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

 


Working underground

Meanwhile, the Norwegians' underground network was co-ordinated, strong, and hard at work. It printed and issued the illicit newspapers; devised an efficient system of hiding places and escape routes for people wanted by the German police; and set up a well-managed voluntary fund to support the families of resisters who had been sacked, deported or even executed for their opinions. The underground groups were also able to organise resistance to compulsory war work in 1942 and 1943: call-up notices fell through the letterboxes of rapidly evacuated homes or 'mistaken' addresses, and the country's population records were consumed by an 'accidental' fire.

But at no time was the nonviolent resistance organisation used for retribution, vengeance, conspiracies or oppression. Nor were any strikes called or transport halted, acts of protest that would damage the economy or civilian life.

Civilians were unable, however, to protect Norway's small (2,300) Jewish population, who were relatively isolated. After systematic deprivation from mid-1942, 760 were deported; only 24 of them survived. Norwegian academics and clergymen did their best to protest and arouse public opinion against anti-Semitic acts; Quisling's answer was 'A Jew is not a Norwegian, not European. Jews have no place in Europe.'

Vidkun Quisling's aim was to make Norway into a Nazi state. The lawyers, the medical profession, the churchmen, the teachers, all acted nonviolently to prevent this, and succeeded. They were later joined by factory workers: Quisling attempted to replace trade unions with a Nazi-style Labour Corporation. The workers got wind of this in advance (another underground coup) and simply resigned from their unions en masse. The Corporation had its Nazi management, but scarcely any members to manage. Hitler intervened and ordered the project to be abandoned. 100 men were arrested; they would be shot, the workers were told, if they didn't withdraw their resignations. Having achieved their aim, they agreed: another success for collective nonviolent action.

Learning about heroism

Sadly, the nonviolent movement was superseded by armed resistance. Its substantial sabotage activities dominated the remaining war years, during which Hitler continued to maintain the 300,000-strong army of occupation.

What made Norway's nonviolent resistance movement possible? One analysis suggests that it was in part due to Norway's long history of freedom from war, and its people's preference for neutral status. Conflicts within the country were traditionally resolved nonviolently, so it made sense to apply the principle in the wider world as well. The existence of so many clubs and associations was helpful too: they weren't in competition with each other, they encouraged a sense of solidarity and support, and they ensured good communications.

It's not surprising, given the Norwegians' sociable nature, that the most obvious way for them to show nonviolent hostility was simply to withhold friendship. Like the Danes, they cold-shouldered the Germans in their midst. A pacifist, commenting in 1945 on this social boycott, said: 'It was obvious to everyone who used their intelligence that there were thousands of German soldiers who were in reality also opposed to the Nazi system...I would suggest more friendliness to individuals, less obedience in the face of the regime.'

Such disobedience needs courage. (Perhaps such friendliness does, too.) One of the teachers who endured the days of protest in the Arctic came home convinced that nonviolence should be taught in schools, so that young people could say to themselves 'I can be a hero, without using violence'. Norway provided a lesson for everyone.

A British military historian, interviewing German generals after the war, was told that they'd found nonviolent resistance much harder to deal with than armed and violent opposition.
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