[Marxism] The Fascist Sympathizer Who Founded Ikea
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 30 07:43:42 MST 2018
NY Times Op-Ed, Jan. 29, 2018
The Fascist Sympathizer Who Founded Ikea
By ELISABETH ASBRINK
I met Ingvar Kamprad, the Ikea founder who died on Saturday at 91, just
It was in August 2010 at Ikea’s head office, in the small town of
Almhult, Sweden. (The address is 1 Ikea Street.) I was writing a book
about his closest friend, Otto Ullman — a Jewish refugee from Austria
hired as a farmhand by the Kamprad family during the war — and had asked
for a meeting. Once we’d introduced ourselves Mr. Kamprad took hold of
me by the waist, as if we were on the dance floor and he wanted to check
out my figure. Then we sat down, my recorder went on, and an interview
of two and a half hours began.
It is hard to overstate the size of Mr. Kamprad’s empire. Stepping off
the train at the Almhult station, you have two pedestrian bridges to
choose from: One takes you into the town itself, with a population of
around 10,000; the other takes you to Ikea — or, to be more precise, to
the Ikea Hotel, Ikea Tillsammans (a cultural center), the Ikea Museum
and the Ikea Test Lab, along with a sprawling complex of corporate
departments. And while most of the world knows Ikea solely for its
inexpensive furniture and giant blue stores, in Sweden its image is
inextricable from the life of Ingvar Kamprad. In the museum, design
history intermingles with family snapshots.
As with the bridges at Almhult, there are also two ways into the Ikea
story. One is uplifting and inspirational: A young man from a modest
background, but with more than the usual dose of business acumen, builds
an empire. Although the hero of the story makes the occasional mistake,
that is precisely what makes him human and such a treasured symbol of
The other story leads from Mr. Kamprad’s childhood and adolescence in a
Hitler-loving family, Germans who had immigrated from the Sudetenland,
in Czechoslovakia, where both his paternal grandmother and his father
were Nazis; his long-lasting commitment to the Swedish fascist movement;
and his membership, during World War II, in Sweden’s Nazi party, Swedish
Socialist Unity. Both stories are equally true.
The 1990s brought two major news reports pointing to Mr. Kamprad’s
involvement in the Swedish Nazi party and his lasting affinity for Per
Engdahl, who led the country’s anti-Semitic fascist movement after the
war. The articles attracted attention at the time, but the whole thing
blew over quickly. So strong was the Ikea brand that nothing seemed able
to affect it.
But after my interview with Mr. Kamprad, I continued to investigate —
and there proved to be more. In the Swedish Security Service’s archive,
I found his file from 1943, labeled “Memorandum concerning: Nazi” and
stamped “secret” in red letters.
Ingvar Kamprad, then 17 years old, was Member No. 4,014 of Socialist
Unity, the country’s leading far-right party during the war (Sweden
remained neutral during the conflict, but pro-Nazi sentiment remained
high). Sweden’s general security service had apparently kept him under
surveillance for at least eight months, confiscating and reading his
In November 1942 he wrote that he had recruited “quite a few comrades”
to the party and missed no opportunity to work for the movement. The
memorandum about his correspondence reached the Sixth Division of the
Stockholm police on July 6, 1943. Six days later Mr. Kamprad sent an
application to the county administrative office in Vaxjo to register his
new company, Ikea.
In the immediate postwar years, people weren’t interested in revisiting
these stories; maybe they still aren’t. Mr. Kamprad has come to
symbolize the driven Swedish entrepreneur, the artful trend spotter, the
strong, enthusiastic leader — the man who gives the consuming masses
what the masses yearn for. He is a role model as well as a reflection of
the Swedish image. Ikea markets Sweden, which in its turn markets Ikea,
and so nation and company become images of each other, while their
respective self-images expand.
When I published the new information in my book about Mr. Kamprad and
his Jewish friend in 2011, news organizations around the world picked up
the story. It took a month for Ikea to respond, and when it did it was
by way of a $51 million donation to the United Nations High Commissioner
on Refugees, the single-largest donation in the agency’s history. The
bad news paled in the light of this huge gift.
Seven years later, Sweden still hasn’t answered the question: Who was
Ingvar Kamprad? How could he remain loyal to the fascist leader and
Holocaust denier Per Engdahl, belong to a Nazi party and, at the same
time, be so fond of his Jewish friend, Otto Ullman? Otto, whose parents
were murdered in Auschwitz?
When I repeatedly asked Mr. Kamprad for an answer in my interview with
him, I finally received a shocking reply: “There’s no contradiction as
far as I’m concerned. Per Engdahl was a great man, and I’ll maintain
that as long as I live.”
Since my interview in 2010, neither I nor any other journalist has had
an opportunity to ask about Mr. Kamprad’s membership in Socialist Unity
or his tribute to Engdahl. The Ikea museum mentions that Ingvar’s
grandmother was very close to her grandson, and that she saw Hitler as
Germany’s future. That is all.
Ingvar Kamprad’s image and Sweden’s continue to reflect each other:
without shadows, without disgrace, and without any ambition to come to
terms with their past.
Elisabeth Asbrink is the author of “1947: Where Now Begins” and “And in
Wienerwald the Trees Remain.”
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