A non-fiction book is a hot topic in Norway. It questions the common narrative of the resistance against National Socialism.
November 26, 1942: 530 Norwegian Jews in the port of Oslo before deportation to a concentration camp Photo: Fossu / NTB scanpix / akg images
“The life’s work of our parents and grandparents is being dragged into the mud”, complained a few weeks ago children and grandchildren of eight families of former resistance fighters against the occupation of Norway by Hitler Germany in a joint statement: “For us they were role models and now they should be fundamental ideals trampled our society? “
Anyone who claims such a thing must also provide evidence. And there is no such thing. Rather, it is now clear that such accusations are misleading history. Which is why one now wants to take legal action: “Not only for the sake of the reputation of one’s own family, but also to leave a picture of war history as truthful as possible for future generations.”
There is a lot of excitement about a book in Norway right now. The first edition, published in 2018, already asks in the title “Hva visste hjemmefronten?” (“What did the home front know?”). Its author, the journalist Marte Michelet, questions parts of the popular narrative about the Norwegian resistance and accuses him and the Norwegian government-in-exile in London of not really trying to prevent or at least limit the Holocaust of Norway’s Jewish population . Although they would actually have been able to do so.
In Denmark, which was occupied by the Wehrmacht at the same time as Norway, almost the entire Jewish population was able to get to safety from the impending deportation to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Partly thanks to the heroic efforts of many Danes. The rescue operation, with which 7,742 people on board several hundred boats and fishing cutters were rescued across the sea to Sweden on October 1, 1943, became legendary.
The eyes closed to the deportations
It was indeed an exception in Nazi-occupied Europe. But wouldn’t a similar “exception” have also been possible in Norway? Especially since the border between Norway and Sweden, Europe’s longest land border, was never even remotely controlled by the German occupying power. Hundreds of Jews were able to escape to Sweden through this.
In her first book, “Den største forbrytelsen” (“The greatest crime”), Michelet had already touched on this question in 2014 and came to the conclusion that it was not only Vidkun Quisling and the party members of his fascist “National Collection” who were sent to the Gestapo Had gone hand in hand to ship 773 Jews to the death camps. There were enough helpers and too many Norwegians would have closed their eyes.
The established story so far has been: A nationwide arrest by the Gestapo in November 1942 and the subsequent mass deportation came like a bolt of lightning out of the blue in Norway. The home front did everything in its power to save at least part of the Jewish population. What Michelet in “Hva visste hjemmefronten?” Fundamentally questions on the basis of new documents.
Their claim: The Gestapo action had become known to central people on the “home front” three weeks earlier, but anti-Semitism was quite widespread among them as well as in Norway as a whole. The fate of the Jewish fellow citizens was therefore relatively indifferent to them.
A journalist reveals what historians have missed? Worse still: you deliberately swept something under the rug? The reproach was of course serious
Similar to her first book, which was not only named “Nonfiction Book of the Year”, but also, for example, by the daily newspaper Our country Had been recommended as “required reading in all schools”, Michelet’s “Hjemmefronten” book was also highly praised when it was published. For Dagbladet it was the “most important book of the year”, The class struggle judged “good, sensational and convincing” and VG said that what historians have long been neglecting, the author is now finally doing.
A journalist reveals what historians have missed? Worse still: you deliberately swept something under the rug? The reproach was of course serious. In November Mats Tangestuen, Bjarte Bruland and Elise Berggren published a kind of “counter-book”. Tangestuen is a historian at the University of Bergen and an employee at the Jewish Museum in Oslo. Bruland also worked there, was temporarily director of the Jewish Museum Trondheim and published a book about the Holocaust in Norway two years ago. Berggren is currently writing a master’s thesis on the restitution of Jewish property in Norway.
Criticism of the author, but also approval
“Many and gross mistakes” would have caused them to write their “report of a review” of the Michelet book, they justify their publication. Overall, they admit to the journalist that they “asked important questions”. All the more serious, however, is the fact that their answers are “characterized by extensive systematic errors”: selective source selection, misinterpretations, abbreviated quotations. If history is to be credible, one shouldn’t let that get away with.
Yes, she will probably have to correct a few footnotes, Michelet now admits, after initially reacting arrogantly and categorically rejecting the criticism as “pedantic”. But what does that change in the overall picture?
Tore Pryser, history professor in Lillehammer, shares her assessment and accuses the authors of the “counter-book” of “mere nagging”. “We historians have failed,” says Eirinn Larsen, Professor of History at the University of Oslo. After the end of the Second World War, a “basic patriotic narrative” had become dominant, in which the Norwegian resistance struggle played the central role and “neither the fate of the Jews nor the role of women found a place”.
The Danish historian Bo Lidegaard, author of a book about the rescue of the Danish Jews, states that there is no simple answer to the question of who did what or failed to do what when, as in Norway, one had a population that was itself a victim. In all the countries concerned, it was a difficult debate that often took decades to get going. Germany had come the furthest on the question of its moral responsibility, but was also forced to do so. In Norway, as a country on the side of the “winners”, the tendency to look in the mirror may have been neglected.
Anti-Semitism was widespread
“We have no doubt that much more could have been done in Norway to save Jews,” write Tangestuen, Bruland and Berggren in the introduction of their “Report on a Review”. They neither deny the widespread anti-Semitism in the country nor the fact that the “home front” could possibly have been more active. But Michelet’s conclusions on prior knowledge of the deportation campaign and anti-Semitism as a decisive explanation for a lack of help had not been proven by her.
The accusation made by Marte Michelet in a TV interview that her critics wanted to “close the door that I opened again” and that “many researchers are more loyal to the members of the home front than the victims of the persecution of the Jews” can be said of these three Historians hardly do. But since Michelet also emphasizes that with her books she only wanted to achieve “that a broad research project is finally set in motion that investigates all open questions”, however, the question arises: Why is this happening in Norway 75 years after the end of the war actually still not?