Anti-Nazi 'superstar' or 'racist'? Sture Bolin's politics: continuity, change, and later evaluations
In the spring of 1945, survivors of the Nazi concentration camps arrived in southern Sweden. A project was launched to collect eye-witness accounts of their experiences and document them for posterity. The scholar in charge of this project was Sture Bolin, professor of history at Lund University After his death Erik Lonnroth hailed him as a 'world-famous' historian. By the turn of the century he was instead being branded an inter-war 'racist' by Sverker Oredsson, and in 2002 listed as a Nazi, or a Nazi sympathizer, by Tobias Hubinette. My once positive impression of the 'world-famous', anti-Nazi historian intent on documenting the Holocaust met this later, darker description of the man Sture Bolin. The contrast between these two incompatible images inspired this article. The study centres on Bolin's own writing during the inter-war period, and concludes that up till 1934 he was a conservative with strong nationalist views who emphasized an organic view of society, inspired by the French Restoration ideologues, in opposition to a strong state. By 1934, in an about face, he contended that a strong state should take command and implement corporatism, thus rejecting the conservatism that in his view had become entirely liberal. He based this view of the state on historical developments, a belief that was a continuation of his existing thinking; but at the same time it represented a radicalization of his practical political thought. Meanwhile, it is established that the opposite was true of his attitudes towards anti-Semitism. In the early 1920S he indeed espoused anti-Semitic ideas, but already by 1928 he had come to strongly question and criticize these beliefs, and by 1934 he had rejected racism altogether. It is also argued here that Sture Bolin himself never expressed any pro-German sentiments and was never viewed or denounced as a Nazi or a Nazi-sympathizer during his lifetime. On the contrary, both during and after the War he was known as an active anti-Nazi. Accordingly, the more recent image of Sture Bolin is not borne out by the sources. Instead, such descriptions of him amount to stigmatization. This can be explained by the change in our understanding of Nazism, which has shifted from German nationalism to anti-Semitism and racism. Today the importance of fighting racism makes Nazism universal, and therefore gives reason to find and brand people in history as Nazis in order to teach the present how not to behave. The stigmatization of Sture Bolin is an example of this.
- source criticism
- Sture Bolin
- ISSN: 0036-5483