July 17, 2009

Hamsun tribute is ‘disconcerting’


IN March 2009, Norway assumed chairmanship of the 27-nation task force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research.

A few months earlier, the Norwegian government announced that 2009 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamsun. In Norway, the National Library will be responsible for the official anniversary celebration.

Knut Hamsun, Nobel prizewinner and one of the Norway’s best known writers, was a supporter of Adolf Hitler.

In 1940, he was pleased to welcome the Nazi invasion of his country, and in 1943 he gave his Nobel Prize as a gift to Joseph Goebbels.

Moreover, in May 1945, just after the announcement of the death of Hitler, Knut Hamsun wrote a laudatory obituary.

After the war Hamsun was arrested, put on a trial and convicted of being a member of the Norwegian fascist party, led by Vidkun Quisling.

Quisling, executed after the war, was a sinister character, a complete disgrace to Norwegian history.

Still today to call someone a ”quisling” is the worst and most grave insult a Norwegian can throw.

We find it disconcerting that Norway, a country well-known for social and educational development is celebrating a fervent supporter of a despotic and genocidal regime at the same time that it is presiding over the organisation dedicated to preserving the memory on the Holocaust horrors.

Worst of all, Queen Sonja opened the year-long, publicly-financed commemoration, along with a fanfare and a musical comedy to celebrate the occasion.

She spent a highly symbolic half-hour with Hamsun family members at the National Library.

Moreover, a statue of Hamsun is to be unveiled and a $20m museum is under construction.

If one adds to this the fact that Norway has another Nobel Prize for Literature winner (in 1928), Sigrid Undset, (1882-1949) who was a fervent anti-Nazi who fled her home country during the occupation, the logic behind the decision to honour Hamsun becomes outright incomprehensible.

Baruch Tenembaum,
The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation,
New York.