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July 13, 2017

The Norrmalmstorg Robbery: Behind the Story That Was the Origin of 'Stockholm Syndrome'

This photo was taken by the Stockholm Police, the fourth day of a highly televised bank robbery turned hostage crisis, August 26, 1973

Stockholm syndrome is a term that describes a psychological state in which the abductees move from fear and hatred to sympathy and loves the captors. The term was named by Swedish psychiatrist Nils Bejerot after the bank robbery at Kreditbanken Bank located near the Norrmalmstorg Square, Stockholm that shocked the world.

On August 23, 1973, escaped prisoner Jan Erik Olsson went into Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg, central Stockholm, attempted to rob the bank and shouted "the party has only started." The robber seized four hostages, including three women and one man, for 131 hours. The four hostages include Birgitta Lundblad, Elisabeth Oldgren, Kristin Ehnmark and Sven Safstrom. The hostages were armed with explosives and detained in a treasury. Olsson demanded his friend Clark Olofsson be brought there, along with 3 million Swedish kronor, two guns, bulletproof vests, helmets, and a fast car. Olofsson was a repeat offender who had committed several armed robberies and acts of violence, the first committed at the age of 16.

A scene inside Norrmalmstorg bank during the robbery

The next morning Olofsson was taken to the bank. Olsson asked for a car to leave the scene but was rejected. In the afternoon he was connected directly with the current Prime Minister Olof Palme. Surprised, the victim Kristin Ehnmark said: "Palme, you make me very disappointed, I'm not afraid of these two men, they protect us." She begged to be allowed to leave the bank with the kidnappers. The whole country of Sweden bewildered. What happened to that young girl?

On the third day of the kidnapping, the radio revealed police planning to drill a hole in the wall to inject anesthetic gas. Of course the whole group of people in the bank were listening to the radio. Through the hole, the police brought food and drink. On August 28, on the sixth day of the event, Jan Erik Olsson lost his temper. He shot the ceiling and wounded a policeman. Meanwhile, the hostages completely obeyed all of Olsson's orders, even sympathizing with him. Olsson later told the court: "They made us unable to kill them." Even the AFP news agency quoted Olsson's memoirs, now an old man of over 70, saying: "There were times when the hostages shielded, so the police could not shoot me."

Police officers take cover behind their vehicles during the Norrmalmstorg robbery

Police snipers opposite Kreditbanken where Jan-Erik Olsson held workers hostage for six days

Armed police wait outside the bank during the four-day siege

Police officers outside the bank in 1973

At 9 o'clock, when police sprayed gas through boreholes and the agents rushed in and knocked out the robbers, Kristin Ehnmark shouted: "Do not hurt them, they do not do us anything." Out of the bank, in front of hundreds of camera lenses, she called with Clark Olofsson: "See you again."

Swedish hostage taker Jan Erik Olsson being arrested

Police officers wearing gas masks escorting Jan-Erik Olsson (C) in handcuffs after a hostage drama at the Kreditbanken bank on Norrmalmstorg square in Stockholm, on August 23, 1973

The behavior of Ehnmark and the rest of the victims made Sweden controversial. "I'm not afraid of them anymore, but I'm afraid of the police," Ehnmark said. Elisabeth Oldgren later said that at the time, she thought Olsson "very kind" when he allowed her to move on the floor of the bank. Safstrom said he was even grateful to Olsson. "When Olsson treats us well, we think he's a God," said the abducted man.

Jan Erik Olsson today

"We were interrogated for days, but no one wanted to know our needs or aspirations, and we only asked about Stockholm syndrome," Ehnmark recalled. She quit the bank, studied sociology and became a psychotherapist for drug addicts. Recently, Kristin Ehnmark published a book entitled I Had Stockholm Syndrome.

Kristin Ehnmark is still obsessed with the case after more than 40 years

She admitted having a special affection for Clark Olofsson. Months after being freed, she repeatedly visited him in prison, who often exchanged correspondence. Jan-Erik Olsson was granted amnesty after 8 years and his family moved to Thailand. The kidnapping was later made into a movie and an attractive subject of many novels.



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