Norway’s new director of the state police has issued an official apology for his department’s involvement in the deportation of Jewish residents in 1942. The apology, called both historic and long overdue, was made 70 years to the day when Jews were rounded up and literally shipped off to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
Odd Reidar Humlegård, formally named by Justice Minister Grete Faremo on Friday to serve as head of the state police for the next six years, issued the apology on behalf of the national police force on Monday, in local newspaper Dagsavisen.
“I want to apologize, on behalf of the Norwegian Police and those who were involved with the deportation of Norwegian Jews to concentration camps,” Humlegård told Dagsavisen. He felt it was necessary to say that both he and his department were sorry that more than 300 Norwegian police officers took part in the arrests and deportation of 532 Jews who were forced on board the ship DS Donau in the dark, early morning hours of November 26, 1942 and sent to the camps in Germany.
On Monday, 70 years later, memorials were held that included Oslo Mayor Fabian Stang of the Conservative Party and the government minister in charge of culture , Hadia Tajik from the Labour Party. Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg issued a formal apology for the deportation on behalf of the Norwegian government earlier this year.
Humlegård said it would have been easy to simply attach himself and the police department to Stoltenberg’s official apology. He didn’t feel that was sufficient, given the active cooperation that hundreds of members of the Norwegian police force gave 70 years ago to their Nazi occupiers. His apology came after popular Norwegian poet Jan Erik Vold had told Dagsavisen over the weekend that the police involvement in the deportation of Norwegian Jews was a “national shame” for which the police should have apologized long ago.
‘Who were these people?’
A total of 771 Norwegian Jews were deported during the war years, from the time of the German invasion on April 9, 1940 until liberation in May 1945. Only 34 returned to Norway, among them Samuel Steinmann, now 89 years old and the only Norwegian survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp still alive.
Steinmann, arrested at home by two civilian Norwegian police and escorted to the ship on the city tram system, told Dagsavisen that he remembered thinking “were these Nazis or ordinary Norwegian, clear-thinking people who led by away. I’ve often wondered about that: What kind of people were these?”
Historians believe many were Norwegians anxious to please, or afraid to displease, their new Nazi bosses who had quickly taken over the state police force. Some members of the Norwegian police force at the time were believed to be anti-Semitic and supported Hitler’s Jewish policies as did others whom Norwegians now claim chose “the wrong side” during the war.
By the time the deportation occurred, Jews in Norway already had lost many of their basic human rights and had property taken away from them. Many had already fled the country, often with the help of sympathetic Norwegians fighting the Nazi occupation.
‘Nice to hear’
Steinmann stressed that while “this was all so long ago” and “I don’t go around thinking about it all the time,” he was glad to hear the prime minister’s apology in January and the police director’s apology now as well. “I can probably say ‘it was about time,’ but it is nice to hear,” Steinmann told Dagsavisen.
The head of the Jewish community in Oslo, Ervin Kohn of Det Mosaiske Trossamfund, also was glad to hear Humlegård’s apology. “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Kohn told Dagsavisen. He now hopes the police and government authorities will also take action to fight what the Jewish community sees as a new wave of anti-Semitism as well.
“It’s fine that they come with an acknowledgement and apology for what happened in 1942,” Kohn said. “I hope this can lead to them also taking anti-Semitism seriously in 2012.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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