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Norwegian Civil Resistance of the Nazi Occupation

By Kourtney Juhl

Minnesota State University, Mankato

After finally gaining independence in 1905,[1] Norway had been a nation intent on building a national identity and relishing their freedom. The Norwegian Kingdom had successfully lived in peace, maintained neutrality through World War I, and hoped to remain neutral from the great conflict that was World War II (WWII). To the Norwegians’ utter shock, those hopes came to a shattering end during the early hours of April 9, 1940, when German forces invaded Norway.[2] A Nazi invasion was not something that the Norwegians were willing to tolerate, so they resisted every aspect of the Germans’ Nazification campaign. From the very beginnings of the occupation, the Norwegians united under strong leadership and implemented various resistance tactics to create cohesiveness among the people that Nazism could not penetrate. As a result, the Norwegian resistance to the Nazi occupation during WWII played a vital role in unifying the country and seeing the Norwegian people through the dark years of the occupation with their national identity and sense of solidarity intact.

The Beginnings

The German attack on Norway, while not a surprising occurrence in the grand scheme of WWII, was entirely surprising to the Norwegians at the time due to the manner and rapidity in which it was conducted. Norway had been caught in negotiations, treaty offers, and pressure from both Great Britain and Germany, but having no desire to disrupt the peace experienced since the formation of the Eidsvoll constitution of 1814,[3] Norway fought hard to uphold neutrality. It was well known to the Norwegians at the time that both Great Britain and Germany viewed Norway as a vantage point to reach the opposing side, and both powers tried to gain Norway’s cooperation formally and politically. Yet, Norway wanted to avoid the conflict for as long as possible. However, it is important to note that while there was a group of people that supported the ideas of Nazism—as was the case with most countries at the time—the vast majority of Norwegians were strongly opposed. This sentiment is shared in a first-hand account written by Halvdan Koht, who was the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1935–1941: “[Norwegians were] absolutely adverse to the whole Nazi ideology of tyranny with the suppression of all forms of democracy and liberty, and they detested heartily the persecutions and brutalities exercised in the name of nationalism.”[4] They viewed the aggressive policies of Germany as a danger to the independence of all small nations, and they wanted to be neither friend nor foe to the Nazi regime.

After Hitler became convinced that Great Britain would use Norway’s location as a major invasion route to stage an attack against Germany, he swiftly decided to send his troops northward so that he could take Norway for himself. Boats with soldiers landed in various ports around the country, and planes with soldiers filled the sky; there were Nazi forces all over the country before Norway had much of a chance to do anything about it. Despite the sudden invasion, Germany had fully expected Norway to understand the German action and show no resistance to the occupation. Kurt Brauer, the German emissary, presented an ultimatum to Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht for total surrender of the country or else the German forces would crush all resistance, which would only result in unnecessary bloodshed of the Norwegian people. Koht steadfastly replied that the Norwegians would not submit and that they were in fact already fighting.[5] Certainly, the Norwegian forces and patrol boats were doing everything possible to deter or at least delay the German troops landing in Oslo, and Norwegians attempted to fight off the arriving Germans in all of the cities that were invaded elsewhere in the nation. In the Oslofjord, a torrent of torpedoes, shells, and cannons hit the German flagship cruiser Bluecher, causing an explosion and sinking the ship. This temporary delay was just what the King, Royal Family, members of the cabinet, and the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) needed; they now had the opportunity to arrange for the transfer of gold from the Bank of Norway as well as important documents from the Foreign Office and escape Oslo to reconvene in the town of Hamar further inland.[6] Unfortunately, the Norwegians had little chance of stopping the superior German forces, and it was only a short matter of time before the Norwegian coastal cities fell to German control. Gjelsvik reflected back to that night in his book Norwegian Resistance 1940-1945: “A paralyzing, almost unreal nightmare; in the course of a few hours our capital and the principal towns of the country were taken, together with every important airfield, coastal fortification, and supply of weapons. Opposition was improvised in South Norway, but defeat was inescapable.”[7] Nevertheless, even though the capital was lost and the initial opposition defeated, Norwegian authorities, soldiers, and civilians were still determined to fight for their nation, so they took up arms and fought against the threat of occupation.

Though the Norwegians knew there was little chance of regaining their desired peace and neutrality once the Germans invaded, they maintained hope that they could at least spare their king and government. German officials met with key leaders of the Storting, the Foreign Minister, and even King Haakon himself, and both sides attempted to gain the other’s cooperation. However, as neither side was willing to compromise—Germany wanted Norway and Norway wanted freedom—these negotiations accomplished nothing except gaining time for Norway’s leaders to prepare for the worst. Meanwhile, the Norwegians maintained their guerrilla attacks and military resistance, allowing for the government officials to keep relocating to safe meeting places as needed. This continued until June 7, 1940, when King Haakon and his government finally accepted the inevitable and left Norway to take refuge in England.[8] King Haakon and the Storting set up an independent government once they arrived in London, so they could essentially provide as much leadership as possible to the Norwegian people from afar.

Back in Norway, however, the official leadership as recognized by Nazi Germany fell to people who believed and supported the ideals of Nazi Germany. This is where Vidkun Quisling, now well-known to the Norwegians as a national traitor, eagerly stepped up and filled the gap. Quisling was a complicated and strange man. He accomplished many things at a young age in his life: he invented a mathematical demonstration at age twelve that was taught in Norwegian schools, he graduated with the highest marks from the military academy at age twenty-four, and he worked as a secretary to Fridtjof Nansen and organized foreign aid that helped save thousands of lives in Ukraine by age thirty-five.[9] Despite these great achievements, he was a solitary individual and was ironically paranoid about betrayal. In 1933, Quisling set up his own political party called Nasjonal Samling (NS)—National Union in English—and drifted increasingly toward a far-right political position.[10] Eventually, Quisling met with Hitler and joined the Nazi movement.

Quisling and his NS were destined to be viewed as a force of evil for the Norwegian people from the very beginning of the war. In the midst of the chaos that came with the Germans’ invasion of Norway, Quisling was momentarily victorious. He used the Norwegians’ initial reaction of shock and disorientation to his advantage and seized power. On the morning of April 9, 1940, Quisling broadcasted a speech in which he declared himself the new head of the Norwegian government and that he was in charge of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[11] The country became divided over this new turn of events. Quisling had a small following in the NS and drew in several more followers with his newfound power, but a much higher percentage of the population was displeased. At this time, a person was either known as a “good” Norwegian or a Quisling follower, and if a person was labeled as a Quisling follower, that person was considered to be against the restoration of Norway and its return to independence.

With the absence of King Haakon and the Storting, the NS took control as the interim government and introduced various schemes to uphold and spread Nazi ideals. At first, the strategy was to convince the Norwegians that German occupation was beneficial and to win over the Nordic country through coaxing and flattery. However, as Riste and Nökleby describe, attempts at persuading the Norwegian people may have backfired:

…by giving patriotic Norwegians time to be ‘persuaded,’ [the Germans and their Norwegian assistants] in fact gave them time to recover from the initial blows and to prepare the ground for an anti-Nazi front. Then, when terror and violence really hit, the front had grown sufficiently strong to react to it as a challenge rather than as a deadening blow.[12]

The Norwegians were unlikely to fall in line on their own, so the NS had to change tactics; they introduced policies and laws to force Nazification on the people. Yet, it was too late. Since the Norwegians already had sufficient time to come together in resistance, the NS had little chance of gaining the control they were seeking: “Each successive Nazification measure conceived by the Quisling government evoked the opposite of the intended result, clarifying the conflict for the Norwegians and drawing more of them into active resistance.”[13] As the resistance grew stronger, the NS’s policies and laws were repeatedly shut down by the Norwegians’ absolute refusal to conform.

Though Quisling created numerous problems for Norway both before and during Germany’s occupation of Norway, he played an instrumental role in the Norwegian resistance movement because he provided a common enemy to link the confused nation together. The way in which Quisling used the German invasion to rise to power triggered outrage among the Norwegian people. As a result, the Norwegians united across occupations, social classes, and ages to reject the various Nazification efforts. Quisling even became such a hated symbol of the German occupation that Hitler had to remove him from immediate power in hopes of earning the Norwegians’ cooperation and trust. However, though Quisling was replaced with an Administrative Council, he still actively contributed to Nazi efforts, and his party still had a large influence over policies that were imposed in Norway during the years of the occupation. Norwegians never did accept the Nazi ideology, so instead of implementing a complete Nazification of Norway, Quisling’s actions and the resulting commands of the NS only planted the seeds for resistance.

Leadership

The resistance movement was initially disorganized and without unity, caused in part by a lack of direction. The Norwegians needed leaders to guide them through the uproar and confusion in order to construct an impactful civil resistance to the Nazi occupation. Once these leaders were established, the Norwegians were able to create a system for resistance to the Nazis.

In contrast to Quisling, one central figure that brought the Norwegians together and sparked resistance by much more positive means was King Haakon. King Haakon was beloved by his subjects ever since coming from Denmark to take the Norwegian throne in 1905,[14] and his popularity only grew in the succeeding years of his reign. In all the turmoil that occurred throughout the German invasion and occupation, King Haakon remained a steadfast figure fighting for Norway’s liberation and was adamant that Norwegians keep resisting. He became one of the most prominent forces behind the resistance movement and served as a motivator for the forces at home.

Though King Haakon had fled from Norway, he still faced substantial pressure from German leaders. He was still technically the head of the monarchy and had a significant amount of influence over his subjects. Germany needed to get rid of the King in order to have complete control and gain the cooperation of the Norwegian citizens, so they called for King Haakon’s abdication. The state of Norway was that of so much confusion and disorientation, that the remaining parliament representatives wrote to their King recommending that he relinquish his title.[15] After debating the implications of his decision, King Haakon ultimately refused to abdicate and even broadcasted his reply over BBC radio. He expressed that he would be betraying his duty to his people and the Norwegian government if he did not support the nation’s sovereignty until a time when they could resume their governmental responsibilities as normal. The King’s reply was printed, duplicated, copied, and shared across occupied Norway and can be marked as a turning point of sorts in the country’s decision to resist.[16] Riste and Nökleby further explain the impact the king’s actions had on the resistance:

The growth of a spirit of resistance during the summer of 1940 owed much to the courage of a few farsighted men. Above all stood King Haakon, whose firm rejection of the call for his abdication dispelled much of the bewilderment and made it easier for Norwegians to decide where to make their stand.[17]

Once the majority of the Norwegian people had decided that they must resist, King Haakon became a symbol of Norway’s freedom and resistance.

King Haakon proved to be a unifying figure that bolstered the Norwegian citizens’ resolve to resist. According to Koht, King Haakon had strong qualities that the Norwegian people responded to

[he] became the hero of the nation, and he made himself worthy of the love and admiration that flowed towards him. The crisis enhanced the qualities of courage and firmness that were inherent in his soul. His profound sense of duty, his absolute willingness to sacrifice himself for the cause of his people were put to the ultimate test, and they proved unfailing.[18]

King Haakon put his country and his subjects’ needs above his own, and the Norwegians respected him even more for it. With a strong leader to depend on and rally behind, the Norwegians wanted to make him proud and do what they could to resist Nazi control.

Aside from King Haakon, there were two other very important organizations operating on Norwegian soil that acted as national leadership groups and helped spur resistance: Koordinasjonskomiteen (KK) and Kretsen—the Coordination Committee and the Circle. The KK was an underground committee dedicated to forming a nation-wide executive body for the resistance, uniting the various but previously separated resistance organizations. The KK also took on the responsibility of distributing secret directives or paroles across the country.[19] These paroles proved to be ground-breaking in the unification of the Norwegians: “The parole created the feeling of solidarity essential for the civil struggle. It weakened the most important weapon of the Nazi terror, namely, the isolation of the individual and the dread of standing all alone.”[20] Closely cooperating with the KK, the Circle, which was formed by labor leaders and former members of the Supreme Court and the Administrative Council, had a different but still vastly useful task. The Circle’s main purpose was to provide communication between the home front of the resistance movement in Norway and the exiled Norwegian government in London and Sweden.[21] Together, these two organizations eventually took on leadership of the civilian resistance movement and provided the Norwegians with a much-needed unified front to resist the Nazis.

Tactics of Civil Resistance

Once the Norwegians had a cohesive unit of resistance and had confidence in their leadership, the resistance movement quickly gained momentum. Though there were a few instances of military resistance and physical acts against the occupying Nazi forces, most of the tactics used were nonviolent, including the circulation of an underground press, acts of demonstration, the shunning of Nazi soldiers and sympathizers, the use of humor to alienate the unwelcome Germans, and the use of symbolism to display allegiance to the resistance.

Underground Press

The underground press of the Norwegian resistance movement was perhaps one of the most significant tactics utilized under the German occupation. Riste and Nökleby describe the underground press as being an important aspect of the unification of the resistance movement:

Besides offering a welcome antidote to the heavy-handed Nazi propaganda, [the underground press] provided the links in the growing barrier of patriotic solidarity. For as individuals, the Norwegians were hardly by nature any more ‘heroic’ or staunch anti-Nazi than any other nation, but with the courage and leadership of the few, and the means by which they could reach the many, a unity was created whose strength withstood the test.[22]

The Norwegians needed to stay updated on news of the war from outside sources, and the best way to do that was by working together with other Norwegians to gain access to the outside information and share it with as many people as possible. With the Norwegian news institutions shut down or forced into Nazi control, the only news that Norwegians were receiving was filled with Nazi propaganda. Therefore, if the Norwegians were to fight off Nazism, they needed reliable and credible information sources. One aspect of the underground press was hidden radios. Norwegians across the country participated in clandestine radio listening to the British BBC, as well as Swedish channels to get more reliable news updates.[23] When the Nazis realized what the radio sets were really being used for, they confiscated over 470,000 sets.[24] This in no way deterred the Norwegians, though. Instead they hid newly procured sets from London, and they also concealed any radio sets that were unregistered to prevent the Nazis from knowing how many radio sets still remained.[25] These radio sets and the radio listening were vastly important; not only did it allow for communication with the government in London, but it also provided a social activity for people to meet up in secret to listen for news together.

Another aspect of the underground press was the writing and printing of illegal newspapers. The first illegal newspapers were created in October of 1940, and over the course of the occupation, Norwegian citizens established over three hundred newspapers, most of which stressed the Norwegian ideals that were under threat of Nazification.[26] There were also many watchwords of the resistance movement such as Frihet (Freedom), Norge (Norway), Norsk (Norwegian), Folke (The People), Demokraten (Democracy), Konstitusjon (Constitution), Kongen (The King) to be found in each of these papers.[27] Two of the most well-known of these illegal papers were called Bulletinen (The Bulletin) and Vi vil oss et land (We Want a Nation). Bulletinen served as an internal publication for leaders of the resistance to communicate with each other and the general public. Speeches and articles from central individuals from the resistance made up the majority of Bulletinen’s contents. This newspaper was crucial since it was authoritative and endorsed by the resistance; it also urged its readers to maintain the struggle and helped spread directions about mass actions and demonstrations.[28] Vi vil oss et land functioned in a similar way, though its goal was focused more on keeping the general public informed. Vi vil loss et land gave commentary on what was really happening in Norway and, like Bulletinen, it aimed to inspire Norwegians to keep fighting. In fact, the paper’s mission was very clearly stated to the public in its first issue in October 1940:

First and foremost, we want to prove that the fight for a free Norway continues and will be upheld until we are at last free. Secondly, we want to keep the Norwegian people informed about what is happening in their country…The fight for a free Norway will continue, whatever the cost. It boils down to the right to stay alive. We hope that this newspaper will help strengthen your beliefs and we are convinced that a system based on hate, injustice, and suppression can never survive. Whether the nights are long or short, our spirits will show more than ever. The Norway that we love and cherish will rise once again.[29]

Bulletinen and Vi vil oss et land were certainly not the only newspapers to tackle such issues, but they are both excellent examples of how determined the Norwegians were to access and spread reliable news and information.

While the printing of illegal newspapers was vital, the circulation of those newspapers and other relevant documents is what really unified the nation in resistance. It was also a relatively easy way for a person to get involved. Wehr describes these ideas further: “It was an ideal resistance activity for ordinary citizens. Passing an illegal paper to a friend was an individual act of resistance. News-passing, motivated by commitment to the values of truth and national independence and the need to know what was going on, reinforced the sense of national community and resistance involvement for both passer and receiver.”[30] Other circulated documents included messages from King Haakon (such as his speech rejecting the call for his abdication), instructions to help organize demonstrations, and chain letters. One such chain letter contained what Koht refers to as the ten commandments of Norwegians:

  1. Thou shalt obey King Haakon whom thou thyself hast elected.
  2. Thou shalt detest Hitler and all his works, and never forget that, without a declaration of war, he made his co-assassins fall upon peaceable people.
  3. Thou shalt remember forever how the German Nazis, without military reason, made their aviators wipe out Norwegian farms, villages and towns, in order to satisfy their blood-lust and spread terror.
  4. Thou shalt despise any form of treason and remember that its punishment is death.
  5. Thou shalt regard as traitor any Norwegian who, as a private individual, keeps company with Germans or Quislings at home, in the streets, or in restaurants.
  6. So, too, thou shalt regard every member of the Storting who votes in favour of deposing our gallant King and our legal Government, who are the only ones who are able, in freedom and independence, to work for the liberty of Norway.
  7. Thou shalt take note that a Government of German lackeys will be judged by the whole world as a Government of rebels and bring upon us universal contempt.
  8. Thou shalt daily impress upon thy children and all thy acquaintances that they are Norwegians and must remain so.
  9. Thou shalt remember that only a German defeat can give us our liberty again.
  10. God save the King and the Fatherland.[31]

These ten commandments served as encouragement for the Norwegian people to remind them of who they are and that they are one people fighting a common enemy. By circulating the illegal newspapers and other documents, the Norwegians were uniting to share information and to uplift one another’s morale with reminders that they were all in the struggle together.

Each of these instances of the Norwegians’ use of underground press shows how determined the nation was to stay informed of real news and communicate with each other. The Norwegians knew that if they wanted to preserve their beloved country and culture, they needed to obtain information and work together to spread encouragement across the land; through the use of radios and the establishment and circulation of illegal newspapers, that is exactly what they did.

Defiance and Demonstration

The illegal press was not the only display of resistance; many Norwegians also coalesced to give demonstrations and openly defy the occupying forces and Nazi programs. A fitting example of this was a nationwide demonstration that took place to commemorate the first anniversary of the German invasion. When April 9, 1941, came, traffic halted for thirty minutes at noon, nobody was in a store or used a car, tram, or telephone, and the day was considered a day of mourning without entertainment.[32] This demonstration was a blatant statement about the Norwegians’ attitude towards the occupation, and it served as a way for Norwegians across the entire nation to unite in protest and resistance.

Another significant demonstration that occurred to display resistance was a parent and teacher protest against adhering to demands made by the NS. For the parents, it was unacceptable for their children to be put in the midst of Nazification. Despite their objections, the NS planned to use the Nasjonal Samlings Ungdomsfylking (NSUF), a national youth organization, to force Nazism on Norwegian youth. The NSUF was a mandatory organization where all Norwegian children between the ages of ten and eighteen would be indoctrinated with Nazi ideology.[33] Parents sent in more than 200,000 letters with their full names and addresses to the Nazis saying that they would not allow their children to join the NSUF.[34] At schools, teachers faced being forced to assist in the NSUF as well as mandatory membership in the Nazi teachers’ association. Like the parents, letters of protest flooded in; 12,000 out of 14,000 teachers refused to join.[35] In response, the NS decided to shut down the schools to “conserve fuel” for a month before finally arresting and sending 1,300 teachers to concentration camps as well as sending five hundred to labor in the harsh winter conditions in Northern Norway.[36] Despite the terror and the hardship, the teachers held out until the NS finally gave up and labeled it all a “misunderstanding.”[37] By uniting in the fight and refusing to back down, Norwegians forced Quisling, the NS, and Nazi officials to concede. The Norwegian youth, parents, and teachers ultimately accomplished a huge win—the Nazi ideology would not be implemented in the schools. This was a substantial victory for the resistance movement and the Norwegians’ fight against Nazification.

The NS also faced demonstrations and conflict from the Church of Norway, Norway’s national church. In October of 1940, the Church set up the basis upon which resistance could be built when leaders of various religious organizations jointly published a Declaration of Common Faith, which emphasized their faith in Christian unity and created a common front for all the churches to work together even though they had previously often been in conflict with each other.[38] Then, in 1942, NS officials began ordaining priests that believed in the Nazi ideology even though they had no training in theology, and the NS changed official religious writings to include fascist concepts and language.[39] When the NS started to interfere with the Church and tried to use it to Nazi advantage, the Norwegian clergymen grew weary. A total of 645 of the 699 bishops sent in resignation letters to protest the NS’s church rights violations.[40] The bishops were unhappy with the NS’s interference, and they felt it was their duty to God to resist as seen in their resignation letter:

The Church of Norway’s bishops would be unfaithful to their calling if they continued to cooperate with an administration that in this way without a trace of ecclesiastical basis violates the congregation and even adds injustice to violence. Therefore, I hereby announce that I am resigning from the exercise of my office… to continue the administrative cooperation with a state that exercises violence against the church would be to betray the most holy.[41]

After resigning, the clergymen gained support from their parishioners and continued to preach on their own while an incredibly displeased Quisling attempted to intervene and infiltrate the Church with German and NS clergymen. Even when Quisling succeeded, the Nazi clergy ended up preaching to empty churches. Since all the branches of the Church decided to set their differences aside and work together to resist the Nazi interference in religion, Quisling and the NS lost control of the Church conflict. Without total control of the Church, the Norwegians were able to thwart another attempt of Nazification.

Aside from the larger acts of defiance and demonstration, there was also an abundance of smaller-scale, but often still dangerous, demonstrations exhibited daily by all manner of Norwegians. Cinema strikes and the National Theatre boycott are two such demonstrations. As films became more propagandistic, local boycotts of German and Italian films ensued, and theater owners would not cooperate with NS propaganda chiefs; they would stall or refuse to show propaganda films or even display Nazi posters.[42] Similar instances of boycotting occurred with the National Theatre in Oslo as German propaganda films were shown before performances and as works by Nazi playwrights became more and more common. Norwegians stopped attending, and the disinterest in the theatre became a symbol of the Norwegians’ rejection of Nazi culture. Attendance dropped significantly, and even when NS groups received free tickets, the boycott remained strong.[43] There were also many instances where actors and other artists refused to perform for the Nazis and the NS, causing the theatres to close. Then, when German actors and artists came to replace the resistant Norwegians, they often performed in empty theatres even when all the seats were booked.[44] Additionally, there were other small yet significant acts of defiance occurring across the country. Some of these acts included cutting telephone and telegraph wires, throwing rocks at German soldiers, removing German flags, tearing down Nazi posters, hissing at Nazi speakers at public meetings, and boycotting public meetings of NS and Nazi officials.[45] [46] This collective cultural front of resistance must have been a huge embarrassment for the Nazi campaign, yet there was no plausible way for the Nazis to win over the Norwegians. The Norwegians were simply too determined to resist everything that the Nazis represented.

Shunning and the Ice Front

Another tactic of resistance that Norwegians used during the occupation was the shunning of Nazi soldiers and sympathizers to alienate Nazism and those who perpetuated it. This “ice front” essentially isolated any German and Norwegian Nazis and Quisling followers from the “good” Norwegians and allowed people to display their cold and hostile feelings for the Nazi and NS forces without putting themselves in any extreme danger.[47] Some behavior that the Nazis and traitors faced included Norwegians standing up or changing seats on buses or trams rather than sitting next to a German or Nazi, boycotting Nazi-owned businesses, refusing to speak German even though it was a widely known language at the time, pointing Germans in the wrong way when giving directions, and dramatically avoiding public contact with the Nazis.[48] [49] The whole idea behind this cold dismissal was twofold: it would make the Germans feel even more uncomfortable and unwelcome than they already did, and it would help keep the faint-hearted from wavering in their resistance. An editor of one of the underground papers expressed the goal of such treatment: “We must not provoke these people, but we should refrain entirely from any intercourse with them and let them feel that they have set themselves totally outside society.”[50] The ice front allowed for a blatant antagonism to Nazis who forced their way into Norwegian society, and with it came a show of solidarity of the Norwegians citizens who would never quit fighting against the Nazi occupation for their country’s liberation.

Anti-Nazi Jokes and Humor

Like the ice front, anti-Nazi humor was another resistance tactic that allowed Norwegians to display their attitudes towards Nazi soldiers and sympathizers with little risk to their safety. The Norwegians’ anti-Nazi jokes and humor played a crucial role in unifying the Norwegian citizens against their enemy. Not only did it encourage defiance by showing that other Norwegians shared similar conceptions of their occupiers and events, but it also provided a sense of community and an “us against them” mentality. The fear of standing alone was one of the most powerful weapons employed through Nazism, and jokes helped alleviate that fear by creating an accessible sense of solidarity. In Norway, most of the quick-witted occupation jokes told by the Norwegians were focused on depicting their occupiers as fools and exposing their pompous attitudes, their cruelty, and their stupidity.[51] Some examples of this sharp-tongued humor are seen below:

En tysker spor en gutt i Bergen: “Har du sett en bil full av apekatter kjore forbi?”

“Ka hva det då? Har du dotten a’?”

[A German asks a boy in Bergen: “Have you seen a car full of monkeys go by?”

“Why? Did you fall off?”][52]

 

“Quisling (entering Hitler’s office with arm extended in a Nazi salute): ‘I am Quisling.’

Hitler: ‘Yes, but what is your name?’[53]

 

På et offentlig kontor skulle det henges opp et bilde av föreren. Vedkommende spurte vaskekonen som holdt på der, om bilde hang rett. “Jeg har bare med lorten på gulvet å gjöre jeg,” sa hun.

[A picture of Hitler was to be hung in a government office. The official hanging the picture asked the cleaning woman working there if the picture was hanging straight.

“I only work with the dirt on the floor,” she replied.][54]

Through the use of humor and anti-Nazi jokes such as these, the Norwegians could verbally put down their German occupiers and interact within the community of Norwegians with the same mindset. The constant undermining that this anti-Nazi humor presented was an essential non-violent way for the Norwegians to resist the German presence.

Symbolism

A subtler way of demonstrating solidarity among Norwegians and hatred for the Germans was shown through the use of symbolism. There were many different symbols that came about in occupied Norway, but some of the more famous ones include King Haakon’s monogram, paperclips, red woolen caps, and peas. The royal monogram “H7” for Haakon VII, became a common symbol of resistance. People would wear badges or broaches bearing the monogram, and it was even drawn and painted on objects such as buildings, roads, and fences to show solidarity and loyalty to King Haakon.[55] Another symbolic gesture that the Norwegian resistance movement is now well-known for is the wearing of paperclips on jacket lapels or cuffs or as jewelry. Once King Haakon’s symbol and its meaning became known to the Nazis, it was quickly banned, so the Norwegians needed a new, clever, more discreet symbol. Students came up with the idea of fastening a paperclip to their jackets, symbolically binding Norwegians together in the face of the threat of Nazism.[56] Other symbols of resistance include wearing red woolen caps to display loyalty to the King, putting a wooden match in the breast pocket as a sign of “flaming” hate, and wearing sweet peas on their jacket lapels for the King’s birthday since the Norwegian word for peas (erter) also means “to tease” in English.[57],[58] Symbolic gestures like the ones utilized by the Norwegians displayed their national feeling and detestation of the Germans and the NS, and they acted as a visual show of support to the resistance. Anyone wearing any of these symbols was immediately identified by other resistance participants, serving as a visual representation of togetherness.

The Resistance Movement’s Legacy

The Norwegian non-violent resistance certainly did not win the war against Nazi Germany, but it did leave a lasting legacy that still pervades in Norway today. Instead of crumbling under the pressure of Nazi demands, the Norwegians displayed resistance in all aspects of their lives to fight with one another against the Nazification of their beloved Norway. This fighting attitude is still evident in the Norwegian people today. They firmly believe in democracy, individualism, and freedom of speech. As a nation who knows what life looks like when these things are taken from them, they know that they must uphold those ideals even now.

The legacy of the Norwegians’ resistance can be observed in the Oslo museum dedicated to this five-year struggle. At Norway’s Hjemmefrontmuseet [Norway’s Resistance Museum], visitors develop a deeper understanding of the events of the resistance movement and its continued relevance:

Five years of occupation from invasion to liberation are recreated through images, documents, posters, artifacts, models, original newspapers, and sound recordings to give the young people of today and coming generations a true-to-life impression of the evil represented by occupation and foreign rule, in this way helping to strengthen the sense of unity and defense of our national liberties.[59]

This museum tells the story of the brave Norwegians who were determined to maintain their beliefs and culture during a time of extreme duress and reminds museum patrons of what can be accomplished when a nation’s citizens unify to resist a common enemy.

Conclusion

While Norway faced terror, violence, and death at the hands of Nazi invaders, it is important to note that Norway suffered far less than most other occupied nations. Hitler and the Nazi regime had a more favorable opinion of Nordic peoples, so the plans for Norway were less severe than what other countries under German occupation faced. Nonetheless, the Nazis aimed to restructure the ideals, government, and national identity that the Norwegians held dear. The Germans’ sudden invasion on April 9, 1940, and subsequent occupation nearly tore the Norwegian nation apart. Yet, the Norwegians constructed a civil resistance that completely caught the Nazis off guard, and the nation’s citizens refused to conform to the Nazi ideology that the Nasjonal Samling tried so hard to implement in Norway.

While the resistance movement accomplished many things, the most significant impact it had was in uniting the confused, terrified Norwegian citizens together with the goal of preventing Nazism from taking over their culture and way of life. The resistance became much stronger once the nation had leaders to bring them together either in mutual hate of Quisling or in mutual hope, as was the case with the leadership of King Haakon, the KK, and the Circle. The resistance movement used a variety of non-violent tactics to express the Norwegians’ displeasure of the Nazi occupation and protest against new policies that threatened the institutions that Norwegians strongly believed in. The underground press played a significant role in providing the people with real, reliable information and communicating across the nation. Without radios and illegal newspapers, there may not have been a strong civil resistance simply because the strength of the resistance relied on the participation and solidarity of the Norwegian citizens. Aside from the press, there were also many instances of defiance and demonstration. Most of these demonstrations were successful due to the cohesiveness and collective action of the oppressed parties involved. If the parents, teachers, and bishops did not all threaten to reject the new policies or actually resign because of them, the NS would not have had to admit defeat. Furthermore, the ice front and anti-Nazi humor provided a sense of community, an us-against-them mentality, and both were ultimately more off-putting to the Nazis when the majority of the population adapted the same treatment rather than just encountering one or two “rude” Norwegians on the street. Similarly, the use of symbolism acted as a visual of the detestation of Nazism and showed other Norwegians that they were struggling together.

Though the Norwegian resistance to Nazism may have had little impact on the outcome of WWII, it had a huge impact on the Norwegians’ morale throughout the duration of the war. Instead of feeling helpless and alone in the dark period of German occupation, Norwegians united to support one another and display solidarity in their beliefs. They found hope in each other, and they had a single, common goal to fight for: the liberation and return of their beloved Norway.

 

Bibliography

Fuegner, Richard. Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke: Norwegian Resistance to the German Occupation of Norway 1940-1945. Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, 2002.

Gjelsvik, Tore. Norwegian Resistance 1940-1945. London: C. Hurst & Co., 1979.

Hassing, Arne. Church Resistance to Nazism in Norway, 1940-1945. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013.

Joys, Charles, Gudmund Sandvik, Jörgen Weibull, Jan Christensen, and Henrik Enander.

“Norway,” Encyclopædia Britannica. Last modified March 1, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/place/Norway.

Kersaudy, François. Norway 1940. Great Britain: W. Collins Sons, 1990.

Koht, Halvdan. Norway: Neutral and Invaded. New York: Macmillan, 1941.

Riste, Olav and Berit Nökleby. Norway 1940-45: The Resistance Movement. Oslo, Norway: Nor-Media A/S, 1970.

Stokker, Kathleen. Folklore Fights the Nazis: Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945. London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995.

VisitOSLO. Oslo Guide 2018. Oslo, Norway: WISP Kreativt Studio AS, 2018.

Wehr, Paul. “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism: Norway, 1940-45.” Peace & Change 10, 3–4 (1984): 77–95.

Endnotes

[1] Charles Joys, Gudmund Sandvik, Jörgen Weibull, Jan Christensen, and Henrik Enander, “Norway,” Encyclopædia Britannica, last modified March 1, 2019, https://www.britannica.com/place/Norway.

[2] Paul Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism: Norway, 1940-45.” Peace & Change 10, no. 3-4 (1984): 77.

[3] Charles Joys et al., “Norway.”

[4] Halvdan Koht, Norway: Neutral and Invaded (New York: Macmillan, 1941), 16.

[5] Richard Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke: Norwegian Resistance to the German Occupation of Norway 1940-1945 (Edina, MN: Beaver’s Pond Press, 2002), 18.

[6] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 18–19.

[7] Tore Gjelsvik, Norwegian Resistance 1940-1945 (London: C. Hurst & Co., 1979), 1.

[8] Olav Riste and Berit Nökleby, Norway 1940-45: The Resistance Movement (Oslo, Norway: Nor-Media A/S, 1970), 12.

[9] François Kersaudy, Norway 1940 (Great Britain: W. Collins Sons, 1990), 39.

[10] François Kersaudy, Norway 1940, 39.

[11] Koht, Norway: Neutral and Invaded, 97.

[12] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 38.

[13] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 78.

[14] Charles Joys et al., “Norway.”

[15] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 12.

[16] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 12–13.

[17] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 16.

[18] Koht, Norway: Neutral and Invaded, 188.

[19] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 83.

[20] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 66.

[21] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 83.

[22] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 36–37.

[23] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 88.

[24] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 93.

[25] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 93.

[26] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 90.

[27] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 91.

[28] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 92.

[29] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 91–92.

[30] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 91.

[31] Koht, Norway: Neutral and Invaded, 148.

[32] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 91.

[33] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 41.

[34] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 85.

[35] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 42.

[36] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 85.

[37] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 85.

[38] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 23.

[39] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 85.

[40] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 86.

[41] Arne Hassing, Church Resistance to Nazism in Norway, 1940-1945 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013), 124.

[42] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 87.

[43] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 87.

[44] Koht, Norway: Neutral and Invaded, 177–78.

[45] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 16.

[46] Koht, Norway: Neutral and Invaded, 178.

[47] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 88.

[48] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 88.

[49] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 38

[50] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 91.

[51] Kathleen Stokker, Folklore Fights the Nazis: Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945 (London: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1995), 207–09.

[52] Stokker, Folklore Fights the Nazis, 100.

[53] Fuegner, Beneath the Tyrant’s Yoke, 56.

[54] Stokker, Folklore Fights the Nazis, 102.

[55] Gjelsvik, Norwegian Resistance 1940-1945, 33.

[56] Riste and Nökleby, Norway 1940-45, 17.

[57] Gjelsvik, Norwegian Resistance 1940-1945, 33.

[58] Wehr, “Nonviolent Resistance to Nazism,” 89.

[59] VisitOSLO, Oslo Guide 2018, (Oslo, Norway: WISP Kreativt Studio AS, 2018), 26.

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