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Norway and Holocaust Task Force (ITF)

Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF) – 10 Years. Anniversary Publication.

Chapter: Norway Before the Second World War, Norway’s Jewish population numbered 2,100 people of a total population of three million. In all, 771 Norwegian Jews were deported to extermination and concentration camps. Only 34 survived. Today, about 1500 Jews live in Norway.

"The mentalities and stereotypes that led to the Holocaust have not gone away. They re-emerge in new forms and in new places. We all have an obligation to fight anti-Semitism, racism and all ideologies that exclude groups of people and spread hatred. In the ITF we have an important tool for helping ourselves and others by reaching out to people’s minds, both individually and collectively, through cooperation with schools, museums, memorials and research institutions" (*).

Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

(*) The Norwegian ITF chairmanship starts on 17 March 2009.

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Norway and the Jewish community Under the Norwegian Constitution of 1814 Jews were not allowed to enter the Kingdom of Norway. The Norwegian Parliament repealed this paragraph in 1851. Between 1852 and 1880 Jews arrived in Norway in small numbers, mainly from Denmark and northern Germany. Between 1880 and 1920 approximately 1200 Jews came to Norway from Eastern Europe. In 1892, the first Jewish community, The Mosaic Religious Community, was founded in Christiania (now Oslo). In 1905 the Mosaic Congregation in Trondheim was established. In 1941-42 the Jewish population of Norway numbered about 1000 households and approximately 2100 individuals. In all, 771 Norwegian Jews were deported to extermination and concentration camps during WWII. Only 34 survived. In 1997, The Jewish Museum in Trondheim was officially opened. In 1999, Norway was the first country to finalise a restitution process and compensate Jews for their losses and suffering during the Nazi occupation. The compensation is based on moral considerations and an acceptance of responsibility of errors of the past. In September 2008, The Jewish Museum in Oslo was officially opened by HRH Crown Prince Haakon. In 2008 Norway was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland’s birth. His position as Norway’s national poet is due as much to his ardent political and social commitment as to his writing. He argued strongly that Jews should be admitted to Norway. His words and commitment paved the way for the general legalisation of Jewish immigration to Norway in 1851. Today, about 1500 Jews live in Norway.

Education In the last 30 years, Holocaust awareness in Norway has increased both in the educational sector and in society in general. It has also become more and more common for schools to take part in study trips to former extermination and concentration camps in Germany and Poland, such as Sachsenshausen, Ravensbrück and Auschwitz. Several thousand Norwegian school children have participated in study trips to former camps.

A new national curriculum was introduced in Norwegian schools in 2006. It has less specific targets than its predecessor, but there are targets for a number of subjects at all levels of the school system where Holocaust studies can appropriately be included as part of the teaching. Municipalities and counties are responsible for adapting teaching to local and individual needs by making decisions on content, work methods and teaching materials.

All schools are invited to commemorate the International Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January. On this occasion, the Minister of Education awards a special annual prize to a school that has distinguished itself in working against racism and discrimination. This prize is called the Benjamin Prize, after a 15-year-old Norwegian boy who was the victim of a racially motivated murder. Benjamin Hermansen was killed by young neo-Nazis in 2001.

In cooperation with the Directorate for Education and Training the Holocaust Centre is building up comprehensive web-based information on the Holocaust and other genocides for use by schools. The Centre also organizes teacher training courses. The completion of the permanent exhibition on the Holocaust at the Centre has given Norwegian schools a new learning centre for issues concerning the Holocaust, other genocides, racism, anti-Semitism and conditions of minorities. In 2007, 6600 students visited the Centre.

The full-day programme for schools visiting the Centre includes lectures giving basic information about the Holocaust in Norway, group work and presentations followed by discussion. The main focus of the programme is nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism in Norway in the 1930s and 1940s.

Remembrance  Monuments commemorating the Norwegian Jews were inaugurated in the Jewish cemeteries in Trondheim and Oslo in 1947 and 1948. The Cissi Klein Monument in Trondheim was unveiled in 1997 in remembrance of a 13-year-old Jewish girl who was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1943.

In November 2000 a memorial was unveiled in Oslo commemorating the nearly 800 Jews who were deported by the Nazis from Oslo to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The sculpture by the British artist Antony Gormley has been placed near the harbour from which the ships set sail in November 1942 and February 1943. It consists of eight empty chairs. There are also Holocaust monuments in the towns of Tromsø and Kristiansund.

Norway has commemorated the International Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January since 2002, resulting in a wide variety of activities at schools, museums and at memorial sites. In Oslo the annual commemoration takes place at the quayside in Oslo from where the Norwegian Jews were brutally forced into the ships for deportation to Auschwitz and extermination. Members of the Norwegian Government attend and speak at the ceremonies.

27th January is also commemorated at the Falstad Memorial and Human Rights Centre, in Trondheim, Kristiansand and in other towns.

The 70th anniversary of the November Pogrom on 9th – 10th November 2008 was commemorated in several Norwegian towns and cities. In Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim and Drammen people took part in torchlight processions. In Oslo, a member of the Norwegian government and other politicians attended the ceremony and spoke to the crowd. In Stavanger the former president of the Storting (the Norwegian parliament), Mr. Jo Benkow, addressed those assembled.

The Centre for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities was established in 2001 and was officially opened at its new location at Villa Grande in Oslo in August 2006.

The Falstad Memorial and Human Rights Centre was officially opened in October 2006 on the grounds of the former SS-Strafgefangenenlager Falstad. The Arkivet (The Archive) was opened in 2001 on the grounds of the former regional Gestapo headquarters in Kristiansand.

The North Sea Traffic c Museum in Telavåg was opened in 1998 (The Telavåg tragedy and illegal boat traffic across the North Sea during WWII).

Research The Centre for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities carries out research and provides documentation, education and information on the Holocaust, other genocides, and the situation of religious minorities in modern society. The Centre has a permanent exhibition on the Holocaust and the Nazi State’s mass murder of other groups and other genocides in the 20th century. Several research projects of varying size and duration are currently in progress. The Centre also organizes international academic conferences and seminars.

During the Norwegian ITF chairmanship in 2009 the Holocaust Centre will organize an international academic conference in Oslo in cooperation with the ITF entitled “Towards an Integrated Perspective on the Nazi Policy of Mass Murder”. Research on the Norwegian chapter of the Holocaust is also in progress at the universities in Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim and at the Arkivet Foundation in Kristiansand.

The Falstad Memorial and Human Rights Centre is conducting research on the Nazi camp system, forced labour and cultures of remembrance.

Important research projects at the Centre for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities: The Participation of the Norwegian Police in the Arrest and Deportation of Jews from Norway, October/November 1942. During the war many people assisted the Nazis in the arrest and deportation of the Jews from Norway. The Construct of “the Jew” in the Norwegian Public 1814-1940. The project focuses on the Norwegian public, the church, the press and the popular literature. Norwegian Volunteers in the Waffen SS, 1940-1945. A three-year project funded by the Norwegian Government which aims to synthesise a new historical understanding of the phenomenon of Norwegian volunteers in Nazi Germany’s Waffen SS during the Second World War. The Soviet Union and the Genocide Convention: An Exercise in Cold War Politics. Migration and Belonging: A Comparative Study of Memory and Ethnicity Construction among Refugees and Labour Migrants in Norway.

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