I wrote about world war 2 a while ago, in Remembrance culture and Hva erindrer Haugesund? (what does Haugesund remember?). I didn’t translate the latter as it’s about my hometown Haugeund and probably not as interesting to outsiders. Our Liberation Day is 8th May, and on this day it’s not a bad idea remembering more than the official story. May 8th is also the national veteran day when we remind those who have fought for Norway, in or outside the country. Unfortunately we have a selective war-memory. I’d like to add a few clips that I recommend as a part of a recollection archive.
Norway has decided to focus on a few myths and heroes, while most were forgotten. We don’t even talk much about the Norwegian Spitfire pilots anymore. When our government fled to England they set up an underground army inside Norway. They also had a training camp for pilots in Canada, called Little Norway. These pilots were later based in England. Here is a video about the base North Weald in Essex:
There are numerous disgraceful chapters in the book about Norway’s remembrance culture. One of them is the Nazi Soviet prisoner camps and graves of Soviets that died while liberating Norway (we have s short border to Russia and they crossed it towards the end of the war). After Norway had ratified the Geneva Convention the governmet decided to open the graves of Soviet soldiers, and move them to a remote island. There were also some Norwegians that joined the Russian army to fight the nazis. These were called the partisans. Not only didn’t Norwegian authorities acknowledge their contribution until the 1990’s, but their loyalty to Norway was also questioned and they were followed closely by intelligence for a very long time after the war. In short, Norway had its own Mccarthyism.
It was only fair that the Swedes paid back some of the “debt” they had aqcuired. This neutral country had actually transported German troops and equipment on their Railways so that the Germans could reinforce the defense of Narvik. This was known before, but the Norwegian journalist Espen Eidum found evidence of a more extensive collaboration in different archives. There is a long history of animosity between Norway and Sweden. Needless to say, this didn’t help.The British newspaper The Daily Mail wrote about Espen Eidum book.
Later Sweden appears to have had a change of heart. Office of Strategic Services (OSS ), which became CIA after the war, was heavily involved in the Sepal bases. These were secret bases on the Swedish side of the border. Soldiers in the Norwegian underground army had been trained in guerilla warfare. The Samis were also involved in this operation, which was very useful. The Samis is an indegenous people that live in Norway, Sweden, Finland and on the Kola peninsula in Russia. The nazis saw them as a people that didn’t feel loyal to any country, and let them cross the borders freely.
Roger Albrigtsen is a local historian who has written several books, among them on Sepals. Sadly he doesn’t have an English publisher yet. He has also published a book of photos from the war. The book has a facebook page. Here is a teaser from the Sepals-project. The last man speaking is an interesting case. That is a Sami that debated with himself whether or not to fire when he encountered 3 Norwegian Nazi-collaborators in the mountains between Norway and Sweden. He decided to fire:
This suggests perhaps that the Swedish neutrality was never very clear, and that the Swedish government has moved from support of Hitler to support of the Allies. In short, they would have supported anyone who seemed to be winning. Perhaps it was only after the war they developed a policy of neutrality? This is what I mean about remembrance culture. We choose what we want to remember. On this day when we should honour our heroes, one of the main stories in the biggest newspaperswas a gimmick where chess champion Magus Carlsen played against a computer and the whole country. Tragic!
I have mentioned that there has been a myth-building in relation to the Norwegian remembrance culture, but it may have been stronger in Sweden. Both Norway and Sweden rejected a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939. Sweden was officially neutral one year later, while Norway was occupied. Maybe Sweden didn’t reject the deal with Hitler after all? The Swedish journalist Staffan Thorsell wanted Sweden to take more responsibility, and that led him to write the book My Dear Reich Chancellor (Mein lieber Reichskanzler). The title is taken from a letter written by the Swedish King Gustav V. He tried to mediate between Churchill and Hitler on behalf of Göring.
Here is Churchill’s response which Staffan Thorsell quotes:
“I might add that the interference from the despicable King of Sweden as peacemaker after he betrayed Finland and Norway, and while he is stuck in Germany’s grip …. is particularly distasteful ” (translated from Swedish).
National veteran day is on the same day as Liberation day in Norway. The veterans deserve a special day where we recognize what they have done for Norway and the world. This applies to those who opposed Hitler, and those who have served under the UN flag. In my opinion we don’t give them enough credit for the sacrifices they have made.
The town Kirkenes was liberated by the Soviet Army on 25th October 1944, 7 months before the whole country was free. This could be one day we gave veterans special attention. In the U.S. Veteran Day (11 November ) is a federal holiday. In an increasingly secular society where religious holidays are likely to disappear, we could make 25.10 a national holiday. The German capitulation in Norway had effect from 8th May at midnight, so 9th could be an option too.
In terms of remembrance culture all countries seem to have left things out. I believe we should all see our countries the way they really are, and try to change the attitude. The world is till at war and it would be naive to think that we have become more honest. The public remembrance culture may always be deceitful, but I hope the private one has improved.
It was difficult finding English Language sources saying the same as the Norwegian sites I’ve used. The links support many of the accusations, however.