While reading about Selma Lagerlöf online, I was somewhat surprised to learn the following fact:

At the start of World War II, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and gold medal from the Swedish Academy to the government of Finland to help raise money to fight the Soviet Union. The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her.

Since Finland was an ally of Nazi Germany and they fought the Soviet Union together in World War II, I'm wondering what Lagerlöf's support of Finland signified, especially since she came from a country which remained neutral throughout the war. I've never heard anything about her being a Nazi supporter, but then I've been surprised before by authors' political views.

Why did Selma Lagerlöf want to sponsor Finland's war effort in WW2?

2 Answers 2



First, it should be noted that almost everyone in Sweden was at least sympathetic Finland in Winter war of 1939-1940 against the Soviet union, and also to a lesser extent in the Continuation war of 1941-1944 (but by then, Lagerlöf was dead). The general idea was expressed as "Finland's cause is ours". This was for:

  • Historical reasons: Finland had once been part of Sweden, and was still seen as a natural ally, while the Soviet union carried all the stigma from the Swedish wars against Russia.
  • Moral reasons: the Soviet union was clearly the aggressor against a smaller, neutral country.
  • Political reasons: from the more centrists parts of the social democratic party and towards the right, there were a strong abhorrence to communists.
  • Realpolitical reasons: If the Soviet union conquered Finland, they would be at Sweden's doorstep.

This led the Swedish government to declare itself a non-combatant, rather than neutral. Sweden gave material aid and allowed volunteers to join the Finnish army. Sweden also let Finnish children be evacuated to Sweden.

Furthermore, it should be noted that at least during the Winter war, Finland was not an ally of Germany. There has however been a debate to what extent it was allied with Germany during the continuation war, which I will not go into here.

Thus, being friendly to Finland, and even giving material aid, was nothing extraordinary during the early parts of the war. Probably the only ones that took the Soviet side in Sweden at that time was the communists. During the latter parts, when Finland fought on the same side as Germany, which occupied Denmark and Norway, sympathies were more mixed.

Did Selma Lagerlöf sympathize with the Nazis?

No, not really. She did on occasion do things that today would be seen as racist (there is a novella of hers that depicts the Travellers as a lower breed, and she once got involved in a beauty contest to present a "real Swedish type of Woman"), but she also helped Jewish-German author Nelly Sachs to flee to Sweden, and she wrote a novella to aid "Jews and other unwanted people" that tried to flee Germany. However, when she came under pressure in Germany following this, she cowed in and issued a statement that it was an act of mercy, not a political statement.

So there is really nothing that says that Lagerlöf had any particular Nazi sympathies, beyond perhaps the orientation towards Germany that was common in her generation. Her support for Finland was something very much in line with the official Swedish attitude of the time.


All of my sources are in Swedish:

  • Sweden's attitude and general politics against Finland is mostly from memory, but are described in more detail here.
  • Lagerlöf's general politics has been take from here and the details of her novella to aid the Jews is from here (where a biography over her is quoted).
  • Thanks, excellent answer (as usual). Just one quibble: "the Soviet union was clearly the aggressor against a smaller, neutral country" - that's not what I was taught. Didn't Finland take part in the Siege of Leningrad in which millions of Russians died? Hadn't they been at war so many times, on and off over a century or two, that it must have been pointless to tell "who started it" any more?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:07
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor The Winter War was, essentially, started by the Soviet Union under the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement. The Finns were not interested in war. It ended in a peace treaty in 1940, which lost Finland territory. In 1941, when the Germans began to prepare for their war against the Soviets, Finland was part of the preparations and occupied the demilitarized Åland Islands, even if the Soviets eventually fired the first shots. While there is no question that the Finns sought the Continuation war, they probably wouldn't have gotten involved if not for the Winter War.
    – andejons
    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:18
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    As for the earlier history, during the period 1812-1917, Finland was a semi-autonomous part of the Russian empire. Before that, as a part of Sweden, it had been involved in several wars against Russia, and been occupied a few times. But the independence was accomplished without any warfare between Russia and Finland. So, no, there had not been any war between them for the last 130 years at that point.
    – andejons
    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:23
  • OK, I stand corrected. There's always more to learn :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 18, 2017 at 9:29

No, she wasn't.

The existing answer is excellent, but it is too equivocal. Unless further evidence emerges, the answer should be "No" rather than "No, not really". She may have had some views that would be considered racist today, but so did many non-Nazis and anti-Nazis. Winston Churchill was not a Nazi, but he had views that I would consider racist.

Finland wasn't allied to Germany at the time of the Winter War (and Lagerlöf wasn't alive at the time of the Continuation War). It only joined that alliance in 1941.

But there is also an important point that the existing answer misses: the other side in the Winter War, the Soviet Union, had a type of quasi-alliance with Nazi Germany at this time. (The non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR wasn't a formal alliance, but included a secret protocol that involved the two sides agreeing to divide up Poland between them.) So not only was Lagerlöf not supporting the Nazi side, she was opposing the side that the Nazis were arguably more or less in league with.

It may further be noted that the UK and France sided with Finland, too, in the Winter War, and considered intervening on the Finnish side.

Finland was a democracy and the mainstream left as well as the right opposed the Soviet invasion.

I also noticed that in 1959 the Soviet Union issued a postage stamp in honour of Lagerlöf, which they wouldn't have done if she were viewed as a Nazi.

  • You answer no but don't present any evidence. The fact that a lot of non-Nazis were racist doesn't prove that a racist could not be a Nazi. Real evidence might include letters/diaries where she expresses political ideas, indications of membership or support for a political party, political campaigning, etc,
    – Stuart F
    Feb 19, 2022 at 18:00
  • I see what you mean, although in a way it seems very unfair to treat the yes/no sides as equally requiring proof: it feels like the burden should be on those making the accusation to provide evidence. But in a way you are right that the answer to any question of this type should be "unknown" even if, as in this case, there is no evidence underlying the premise of the question. That said, while I haven't read those diaries, isn't it at least likely that others have and that if they contained evidence that she was a Nazi, this would have become public knowledge by now?
    – rjpond
    Feb 20, 2022 at 12:57

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