Stories from the Red Cross White Bus Rescue


By Roger A. Ritvo, Allison Stone and Caitlyn P. Traffanstedt* .
You can download the entire Red Cross White Bus Rescue doc and read each part below as well.

Swedish Red Cross White Bus Rescue

Part 1: Five Gifts from the White Bus Rescue


Red Cross White Bus Rescue and Women Often Unacknowledged by history

In the late winter of 1945, rumors of Hitler’s order for a “final solution” were spreading around Europe. A supposedly “neutral” Sweden opened back-channel conversations with Heinrich Himmler about removing Swedish prisoners from the doomed concentration camps.

The diplomatic pressure on Sweden to stop selling materials to the Nazi regime despite their professed neutrality also opened conversations of what they would do about their own citizens being interned in the death camps.

These negotiations ultimately led to a plan to lead convoys of buses, and trains into Ravensbrück, Neuengamme and other camps in an effort to rescue the Scandinavian citizens inside their gates.

Each of these buses was painted white, with a red cross to indicate to any troops that they were peaceful and to avoid attack. Even when the convoy stopped, they would spread a huge Red Cross flag on the ground to avoid inadvertent bombing.

There were many unknowns going into the mission. Nobody really knew how many prisoners would even be there, how they would react, and if they convoys would make it out alive.

Staffed by a pair of drivers, the typical bus was retrofitted to carry about 8 stretchers plus seats for 36 passengers, care-giving staff and support personnel. The rescue missions were comprised of three units, each with a dozen buses, a dozen trucks plus supply/support vehicles.

Each bus only had enough Motyl fuel (a mixture of alcohol and gasoline, usually in equal parts) to cover about 50 – 60 miles on a full tank. Thus, additional support trucks were mandatory to keep the process in motion.

Arriving at the camps on late April of 1945, the convoy of Red Cross buses stood welcoming prisoners as guards simply yelled at them to get “OUT!”

One prisoner recounts “we were given a parcel, it was quite heavy.. as… I wasn’t very strong after the scarlet fever. I asked my mother if I could leave it. She said: No, there will be food in there.

My arms ached but there were delicious things inside. I ate the powdered milk by the spoonful. Some people died because they overate after being hungry for so long.” [1]

The shocked volunteers from the convoys met prisoners in bad shape after their time in the internment camps. Nurse Margaretha Bjorcke recalled “I have never in my twelve years practice as a nurse seen so much misery as I witnessed.

Legs, back and necks full of wounds of a type that an average Swede would be on sick leave just for one of them. I counted twenty on one prisoner, and he did not complain.”[2]

Lieutenant Åke Svenson recalled:

“most of the passengers could not walk the minor distance from the barracks to the road. From these barracks a group of creatures were forced, that hardly any more seemed to be human beings.” 2

The bus trips through Germany at the end of a war were full of unknowns and highly dangerous.

Questions remained if the roads would even be passable, and the knowledge that if allied planes didn’t recognize the convoys for what they were, bombing was always possible.

One convoy were indeed mistaken for troops and bombed on April 18, 1945 killing and injuring members of the convoy.

What awaited these released prisoners at the end of their precarious journey to freedom? Many believed this was another cruel Nazi trick even with the food parcels.

Neuengamme - Swedish Red Cross White Bus Rescue

Figure 1 Prisoners being driven away from Neuengamme concentration camp on Swedish Red Cross buses. Drawing by Per Ulrich, a former prisoner from Denmark.Tegninger fra tyske koncentrationslejre. Tegnet paa Stedet, Kopenhagen 1945, S.3

When some buses reached Odense, Denmark, other former prisoners were taken to Copenhagen and then sailed to Sweden for quarantine for tuberculosis and other diseases in the Tylosand and Strangnaes facilities.

On their arrival to the destination cities and seeing the Swedish doctors, some of the skeletal survivors screamed. “I don’t want to burn. I don’t want to burn,” cried one, imagining SS doctors. Swedish nurses fainted at the sight of the ravaged bodies.”

“Many women carried Red Cross boxes; others carried babies.

A Dutch woman, Anne Hendrix, carried her two-month-old in a box.

French ethnologist Germaine Tillion carried lists bearing the names of those murdered at the camp, including her mother, Emilie.

They were greeted by the Red Cross medical and support staff wearing masks, gloves and other protective equipment.

Triage separated the sick who required hospitalization immediately.  Others were given showers with ‘real soap,’ and suffered the stings of disinfecting and delousing chemicals, dust and other cleaning agents./p>

No more lice, a nagging and painful reminder of the concentration and death camps.

Wearing “striped dresses felt as splendid as if they were made of pure silk,” recalls Manya Friedman (see Gift #5).

“We were put up in some school buildings. Each one of us got a mattress covered with soft paper sheets. We felt pampered.

Yet, it still didn’t sink in that we were really free. At night, if you woke up, you could always see girls looking out the windows to make sure that we were not” in the camps any longer. [3]

These became the first steps in a long process to re-enter the world as a survivor.

The reentry and screening process including burning the clothes upon arrival for heath and sanitation reasons. 

Several months after arrival, Lund University Professor Zygmunt Lakocinski and his colleagues interviewed 514 people to begin the process of documenting the atrocities and crimes against humanity that characterize Nazi rule.

They learned that “many women had hidden small objects beneath their clothes, or in the heels of their shoes.

A scrap of packaging inscribed with a poem recalled from memory, a tiny cross fashioned of metal bolts, a tiny doll made of scraps of fabric, a miniature hand-written calendar.[4] Some of these items were saved for history.

One of the quarantine facilities was located about 75 miles from Malmo in Halmstad at the old “Spa Tylohus,” now part of the ”Hotell Tylösand”.

When the war finally ended shortly after these survivors were freed, they held a ”peacefest” in their new accommodations.

Hotel Tylosand - Swedish Red Cross White Bus Rescue

Figure 2 Source:

What a celebration it must have been. ”The episode at the Hotell Tylösand may therefore, despite all, be one bright spot in hard and dark time.”[5]

Ultimately the greatest gift of the white buses’ mission was the gift of life.

Life for every one of the individuals who were rescued from the concentration camps. A chance at living and thereby giving back through those lives.

As we highlight 10 of those lives and the impact they have had on the world, we invite you, the reader, to reflect on the countless other lives that have been changed due to the courage of those participating in the White bus rescue.

We have formatted this article into a collection of 10 “gifts” as a tribute to the works of author Anita Lobel (see gift #1), whose children’s book “10 gifts for Mama Rabbit” was one of the many gifts she gave to the world.

Part 1 of this research brings the biographies of 5 White Bus survivors to life.

We do this with the hope that their trials, tribulations, and successes in life inspire you, the readers, to ponder how these tragedies occurred and what lessons we can learn today.

Part 2 explores the dilemma Sweden faced as a non-belligerent state when the world was at war.

In this light, some of the survivors were in the resistance, were political, and became involved in international relations after the war.

As these stories unfold, keep the words of Manya Friedman in mind:

“As a group we are called Holocaust survivors. But each one of us has a separate story, a different story.”[6]

[1] vii

[2] viii

[3] xi

[4] -

[5] xiii Hägge, E. (1977) Tylösand as a refugee camp 1944 in Hägge, E. Lindblom. S, Kollberg, L. (ed) Föreningen Gamla Halmstads årsbok Årsbok 1977 (p. 170–174). The association Gamla Halmstad.

[6] xiv Manya Friedman, transcript of testimony. UNITED STATES HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL MUSEUM FIRST PERSON SERIES, July 17, 2013.


Swedish Red Cross White Bus Rescue Swedish Red Cross White Bus Rescue

Heroism comes in many forms.

This first of two parts documents the background of this rescue and 5 survivors whose lives became gifts to others because Count Bernadotte and his extensive network of politicians, volunteers, supplies and civilians gave the gift of life to so many.

Part Two raises the larger questions of Swedish ‘neutrality’ as it shares the biographies of four additional survivors and pays tribute to those too-often nameless people who risked their own lives to rescue strangers from Hell.[1]

Lest we forget!

Please note that the authors would be most appreciative for your comments, feedback, suggestions, questions and indeed corrections.

Any errors belong to us and getting these stories right remains our primary function so people can learn.

Contact Roger Ritvo at

*Roger A. Ritvo, Ph.D. is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Auburn University Montgomery and Lecturer at the Business School University of Colorado Denver.

Allison Stone is a Clinical Research Coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado and a Healthcare Administration MBA candidate at the University of Colorado Denver Business School.

Caitlyn P. Traffanstedt is a Performance Improvement (PI) Analyst within the Office of Patient Safety at East Alabama Health (EAH) and an MBA candidate at Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM).

The authors acknowledge that Auburn University Montgomery provided partial support for this research.