Where did it all end up?
New book reveals reality of the Jewish experience in Norway
M. MICHAEL BRADY
A new book probing the reality of the World War II Jewish experience in Norway, Hvor ble det av alt sammen? (Where did it all end up?) was published this January in Norway. It builds upon the chronicle of Judaism and the Holocaust in Norway. Its lesser-known story starts in wartime occupied Norway and documents the plight of the Jews who returned to Norway after the war, only to contend with demeaned status in their home country.
The historical background of the Holocaust in Norway can be summed up in brief: After the German invasion of April 9, 1940, the government capitulated and left Oslo to set up the Norwegian government in exile in London. In Norway, a collaborationist government headed by Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling and Reichkommissar Josef Terboven took over the country. In 1942, the occupying Germans required that Jews be sent to concentration camps. The collaborationist government complied. It willingly participated in the Holocaust by deporting 772 Jews to the Auschwitz death camp.
The story, as summarized on the back face of the book cover, starts in October 1942, when collaborationist police visited Jewish homes around the country to confiscate valuables such as jewelry, watches, silverware, and cash. Houses, apartments, factories, and shops were taken over by the state. After the deportations of 1942–1943, the confiscated items were sold at auction to neighbors and others interested.
In 1945, when the surviving Jews returned home to the country under its normal peacetime government, little was left of everything they had owned. For many of the survivors, the struggle against the bureaucracy, delays, and misgiving nature of the compensation process became a new trauma.
In 1996, the peacetime normal government appointed a committee to reexamine the issue. Named for its chair Oluf Skarpnes (1932-2019), the Skarpnes Committee’s recommendation was made available the following year. The conclusion of the committee majority was clear: All Norwegians had suffered losses during the war, the compensation process had been “just and thorough.” Among the majority were several prominent historians and lawyers.
Two Norwegians, psychologist Berit Reisel (1945- ) and historian Bjarte Bruland (1969- ) viewed the situation differently. They held that the looting of the Norwegian Jews should be regarded as part of Nazi attempts to exterminate the Jewish population of Norway and that what had happened to the Norwegian Jews and their possessions should be remapped. This led to a differing conclusion of the minority, so there was a split. In mid-1998, when the Storting granted the Jews in Norway a compensation amounting to NOK 450 million ($60 million at the prevailing exchange rate), the minority’s recommendation prevailed.
In retrospect, the Skarpnes Committee was a key turning point in postwar Norwegian history. Now the story of it has been told from within. The book is an unequivocal account of political positioning and reluctance, and of a small minority that managed to turn around a ponderous process.
But it’s also a human story, about the experiences of the Jewish minority, about those who lost their loved ones and lost everything they owned, about the experience of being outsiders in a slow and seemingly hopeless struggle to regain some what once was theirs. More importantly, it was Norwegian society’s public recognition that what had affected the Norwegian Jews, as individuals, families, and communities. constituted genocide among us.
“Vi var grunnleggende uenig om hva slags virkelighet vi snakket om” (We basically disagreed about what sort of reality we were talking about), review in Norwegian cultural weekly Morgenbladet by Nikolai Melamed Kleivan print version Jan. 29-Feb. 4, 2021, edition pp 42-43, online version link at: https://morgenbladet.no/boker/2021/01/vi-var-grunnleggende-uenige-om-hva-slags-virkelighet-vi-snakket-om,
“Norwegian Jews and the Holocaust,” brief published March 1, 2017 by the Norwegian Embassy in Tel Aviv, link at: www.norway.no/en/israel/norway-israel/jewish-history-and-culture-in-norway/new-norwegian-jews-and-the-holocaust-norwegian-righteous-among-the-nationspage.
“A brief history of Judaism in Norway,” The Norwegian American, July 2, 2015, updated May 16, 2016, print edition page 10; link to online version at: www.norwegianamerican.com/a-brief-history-of-judaism-in-norway.
Hvor ble det av alt sammen? (Where did it all end up?), subtitled Plyndring av Jødene i Norge (“Looting of the Jews in Norway”) by Berit Reisel (born 1945), Oslo, Jan. 21, 2021, Forlaget Press, 358 pages hardcover, ISBN 978-8233280312.
At this writing, no American booksellers or agencies stock the book, but it is available on export order from the Tronsmo Bokhandel’s website at www.tronsmo.no/bok. The link for ordering is: www.tronsmo.no/bok/9788232803712/HVOR_BLE_DET_AV_ALT_SAMMEN_-PLYNDRINGEN_AV_J%C3%98DENE_I_NORGE.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 26, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.