Antisemitism in Norway

Antisemitism in Norway

While parallel to such bigotry elsewhere in Western Europe in Norway, antisemitism in Norway has had a distinct history, reaching its apex during the Holocaust in Norway and with continued relevance in the public debate about the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Middle Ages

Norwegian kings, Vikings, and others who traveled in Europe in the Middle Ages undoubtedly encountered Jews and attitudes toward them during their travels, but the first mention of Jews in Norse literature is found in Postola sögur in Iceland in the 1200s, where they are mentioned along with the more general pagans. The literature of this time referred to Jews as "gyðinger," "juði," or in the Latin form "judeus." Jews were also mentioned in unfavorable terms in subsequent literary Icelandic sagas, such as Gyðinga saga (Saga of the Jews). [Mendelsohn (1969), pps 9-10]

Reformation and Enlightenment

In 1436 and 1438, archbishop Aslak Bolt prohibited celebrating a day of rest on Saturday, lest Christians replicate the "way of Jews," and this prohibition was reinforced through several subsequent ordinances, including those in Diplomatarium Norvegicum. [Mendelsohn (1969), p 10] [Jacobsen (2006)" …, ok ær theth løgurdax helg, som Juda oc hædhninga plega at halda, æn æy cristne, …" citing Bolt's statutes on Saturday holidays and prayer.]

While Norway was part of the Danish kingdom from 1536 to 1814, the Danish introduced a number of religious restrictions both to uphold the Protestant Reformation in general and against Jews in particular. In 1569, Fredrik II ordered that all foreigners in Denmark had to affirm their commitment to 25 articles of faith central to Lutheranism on pain of deportation, forfeiture of all property, and death. These restrictions were lifted for Sephardic Jews already established as merchants in Altona when Christian IV took over the town. Christian also issued the first letter of safe passage to a Jew (Albert Dionis) in 1619, and on 19 June 1630, general amnesty was granted to all Jews permanently in residence in Glückstadt, including the right to travel freely throughout the kingdom. [Mendelsohn (1969), pps 11-13]

Public policy toward Jews thus varied over the next several hundred years. The kings generally tolerated Jewish merchants, investors, and bankers whose contributions benefited the economy of the Danish-Norwegian realm on the one hand, while seeking to restrict their movements, residence, and presence in public life. Several Jews, particularly in the Sephardic Teixera family but also some of Ashkenazi origins, were given letters of passage to visit places in Denmark and Norway; but there were also several incidents of Jews who were arrested, imprisoned, fined, and deported for violating the general ban against their presence, even when they claimed the exemption granted to Sephardim. [Mendelsohn (1969), pps 16-31]

The European Enlightenment led to moderately easier restrictions for Jews in Denmark-Norway, especially in Denmark's southern areas and cities. Some Jewish families that had converted to Christianity settled in Norway. Writers of the time increased their interest in the Jewish people, including Ludvig Holberg, who figured Jews as comical figures in most of his playes and in 1742 wrote "The Jewish History From the Beginning of the World, Continued till Present Day," presenting Jews to some extent in conventional, unfavorable stereotypes, but also raising the question about mistreatment of Jews in Europe. [Mendelsohn (1969) pps 34-38] [cite news |first= Helge Vidar |last= Holm |authorlink= |author= |coauthors= Torgeir Skorgen |title=Blind på det ene øyet |url= |format= |work= |publisher= Bergens Tidende |location= Bergen, Norway |id= |pages= |page= |date= |accessdate=2008-03-17 |language= Norwegian |quote= Ludvig Holbergs antisemittisme lar seg like lite fornekte som hans aksjer i den dansk-norske slavehandelen, og Immanuel Kant går Holberg en høy gang med sine pinlige raseteorier og antisemittiske utfall mot jødene som nasjon. |archiveurl= |archivedate= ]

Consequently, as stereotypes against Jews started entering the awareness of the general public during the Enlightenment, there were also those who rose in opposition to some, if not all, of the underlying hostility. Lutheran minister Nils Hertzberg was one of those who wrote against Norwegian prejudice, ultimately influencing the later votes on the constitutional amendment to allow Jews to settle in Norway. [Mendelsohn (1969) pps. 38-40 ]

Constitutional ban

Based on short-lived hopes that Denmark's concessions at the Treaty of Kiel in 1814 would allow for Norwegian independence, a constituent assembly was convened in Eidsvoll in the spring of 1814. Although Denmark had only a few months before completely lifted all restrictions on Jews, the assembly, after some debate, went the other way. Jews were to "continue" to be excluded from the realm, as part of the clause that made Lutheranism the official state religion, though with free exercise of religion as the general rule.

Several of the framers had formulated views on Jews before the convention had started, among them Lauritz Weidemann, who wrote somewhat incoherently that "The Jewish nation's history proves, that this people always has been rebellious and deceitful, and their religious teachings, the hope of again arising as a nation, so often they have acquired some remarkable fortune, led them to intrigues and to create a state within a state. It is of vital importance to the security of the state that an absolute exception be made about them." [cite news |first= |last= |authorlink= |author= |coauthors= |title= Jødeparagrafen - Kronologi 1814|url= |format= |work= |publisher= Norwegian parliament |location= Oslo |id= |pages= |page= |date= 2001-05-15 |accessdate=2008-03-18 |language= Danish |quote= |archiveurl= |archivedate= ]

Those who supported the continued ban did so for several reasons, among them theological prejudice. Nikolai Wergeland [Nikolai Wergeland's son was Henrik Wergeland, the poet who later would play a decisive role in reversing his father's views] and Georg Sverdrup felt that it would be incompatible with Judaism to deal honestly with Christians, writing that "no person of the Jewish faith may come within Norway's borders, far less reside there." Peter Motzfeld also supported the ban, but on the slightly different basis that the Jewish identity was too strong to allow for full citizenship. Other prominent framers, such as Hans Christian Ulrik Midelfart spoke "beautifully" in defense of the Jews, and also Johan Caspar Herman Wedel-Jarlsberg expressed in more muted terms the backwardness of the proposition. [Mendelsohn (1969), pps 43-44]

Those who opposed admission of Jews prevailed decisively when the matter was put to a vote, and the second paragraph of constitution read: [cite web |url= |title= Grunnloven undertegnet på Eidsvoll 17. mai 1814 |accessdate= 2008-03-18 |author= Riksforsamlingen|date= 1814-05-17 |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher= Stortinget |pages= |language= Danish |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= § 2. Den evangelisk-lutterske Religion forbliver Statens offentlige Religion. De Indvaanere, der bekjende sig til den, ere forpligtede til at opdrage sine Børn i samme. Jesuitter og Munkeordener maae ikke taales. Jøder ere fremdeles udelukkede fra Adgang til Riget.]

This effectively maintained the legal status quo from about 1813 but put Norway sharply at odds with trends in both Denmark and Sweden, where laws and decrees in the early 19th century were granting Jews greater, not more limited liberties.

Meanwhile, a small number of Jewish converts to Christianity had settled in Norway, some of them rising to prominence. Among them were Ludvig Mariboe, Edvard Isach Hambro, and Heinrich Glogau. In 1817, Glogau had challenged Christian Magnus Falsen, one of the proponents of the ban against Jews at the constitutional assembly about the meaning of the prohibition, asking whether he should be embarrassed by his ancestors or his homeland when relating his legacy to his children. [cite web |url= |title= “Er det en jøde tilladt at handle i Norge…”|accessdate= 2008-03-31 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work= Mulighetenes land? Innvandring til Norge fra 1500 - 2002 |publisher= Norsk Folkemuseum |pages= |language= Norwegian |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= Mine Børn ere norske, hvad skal jeg sige dem, idet jeg forelegger dem deres Fædrenelands Grundlov? Skal jeg beskæmme mine Forældre eller Grundloven? ] . Falsen responded by asserting that Judaism "carries nothing but ridicule and contempt toward the person that does not profess to it...making it a duty for each Jew to destroy [all nations that accept him] ." [Mendelsohn (1969) pps 54-56]

Indeed, a number of Jews who found themselves in Norway were fined and deported. A ship bound for England floundered off the west coast of Norway in 1817, and one of those who washed ashore was Michael Jonas, a Polish Jew. He was escorted out of the country under heavy guard. This heavy-handed approach caused consternation, and the chief of police in Bergen was ordered to personally pay for the costs of the deportation. There were also deportation proceedings against suspected who couldn't produce a baptismal certificate, among them the singer Carl Fredrich Coppello (alias Meyer Marcus Koppel), opticians Martin Blumenbach and Henri Leia, Moritz Lichtenheim, and others. [Mendelsohn (1969), p. 56-57]

Repeal and initial immigration

The deportation of Jews who had either come to Norway by accident or in good faith caused some embarrassment among Norwegians. The first who advocated for a repeal was the poet Andreas Munch in 1836. But it was Henrik Wergeland who became the leading champion for the Jews in Norway. [Mendelsohn (1969), p. 60 ] [cite web |url=|title= Henrik Wergeland og "Jødesaken" |accessdate= 2008-03-31 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher= National Archives of Norway |pages= |language= Norwegian |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ]

10th parliamentary session, 1842

Henrik Wergeland was the son of Nikolai Wergeland, one of the members at the constitutional assembly who had most strongly objected to admitting Jews to the country. The younger Wergeland had long harbored prejudice against Jews, but travels in Europe had changed his mind. He published the pamphlet "Indlæg i Jødesagen" on August 26, 1841, arguing passionately for a repeal of the clause. On February 19, 1842, his efforts to put the matter to a vote in the Norwegian parliament was successful, when the proposition was referred to the Constitution Committee. On September 9, 1842, the motion to repeal won a simple majority: 51 to 43, but, falling short of a supermajority (2/3rds) it failed. [cite web |url= |title=Jødeparagrafen - Kronologi 1842 |accessdate= 2008-03-31 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= |last= |first= |authorlink= |coauthors= |date= 2001-05-15 |year= |month= |format= |work= |publisher= Norwegian parliament |pages= |language= Norwegian |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ]

On 26 October, 1842, Wergeland published his book "Jødesagen i det norske Storthing" ("The Jewish issue in the Norwegian parliament"), which in addition to arguing for the cause also provides interesting insights into the workings of the parliament at the time. [cite web |url= |title=Jødesagen i det norske Storthing |accessdate= 2008-03-31 |accessmonthday= |accessdaymonth= |accessyear= |author= Henrik Wergeland|last= |first= |authorlink= Henrik Wergeland |coauthors= |date= 1842-10-26 |year= |month= |format= |work= Dokumentasjonsprosjektet |publisher= Universities in Oslo, Trondheim, Bergen, and Tromsø |pages= |language= Norwegian |doi= |archiveurl= |archivedate= |quote= ]

Parliamentary sessions in 1845, 1848, and 1851

Wergeland had submitted a new proposal to parliament later on the same day that the first repeal had failed. He died on July 12, 1845. The constitution committee referred their recommendation to repeal exactly a month after his death, on August 12th. Several versions were put to vote, but the most popular version won 52 votes to repeal, only 47 to keep; worse than the last vote.

In 1848, the motion to repeal earned 59 to 43 votes, still falling short of the 2/3rd required. In 1851, finally, the clause was repealed with 93 votes to 10. On September 10th, all remaining legislation related to the ban was repealed by the passage of "Lov om Ophævelse af det hidtil bestaaende Forbud mot at Jøder indfinde sig i Riget m.v." ("Law regarding the repeal of the until now prohibition against Jews in the realm, etc.") [Mendelsohn (1969), pps 218-275]

Early 20th century emerging public opinion

In spite of fears that Norway would be overwhelmed by Jewish immigration following the repeal, only about 25 Jews immigrated to Norway before 1870. Because of pogroms in Czarist Russia, however, the immigration accelerated somewhat in the late 19th and early 20th century. By 1910, there were about 1,000 Jews in Norway.

Though the minority was small and widely dispersed, several stereotypes of Jews gained currency in the Norwegian press and popular literature in the early 20th century. In books by the widely read authors Rudolf Muus and Øvre Richter Frich, in which Jews are described as obsessed with money and sadistic. The attorney Eivind Saxlund published a pamphlet "Jøder og Gojim" ("Jews and Goyim") in 1910, which was characterized i 1922 as "antisemitic smutt literature' by a writer in Dagbladet. Saxlund sued for libel and lost, but earned the admiration of the newspaper Nationen, who praised Saxlund for fighting "our race war." [Selbekk (2001), pps. 30-33.] In 1920, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published in Norway under the title "The New World Emperor" ("Den nye verdenskeiser").

Opposition to antisemitic prejudice ran across party lines. Fridtjof Nansen, C J Hambro, and Sverre Strøstad held a principled line against it. Primarily, the newspapers Aftenposten and Nationen, as well as Tidens Tegn served as platforms for anti-Jewish sentiments, also on the editorial pages.

More specifically, Jews as a group were characterized - in various contexts - as being:

* Unscrupulous merchants and tradespeople - trade associations, including retailers, wholesalers, and craftsmen, were deeply suspicious about what they alleged were immoral, damaging, and even illegal activities from their Jewish competitors. Jewish merchants were various accused of overpricing for items and also dumping, usually for inferior goods. Jews were excluded from guilds and trade associations.
* Subersive communists - Jews were often identified with the Bolshevik movement in Russia, this canard being conflated with the capitalist stereotype under the idea that Jewish capitalism was a tool in the service of communism.
* Freeloaders - in particular, Norwegian authorities feared that an easing of restrictions on Jewish immigration would lead to an influx of immigrants who were dependent on public assistance, or who would displace employment among non-Jewish Norwegians.

Norwegian immigration policy shifted following World War I to a far more restrictive line, and Jews were particularly singled out. The ministries of justice and foreign affairs were often at odds on the issue of Jewish immigration, but in practice the policy made it difficult for Jews to immigrate or settle in Norway. Restrictions were justified on an economic basis (Jews would either create destructive competition for Norwegian merchants and tradespeople, or freeload on public assistance), political concerns (communists and other subversive elements would create political instability), or general xenophobia against "foreign" groups. Whether the immigration policy was driven by the characterizations above, or vice versa is not clear.

Shechita controversy

The prejudice against Jews got a focal point in the controversy about the legality of shechita, the Jewish practice of ritual slaughter. The issue had originally been raised in the 1890s, but a municipal ban on the practice in Oslo the matter to national attention.

The Norwegian Federation for Animal Protection led the movement to ban shechita, based on the premise that the method was cruel to animals. A senior police official, Jonas Søhr took a particular interest and eventually rose to the leadership of the organization. From the outset, concerns about animal welfare were intermingled with xenophobic arguments, some of them directed specifically at Jews.


Post-World War II

Current issues


*cite book |last= Mendelsohn |first= Oskar |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title= Jødenes historie i Norge gjennom 300 år: Bind 1 1660-1940 |origdate= |origyear= 1969 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher= Universitetsforlaget |location= |language= Norwegian |isbn= 82-00-02523-3 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote=
*cite book |last= Mendelsohn |first= Oskar |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title= Jødenes historie i Norge gjennom 300 år: Bind 2 1940-1985 |origdate= |origyear= 1986 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= 2nd edition |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher= Universitetsforlaget |location= |language= Norwegian |isbn= 82-00-02524-3 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote=
*cite book |last= Mendelsohn |first= Oskar |authorlink= |coauthors= |editor= |others= |title= Jødene i Norge: Historien om en minoritet |origdate= |origyear= 1992 |origmonth= |url= |format= |accessdate= |accessyear= |accessmonth= |edition= |series= |date= |year= |month= |publisher= Universitetsforlaget |location= |language= Norwegian |isbn= 82-00-21669-1 |oclc= |doi= |id= |pages= |chapter= |chapterurl= |quote=


External links

* [ Norwegian Righteous among the nations]

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