Swedish journalist Åsbrink (1947: Where Now Begins, 2018, etc.) offers new information about the founder of IKEA’s Nazi ties, but that is secondary to the engrossing tale of a young Jew in Sweden during World War II.
At first rejecting Otto Ullmann’s daughter’s request to write his story, the author found it as compelling as readers will. Eva Ullmann gave her an IKEA box filled with letters from Otto’s parents dating from 1939, when the 13-year-old was one of 100 children sent to Sweden. The program that enabled him to escape was part of the Swedish Israel Mission, led by Birger Pernow, a pastor who was devoted to converting the Jews and felt that his child relief program would be effective. The plan was to bring 100 children whose parents had good reputations. Otto embarked on Feb. 1, 1939, on the train to Sweden. At first, he and 21 children were taken to a children’s home in Tollarp, and it would be years before he was finally sent out as a farm hand and found friendship. The author then introduces IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who grew up the son of a wealthy farmer whose family had immigrated some years before. Otto and Ingvar met and became friends even as Ingvar participated in Nazi causes. Åsbrink expertly exposes Sweden’s tendency toward Nazism at the time, with geographical proximity as well as threats pushing the inclination. Her book, she writes is “an account of Sweden before the country became a ‘good’ one.” Ingvar’s grandmother and father were both devoted Nazis and were thrilled when Hitler took over their former home in the Sudetenland. Meanwhile, Otto was a lost young boy trying to survive and learn a new language. His only support and encouragement came in the form of the more than 500 letters from his family, which the author seamlessly weaves into the narrative. Just as important were the letters they received (now lost) from their son, knowing he was safe.
Top-notch microcosmic World War II history and an excellent illustration of the immense power of the written word.