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Vilhelm Moberg and the Third Reich

Vilhelm Moberg

Share on FacebookShare on WhatsAppShare on TelegramShare on TwitterOctober 16, 1941: a uniformed Vilhelm Moberg reads the newspaper about the war. Even in his youth, Moberg was critical of the state war effort, or "killer school" as a Swedish expatriate from America called it. Moberg was a pacifist and anti-militarist, and well acquainted with [...]

Vilhelm Moberg during the Second World War. Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordiska museet (CC BY-NC-ND)
Photo: Gullers, KW / Nordiska museet (CC BY-NC-ND)

16 October 1941: A uniformed Vilhelm Moberg reads newspaper articles about the war. Even in his youth, Moberg was critical of the state's war effort, or "killer school" as a Swedish expatriate from America called it.

Moberg was a pacifist and anti-militarist, and well acquainted with all the wars throughout history in which the Swedish state sent its subjects to their deaths for king and country. His time in military service was no exception, where he is said to have spent more time in the brig than on the training field. In the summer of 1935, he himself visited Hitler's Third Reich, to which he had been invited by the Swedish Writers' Association. The journey took him to the Nordic guesthouse in Travemünde, a port city in northern Germany. Moberg did not like what he saw. As he wrote in a letter to his friend Eyvind Johnson:
"So I've been in the third kingdom for three weeks. And for me it will be little more than the 'three-week kingdom', for I leave here in a few days. I've had enough. [-] About 90 percent of the German people have dressed in uniform. And I had enough of wearing a uniform when I was a conscript. I don't like it in places where every other person is a Führer. The individualist has no place for his legs [...]."
A few years later, World War II broke out, and faced with the threat of the total unfreedom represented by Hitler and Stalin, Moberg reassessed his pacifism and became a defender instead. "When you were up against the wall and it was a matter of life or death, then I reassessed my pacifism, and it finally found expression in 'Ride tonight!'" After the Soviet invasion of Finland, he also became strongly committed to the Finnish cause, travelling around both Sweden and Finland and giving speeches in the cause of freedom - the freedom of the whole of the Nordic region. On several occasions he had to take shelter in Finnish bomb shelters when bombers flew overhead. On 30 November 1939, the same day that the Soviet Union bombs Helsinki in Finland, 13 Swedish writers appeal for help in their book "Uppbåd!" to the government and parliament to do everything possible to strengthen the country's defence. Moberg was one of the initiators, together with Harry Martinson, and they argued that Sweden's military defence had to be strengthened under the current threatening conditions in Europe, which could be done by means of a defence loan that Swedish citizens could take out. The appeal concerned the independence of Sweden and the Swedes.
"It's about freedom, national and democratic culture and human dignity."
Later in the war, he served as a standby man and in the spring and summer of 1940 served as a landstorm man in Nynäshamn, and the following year he completed the small defence booklet Swedish aspiration - a tribute to the struggle for freedom of the Swedish common people through the centuries. Vilhelm Moberg's vocal criticism of totalitarian Germany led to his novel "Rid i natt!", and everything else he wrote, being banned in the Third Reich and burned at the stake in 1942 on the orders of Goebbels himself. At home in Sweden, things were not much better. As a result of the self-censorship during the war, Moberg found it increasingly difficult to get his opinion pieces published. No newspaper dared to publish his articles, including Dagens Nyheter and Bonniers. "The time of the unfree word", he called it. The exceptions were Eskilstuna-Kuriren and Torgny Segerstedt's Göteborgs Handels och Sjöfartstidning - GHT, where Moberg's contributions were given space both for his attacks on Nazism and on the Swedish government's concessions to Germany. He also attacked what he called the government's "attacks on the freedom of the press", such as the state's confiscation of newspapers with anti-Nazi content, a new law on advance censorship and the confiscation of unwanted books. So why did Vilhelm Moberg abandon pacifism? It's probably easy to see the limitations of pacifism when pure forces of violence threaten across the border, but for Moberg it wasn't just a question of physical survival - it was a moral issue. Here are two excerpts from "Sedition!" that highlight his thoughts on when "might is right":
From the scripture "Summons!"
From the scripture "Summons!"
Moberg's entire contribution to "Uppbåd!" and also his later writing "Svensk strävan" can be found in the book "Att stå det onda emot" with Otto von Friesen as editor. Can be purchased via Vilhelm Moberg Society (buy!).
"I am still, of course, and always have been and always will be a pacifist, with the limitation that I believe that self-defence is justified. One cannot surrender to tyranny and oppression without resistance." - Vilhelm Moberg
"You have to resist evil," was Moberg's answer to the question of how he could write a novel like "Ride Tonight!". Keep that in mind. You have to resist evil.

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