The history of the Jews in Norway is closely associated with the name of the poet and democrat Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845).
Through his unwearied struggle, the prohibition, which denied Jews the right to live in Norway, was abolished on September 24, 1851.
|Marcus Levin, center. Details unknown. Courtesy JDC|
Before this time, to be sure, Jews had been living in Norway, but outwardly they lived as protestant and assimilated within a short period of time. Among these may be mentioned the well-known Hambro family from Bergen (Joachim Hambro, President of the Norwegian Parliament 1940).
The actual immigration to Norway didn’t start until the nineties and in 1892 the first Jewish congregation was organized called “The Mosaiske Trossamfund” (the Mosaic Believers Society in Oslo).
At this time there weren’t very many Jews in Norway and most of them lived in Oslo (at that time Christiania), although a few also immigrated to Trondheim. The real immigration took place at the turn of the century when the pogrom in Poland and Russia forced many Jews to seek shelter in Norway.
|Joachim Hambro. Photo: Wikipedia|
This immigration may be said to have culminated around 1916, at which time there were at least 2,000 Jews living in Norway, probably the largest number that has ever lived here. Any actual registration of the Norwegian Jews has never taken place, as no religious compulsion exists, and many Jews could therefore live there in obscurity. The registration which took place in connection with the deportations, however, shows that there were about 1800 Jews in Norway at the time of the outbreak of the war.
Most of the Jews who immigrated to Norway were businessmen, although among first generation Jews, several academic leaders were found. One cannot assert, however, that the Norwegian Jews politically or culturally speaking assumed any active leadership.
The Jews lived their quiet introspective lives and no distinct anti-Semitism existed. Anti-Semitism never really took foothold in Norway and the few scattered efforts that arose were of a negative type.
During the discussions of the “Slaughtering Act “one tried again to breathe life into the old ghost, but the Jews found also on this point their warmhearted defenders as for instance in professor Fritjof Nansen, “Schlachting “ (Jewish method of the Slaughtering Act in 1931), but the act cannot be said to have had any anti-Semitic guise.
Even the Quisling party “Nasjonal Samling” before 1940 didn’t have anti-Semitism officially on its program. It wasn’t politically expedient to be an anti-Semitic before April 9, 1940 and even the most prominent Nazi leaders reluctantly kept public distance concerning the anti-Semitic excesses which took place in Germany for instance in 1938.
The immigration laws were very strict and probably no more than 350 German and Austrian Jews have entered Norway.
The Jewish Congregation in Oslo and Trondheim held all the privileges the State could give to non-conformists. The rabbis were permitted to marry Jews, but he activities of the congregations were only in the religious field. All social work was performed by private institution “Mosaic Ladies’ Aid” (from 1914), Jewish Youth Organization (from 1909), Jewish Children’s and Old People’s Home (from 1921), and Jewish Relief Society (from 1906).
The latter organization which was previously of little significance later became of great importance as it was recognized by the State as the Jewish Refugee Organization and therefore received support from the government. There were in Trondheim corresponding institutions which worked in cooperation with those in Oslo.
The German Occupation
April 9th and the German occupation that followed brought about the turning point in the history of the Jews in Norway. Many Jews participated in combat, and one was killed in action. The Jews who were taken prisoners, however, suffered only minor injuries and were released together with the other prisoners-of-war. The occupation which became a reality, and the consequences thereof, although at first not to serious, followed very soon.
As early as May 1940, the Norwegian police force received orders to call in all radios belonging to Jews, an order which greatly puzzled the Norwegian police and which was not put into effect with any great energy. Many radios were not seized. It looked as if the Gestapo that came to Norway was rather poorly orientated concerning the Jewish problem in Norway and a great many unintelligible things happened.
Persons were arrested for being leaders of the Jewish Refugee Organization who had absolutely no contact with the organization whatsoever. They were released again as soon as Gestapo became aware of the mistake, but Gestapo was obviously very irritated, and one was inclined to believe that any truly organized administration had gone to the bottom of the sea together with the armored “Blucher” which was sunk by the Norwegian coastal Artillery on the night of April 9th. In any case, the beginning of the occupation showed a lack of planning on the part of the Gestapo. A Jewish business man who had always opposed Nazism with great vigor was arrested and sent to Germany.
The political situation in the meantime was very vague. People had the feeling that the Germans were trying to feel their way around also in connection with the Jewish problem. Vidkun Quisling’s self-appointed “government” was formed to retreat, and an administrative board consisting of prominent good Norwegians was formed. The Jews gained new courage. The sympathy they received from the Norwegian people was unique. Perhaps the following incident will help to prove this:
In a little country town there lived an unusually obliging police commissioner who in accordance with German instructions ordered the only Jewish store in town to hang up a sign inside the store reading “Jewish proprietor”. The sympathy shown this Jew and the patronizing of this store was so demonstrative that the Germans had to order the sign removed.
One could also notice the Gestapo at work by the many reports they asked for. For instance, they’d ask for a list containing the names and addresses of all the leading Jews among the Jewish institutions. The foreign Jews in Norway, however, were even more exposed to the Gestapo although many of these Jews managed to flee to Sweden. A few however were arrested and sent to Germany while one was sent to Grini concentration camp.
In September 1940 came another turning pint. The administrative board retreated and was succeeded by Quisling’s “cabinet council”. On September 25th Reich Commissar Josef Terboven made his inaugural address in which he promised the people of Norway freedom of religion, but at the same time announced the Quisling party Nasjonal Samling the legal party and all other parties dissolved.
This action made lawlessness and terror legal in Norway. With “Nasjonal Samling” came the rectifying of all the newspapers and with it the anti-Jewish propaganda “Hirden”, the Norwegian SS formations, marched through the streets and a Norwegian “political police department” was organized. An immediate result was a renewed search for Jewish radios, but little success was achieved. There were many smaller assaults made on the Jews by Gestapo and Hirden.
Representatives of the Jewish Relief Organization were told by Gestapo to take over the support of German e from other dissolved organizations, informing them that if the Jews refused to contribute, the Gestapo would have to use force. This, however, never became necessary. The Jews formed an economic committee with representatives from all the Jewish social institutions and imposed upon the Jews a voluntary taxation for the maintenance of the Jewish institutions. On this point the Norwegian and foreign Jews were 100% loyal.
In the Spring of 1941 the Gestapo was informed that several Jews were still in possession of radios and through the various congregations they were told to deliver them up. This was the first time that Gestapo made the congregation responsible for seeing to it that the order was carried out. Soon after this, however, everyone in Norway had to give up this radio.
On June 20th, two days before Germany’s assault on Russia, all Russian citizens in Norway were arrested and of course this included many Jews. The razzia started early in the morning and attracted a good deal of attention.
The Jews living in Oslo and the surrounding suburbs were arrested and taken to Grini concentration camp, but were released after three weeks. The Jews in Northern Norway, however, who were arrested eight days before the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russian, never regained their freedom and met their fate during the deportation that followed.
Several scattered arrests among the Jews took place at this time, but one hardly say that they occurred with any greater frequency than among the Non-Jews.
Toward the fall of 1941 one began to feel the aggression of the Quisling part against the Jews. The various government agencies began to hire only “reliable” employees and the department of Justice felt that it was high time that the Jewish jurists were attacked and forbidden to appear in Norwegian courts.
This order had to be suspended however as there at this time was only one Jewish lawyer in Norway who was a private practitioner. Two other lawyers, however, were deprived of their rights to practice, probably because one of them had included a German and thereby committed a transgression.
In Oslo during September 1941, one Jew was arrested for having opposed a new prohibition. After a good deal of mistreatment and six months of a concentration camp, however, he was released.
In the meantime the activities among the Jewish congregation continued as before without any interference with their religious services. The Jewish School of Religion continued to function, but any activities on the part of the Jewish Youth Organization or any public meetings were of course out of question.
At this time a great many houses were searched for food, but here the Jews had to share their fate with the so-called “jossinger” (the name bestowed on anti-Nazis). The loyal police usually managed to warn the people before such action was to take place and it was therefore not considered too serious. A warm friendship seemed to form between the Jews and the non-Jews, and the anti-Semitic propaganda which became more and more violent, seemed to have no effect.
On February 1, 1942, followed by advance warning, all Jews were ordered by the Department of the Interior to have a “J” stamped on their certificates of identity. This concerned only the pure Jews and not the so-called half-Jews.
A while after, all Jews were given a form to be filled out. This form was to be sent to the “Office of Aliens’’ and contained many intricate questions, such as: “previous failures”.’ etc. What the meaning behind all of it was, no one will ever know, as the “Office of Aliens,” did nothing about the questionnaires. In the meantime, the matter took a more dramatic turn.
During this period a great many encroachments occurred. In Trondheim four Jews, including three brothers, were arrested for spreading news received from England. After they had appeared before a court of justice called SS Nord, they were all shot. This act of terrorism was carried through only to frighten the people.
Then came the Nursnes case, Nursnes is a place near Oslo where Jewish families stayed during the summer. In 1942 several families were living there. Either as a result of some careless statement or for some other reason, all the men in these families were suddenly arrested.
Among these were seven well-known and high esteemed Jews, such as Rabbi Julius Samuel and David Goldberg. The latter had been treasurer of the Jewish Relief Organization for many years. After several hearings, they were taken to Grini concentration camp and received terrible mistreatment. Especially did the Germans take it out on them on the day of Stalingrad’s capitulation.
The next blow came on Yom Kippur. In the morning all the bungalows and private homes were seized by Gestapo and two well-known Jews were arrested. It was a general feeling that something fatal was going to happen. People were nervous, but everyone though that Gestapo planned to liquidate the Jews one by one by reporting them for misdemeanor. This feeling was shared by many prominent Norwegians.
Then it happened!
Two Jews who were attempting to escape to Sweden together with a Norwegian patriot, were confronted on the train by a Norwegian Nazi who demanded to see their traveling permits. The Norwegian patriot who was to take the Jews across the border, took out this revolver and shot the Nazi. It was obvious that this was the moment the Germans and the Nazis had been waiting for.
The incident was written up in all papers, giving the exact addresses of the Jews, and Monday morning at 7am on October 26th, the Norwegian State Police took action. An order was issued to arrest all male Jews over 16 years of age.
A warning that this was going to happen, had leaked out from the Loyal Norwegian Police, however, and many Jews had fled from their homes. Others didn’t receive the warning or their minds were to paralyzed to grasp it. And so unfortunately many were arrested. A contributing factor was undoubtedly that many regarded the warning as only rumor as in the past, and paid no attention to it.
The Jews who were arrested were first brought to Bredtvet prison near Oslo and later transferred to Sem concentration camp near Tonsberg. Similar action occurred simultaneously throughout the entire country.
The Jews from Trondheim and the surrounding districts were interned at Falstad concentration camp. The hygienic conditions that prevailed were terrible, especially at Sem. The Norwegian Red Cross did their best to improve the conditions and also attempted to send food parcels.
After fourteen days of internment, 60 Jews were released. This however was only a tactical move, as on November 26th they were again arrested early in the morning, together with women and children, plus the male Jews who hadn’t been arrested the first time.
Also this time the news leaked out, especially since the women on Trondheim had been arrested the day before. All those who were arrested were taken on board the troopship "Donau” which was ready to sail. While the women and children were brought directly on board ship, the men arrived from various concentration camps, in the afternoon on the same day the ship sailed, the Jews not knowing anything of what was in store for them.
It was a journey into the unknown, from which few were to return. News commentators reported over the radio “the Jewish problem in Norway had reached a definite conclusion in as much as all Jews had been taken on board the “Donau”.
The Norwegian people’s reaction to this brutal action was more than resentful and all the desperate scenes which occurred when the deportation ship left has been described as the most revolting of all the encroachments committed by the Germans in Norway.
It may be added to this unfading glory of the Norwegian people, that they with all their might tried to prevent, or at least decrease, the extent of the catastrophe. Everywhere organization and individuals were willing to hide the Jews who managed to get away and later help them get over to Sweden. Owing to the Norwegian people’s firmness and its heroic patriots, approximately 800 Jews managed to escape to Sweden.
Protests were sent to “Minister-President” Quisling from the temporary Church leaders (the regular Church leaders had previously broken away from Nazism and therefore also from the main Church body) from individuals and from practically all religious institutions. Protests were read aloud in church, but to no avail.
Stockholm, May 1945