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Friday, 11 October 2013

The Jewish Swede's Turnip Tale




U.S. President Harry Truman sitting next to Swedish Prime Minister (for 23 years) Tage Erlander, with U.S.
Secretary of State Dean Acheson (left) and Erik Boheman: Sweden's Jewish ambassador to the U.S. 


On June 25, 1997, Swedish academic and diplomat Professor Krister Wahlbäck told the U.S. Congressional House Committee on Banking on Financial Services (convened to discuss gold and assets looted by the Nazis): 

"His (Erik Boheman: 1895 - 1975) perspective is interesting not least because his family background made him acutely aware of the values at stake in Word War II. His mother was Jewish, and his sister was married into the Josephson family, perhaps our foremost Jewish family in the field of arts and culture."


On January 8, 1940, William Montagu-Pollock the British Ambassador in Sweden wrote to Laurence Collier head of the Northern Department of the Foreign Office advising him of some tall tales he'd been told that day by Sweden's Jewish State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Erik Boheman:
"Boheman told me to-day that the Swedish Government had sent a Secretary back to Warsaw but that the Germans had only allowed him to stay there for there weeks. The Germans were now insisting that even the Swedish Consul at Warsaw should leave.
Boheman mentioned that when the Secretary was out in the country one day he came upon a turnip cutter normally worked by a pair of horses walking in circles. Attached to the cutter was a gang of elderly Jews with a Nazi urging them on with a whip. At intervals they were told to stop and eat grass, which they promptly did. Boheman also said that the entire faculty of the University of Cracow had been summoned to attend a lecture and when they arrived they were herded together and driven off to a concentration camp.
I am sending a copy of this pretty story to Wiskeman."

UK National Archives: FO 371/24469 pp. 8-9: Pollock to Collier, 08.01.1940, C618.



I know of this story thanks to British historian David G. Williamson's 2009 book Poland Betrayed: The Nazi-Soviet Invasions of 1939, whose source I photographed at the National Archives. Williamson not only managed to muddle-up the chain of storytellers, claiming the British diplomat had been told the story by a Swedish diplomat who had witnessed the scene with his own eyes. Williamson also neglected to tell his readers that the story was quite clearly disbelieved by the Brit (Montagu-Pollock) whose sarcastically worded letter is his source.


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