According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola’s “World Jewish Population, 2016,” Sweden is home to between 15,000 and 25,000 Jews, making it the largest Jewish community in Scandinavia. Jews in Sweden have enjoyed a relative sense of stability, but recent upsurges in antisemitism have made life somewhat more precarious for the country’s Jewish community. The Jewish community in Sweden is represented by the Judiska Centralrådet (The Jewish Central Council) – the Swedish affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.
The dominance of anti-Jewish hostility propagated by the Lutheran Church prevented Jews from settling in Sweden until the late 18th century. King Gustav III, motivated by the need to accelerate Sweden's economic development, lifted the ban on Jewish immigration and granted Jews the right to settle in Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Norrköping. The economic freedoms allowed to Jews were encouraging, but religious liberties were not generous.
In 1838, Jews in Sweden were granted nearly complete emancipation, and were recognized as Swedish subjects rather than “foreigners.” However, a negative reaction from certain sectors of the population forced the monarch to maintain limitations on cities of residence and on the holding of political office. The final restriction on Swedish Jewry, the right to hold ministerial office, was not removed until 1951.
From the moment of emancipation, when Swedish Jewry numbered perhaps 1,000 people, the community's size grew steadily to 3,000 in 1880 and to 7,000 in 1933. Religiously, the community tended to favor the liberal model of religious practice pioneered by the German Reform movement, and, in general, Jews were treated as peers by their non-Jewish countrymen at the turn of the 20th century.
World War I and the inter-war period saw a restrictive immigration policy that only allowed small groups of German, Austrian, and Czech Jews to immigrate to Sweden in the 1930s. During this time, a law banning Jewish ritual slaughter was enacted and remains in effect today.
Following World War II and the laudable efforts conducted by the Swedish people during the Holocaust, Sweden’s Jewish population continuously increased in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1997, the Swedish government established a committee to investigate the issue of Nazi gold transferred to Sweden during the war, and in 2000, it hosted a major international conference on the Holocaust, attended by political leaders from 50 countries.
In recent years, antisemitism has become especially problematic. The city of Malmö, with its large Muslim population, has earned a reputation as an especially inhospitable city for Jews and has been the scene of repeated anti-Semitic incidents. The legal system in Sweden generally allows the free expression of anti-Semitic, racist, and xenophobic ideas, including Holocaust denial. Right-wing extremist groups, often with neo-Nazi sympathies, have perhaps a few thousand members. Some of these groups have links to Europe-wide extremist networks. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has condemned anti-Semitic actions and sentiments and has vowed to confront anti-Semitism head on and root it out from Swedish society.
In the years preceding World War II, Swedish Jews were alert to the dangers facing their co-religionists to the south, but Sweden's stance against the acceptance of refugees prevented many Jews from finding safety there. From 1933 to 1939, 3,000 Jews were admitted into Sweden, and another 1,000 were allowed to use Sweden as a point of transit. By 1942, when the murderous nature of Nazi policies was revealed, and Germany's military fortunes deteriorated, the Swedish government had a dramatic change of heart and welcomed refugees.
Sweden's doors were opened to 900 Norwegian Jews in 1942, setting a precedent for the rescue of Danish Jewry in October 1943. At that time, some 8,000 Danish Jews and partly Jewish relatives or spouses escaped to Sweden on scores of fishing boats and other small ships.
The remarkable efforts of the Budapest-based Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, have been given considerable attention in Sweden, and are a source of national pride. Between July and December 1944, Wallenberg issued protective passports and housed Hungarian Jews, thus saving tens of thousands of Jewish lives. Gilel Storch, a Latvian Jewish refugee in Stockholm, was also instrumental in such efforts. As the chairman of the Swedish section of the World Jewish Congress, he spearheaded numerous efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust, including securing food for starving concentration camp inmates, securing the release of female prisoners from Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, devising and orchestrating Wallenberg’s effort to save Hungarian Jews, and seeking to ensure that camps would be turned over intact to the Allies at the end of WWII.
The Swedish Jewish community estimates that there are roughly 18,000 Jews in Sweden. Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that there were between 15,000 and 25,000 Jews in Sweden as of 2007.
Sweden's largest Jewish community is in Stockholm with some 4,500 members. It is believed that there are at least another 3,000–5,000 unaffiliated Jews living there. Large communities also exist in Malmö, and Gothenburg. Smaller ones are found in Helsingborg, Lund, and Norrköping. There are also Jews living in Borås, Eskilstuna, Uppsala, Västerås, Umeå, Karlstad and Varberg.
The Jewish communities in Sweden have local organizations that are united under an umbrella organization, Judiska Centralrådet (The Jewish Central Council).
Matters concerning Jewish life in Sweden are discussed by the Swedish Parliament, Government and other authorities with Judiska Centralrådet. The President of the Jewish community in Stockholm automatically becomes the President of the Jewish Central Council.
The absorption of thousands of wartime refugees greatly influenced the Swedish Jewish community. As a result, Swedish Jewry is particularly active in international Jewish welfare organizations and in supporting development projects in Israel. The community boasts local affiliates of organizations such as WIZO, Habonim and Bnei Akiva.
Since 1999, the community has been recognized as one of the official National Minorities in the country. Yiddish is an officially recognized, non-territorial minority language, and an estimated 3,000 mainly Polish-born Swedish Jews still speak the language.
The Society for Yiddish in Sweden (Sveriges Jiddischförbund) has over 200 members, many of whom are mother-tongue Yiddish speakers, and arranges regular activities for the community and in defense of the Yiddish language.
There are synagogues throughout Sweden. Stockholm has three synagogues (two Orthodox, one Conservative), while synagogues in Gothenburg and Malmö are also active. The Judaica House (Jewish community center) maintains a mikveh, communal library and hosts cultural and social activities.
Since shechitah, the Jewish ritual slaughtering of animals is prohibited by Swedish law, kosher meat must be imported.
A Jewish primary school until 6th grade and a kindergarten operate in Stockholm. Paideia, the European Institute of Jewish studies, is a Stockholm-based pan-European institute that was founded in the year 2000.
The newly constructed Jewish cultural community center, called Bajit, was inaugurated in 2016 and hosts the Hillel school and kindergarten, as well as cultural, youth and social activities.
Judiska Ungdomsförbundet i Sverige (Jewish Youth Association in Sweden, or JUS), is the umbrella organization that supports various Jewish youth organizations in Sweden. JUS educates members of Jewish youth associations on how to run an association, distributes donations, and applies for financial support from Swedish authorities. Jewish youth associations that are members of JUS includes Bnei Akiva Malmo, Bnei Akiva Stockholm, Moishe House, and many others.
The quarterly Judisk Krönika (The Jewish Chronicle), founded in 1932, is one of Sweden’s oldest culture magazines. It is distributed to every member of the Jewish Community in Sweden and to subscribers.
There is a Jewish museum in Stockholm that regularly arranges special exhibitions focusing on different aspects of Jewish life in Sweden. The names of 8,500 victims of the Holocaust (all related to Jews in Sweden) are engraved on a 42-meter wall leading from the entrance of the Great Synagogue to the Jewish Community office building. It was inaugurated in 1998 by King Charles XVI Gustav.
Sweden and Israel established diplomatic relations in 1949. Sweden’s recognition of the State of Palestine in 2014 has seen relations deteriorate, though Sweden remains engaged in the region – as well as being a key donor to the Palestinian Authority; business, cultural and other forms of cooperation between Israel and Sweden have seen a marked increase in recent years.
Embassy of Israel in Sweden
115 23 Stockholm
104 40 Stockholm