Amongst lies and rumours …do you know what you should know?
When lies become truths, and facts are based on rumours, then we need the courage to stand up, dare to question, and find out if things really are the way they are portrayed. That’s what my grandmother Linnea taught me – a wise and warm woman, quiet and unassuming, who wanted to know how things really were.
I remember that my grandmother used to read Göteborgs Handels – och Sjöfartstidning (GHS), a daily newspaper published in Gothenburg. Every time I visited, she would sit in her yellow, flowered easy chair reading the paper from cover to cover. I associate the three taut sails of the magazine’s logo so strongly with Grandma Linnea. Much later, I came to understand the strong link between GHS and my grandparents.
Grandma and Grandpa started reading the GHS already during World War II. Editor-in-Chief Torgny Segerstedt was internationally renowned for mocking and denouncing Hitler, which actually provoked Chancellor Herman Göring to send a telegram threatening retaliation. Segerstedt responded with a new editorial in the magazine:
“We need not dignify such a delusion whereby a German minister rants and raves and threatens as if he is master of the Swedish press. If he believes he has something to complain about, he can avail himself of such channels and means as those used by civilised states. He will get nowhere with nonsense sent in a telegram. This is something that even he should understand. That he feels hurt by our opinion makes us neither remorseful nor intimidated.
Was ist eben allerorten wahr
DAS sag ich mit Worten ungescheuten. ”
(That which is true everywhere, I speak without fear.)
It was largely because of this courage that Grandma and Grandpa subscribed to the GHS – not because it was the only newspaper available. Göteborgsposten, for example, had a much wider distribution. But Grandma and Grandpa wanted to know what was going on in and around Germany, despite the prevailing military censorship and the ban on distribution of anti-Nazi newspapers. They wanted facts, and therefore chose to support those who did not let themselves be coerced by external forces. Segerstedt dared to tell it like it was and they liked that.
When I think of their situation and how it is today, I realize that we are facing a similar dilemma. We also need to actively choose our news sources, the only difference being that we have so much more to sift through. With a Trump in the United States, a Putin in Russia, and an Erdogan in Turkey, and when email from a French presidential candidate’s staff can be hacked and disseminated days before an election to create uncertainty, it is no longer acceptable to uncritically swallow everything we read and see. Media and its leaders must have the courage to push for evidence-based news. Perhaps it is more important now than it has been for a long time. As followers, we also carry great responsibility in the process. We need to be critical, think wisely, and consciously choose what media channels we will follow and support long-term. We cannot say that we could not imagine what was about to happen, that we were misled by the inaccuracies flourishing on the internet, or that no one understood that a particular politician fabricated truth from random rumours.
For my Grandma and Grandpa, Torgny Segerstedt was a man who dared, who did not let himself or his editorial staff be controlled by external forces. When the war was over, Grandma Linnea never had to say that they had no idea what the Nazi regime really stood for. She and Grandpa had made sure that they got the information they needed to take a stand. I want to be like my Grandma – I want to be someone who spends time trying to find out what is really going on in the world, someone who can say in retrospect that I knew, understood and did what little I could to not allow lies and rumours to become facts.
My mother told me that one day GHS invited its readers to contact the newspaper to welcome refugees into their homes. Grandpa asked Grandma to go there, and in this way she met a Danish-Jewish couple their own age. The threat of the concentration camps had ripped them away from their home, their work and their friends. Maybe they had rowed across the Öresund Sound as many did during those times, and were then taken to Gothenburg. Grandma invited the couple and a relative home. What hospitality Grandma and Grandpa offered that evening or what they talked about is lost in the past, but this dinner was the start of a lifelong friendship between my grandparents and the Danish couple.