This morning we had the privilege of having a history professor teach us about Germany’s occupation of Norway. This lesson was especially after having been to Germany and learning about things from that country’s perspective.
War as a defining factor
As a young nation, Germany’s invasion and occupation was a defining piece of Norway’s history. Norway became the world’s third democracy in 1814, but didn’t become a nation until 1905 after it got independence from Sweden, so the country was really only about 35 years old when Germany invaded. When a country goes to war it needs to figure out what’s important and look into itself. This was a challenge for a country that was so young and still trying to define itself outside of the realm of war. It only took Germany 2 months to conquer the entire country of Norway and Norwegians still debate about whether this quick invasion was the fault of military officials of politicians. Norway was fairly neutral in the 1920’s and 1930’s but after Germany invaded, nothing would ever be the same. This occupation meant that Norway was no longer merely in the periphery of Europe. Many wonder what would’ve happen if Britain had invaded first, but no one will ever know.
Germany had an incredibly thorough plan for the invasion of Norway. First Germans attacked the capital and all coast towns, as well as a port in the North that was the principal port for iron export.
Norwegian Nazis and Government during the occupation
Part of the Norwegian population ended up siding with the Germans, which was seen as quite the betrayal. One day a Nazi Norwegian named Quisling took over the radio and told people that all resistance should stop. He had incredible influence over the country and was seen as the ultimate traitor.
During the occupation years Quisling received the title of Minister President. Germans wanted a national council, but this effort failed. All parties besides the Nazi party were prohibited during the German occupation.
Norwegians put up strong resistance to the German invasion, through both military and civil means. The Norwegians did have a military. Many men went into the forest and gathered weapons that were dropped from British planes. Weapons were gathered to use when the time came, but fortunately the time never came.
Radios were important as a means of communication during the occupation, though people would’ve gotten in a lot of trouble if they had been discovered since radios were prohibited.
One incredible action that took place is that a small number of men from Britain parachuted into Norway and stopped the Nazi’s from taking the heavy water that was vital to the creation of atomic bombs. In this instance, just a few men had a huge influence.
Civil resistance was important for the morale of the people of Norway and the schools and churches played an important role in this part of the resistance. The Nazis wanted to introduce Nazi ideology into Norwegian schools, which is something that most Norwegians did not want. Many teachers were arrested for petitions that they organized against this initiative. These teachers were sent to Northern Norway and people weren’t sure if they’d ever return. Most did return and their efforts ended up being an important part of the resistance. The church was also asked to talk about Nazi ideology from the pulpit, but declined. Everybody in schools and churches resisted so it was impossible for the Nazis to do anything. In the end the protests and boycotts became so massive that there was nothing the Nazis could do.
Some Norwegian papers continued to function during the occupation but they were filled with Nazi propoganda. For this reason there was lots of production of illegal papers. There were serious repercussions for people who were caught publishing, distributing or reading the papers.
It was required that radios be handed over to the Nazis when they took over the country, but some people hid them in their floorboards and continued to tune into BBC during the occupation to hear the other side of what was happening. BBC radio was an important way for the Norwegian cabinet in England to get information to Norwegian citizens. The King also made announcements through BBC channels.
National symbols were used to help keep people united during the occupation. Often times the Norwegians wore symbols that made fun of the Germans, but the Germans didn’t really catch on. One example is that people would wear paperclips on their shirt pockets that represented they were against the Nazi. Norwegian children drew cartoons of Hitler, which could have been a very dangerous thing to do. Norwegian students sometimes made fun of the Nazi children in school as well and made them feel unwelcome.
People who took part in the resistance and were discovered had to flee the country. Most people who fled went to Sweden on skis. Our presenter’s parents actually fled to Sweden in 1943 after his father was discovered to have been part of the resistance.
Something that Norwegians are not proud of to this day is the fact that Norwegian police cooperated with the Nazis. In 1942, 771 Jews were taken by the Nazis to Auswitz and only 35 returned. Many people are still upset that nothing was done to save the lives of Norwegian Jews.
Everyday life during the war
All industry in Norway was geared towards producing for the Germans so there wasn’t much left for Norwegians. People came out of the war period very gaunt looking due to a lack of food. Tobacco was nothing to write home about during the occupation, but people still smoked because it was a source of comfort. Norwegian resisters had to coexist with German soldiers and Norwegian Nazis, which often was difficult. Some German soldiers and Norwegian women fell in love and had children, but they were never really able to live a normal life because of how society judged them.
Hitler had a plan that if everything failed in Germany he could move everything to Norway and work from there. The Norwegian army had a plan, along with the British soldiers that they could come out of the woods and disarm the whole Germany army if it ever came to Norway (it was a 1 to 500 person ratio so the chances of this happening were slim).
Facts and Figures
All in all 10,000 Norwegians lost their lives because of the war (when compared to 22 million in the Soviet Union, Norway was quite lucky)
- 3700 sailors
- 1600 people died in prisons and concentration camps (737 Jews included)
- 417 Norwegians were executed
- 1100 soldiers (on allied side) killed
- 700 front solders (on German side) killed
- 750 people killed in air raids
Additionally, Finnmark and Troms (two northern-most counties) were devastated by burnt soil strategy
After the war, Norway had “The Norwegian Nuremberg Trials” for those who betrayed the country
- 92,805 were put on trial
- 45,085 got sentenced
- 17,000 received a prison sentence
- 30 people were executed
Remembering the war
There are still debates about whether the German occupation was the most significant event in Norwegian history. Every year, books are published about the war and films are still made about the Norwegian resistance. People who were on the wrong side back in the 40’s are still known in the small towns and treated with a certain amount of skeptism, but all in all Norway is coming to terms with the past and moving forward in peace.