Government mulls another apology

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The Norwegian government is now considering issuance of yet another official apology, this time to the children of Norwegians who were members of the national socialist party (Nasjonal Samling, NS) during World War II. Many of the children were bullied, sent to state-run institutions where they were treated badly and persecuted later in life.

'A happy population celebrates freedom' reads the banner headline on this reprint of a Norwegian newspaper when it finally could start publishing again after World War II ended. Not everyone was in a position to celebrate, though, and the children of Nazi German sympathizers suffered for years. Now the government is considering an official apology.  PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

‘A happy population celebrates freedom’ reads the banner headline on this reprint of a Norwegian newspaper when it finally could start publishing again after World War II ended. Not everyone was in a position to celebrate, though, and the children of Nazi German sympathizers suffered for years. Now the government is considering an official apology. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The month of May, now full of war memorials and national holidays, was not merry for everyone when World War II ended on May 8, 1945. While the vast majority of Norwegians celebrated liberation from Nazi Germany, the trouble was just beginning for those who had landed on “the wrong side.” Norwegians who had cooperated with the occupying forces, worked for them or been members of NS were quickly put under investigation. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported recently that 17,000 Norwegians ruled as traitors were imprisoned between 1945 and 1949, and 37 were executed (25 Norwegians and 12 Germans). Of the 90,000 Norwegians under suspicion for cooperating with the enemy, around half were prosecuted. Prison terms and sentences for hard labour were relatively long, eight years or more.

The children of those prosecuted suffered badly as well. As political commentator Hege Ulstein wrote last month, “the standard rule that children always, regardless, are innocent didn’t apply to them.” They were routinely punished by Norwegians “who didn’t manage to distinguish them from the sins of the parents,” Ulstein wrote.

In a new book released on May 8, the 70th anniversary of Norway’s liberation, author Egil Ulateig presents a broader picture of the war’s end than the jubilation that’s most common. “Peace was experienced differently among the people, it wasn’t just black and white,” Ulateig told Dagsavisen.

The actual transition from war to peace went “surprisingly well,” historian Petter Ringen Johannessen told newspaper Aftenposten, despite the presence of at least 350,000 German soldiers, officers and other leaders in the country. Much of that was credited to “the Germans’ disciplined behaviour,” Johannessen said. Several Gestapo members tried to hide by donning normal German uniforms, but most were flushed out. Others turned over their weapons and within a year, most all had left Norway.

NS women, shown here our marching in an NS propaganda film, were later victims of street justice as were their children, who now may receive an apology from the government. PHOTO: Riksarkivet/Høyskolen i Lillehammer

NS women, shown here out marching in an NS propaganda film, were later subjected to street justice as were their children, who now may receive an apology from the government. PHOTO: Riksarkivet/Høyskolen i Lillehammer

A lust for revenge, and lack of discipline, made things much harder for the suspected Norwegian traitors and their children. Ulateig accounts for how female suspects endured having their hair cut off, being harassed or even stripped naked on the streets while spectators watched and smiled. Arrests of men suspected of being on “the wrong side” were “unnecessarily brutal,” according to Ulateig. “One can understand the hate and desire for revenge against those who tortured Norwegians or committed war crimes, but the treatment of ordinary citizens is not a proud chapter in Norwegian history,” Ulateig said.

With their parents in court or prison, the children of NS members (called NS-barna in Norway) also fell victim to those seeking revenge or blaming them for their parents’ deeds. Calls are now going out for Norway’s post-war history to clearly include the darker side of freedom and liberation, especially what Member of Parliament Bård Vegar Solhjell called the “bullying, harassment and isolation” of NS children.

“It was briefly mentioned during the 50th anniversary celebrations, but the children have never received any formal apology,” Solhjell, of the Socialist Left party, told Aftenposten on Tuesday. “We know there were 50,000 members of Nasjonal Samling. We think they had around 100,000 children. There were also around 10,000 children born whose fathers were German soldiers. My main point is that the children shall not be blamed for their parents’ choices.”

Vidkun Quisling (left) and Nazi Germany's "Reichskommissar" in Norway, Josef Terboven, inspecting a division of the Norwegian paramilitary group known as "hirden" during the war. Quisling was charged with high treason after the war and executed. Terboven committed suicide on May 8, 1945 at Skaugum, the home of the exiled crown prince that Terboven had taken over as his residence. May 8th is now Norway's Liberation- and Veterans' Day. PHOTO: Riksarkivet/National Archives of Norway

Vidkun Quisling (left) founded and led Norway’s Nasjonal Samling (NS), the national socialist party that numbered as many as 50,000 members and featured this paramilitary organization known as “Hirden.” The children of NS-members were badly treated after the war and now may receive an official government apology. At right is Nazi Germany’s “Reichskommissar” in Norway, Josef Terboven, who committed suicide after Germany’s surrender. Quisling was charged with high treason after the war and later executed.  PHOTO: Riksarkivet/National Archives of Norway

Finn Wagle, a former bishop in the state church, has also pointed out how those children paid dearly for the acts of their parents. Resistance leaders during the war had demanded that loyal Norwegians not befriend “quislinger,” that they should be ignored in public and their children shouldn’t play with NS members’ children. That didn’t end with the war, and instead led to what Wagle called “stigmatizing and isolation.” The children were all but frozen out of Norwegian society, often violently.

Justice Minister Anders Anundsen said in Parliament Monday that there’s no doubt NS-children suffered after the war. “They were bullied, criticized and had lots of psychological ailments, but we lack enough research on this,” Anundsen said. “We will now go through this, with other ministries. An official apology (from the government) must be in response to errors made within the public sector.” It would be the latest apology made by the government for past injustices

Ole Wilhelm Klüwer, age 69, is a member of the association representing NS-children. His late parents were both Norwegian Nazis and his father served five years in prison after the war. He doesn’t want to demonize them and questions whether an apology from the government is necessary.

“I think we already received one, from the king and the parliament, on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end,” Klüwer, born just after the war ended, told Aftenposten. He would rather see more NS-children, now grown, take part in the public debate and stand up for their rights. For many the stigma has been so great that they’ve remained quiet, for 70 years.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund