and that Bernadotte may merely have been following his orders to rescue Danish and Norwegian prisoners. [15] A number of other historians have also questioned Kersten's account, concluding that the accusations were based on a forgery or a distortion devised by Kersten. [16] [17]

Some controversy regarding the White Buses trip has also arisen in Scandinavia, particularly regarding the priority given to Scandinavian prisoners. [18] Political scientist Sune Persson judged these doubts to be contradicted by the documentary evidence. He concluded, "The accusations against Count Bernadotte . to the effect that he refused to save Jews from the concentration camps are obvious lies" and listed many prominent eyewitnesses who testified on Bernadotte's behalf, including the World Jewish Congress representative in Stockholm in 1945. [19]

UN mediator

On 20 May 1948, Folke Bernadotte was appointed "United Nations Mediator in Palestine", in accordance with UN-resolution 186 of 14 May 1948. [20] It was the first official mediation in the UN's history. This was necessitated by the immediate violence that followed the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine and the subsequent unilateral Israeli Declaration of Independence. In this capacity, he succeeded in achieving an initial truce during the subsequent 1948 Arab–Israeli War and laid the groundwork for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The specific proposals showed the influence of the previously responsible British government, and to a lesser extent the U.S. government. [21] Bernadotte wrote that: "in putting forward any proposal for the solution of the Palestine problem, one must bear in mind the aspirations of the Jews, the political difficulties and differences of opinion of the Arab leaders, the strategic interests of Great Britain, the financial commitment of the United States and the Soviet Union, the outcome of the war, and finally the authority and prestige of the United Nations." [22]

After Bernadotte's assassination, his assistant American mediator Ralph Bunche was appointed to replace him. Bunche eventually negotiated a ceasefire, signed on the Greek island of Rhodes. See 1949 Armistice Agreements.


Later debate [ edit | edit source ]

After the end of the Second World War the expedition of the "white buses" was widely approved, as a result of the number of prisoners saved. However, the 2005 book Blind Fläck (Blind Spot) by Swedish historian Ingrid Lomfors raised questions regarding the priority given to Scandinavian prisoners. The debate has been in both Swedish and Norwegian newspapers. In a letter in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten on October 14, 2005 several political ex-prisoners wrote very critically of Lomfors and ended with:

On behalf of the Swedish government Folke Bernadotte and the crew on the 'white buses' performed the largest Swedish humanitarian action during the Second World War. The Swedish government should as soon as possible erect a monument in tribute to the expedition. Ingrid Lomfors should ask forgiveness from the Swedish Red Cross and the crew of the 'white buses' who risked their lives in the operation. Η]

Bernt H. Lund, a former political prisoner in Sachsenhausen, was positive about the exposure of the moral dilemma that the prisoners experienced. In an article in the newspaper Aftenposten (August 20, 2005), he wrote extensively about the privileged status of many Scandinavian prisoners, about the shame of being treated better, and ends the article with:

But it feels right to have this out in broad daylight. A huge thank you to Ingrid Lomfors who in a proper way has removed a blind spot not only for our Swedish liberators, but also for us who assisted them in a difficult situation! ⎖]

Some of the former prisoners and many of their descendants are still living in the south of Sweden greater numbers are present in the city of Malmö where many of them first landed on arriving in Sweden.


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