This Day in Jewish History, 1852

Anti-Jewish Riot Erupts in Stockholm

Jews were considered undesirable in Sweden until the days of Charles XII, who borrowed heavily from them, and Muslims, to fund the Great Northern War.

Moshe Gilad

On this day, September 1, 1852, an anti-Jewish riot erupted in Stockholm. Almost 200 years later, multiculturalism has become so accepted in Sweden that Yiddish has legal status as one of the country's official minority languages, but it was not always so.

It is not known when Jews first reached Sweden. The earliest record, from medieval times, shows that King Gustav the First, a man of noble, if not royal, birth who led a rebel movement and was named king in 1523, had a Jewish medical adviser named Phillipus Wulff. (It was not a rarity for the medieval European courts to maintain a Jewish doctor.)

Later records from the 17th century, for example at the Stockholm Cathedral, mention the Jews in passing – as subjects of conversion into the Lutheran Church. Sweden at the time did not accept unconverted Jews. The church cites the conversion of Jews in the presence of the king himself at the time, Charles XI, and high officials. Swedish tolerance of other religions would only change under his son, King Charles XII (1697–1718), who borrowed heavily from Jews and others for his military campaigns.

Meanwhile, before the advent of Charles XII the impoverished son, Jews were not desirable in Stockholm. In the year 1680 the city's Jews petitioned King Charles XI (1660-1697) to let them live in the city freely as Jews. Reportedly daunted by the church's firm opposition, the king refused.

Wikimedia Commons

If anything, five years later, December 3, 1685, Charles XI ordered the governor-general of Stockholm to ban Jews from living not only in Stockholm but anywhere in the realm, "on account of the danger of the eventual influence of the Jewish religion on the pure evangelical faith." Any Jews who were found in residence would be given 14 days to leave, the king ruled. That edict would be functionally rolled back by the next king, Charles XII.

Boy king at war

Charles XII (also called Carl XII), enthroned at age 15, found himself embroiled in the Great Northern War (1700–1721), declared by a coalition of Russia with Norway and Denmark to beat back the then Swedish empire from central and eastern Europe.  Charles XII spent five years camped with his army in Bessarabia - where he borrowed prodigiously from Jewish and Islamic moneylenders in order to provision his forces.

In 1718, his final year of rule, Jews were allowed to settle in Sweden again without converting first.

Over the next decades, Swedish tolerance would advance, in keeping with trends in Europe. Among other things, Jews were newly allowed to reside in more areas, and a proposal to make them wear identifying marks, for instance a distinctive hatband, fell through. But come 1782, under King Gustav III, Jews were restricted anew, to dwelling in just four Swedish towns - Gothenburg, Norrköping, Landskrona and Stockholm. Jews who lived elsewhere in the country had to move.

Within those four towns, were allowed to build synagogues, if not to intermarry with Christians – though their occupations were curtailed.

Wikimedia Commons

Gradually, the formal rules and laws against the Jews were relaxed, but one upshot of the unnatural constraint on their livelihoods was the development of well-to-do Jewish financiers in Stockholm.

Then in 1838, the Jews of the city achieved almost complete emancipation. This did not go down well with many.

Public muttering, coupled with frustration at the enrichment of Jewish merchants who were expected to remain an underclass, led to revocation of the new ordinance granting the Jews civic rights the same year it was enacted. But the fact that it had been enacted initiated a charged debate that would last years and culminate in the riot.

In a sign of the times, that same year, 1852, Prague abolished its Jewish ghetto, which had existed since the 13th century. The Jews had long since spread beyond its confines and the ghetto, renamed Josefov, became a regular part of the city.

Back in Sweden, Jews were only formally emancipated in 1910, though some anti-Semitism persisted - not least through the Nazi party, which had its adherents in the country and rose to a peak, reflected in municipal electoral successes, in the 1930s. then come World War II and the Holocaust, neutral Sweden not only protected its own but helped rescue Jews fleeing the Nazis, remarkably taking in the whole 7,000—strong Jewish community of Denmark in 1943. Today Sweden's Jewish population numbers about 20,000.