Rättvik Then and Now
When my son Johnny and I arrived in Rättvik our guide Helena Engblom introduced us to a lady who had been “just the right age” when the interned airmen came to town. Gunnel shared with us a room full of scrapbooks and memorabilia of 1944 … the year that Rättvik came alive. We could have listened to her stories all day long. We were there for more than an hour taking pictures of pictures as quickly as we could.
Afterward Helena gave us a tour of the little town. I walked around with photographs taken from my Dad’s scrapbook and tried to match them with some of the buildings.
Klingberg’s Konditori was a favorite hangout for coffee and pastries. Back during the war bikes were always parked out in front. There was an upstairs deck where the locals and the airmen could watch everything that was happening on Storgatan … “Main Street.” Today this building at Storgatan 16 houses Centrum Lek (games) & Hobby.
When the internees arrived their first order of business would be to go clothes shopping. No uniforms allowed! Oscar Johansson’s Menswear did a thriving business! Today his former store at Storgatan 19 is a flower shop called BlomsterLiv.
Almost everyone came to town by way of the Rättvik train station. Automobiles were few and far between. Even if you had one you probably couldn’t find petrol! Today the Rättvik Tourist Office is the train station at Riksvägen 40.
The movie theater that was such a popular spot during World War II is no longer there. It burned down years ago. The Swedish films had English captions, and sometimes they even had British or American movies.
Just over a mile from downtown was Rättviks Folk Parken, a popular spot for dances. There were often bicycles parked just outside the front gate. The Park is still there, RattviksParken, for car shows and other forms of entertainment.
All in all, there was plenty in town for the airmen to do. In the winter, almost everyone bought skis and took to the slopes. When Lake Siljan froze, the boys would ski on the ice. For a while some of them would race their sleds down the hill into town until the authorities ordered them to stop for the welfare of local pedestrians. The summer of 1944 was warmer than usual so the lake was a magnet for swimmers and boaters. The Americans were still collecting their paychecks, and they had more money than most of the Swedes. They bought boats, canoes, rafts, whatever they could find. It was a prosperous year for Rättvik merchants. And the Swedish girls loved having the airmen in town. In fact, girls would come visiting from as far away as Stockholm to see these young men for themselves … fun, good looking, with money to spend.
Below are some Then and Now photos. There are additional pictures in the Facebook Group, “American Internees in WWII Sweden.” I would love to hear more details from any of my readers who were there!