Norway’s own Holocaust memorial

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MUSEUM GUIDE: Norway’s capital is full of museums, and they’re often in the news. We’re following that news, and aim to focus regularly on a specific museum or attraction worthy of a visit. THIS WEEK: The Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HL-senteret), since International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27.

"Villa Grande" once belonged to the leader of the Norwegian Nazi party, and now houses the HL-senteret. PHOTO: Isabel Coderre

The day for remembering Holocaust victims was established by the United Nations in 2005. It was on January 27, but in 1945, that prisoners were liberated from the largest Nazi concentration camp: Auschwitz-Birkenau. In light of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this week’s museum guide story is about the Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities (Holocaust Center, HL-senteret), which is located on Bygdøy. Various countries, cities, and regions had already recognized January 27 as a memorial day for the Holocaust prior to the creation of an international commemoration by the UN. In Oslo, the Holocaust Center was planning a special event at 3pm on Thursday at the pier below the Akershus Fortress, from which hundreds of Norwegian Jews were forced onto a ship that took them to Nazi concentration camps.

The center’s permanent facility opened in 2006, funded in part through state compensation for Norway’s own role in the Holocaust during the German occupation from 1940 to 1945. It is housed in a mansion that was taken over by Vidkun Quisling, the leader of the Norwegian Nazi party (Nasjonal Samling) during World War II who was later executed as a traitor after the war. The center contains a permanent exhibition, a library, and a conference room, and as such it is much more than a museum – it conducts research, documents information, and educates. Groups of students visit the Center on a weekly, if not daily basis.

In touring the permanent exhibition, visitors will be exposed to the history of racism, so-called ethnic cleansing, and anti-Semitism. They will hear of the work of “racial scientists,” which was largely denounced after World War II, and of the transition from the economic and social stigmatization of various people groups (particularly Jews) to their “racial” discrimination. The development of Hitler’s Nazi regime in Germany is chronicled, and details about the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps are recounted. Racism and anti-Semitism in Norway during World War II is specifically addressed, with stories that have surprised and disturbed many Norwegians who previously were unaware of some of their own countrymen’s complicity throughout the war years.

Visitors pass through this gateway to the HL-senteret. PHOTO: Isabel Coderre

The process of recounting all this information begins on the ground floor of the building, then moves to the basement, where the darkest parts of this history can be found. Two videos that play in the basement include an interview with an Auschwitz survivor, and another with a crew member onboard the SS Donau (the ship that transported Norwegian Jews to Germany). One well-lit room in the basement serves as an exception to the chill and darkness, but as it is a tribute to Norwegian victims of the Holocaust, it still leaves visitors feeling fairly – weighted. The exhibition ends in a sunny, mirrored room upstairs entitled “Contemporary Reflections,” which opens to the Center’s café.

The exhibition is in Norwegian, but an English pamphlet and audio guide are available free of charge at the front desk.

Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HL-senteret)
http://www.hlsenteret.no/ (external link)
Open: During the winter months the Center is open every day from 11am-4pm. During the summer months it is open every day from 10am-6pm.
Location: Villa Grande, Huk Aveny 56, on Bygdøy. Take bus #30 to Bygdøyhus then follow the signs, or take the ferry in the summer.
Admission: Adults NOK 50, students and seniors NOK 40, children NOK 25, and families NOK 100.

ALSO IN OUR MUSEUM GUIDE:

Nobel Peace Center
Oslo Jewish Museum (Jødisk Museum i Oslo)
Oslo City Museum (Bymuseet)
The Museum of Contemporary Art
The Ibsen Museum
The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet)
The National Gallery
Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History)
The Viking Ship Museum
Summertime at The Munch Museum
The Natural History Museum – Botanical Gardens
The National Museum – Architecture
The Kon-Tiki Museum
The Maritime Museum
Oscarsborg Fortress
The Polar Ship Fram Museum
“Be a tourist in your own town”

Views and News from Norway/Isabel Coderre
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