On paragraph 2: a speech for the centennial
Irene Levin Berman
I am assuming that most of you are familiar with Norway’s beloved and highly respected poet, Henrik Wergeland, and that he was the person who declared the May 17th celebration primarily a celebration in honor of children of all ages. He also wrote the text to a song which is called “The National anthem of the children,” (Småbarnas nasjonaldag) which every child in Norway has learned to sing.
In addition, you may have heard that Henrik Wergeland spent several years of his life devoting his energy and time to repealing paragraph 2 of the Norwegian constitution, which prohibited Jews from entering Norway. There had been Jewish families in Sweden and Denmark for centuries prior to that time. He eventually was able to reach his goal, but unfortunately it did not come to fruition until 1852, several years after his death.
Consequently, Henrik Wergeland is considered to be the protector and hero of the Norwegian Jews.
During the past few years, I have done a fair amount of research on Norway’s history in general, as well as those aspects of our country’s history, which have affected Norway’s Jews in particular. In my opinion this speech and the accompanying program from Rjukan on that very day, May 17th 1914, represents the biggest positive bonus of all that I have been fortunate to come across. The writer and speaker of this exceptional tribute to Henrik Wergeland was my grandfather Leib Levin, my father’s father, who I never had the pleasure of meeting.
There is one sentence in the speech, which has now become the logo and icon for most of Norway’s Jews. It simply reads as follows “Even if you are a Jew by religion, this does not prevent you from being a Norwegian by Nation (Om vi ere jøder av religion, hindrer det os ikke at være nordmænd i nation.)
Henrik Wergeland and the Jews
The speech was given by Leib Levin, one of the first Jews to settle in Norway, at Rjukan, on May 17, 1914. Translated into English by his granddaughter, Irene Levin Berman.
According to the Norwegian Constitution, which dates, back to May 17, 1814, Jews have been prohibited from entering the country. However, we must not fault the men at the National Assembly at Eidsvoll for issuing that prohibition, as they, in consideration of the country’s conditions at that time and the limited time frame that they had to secure the country’s liberty and independence, had enough to deal with among themselves, and even less ability to deal with others.
However, in the eighteen thirties a Jew by the name of Leja, who being unfamiliar with the situation arrived in Norway. He was arrested and sentenced to 28 days of water and bread. This turned out to be too much for the young and noble poet, Henrik Wergeland, who took upon himself to make certain that this prohibition was repealed. He started his fight for our freedom.
Those of you who have read, and who will want to read Wergeland’s writings about “The Jew,” “The Jewess” and the parliamentary negotiation, which took place on September 9, 1842, where his suggestion to give Jews access to the Kingdom, was heard, will realize that he fought for us, the Jews, as a commander of an army. However, this did not include cannons, zeppelins and submarines with an outpouring of blood, but rather with his pen and the noble emotions that flowed through his veins. It was with the help of these noble weapons that he was able to induce the Norwegian Parliament and the Norwegian people to open their gates. Unfortunately, he, himself, was not to live long enough to experience the victory resulting from the heavy and altruistic struggle which lasted many years, as he passed away in 1845, while the change in the Constitution did not take place until 1852.
However, even though Henrik Wergeland has passed away, his memory should nevertheless live on through us, the Jews, with gratitude and affectionate remembrance. Foreign Jews honored his memory by raising a monument on his grave, but what do we who are harvesting the fruits of his victory do with his memory? Shouldn’t we honor his memory as well? Moreover, in which manner?
Henrik Wergeland laid the foundation within his heart for all civilized nations’ religions, which is as follows: “You shall love your next as your own,” but he, however, never loved anything more than his own native country, and for that reason, we, the Jews, have to live up to his example, and show that even if we are Jews by religion, this does not prevent us from being Norwegians by nation. We ought to love Norway as our native country, in place of the one that we lost. The way that we should act and conduct ourselves should rest on a base of social justice, which if not so, might otherwise be called chilol haschem (to mock the Lord). We should bring up our children to become useful and loyal citizens and obey the laws of the country.
When we are able to take advantage of the benefits and the joy of the country, we should also participate in the sadness and misery of the country. We should also be aware that we are responsible all for one, and one for all, and we realize quite often that this is appropriate. If a fellow believer of another religion commits an error or a crime, it is reported as if N.N. at N.N. was responsible, but without any mention of the person’s religion as an ordinary occurence. However, if the person in question happens to be a Jew, not only the perpetrator is criticized, but his fellow Jews will be criticized as well. For example: Some time ago, I read in the newspaper that the son of a ship owner in Bergen was arrested because he functioned as a German spy. He provided the Germans information about ships that left from Bergen. If this person had been a Jew, can you imagine what the press would have said about the Jews and Henrik Wergeland?
Lately anti-Semitic voices have also been heard. Whether Norwegians or foreigners, or whether they are expressed as patriotism, which generates these voices, is questionable. Perhaps for the most part this may be due to jealousy, and these people extend their gratitude to the Lord, if a Jew commits an error. Then they have plenty to talk about. Therefore, we have to be doubly careful in our conduct, and not provide any material for the anti-Semitic propaganda, but divert the disgrace to them when exposed to our moral behavior. When that happens, their voices will disappear and Henrik Wergeland’s memory will have been honored.
May 17, 1914
Irene Levin Berman is the author of “We are going to Pick Potatoes: Norway and the Holocaust, the Untold Story,” available on amazon.com. The original Norwegian text, “Vi skal plukke Poteter, ”Flukten fra Holocaust,” will very soon be available on amazon.com in a kindle version. Look out for her next book, hopefully to be published in 2015: “Norway wasn’t too small.”
This article originally appeared in the May 9, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.