In 1944 the war seemed to head towards its end and there was increasing worries about what would happen to the Scandinavians interned in German camps. If the war ended in chaos, it would be potentially dangerous for the prisoners. There were plans of blowing up camps and of mass executions before the allied forces reached their objectives.
Discussions of a rescue expedition had been going on for a while in both Sweden and Denmark, but no concrete plans had been made so far. The Danish Foreign Ministry had previously reached certain agreements with the Germans and were allowed to bring home small numbers of prisoners and deliver food packets.
During the summer Sweden started mapping out the Scandinavian prisoners; where and how many there were. A great help in this was the Norwegian professor Didrik Arup Seip. He had earlier been a prisoner in a concentration camp but was released at the turn of the year 1942-43. Since the Germans, during autumn 1943, had forbidden Swedish Red Cross consignments of food and medication, he had found other ways to supply necessities to the Norwegian prisoners. Food and medical supplies were sent via the Foreign Ministry to the Swedish embassy in Berlin, which in turn supplied Seip and his men so they could forward the aid to the prisoners. These activities made it possible for Seip to discover the names, numbers and places of the Scandinavian prisoners.
At the end of August 1944 Ditleff, at the Foreign Ministry, received a list of approximately 6000 prisoners. Ditleff’s contacts with the Danish Rear-Admiral Carl Hammerich and his Norwegian wife Borghild, who also worked for the Scandinavian prisoners, had turned earlier plans of rescuing Norwegian prisoners into a rescue action that also included Danish prisoners.
On 7th September the Swedish ambassador in Berlin, Arvid Richert, handed over an appeal to the German government calling for the release, or surrender to Sweden of the Norwegian prisoners, primarily the students. The Germans did not respond but twenty days later the deportation of Norwegians stopped. On November 2, Hitler decided to send home sick Norwegian prisoners, which meant that approx. 130 Norwegians were repatriated.
The condition for the German concession was press silence, and it was understood that if no publicity were given, all Norwegian students would eventually be sent home. The German concessions gave hope to the possibility of bring home all Scandinavians from Germany before the end of war. Considering this, on the 30th November the Norwegian Minister Ditleff presented a proposal to the Foreign Ministry to send a Swedish Red Cross delegation to Germany. After some delay Ditleff’s proposal was accepted and he received the Swedish Foreign Minister Christian Günther’s full support.
Plans were made for a rescue expedition. It was to be executed by the Swedish Red Cross under the guidance of Folke Bernadotte. The aim was to rescue Scandinavians, irrespective of religion, and preferably bring them to Sweden before the end of the war.
Source: The White Buses. The Swedish Red Cross rescue action in Germany during the Second World War – The Swedish Red Cross, Stockholm, January 2000 /Research: Agneta Greayer and Sonja Sjöstrand/Editing: Martin Wikberg Translation: Annika and Peter Hodgson