Monday, 9 April 2018

Remembering the Invasion

Today marks the 78th anniversary of the Nazi German invasion of Norway on April 9th, 1940. Norway was occupied by the Nazis for five years, until May 8th, 1945.

Many Norwegians were complicit in the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the occupation period. More than 770 Norwegian Jews were deported to German death camps, with the assistance of the Norwegian police force and other Norwegians. More than 760 of those Jews died. The Norwegian Roma had been shut out and stripped of their citizenship several years earlier by the independent Norwegian government, while trying to get home after travelling in Germany. Most of them, too, died in Nazi concentration camps. Many Norwegians were members of the local Nazi party Nasjonal Samling and actively supported Nazi ideology, including my great-great-aunt and her husband.

However, many Norwegians also fought heroically in the Resistance against the occupation, and many took part in the war effort abroad, risking their lives on land and at sea in the fight against Hitler. My great-grandfather Inge (whose sister was an active Nazi) was part of the Resistance, but was outed, and a bounty was placed on his head. The whole family - father, mother and three small children - had to flee to Sweden, where they lived as refugees. Another great-grandfather of mine, Torbjørn, was a sailor in the Merchant Fleet and took part in the Murmansk convoys. He saw action at sea several times, including the Battle of the North Cape in 1943. In 1944, not yet 21 years old, he took part in the landings at Normandy. He returned to Norway in late 1945 after almost a decade abroad. His experiences took their toll on him, and he suffered from alcoholism until the end of his life.

While remembering brave men like these, let us also not forget that women, too, took part in the war effort in many ways. My great-grandmother Gerd was active in the illegal press in Oslo, but was caught by the Nazis and sentenced to hard labour, picking turnips at a farm in Blaker.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents had the courage of their convictions. Their blood runs in our veins. Those of us whose families were allies of Hitler should not be ashamed but remember that the Nazis, too, fought for their beliefs, although those beliefs were misguided. We are not bound to the destiny of our ancestors. We must draw on their strengths and leave their weaknesses behind. Hateful ideologies are once again on the rise; two days ago, Neo-Nazis marched in my mother's town, Fredrikstad. In these turbulent times, let us hold firmly on to the values of love, respect and freedom for all, so that we, too, may help create a better world; and if we must go to war, that we do so for the right causes.

And I wish a happy birthday to my wonderful grandmother Gunvor, who is 77 years old today and still remembers her days as a refugee child.