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Sunday, April 21, 2024

World War II treason suspects named

The names of more than 16,000 Norwegians suspected of treason during the Second World War have been published in a controversial book. While the publishers have removed some contentious names, the book has sparked debate over the ethics of naming suspects who were never actually convicted of crimes.

The names were collected by the resistance movement towards the end of WWII to speed up the trials and legal settlement (Landssvikoppgjøret) against those who’d sided with the enemy during the war, reported newspaper VG. In May 1945, the Norwegian Police Directorate (Politidirektoratet) drew up “List Number 1” of people suspected of serious treason. It has been kept confidential ever since in the National Archives (Riksarkivet), but Finn Jørgen Solberg at Vega Publishing said they found a copy in an antique shop.

“This is a time machine, which throws light on this great drama’s increasingly dark room,” said Solberg. “There were 350,000 German soldiers and more than 100,000 Norwegian Nazis of different shades in the country – it was a powder keg we cannot imagine today. In my view, this document is an important contribution to the discussion about Landssvikoppgjøret and the post war period which must come.” Solberg said in the year Norway celebrates the 200th anniversary of its constitution Grunnloven, the discussion is all the more relevant.

Researchers need special permission to access the document at the National Archives, because it contains sensitive personal information. “Our view is that this is confidential information and that is how we have dealt with it all these years,” said National Archivist Ivar Fonnes. “One thing is the regulations, another thing is ethics. Suspects are innocent until proven guilty, therefore this is ethically questionable.”

Solberg said the fact the list is accessible even with restrictions means the details have been in circulation among historians and antiquarians for years. “Our lawyers believe that it is legal to publish this material,” he said. “But we do not know what reactions it will elicit in the community, including from survivors or descendants.”

He said the list “undoubtedly” contains uncertainties, and numerous errors and incorrect names show it was hurriedly written. “Motives such as revenge, jealousy, personal vendettas or the desire to meet the expectation of naming Nazi sympathizers for their own purposes come into play,” said Solberg. “I hope survivors or descendants contact the publisher to remove incorrect entries in the list.”

The book raised questions over the ethics of publishing the names of people suspected, but never convicted, of treason. Solberg said about 70 to 80 “questionable” entries were removed, such as where a person was only listed for intelligence reasons as a Nazi’s relative, or young women who had love affairs with Norwegian or German Nazi suspects. He said most people under 18 years of age were also omitted, except for those who were Waffen-SS members.

“But it is clear it is debatable where to draw the line,” Solberg acknowledged. “I cannot guarantee the list does not contain any names of innocent people. But it is important to emphasize that around 95 percent of the names are members of NS (Nasjonal Samling, a Norwegian fascist party) or under organizations and therefore defined as criminal under the Landssvikoppgjøret.”

Solberg said he has not checked how many of those named are still alive, but expects quite a few are. He expected reactions to some names, and said the book would be updated in new editions.

Experts react
Senior researcher at the Holocaust Centre (Holocaust-senteret), Terje Emberland, said the publishers were ethically in muddy waters, and was heavily critical of books released in recent years naming people. “I think they satisfy people’s voyeurism more than they shed new light on the treason complexity,” he told VG. “But after all, the names in Eirik Veum’s list of staff in the State Police were condemned people – many of them with the cruelest deeds on their conscience.”

He said List Number 1 deals with suspects, is incomplete, and is therefore much riskier. “Here we find everything from torturers and killers, to passive NS-members or even totally innocent people,” he warned. “There is a reason that the National Archives has very strict rules for access to information in treason cases. The list is an interesting and useful tool for researchers, but can only provide cues – all the information in it must be checked against other sources and put into context before they can be used for research.”

Bjørn Westlie is an academic at the University of Oslo and Akershus, and has written a book about his Nazi father. He reacted with disbelief that a “serious” publishing house could hang out suspects in such a way. While Westlie said it was good Vega Publishing removed names of those they believed innocent, he questioned what expertise they based the judgments on. He said the information could come as a terrible surprise and shock for families, and could well be unfounded.

“Research shows that many children of Nazis have struggled to understand how they should handle their parent’s support of a criminal regime,” explained Westlie. “We have been through a process and come to a realization. But here allegations are thrown out against a number of people purely on suspicion.” Woodgate



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