The founder of Ikea, the Swedish-based international furniture retailer, has apologized for his involvement in pro-Nazi groups in the 1940s.
His association with these groups was first reported in the Stockholm daily Expressen as part of an investigation begun after the leader of a post-World War II Nazi group died this past summer and the archives on his activities were opened.
The archives showed that Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad had attended Nazi meetings in the 1940s, following World War II.
Kamprad, who is now 68, last week sent a personal, handwritten letter to the 25,000 employees of Ikea world wide to apologize, explain his youthful reasoning and deflect expected criticism.
“This is a part of my life that I bitterly regret,” Kamprad wrote. He said he attended meetings led by Swedish right-wing activist Per Engdahl between 1945 and 1948 because he “admired and shared (Engdahl’s) fanatical anti-communist view.
“At first I got in touch with a pair of Nazified organizations and perhaps I even became a member. I have forgotten,” Kamprad wrote.
He said he quit “after a couple of meetings in pure Nazi style,” said Kamprad, who is now one of Sweden’s wealthiest people.
Jewish groups were inclined to forgive Kamprad, but were sorry that it took so long for him to admit his past involvement.
Ken Jacobson, assistant national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that when the news came out, “we obviously were disappointed to learn of the individual’s past.”
But, he said, “we also believe that people can be redeemed. We also see that it is something that occurred in this individual’s past.”
However, said Jacobson, “there is one disappointing element to this story which raises questions – that is, if in fact the individual had stepped forward voluntarily, then it would have been a much more believable apology.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, expressed surprise and abhorrence and suggested that Kamprad could make amends by establishing a fund to benefit indigent Holocaust survivors.
Cooper also said Kamprad should provide more information on his Nazi ties.
IKEA officials went out of their way to talk to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency when asked to comment on the matter.
Goran Carstedt, president for Ikea North America, said in a telephone interview Sunday that Ikea officials were, “first of all, very surprised and very disappointed.”
He said he believes that “we all think that this involvement in this group – without knowing exactly what it was – is very reprehensible and inexplicable.”
Carstedt explained that Kamprad had given the company to a foundation years ago and no longer owns it, although he remains chairman and is “very active in the company.”
Kamprad opened his first Ikea store in 1958. The furniture chain, which has a reputation for high quality and low prices, now operates stores in 26 countries. It has 13 stores in the United States.