A few days after Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Torgny Segerstedt, the editor in chief of one of Sweden's major newspapers, wrote a scathing article about Der Führer and the Nazi regime: "To force the politics and press of the entire world to deal with that character, that is unforgivable. Mr Hitler is an insult."
(It wasn't the first time Segerstedt ruffled feathers. When Soviet Union leader Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, he described him as a "curse" on the Russian people.)
The Nazis were furious with the editorial. Reichsminister Hermann Goering sent a threatening telegram to the paper. Five days later, Segerstedt wrote an even more derisive editorial in response to the telegram: "It seems that Mr. Göring believed that Sweden was some kind of annex to the German realm."
And he never let up. From 1933 until 1945, Segerstedt waged what was at times a one-man battle against Hitler and Sweden's conciliatory relationship with the Nazis.
"I was a child during the war and I knew about him superficially," said Oscar-nominated Swedish director Jan Troell ("The Emigrants," "The New Land," "Everlasting Moments"), whose latest film, "The Last Sentence," chronicles Segerstedt's unwavering condemnation of the Nazis and his tumultuous life.
"I don't think the young generation, not even the middle-age generation, know much about him," said the 82-year-old director in a joint phone conversation with his daughter, Yohanna Troell. She appears in the film and worked with her father in making the black-and-white biographical drama. This morning she was on the line to help the veteran filmmaker with his English.
It wasn't even Troell's idea to make "The Last Sentence," which opens Friday. A Segerstedt biographer approached him about doing a film on the crusading editor. "I started studying the case closer and was so fascinated by it," he said. "My co-writer, Klaus Rifbjerg — who is Danish— is my age, and he remembers his parents in Copenhagen during the occupation were reading secretly his writings."
"The Last Sentence," which opened in Sweden in 2012, stars Jesper Christensen as Segerstedt, Pernilla August ("Fanny and Alexander") as Maja Forssman, his Jewish mistress who owned the newspaper, and Ulla Skoog as his long-suffering wife, Puste.
Sweden, Troell said, had to remain neutral during World War II because "we almost had no defense. Germany and Russia were allies during the first one or two years of the war, so we were surrounded by strong enemies, especially after the occupation of Norway and Denmark. With no military defense, it would have been suicide if Sweden had tried to use weapons against Germany."
Troell believes, though, that there's "still some difficult feelings between Swedes and Norwegians and especially Danes. [Denmark and Norway were both occupied by the Nazis during the war.] During the occupation, [Nazi] troops could go by train between Denmark and Norway through Sweden."
Though he wrote with passion and conviction, Segerstedt could be very cold and cruel. He seemed to love his dogs more than his family. He was abusive to his wife and was quite open in his relationship with his mistress, who had a penchant for morphine.
"He is a tricky person, and he shows many different sides," Troell said. "Every hero is human. You can be a hero in one area and a villain in another. His open relationship was his way of being honest. It was his way of not being a hypocrite."
Puste, said Troell, "had been an extrovert who liked to sing and act, but she was subdued by her husband. When he became the head of the paper, he started treating her badly. She had been a rather cheerful person. I think he had such a bad conscience for his own conduct. When you do that you can easily become aggressive against the person."