August 5, 2009

The Norwegian offense of paying homage to a Nazi supporter


Norway has inaugurated a museum and exhibited a postal stamp to celebrate the 150th birthday of the Nobel Prize in Literature winner and Nazi sympathizer Knut Hamsun, causing a big outrage among Jewish groups.

According to the organizers, around 2,500 and 3,500 people attended on Tuesday to the official opening ceremony of the Hamsun Center in Harnaroey, a little coastal village in northern Norway where the author grew up. The ceremony was led by Princess Mette-Marit and Minister of Culture, Mr. Trond Giske.

”We cannot understand how Norway can pay such homage to someone who was a criminal and encouraged crime”, said Baruch Tenembaum, the founder of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.

The name of the foundation alludes to a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazi concentration camps during World War II.

”Hamsun was a great writer, but so what? What is more important, art or integrity?”, Tenembaum told Reuters by the phone.

Hamsun, who died in 1952, earned his fame for ”Hunger”, a semi-autobiographical novel written in 1890 about the road to madness of a young starving writer.

He won the Nobel Prize in 1920 for his work ”Growth of the Soil”, but the Wallenberg Foundation states that in 1943 the writer dedicated his award to German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

After the end of the War and the Nazi regime destruction, Hamsun wrote Hitler a passionate obituary in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, describing him as a ”warrior for mankind”.

Once the war was over, Hamsun refused to abandon his predilection for the Nazi doctrine and was sent to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.

During the next year, Norway plans to celebrate the literary achievements of Hamsun through several exhibitions and even with a musical based on his work, causing many negative reactions from groups that believe the celebrations glorify someone who was an active supporter of the Nazi regime.

In a letter addressed to the Norway Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Jonas Gahr Stoere, Tenembaum said that he was ”astonished and worried” about the homage to a sympathizer of ”one of the most cruel regimes in History”.

Stoere replied saying that ”Hamsun’s birthday does not approve, in any way, Hamsun’s support of 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 debates around Hamsun, the Norwegian developed ”a critical and nuanced view of him as both an acclaimed author and a person who supported the Nazis”.

Norway spent most of the War period under the Nazi occupation, but the country is proud of its efforts to help the Allies in the distant Northern Europe.

Stoere said that several mentions were made during the exhibitions to Hamsun’s support of the Nazi regime 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: ”It is as if someone wanted to honor Hitler for his painting skills”. ”We can declare a whole year of celebrations, exhibit a post stamp, write a musical – and then say that we did it to educate about the Nazis”.