From our special correspondent
Their loving presence watched over the students looking for their classroom. Hanging on the walls, the black and white portraits of Abram Popinsky, his wife Judith and other survivors of Auschwitz recall the past of Borgarskola high school. The largest school in Malmö, in southern Sweden, the high school had been transformed into a hospital for refugees in the aftermath of World War II. In all, around 15,000 survivors of the Nazi death camps found refuge in Malmö in the spring of 1945.
For several years now, the proliferation of anti-Semitic acts has betrayed the honorable past of the city of 350,000 inhabitants – the third largest in Sweden – once nicknamed “the port of hope”. While complaints of anti-Semitism increased by more than 60% between 2016 and 2018 nationally according to official statistics, Malmö, which hosts a large population from the Middle East, is on the front line. Fredrik Sieradzki, spokesperson for the city’s Jewish community, regrets that “The number of Jews in Malmö has increased from around 2,500 in the 1970s to 500 today”.
In Malmö, anti-Semitism creeps into school benches. “These acts take the form of an insulting vocabulary. There is also the dissemination of conspiracy theories and a form of importation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ”, explains Mirjam Katzin, coordinator of the fight against anti-Semitism in the city’s schools, a unique position in Sweden.
“It’s quite rare, but you sometimes hear jokes about Jews”, confirms Ali, a 17-year-old high school student, met not far from the portrait of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a star footballer from immigrant backgrounds, who is the pride of Borgarskola and the entire city. According to Peter Vig, educational assistant in charge of the fight against anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic behavior is quite recurrent: “Yesterday, a professor of religious culture came to see me. He presented an Israel flag to the class and some students reacted strongly by saying that they took this as a provocation. “
Coming from a Hungarian Jewish family who arrived in Malmö in 1958, Peter Vig wanders the corridors, multicolored kippah screwed on his head. “I don’t wear it on a daily basis, only in high school to attract the attention of students”, he slips before being challenged by a student. “I am here to answer practical questions, to dialogue with students to combat stereotypes. It’s an identity sharing that works well ”, he rejoices. The exhibition, which makes the link between the school and the city’s Jewish past, is part of this preventive approach. “I did not know that our school had taken in Jewish refugees, Ali concedes. We feel more concerned by this subject now, especially since some of us have also had to flee our country. “
The prevention policy implemented by the city even goes beyond the perimeter of classrooms and playgrounds. “The synagogue will host an educational center on Jewish culture”, indicates Fredrik Sieradzki, pushing the heavy wooden door of the discreet religious building erected in 1903. Screens inlaid in the seats, testimonies of victims of anti-Semitism and other display cases exhibiting Talmuds and candelabras: the synagogue has been transformed into a small museum retracing the history of the local Jewish community. “Our first objective is to bring in schools, and why not work with other structures such as mosques”, imagine Fredrik Sieradzki, not without a touch of pride. “Being a Jew in Malmö is a struggle but also a challenge, sums up the community leader. That of making us visible again in this city which is also ours. “