Filmmaker sees World War II-style stories of rescue in Ukraine


By Sarah Sikandar 

Signal Staff Writer 

During World War II, while Jewish communities under authoritarian regimes were being systematically persecuted, those living in Scandinavia – Sweden, Norway and Denmark – were able to rescue Jewish refugees. From using political leverage to welcoming them in their homes, thousands of Jews fleeing Germany and other European countries found a haven in Scandinavia.  

Men like Raoul Wallenberg and Count Folke Bernadotte risked their lives and encouraged others to show solidarity and provide safety to the persecuted people. Fast forward to 2022, and people of Ukraine are undergoing a similar aggression from a stronger country. At the same time, refugees from Ukraine, mostly children and women, are welcomed by neighboring countries, along with international rescue efforts. 

The documentary “Passage to Sweden” chronicles these less-told events of World War II, showing the human capacity for empathy and compassion. The documentary is Suzannah Warlick’s passion project. An independent filmmaker, COVID-19 gave her the opportunity to invest time and energy on the film. Today, she sees parallels with what happened more than seven decades ago. 

“Suddenly I started seeing a lot of parallels,” she says,  

“There are people in groups that shine, and nations that come to the rescue as we’re seeing now with Ukraine. We’re seeing neighboring countries, and even faraway countries, feel for the people who are being bombed and occupied in their own country. And how everybody is stepping up. I’m relating it to my film.” 

She is reminded of leaders like King Christian X, who motivated his people to do the right thing, saying, “We’re not going to give up our Jewish citizens. Because you know that today they’re coming for the Jews, and tomorrow they’re going to come for a different group.” 

Warlick sees it as an effort to protect religious freedoms and religious rights. Her vision for the documentary was to focus not on the horrific but the humane.  

“I wanted to set my documentary a little bit apart from the destruction and the horrific things that happened during World War II to the Jews. And overall, and I was finding these stories of rescue and people who put their lives at risk to help others when they didn’t even have anything to gain from it. It was just human decency and compassion that made them do it.”  

That’s when she decided to move in the direction where it was “a lot more hopeful look at what could happen when you have horrific torment.”  

Warlick sees men like Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky taking up the role of a leader like Wallenberg.  

“Passage to Sweden” exposes the dichotomy within international politics where dictators like Hitler are countered by patrons like Wallenberg. While stronger nations target smaller countries for their agendas, humanitarian causes and charity for fellow humans retain our trust in human capacity for compassion and empathy through countries that have banded together to take in Ukrainian refugees.  

Warlick adds: “I’m so heartbroken for the people on both sides.”  

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