At the end of the Second World War, when Germany was heading for military and political breakdown, the large Swedish lead rescue action known as ‘the White Buses was accomplished. It was initiated by the government and was carried out by the Swedish Red Cross, lead by its vice president Folke Bernadotte. During some dramatic weeks, from the middle of March to the beginning of May 1945, more than 15000 prisoners where rescued from German concentration camps.
Amongst them where nearly 8000 Norwegians and Danes. Apart from Scandinavians, citizens from 20 other countries, mostly France and Poland, where rescued. How many of them where Jewish was never accurately established. One reason for this was that Sweden did not register system of belief when the liberated prisoners arrived.
Already before the war there was a distinct difference in the way the Germans treated civilian prisoners and military prisoners of war. The prisoners of war where protected by the third Geneva Convention, which the Germans respected. When it came to civilian, political prisoners no conventions existed to regulate their treatment.
At the end of the Second World War this difference was more than obvious. Work to found a forth Geneva Convention to protect civilians in a war was quickly initiated by Folke Bernadotte. At the XVII International Red Cross Conference, held in Stockholm 1948, the founding of a fourth convention and the modernization of the existing conventions were negotiated successful and a year later the new conventions were ratified in Geneva.
Folke Bernadotte never experience this moment though, as he was murdered during a UN assignment in the newly founded state of Israel on September 17, 1948
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.
Image: Folke-Bernadotte-centre-talks-to-Obersturmbahnführer-Dr-Heinz-Rennau-and-Svendsen-the-Norwegian-seamens-pastor-in-Hamburg. Photo Credit: Nordiska-Museet