Norway has opened a museum and unveiled a postage stamp to celebrate the 150th birthday of Norwegian Nobel literature prize laureate and Nazi sympathiser Knut Hamsun, provoking cries of outrage from a Jewish group.
Organisers of the tribute said some 2,500-3,000 people, led by Crown Princess Mette-Marit and Culture Minister Trond Giske, officially opened the Hamsun Centre on Tuesday in Harnaroey, a coastal town in Northern Norway where the author grew up.
”We cannot understand how Norwegians can honour someone who was a criminal and was inciting crimes,” said Baruch Tenembaum, the founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
The foundation is named for a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps during World War Two.
”Hamsun was a great writer, so what? What is more important – art or integrity?” Tenembaum told Reuters by telephone.
Hamsun, who died in 1952, gained fame for Hunger, a semi-autobiographical novel from 1890 about a starving young writer’s path towards insanity.
He was awarded the Nobel prize in 1920 for his work Growth of the Soil, but the Wallenberg Foundation says that in 1943 he dedicated the prize to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
When World War Two ended with the destruction of the Nazis, he wrote a laudatory obituary for Hitler published by Norwegian daily Aftenposten where he described the dictator as a ”warrior for humanity”.
After the war he refused to renounce his Nazi sympathies and was sent for treatment in a psychiatric hospital.
Over the next year, Norway plans to commemorate Hamsun’s literary achievements through exhibits and even a musical based on his work, drawing criticism from groups who say the jubilee glorifies a once active supporter of Nazism.
In a letter to Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Tenembaum said he was ”astonished and concerned” about tributes to a supporter of ”one of the most sinister regimes in history”.
In his reply, Stoere wrote: ”The Hamsun anniversary in no way condones Hamsun’s support for the Nazi regime. He received massive condemnation for this after the war and his pro-Nazi activities must continue to be condemned.”
Stoere said that through public debate about Hamsun, Norwegians gained ”a nuanced and critical view of him, both as an acclaimed author and a person who sided with the Nazis”.
Norway spent most of the war under Nazi rule but is proud of its partisan efforts to help the Allies in Europe’s far north.
Stoere said full reference was made to Hamsun’s Nazi sympathies at exhibitions and that ”democracy and the education of future generations will best be served by being completely frank about these divergent aspects of Hamsun’s life”.
Tenembaum disagreed, saying: ”It is a bit like if someone said that since Hitler was a good painter, why don’t we honour him?
”We can declare a year of commemorations, issue a stamp, write a musical – and then we say we are doing it to educate people about the Nazis.”