Publication Date: Jan 21, 2020
List Price US $15.99
List Price US $25.99
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Winner of the August Prize, an intricate weave of documents, substantive narrative, and emotional commentary that centers on a young Jewish refugee’s friendship with the future founder of IKEA.
Otto Ullman, a Jewish boy, was sent from Austria to Sweden right before the outbreak of World War II. There he became best friends with Ingvar Kamprad, who would grow up to become the founder of IKEA. Despite the huge Swedish resistance to Jews, the thirteen-year-old Otto was granted permission to enter Sweden–all in accordance with the Swedish archbishop’s secret plan to save Jews on condition that they converted to Christianity. Otto found work as a farmhand at the Kamprad family’s farm Elmtaryd in Agunnaryd in the province of Småland. Ingvar and Otto became very close friends. But at the same time, Ingvar Kamprad was actively engaged in Nazi organizations and a great supporter of the fascist Per Engdahl. Otto’s parents were trapped in Vienna, and the last letters he received were sent from Theresienstadt.
With thorough research, including personal files initiated by the predecessor to today’s Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) and more than 500 letters, Elisabeth Åsbrink illustrates how Swedish society was infused with anti-Semitism and how families are shattered by war and asylum politics.
Excerpt from And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain
Vienna February 5, 1939
My dear boy. You can’t imagine how happy we were yesterday when your first letter from Sweden arrived. […]
Ever since the train left and we parted we’ve been thinking of you without pause. In the morning we said: Now he’s in Berlin and later in the afternoon we pictured you taking the ferry, seeing the ocean for the first time and watching the seagulls that were probably flying around the ship. And in the evening we went to bed missing you—but also feeling assured—because now you’d arrived in Sweden, that beautiful country with the sympathetic and, above all, good people, and because now you’re being given a better future than what you would’ve had here. […]
You are a sensible and clever boy, I’ve always known that, and your way of relating to those last heavy hours of parting more than convinces me that we’ve made the right choice. I’m sure that you, who knows how to behave, will come to follow our will and always act in a decent and correct manner. Then everything will be fine out in the big world, too, even though you don’t have your father’s support or your mother’s help. But we will always be with you in thought, and then distance is meaningless, and our wishes are with you in all that you do.
[…] A thousand greetings and kisses / your dad
Pepi was full of confidence. Someone had to be, and his usual optimistic disposition was to his benefit, now that he and Elise had been separated from their only child.
Until the day he’d been fired because of the race laws, Pepi had gone to work every day at the Wiener Tagon Canisiusgasse 8. Every day for seventeen years, he’d take his seat and write using his typewriter after the morning editorial meeting. Why stop now? With Otto in Sweden, the decision was made. He would write a letter a day.
“One of the most important books of the fall…It must be read not only as history but as living history.” — Aftonbladet
“Both a harrowing chronicle and an outrage transformed into breathtakingly beautiful prose…Indispensable reading.” —Upsala Nya Tidning
“An important and urgent book…on a theme with links to our time.” —Svenska Dagbladet
“A powerfully moving story.” —Goteborgs-Posten