[Marxism] The Fascist Sympathizer Who Founded Ikea

Louis Proyect 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 
once.

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 
Swedishness.

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 
correspondence.

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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