August 4, 2009

The Norwegian shame


At the beginning of 2009, the Norwegian government announced a one-year long event about the life of the writer Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), celebrating 150 years since his birth. Hamsun, awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920, was also a fervent supporter of Adolf Hitler.

Last March, Norway took over the presidency of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research, an organization comprised of 27 countries and that has as its main goal promoting the support of world leaders to educate about the Holocaust and its remembrance.

Shortly before that, the Norwegian government announced a one-year long event about the life of the writer Knut Hamsun (1859-1952), celebrating 150 years since his birth.

Hamsun, awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1920, was also a fervent supporter of Adolf Hitler. In 1940, he congratulated Hitler for the Nazi invasion of Norway and in 1943, he gave his Nobel Prize to Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister.

In May 7th 1945, shortly after the news of Hitler’s death, Hamsun wrote an obituary published in the newspaper ”Aftenposten”. In one of its lines, Hamsun described Hitler as a ”warrior of Humanity”.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an educational NGO that counts on the support of more than 200 Heads of States and Nobel Prize laureates, carries out global efforts to expose such outrageous episode along with Casa Argentina en Israel Tierra Santa, a leading association in promoting interfaith dialogue.

Letters and articles sent by these two organizations have reached three continents and especially more than a dozen of print and broadcast media vehicles in Norway, as, for example, the biggest Norwegian newspaper, the ”Verdens Gang” (VG).

The newspapers and radio broadcasters have specifically paid a great attention to a letter written by the Wallenberg Foundation’s founder, Mr. Baruch Tenembaum, addressed to the Queen Sonja of Norway.

The Queen has been commissioned to inaugurate the celebrations, along with other festivities and a musical comedy. She also dedicated half an hour of her time with members of Hamsun’s family and announced the inauguration of a statue of the writer, as well as of the Hamsun memorial museum, which total costs are estimated at US$ 200,000.

In the letter, Tenembaum, among other statements, claims that ”the honors paid to a person who earnestly supported one of the most atrocious regimes in History baffle us in such a way that we can’t find any possible reason that could justify these celebrations, specially taking into account the big nation Norway is, a role model on economic, social and educational development”.

In another passage, Tenembaum continues: ”As you well know, by the time the War was over, Hamsun was arrested and convicted to pay a heavy fine for his proved connections with the Norwegian Nazi party led by Vidkun Quisling, who was condemned in 1945 for high treason and therefore executed by firing squad. Quisling was such a disgrace for Norwegian History that his name is now a synonym for ”traitor”. We are aware that nowadays, calling someone a ”quisling” in Norway is one of the worst insults a person can make.

In 1940, the British newspaper ”The Times” published in a story: ”for writers, the word Quisling is a gift from the gods. If they had been ordered to invent a new word for traitor, they could hardly have hit upon a more brilliant combination of letters”.

It is incomprehensible that Norway, a country that stands out for its educational and social development, celebrates a traitor to motherland and a keen supporter of a despotic and genocidal regime at the same time that it presides an organization dedicated to preserve the memories of Holocaust.

At the Wallenberg Foundation and the Casa Argentina en Israel, one of the many raised questions that lie unanswered is why aren’t similar homages being paid to Norwegian heroes of the Holocaust or to writer Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), also a Nobel Prize winner and a tenacious opponent to the Nazi regime who even had to flee from Norway during the War? Obviously, there is no comprehensible logic in honoring Hamsun.

Bellow, the letter sent by Tenembaum to the Queen of Norway:

New York, July 17, 2009

Your Majesty
Queen Sonja of Norway

Your Majesty,

behalf of the members of the Wallenberg Foundation I must convey to
you, with all due respect and absolute transparency, our surprise and
worry in light of the one-year official celebration which Norway is
dedicating to Knut Hamsun, one of the greatest writers of the 20th.
century, but also one of the most conspicuous intellectuals who
supported the Third Reich and Adolph Hitler.

The honors
bestowed upon a person who supported with fervor one of the most
sinister regimes in history are mind boggling, to the point of not
being able to find out reasons that could justify such celebrations,
particularly bearing in mind that Norway is a great nation, a role
model in economical, social and educational development.

respectfully address you, Your Majesty, because of your personal
participation in the opening of the aforementioned celebrations which
shall be accompanied by fanfares and a musical comedy, together with
your announcement regarding the upcoming unveiling of a statue that
will commemorate the author as well as a museum devoted to his memory.

you well now, when the war was over, Hamsun was arrested and he had to
pay a big fine for his proven links with the Norwegian Fascist Party
lead by Vidkun Quisling, who in 1945 was condemned of high treason and
executed by a firing squad.

Quisling was a disgrace to Norway’s
history, to the extent that his name has become synonymous with the
word ”traitor”. We understand that even today, calling someone
”Quisling” in Norway is one of the worst insults one can think of. In
1940, the British newspaper – The Times, published in an editorial:
”For the writers, the word Quisling is a gift of the gods. Had they
commissioned the invention of a new word which means ”traitor”, it
would have been difficult to come up with such a bright combination of

Moreover, what makes the Norwegian government’s
decision to lay such a celebration even more incomprehensible is the
fact that earlier this year Norway assumed the chairmanship of the
27-nation Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust
Education, an organization with the mission of promoting the support of
international leaders to educate on the Holocaust and its remembrance.

With the highest respect, I remain,

Baruch Tenembaum