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And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain
Cover of And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain
And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain
The Heartbreaking True Story of a Family Torn Apart by War
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Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and a Notable Translated Book of the Year by World Literature Today 
Winner of the August Prize, the story of the complicated long-distance relationship between a Jewish child and his forlorn Viennese parents after he was sent to Sweden in 1939, and the unexpected friendship the boy developed with the future founder of IKEA, a Nazi activist.

 
Otto Ullmann, a Jewish boy, was sent from Austria to Sweden right before the outbreak of World War II. Despite the huge Swedish resistance to Jewish refugees, thirteen-year-old Otto was granted permission to enter the country—all in accordance with the Swedish archbishop’s secret plan to save Jews on condition that they convert to Christianity. Otto found work at the Kamprad family’s farm in the province of Småland and there became close friends with Ingvar Kamprad, who would grow up to be the founder of IKEA. At the same time, however, Ingvar was actively engaged in Nazi organizations and a great supporter of the fascist Per Engdahl. Meanwhile, Otto’s parents remained trapped in Vienna, and the last letters he received were sent from Theresienstadt.
 
With thorough research, including personal files initiated by the predecessor to today’s Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) and more than 500 letters, Elisabeth Åsbrink illustrates how Swedish society was infused with anti-Semitism, and how families are shattered by war and asylum politics.
Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews and a Notable Translated Book of the Year by World Literature Today 
Winner of the August Prize, the story of the complicated long-distance relationship between a Jewish child and his forlorn Viennese parents after he was sent to Sweden in 1939, and the unexpected friendship the boy developed with the future founder of IKEA, a Nazi activist.

 
Otto Ullmann, a Jewish boy, was sent from Austria to Sweden right before the outbreak of World War II. Despite the huge Swedish resistance to Jewish refugees, thirteen-year-old Otto was granted permission to enter the country—all in accordance with the Swedish archbishop’s secret plan to save Jews on condition that they convert to Christianity. Otto found work at the Kamprad family’s farm in the province of Småland and there became close friends with Ingvar Kamprad, who would grow up to be the founder of IKEA. At the same time, however, Ingvar was actively engaged in Nazi organizations and a great supporter of the fascist Per Engdahl. Meanwhile, Otto’s parents remained trapped in Vienna, and the last letters he received were sent from Theresienstadt.
 
With thorough research, including personal files initiated by the predecessor to today’s Swedish Security Service (SÄPO) and more than 500 letters, Elisabeth Åsbrink illustrates how Swedish society was infused with anti-Semitism, and how families are shattered by war and asylum politics.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book Preface

    This was a book I had no intention of writing. On the contrary, the story of Otto Ullmann, a Jewish refugee child who was sent to Sweden to escape Nazi persecution, came to me as an offer and I turned it down. Eva Ullman—the daughter of Otto—asked to speak with me. She brought with her a trauma tied tight with string and asked for my help to unknot it. This is what she told me:
    Her father was born and raised in a middle-class family in Vienna, a cherished and strong-willed child who loved music and soccer. When Hitler annexed Austria in March 1938, he was twelve years old. Like all Austrian Jews, the Ullmann family was heavily affected from one day to the next, and the persecution had just begun. Otto's parents decided to save their only child first, and managed to get him to Sweden in early spring 1939. The plan was to join him later, but until that became possible, they would write him a letter a day. Otto spent a year in an orphanage in the south of Sweden. Then, at the age of fourteen, he had to support himself and became a farmhand. Meanwhile, the letters from Otto's parents in Vienna continued to come, until the day they came no more.
    In early 1944 Otto Ullmann applied for a job at the Kamprad estate in Småland and became best friends with the landowner's son, Ingvar. Later, when Ingvar Kamprad decided to create the furniture company IKEA, Otto was his right-hand man and sidekick for a decade.
    Would I like to write something about this, Otto's daughter now wondered? Then, ironically, she handed over an IKEA storage box that for years had been at the back of one of her closets, never opened but never forgotten. There they were, more than five hundred letters from Otto's parents, with Hitler's profile on the stamps.
    When Otto Ullmann died, Eva had reluctantly taken care of the letters but never read them. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she grew up learning that there were some areas not to be tread on, some words better left unsaid, and some questions never to be asked. And she understood that at the very epicenter of silence were her father and his survival. So the letters were placed in the IKEA box, lid on, until she got the idea of offering them to me.
    I said thank you, but no thank you. I couldn't. I wouldn't. Impossible. I'm sorry. The letters were of course written in German, a language of which I had little knowledge, but that wasn't the main reason. I simply couldn't stand the idea of writing about the Holocaust. The unbreakable silence within the Ullmann family was all too recognizable, it existed also within my family. And so we said goodbye.
    But then, night after night, before going to sleep, I found myself imagining the letters going from Vienna to the south of Sweden, one a day from parent to child. The image just wouldn't leave me alone.
    The result is this book, a story about a boy and his parents. And within the story is another, about one of the world's most famous men, the founder of IKEA, who not only was a member of the Swedish hard-core Nazi party but at the same time loved his best friend, the Jewish refugee Otto Ullmann. All in all, it turned out to be an account of Sweden before the country became a "good" one.
    Ingvar Kamprad let me interview him (the result is in the book). But when I found the files from 1943 in the Swedish Secret Police Archive, stating he was member 4014 in Swedish Socialist Unity (Svensk Socialistisk Samling, or SSS), the Swedish Nazi party at the time, he declined any further contact.
    And the letters? They are still in that IKEA box, waiting for transfer to an archive where they will be made available to researchers. I'm...
About the Author-
  • Elisabeth Åsbrink is a journalist and author from Sweden and previously served as the chairperson of PEN Sweden. Her book, And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain, received worldwide attention for revealing new information about IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad's ties to Nazism. It won several awards, including the August Prize for Best Swedish Non-Fiction Book of the Year, the Danish-Swedish Cultural Fund Prize, and Poland's Ryszard Kapuściński Award for Literary Reportage. Åsbrink made her debut as a playwright with RÄLS, based on the minutes taken at a meeting convened by Hermann Göring in 1938, and has since written four plays.
    Saskia Vogel is from Los Angeles and lives in Berlin, where she works as a writer and Swedish-to-English literary translator. Her 2019 debut novel, Permission, has been translated into four languages. She has written on themes of gender, power and the art of translation for publications such as Granta, The White Review, The Offing, and The Paris Review Daily. Her translations include work by Lina Wolff, Katrine Marçal, Karolina Ramqvist, Johannes Anyuru and the modernist eroticist Rut Hillarp.
Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    Starred review from November 1, 2019
    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.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 10, 2020
    Journalist Åsbrink (1947: Where Now Begins) sets one family’s Holocaust tragedy against the legacy of WWII in Sweden in this multilayered history based on hundreds of letters between a young refugee and his parents back in Vienna. Opening with Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Austria, Åsbrink documents the closing of the Swedish border to “non-Aryan” refugees, and efforts by the Church of Sweden to help Jewish converts to Christianity escape Nazi Germany. In 1939, Josef and Elise Ullmann arranged for their only son, Otto, to be baptized and sent to a children’s home in Sweden until they could be reunited. Åsbrink quotes extensively from the family’s correspondence, revealing Otto’s homesickness and his parents’ anguish as they’re denied emigration papers, evicted from their home, and deported to the Theresienstadt Ghetto. Meanwhile, Otto gets placed on a farm owned by the father of future IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. Åsbrink’s investigation into Kamprad’s pro-Nazi activities during the same period he befriended and worked alongside Otto raises more questions than it answers, though she carefully documents the influence of anti-Semitism and xenophobia on Sweden’s immigration policies. This devastating account has the lyricism and complexity of a finely wrought novel. Agent: Magdalena Hedlund, Hedlund Agency.

  • Booklist

    November 15, 2019
    Examining the years leading up to and including WWII, �sbrink (1947, 2018) explores the depths to which a human mind can bifurcate: to hate a group of people but to develop a deep friendship with a member of that group. She details the slow unfurling of Hitler's plans and the steps that a Christian group took to save Jews, if only to convert them. Twelve-year-old Viennese Jew Otto Ullmann was sent to a Swedish orphanage by his parents, who promised they'd reunite as soon as they could secure their own passage from Nazi-occupied Austria, but the necessary papers never materialized. Ullman eventually found work with Ingvar Kamprad, who later founded IKEA. Kamprad regarded Ullman like a brother, even though he remained committed to Nazi ideals, as sifted through Swedish sympathizer Per Engdahl's rhetoric. �sbrink's historic timeline of Christianity's long scourge-and-purge tactics against Jews is chilling, as are the parallels readers will note to today's immigration discussions. Intermingled with �sbrink's unsettling questions in this must-read are Ullman's parents' letters, an interview with Kamprad, and other archival documents.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

  • Kirkus Reviews (starred review) "Engrossing...compelling...Top-notch microcosmic World War II history and an excellent illustration of the immense power of the written word."
  • Publishers Weekly "[A] multilayered history...This devastating account has the lyricism and complexity of a finely wrought novel."
  • Times Literary Supplement "[A] touching book."
  • Booklist "Åsbrink's historic timeline of Christianity's long scourge-and-purge tactics against Jews is chilling, as are the parallels readers will note to today's immigration discussions...[a] must-read."
  • Francine Klagsbrun, author of Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel "And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain is a gripping saga of love, friendship, betrayal, and, above all, courage--the courage of parents trapped in the Nazi inferno who yet never waver in their devotion to their son. This is one of the most moving books I have ever read about that dark period in history."
  • New York Times Book Review "An extraordinary achievement."
  • Kirkus Reviews "A skillful and illuminating way of presenting, to wonderful effect, the cultural, political, and personal history of a year that changed the world."
  • Sydney Morning Herald "Åsbrink writes sentences that make one gasp in admiration...[1947] should be read for its poetry, its insights, and the interweaving of personal and political judgments."
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And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain
And in the Vienna Woods the Trees Remain
The Heartbreaking True Story of a Family Torn Apart by War
Elisabeth Åsbrink
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