NONVIOLENCE IN WORLD WAR TWO
WHAT HAPPENED IN NORWAY

 
 
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INTRODUCTION

NORWAY
- unwelcome change
- unwelcome pressure
- indoctrination
- courage and endurance
- working underground
- learning about heroism
- aftermath


DENMARK
GERMANY

- further reading

 


Unwelcome change

On April 10, the day after the German invasion, the leader of Norway's Nazi party, Vidkun Quisling, declared himself to be prime minister. The announcement was received with such scorn and ridicule that within a few days Adolf Hitler sacked him, and introduced a German Nazi, Josef Terboven, as 'Reichskommissar'. The new commander immediately stripped the press of its freedom and banned listening to foreign broadcasts (particularly the BBC's).

At first the Norwegian army, with some British and French military backing, had given armed resistance to the invaders, but without result, and they surrendered on June 9. The King and government had escaped to Britain. It was time for other kinds of resistance.

Despite the risk of punishment, some people secretly listened to the foreign news and passed it on by word of mouth and in chain letters of encouragement. When all radios were confiscated (from September 1941), over 300 'underground' newspapers sprang up, carrying news obtained from concealed radios and urging no-co-operation with the Nazi authority. One person would type out several copies (say 20) of each edition, and pass them on for the next 20 readers to type more copies, and so on until there were enough to go round.

People thought up inventive ways to show their solidarity - for a time they wore paper-clips in their lapels or linked as bracelets; small coins, with the King's head brightly polished, were stuck on pins and also worn. To acknowledge the exiled King's birthday - and as far as the German authorities were concerned Norway no longer had a king - people wore 'flowers of loyalty' or the symbol 'H7' (for King Haakon VII). Several hundreds were arrested for this inoffensive act.

All aspects of ordinary life are affected by war and occupation, as the Norwegians quickly found. In September 1941 they discovered that their children's daily milk supply was being diverted to the occupying German army. The trade unions at once mounted a protest strike, which they knew was a risky move. Two days into the strike several union leaders were executed by firing squad. So many people were being imprisoned or executed, simply for trying to maintain a just society in the face of oppression, that an agreement was made, spread by word of mouth alone, to acknowledge their courage with a nonviolent demonstration: on February 17, 1942, almost everyone in Oslo, the capital, stayed at home, leaving all public places deserted, in a silent act of commemoration.

Unwelcome pressure

Reichskommissar Josef Terboven was a determined man. Ignoring resistance, he set up a puppet government made up entirely of Norwegian Nazi party members and abolished all other political parties. His aim was to create a 'corporate state' of Norway (similar to Italy under Benito Mussolini). He planned to pressure the people into adopting Nazi principles by infiltrating Norway's fifty or so professional associations: almost everybody belonged to one.

In November 1940, the new Nazi minister of justice stated that he alone had the right to hire and fire court officials and order judges to retire. The judges appealed to Josef Terboven, but he told them they shouldn't 'presume to question' his decrees. Shocked, they all resigned.

Next, the Nazi government attacked the Lutheran church (the main church in Norway). Priests were threatened with imprisonment if they refused to reveal details of their parishioners' confessions. The bishops protested against such violation of confidences; and when they were ordered not to criticise the regime in their sermons, 7 bishops resigned. One bishop, Eivind Bergraav, continued to preach on behalf of humanity and justice, and was arrested in his own cathedral. The Nazi authority appointed 'puppet' bishops of their own, but the congregations took little notice of them.

The Nazis even tried to take over sport. They ordered all sports clubs and associations to be disbanded, and tried to set up one large sports organisation under their own control. In response, sportsmen and sportswomen simply went on strike. Hardly anyone agreed to accept jobs in the new organisation, even though many leading athletes were arrested and some were threatened with being banned from their sport 'for life'. The Nazis set up 'puppet' teams to take part in a 'national championship', which was boycotted by the Norwegians. (The attendance at the 1942 cup final was a mere 27!) A Nazi sports leader admitted: 'It is impossible to convince Norwegian sportsmen that Nazism is a good thing. They maintain a firm opposition to us.'

Then the medical association expressed disquiet that skilled jobs were being given to Nazis who weren't qualified to do them. It wasn't long before all the professional associations started to work together as a resistance movement. In May 1941, 43 of them, with a total membership of 750,000, sent written protests to Josef Terboven objecting to his efforts to 'nazify' the country. Nazi decisions and decrees were, they all said, 'openly contrary to law'. Arrests followed; several associations were forcibly closed down; others were given new (and Nazi) directors. The Norwegians had a simple and effective reply to this: they resigned en masse, leaving the official associations with no reason to exist. Their members quietly went underground and re-formed as before. Not that they were silent: in July 1942 a manifesto of nonviolent resistance to the Nazi occupation was published, and in September the main underground newspaper arranged for thousands more letters opposing 'nazification' to be sent to the German authority.
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