The expedition with the White Buses was a daring and dangerous venture that was carried out in a chaotic time, without any protection from international humanitarian laws. Decisions were made on the way based on the few possibilities that presented them selves, and from the path the war was taking. It is easy to imagine how individuals had to make on the spot decisions and with no possibility of asking for advice from a superior, decisions that afterwards may seem difficult to understand, but at the time they were the only ones possible. It was all about
rescuing human life, and only one opportunity was given.
Dutch – instead of Eastern European prisoners when collecting and transporting.
The Foreign Ministry had received applications from respective countries concerning Swedish participation in bringing their citizens’ home. In the Foreign Ministry directions given to Bernadotte this had been taken into consideration, for example concerning the French women
One must keep in mind that the initial objective was to rescue Scandinavians, but was extended gradually, more through possibilities of diplomacy and practice rather than though conscious priorities.
How many were saved then?
According to the Swedish National Encyclopaedia the total was 30000, other sources stop at 19000. The totals vary drastically from various sources. According to our own calculations it is very difficult to state an exact number. A result depends on which criteria’s are included. The
highest result has included transportation’s that were not a result of Bernadotte’s negotiations.
According to our calculations the Bernadotte expedition rescued around 15000 from the concentration camps when the last prisoners were brought out of Germany. More than half of these, around 7800, were Scandinavians. this number does not include the train that
unexpectedly rolled in to the station with 2800 women. It is true that the Red Cross personnel took care of the women, but the train transport was not organized by the management of the Red Cross. We have also made some corrections for double counting for example when a
detachment’s commander changed after coming under fire during the journey.
The figures above are, as far as we can tell, as close to the truth as possible from existing sources. A limiting factor is that the documentation from the last weeks of the war, for obvious reasons, is very sparse. Even if it halves the total stated in the National Encyclopaedia, it is still a
fact that the white bus expeditions were the largest individual rescue action during the Second World 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