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Institutions of Democracy Facing Nazi Occupation: Norway in a Comparative Perspective

"Institutions of Democracy Facing Nazi Occupation: Norway in a Comparative Perspective” is a history project based at the Norwegian Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities.

About the project

The project aims at examining how democratic institutions coped with attempts to Nazify them during the German occupation of Norway. Three sectors will be investigated: the school system, the central administration and the police. A central question sought answered is why the reactions varied within and between sectors. This will be sought answered through an analysis of cultural, institutional and political differences between the sectors.

Through a comparison with similar countries, primarily the Netherlands, the project aims at charting which Nazification efforts that were unique for Norway, and the role played by the Norwegian Nazi party Nasjonal Samling (NS). In order to achieve this, the project cooperates with German and Dutch researchers. The project is primarily funded by the Norwegian Research Council, and is planeed finished in 2016.

Project description

Project Leadership

Project leader: Odd-Bjørn Fure

Project coordinator: Øystein Hetland


Scholar Projects

Nicola K. Karcher: The Struggle for the Schools

The research project seeks to describe the attempt to Nazify the Norwegian school system and to chart the non-violent struggle against this attempt. Several important questions can be asked in this context: To which extent was NS acting on their own initiative, and how did the dependency on German institutions influence the Nazification efforts by NS? Can this be described as an attempt by NS to "emancipate" themselves from the Germans? Did the party represent a separate ideological current which saw the Nazification of the Norwegian school system as "necessary", or were their efforts primarily a strategic decision to strengthen their position vis-a-vis the German Reichskommissariat? Did an active ideological exchange with German actors like the SS or the Hitlerjugend play a role? Were the efforts inspired by them, or were the NS simply a conveyor of ideas passed on to them by Germans?

On the other hand, the examination of the grassroots reactions is of central importance to the project. This includes particularly the question why the Nazification effort failed and what form the resistance took. How, for instance, was the non-violent resistance first initiated? Who took the initiative, and which teachers, principals or teachers played decisive roles? In other words; who were the central actors, how did they act and what was their motivation? How did communication within the grassroots action work? Which regions or local areas were particularly important when it came to developing a firm negative attitude towards the Nazification effort? Which role did the parents play as private actors, and how did they organise?


Terje Emberland: Norwegian Police in the Stutthof Camp

In 1943 271 "unreliable" Norwegian policemen were sent to a reeducation camp for Germanics as a part of the Stutthof  camp complex. The goal was to turn them into committed National Socialists. The experiment ended up as a total failure. The policemen managed what they had been unable to achieve earlier: To form a firm and collective opposition to Nazification efforts. This represented a contrast to the very mixed impression left by the Norwegian police during the war, and can have assumed the function as an alibi for the police as a whole. The Stutthof experiment is an experiment of the SS' unrealistic plans for Norway in general and the Norwegian police in particular, and also shows the internal conflicts both within the SS and between the SS and Reichskommissar Terboven.

The project is to document the process leading to the stay in Stutthof, describe the character and contents of the experiment, and then finally examine the post war history, in order to ascertain which importance it had for the view of the police during and after the post-war treason trials.


Terje Emberland: Norwegian and German Police before the War

The National Socialist takeover in Germany did not lead to Norwegian police officers turning their backs on their German collegues. The Norwegian police was influenced by the German police, and practical and organisatorial cooperation increased in the interwar period. Study trips to Germany were common, and Norwegian police officers even visited German concentration camps.

The project seeks to explore the institutional and personal connections between the Norwegian and German police between 1933 and 1940. It is to evaluate what these connections indicate regarding attitudes and sympathies within the Norwegian police, and whether they help explain the reaction towards Nazification efforts during the war by the Norwegian police.


Ph.D. Projects

Kjetil Simonsen: Collaboration and Resistance in Three Norwegian Departments

The project's main objective is to examine to which extent it was possible to transform the pre-war Norwegian central administration, nominally based on political neutrality, into a politicised bureaucratic system where state officials were expected to actively work towards transforming Norway into a National Socialist society. A fundamental question is how far officials employed before the war were willing to go to meet new political demands. Could the departments be "Nazified" with existing personnel, or were was the hiring of committed National Socialists necessary? The existing department structures will be examined from the same starting point, asking to which extent it was possible to use the old structures for the realisation of National Socialist policies, or whether completely new institutions - based on National Sociaist ideas and concepts of state administration - were necessary. Finally, what were the consequences of all this for those who came in contact with the state administration during the occupation?


Øystein Hetland: Comparative Examination of Three Norwegian Police Districts

Prosjektet skal gjennom en detaljert analyse av tre norske politikamre søke å få svar på flere uavklarte spørsmål om den norske politietatens rolle under krigen. Hovedspørsmål er i hvilken grad det norske førkrigspolitiet lot seg omforme til en lydig eller sågar ivrig håndhever av nazistisk politikk. Hvor langt var den gjennomsnittlige norske politimann villig til å gå? Når konkluderte han med at nok er nok? Hvor stor vilje til aktiv motstand mot okkupanten og NS-styret var det på de enkelte politikamrene? Var motstand og uvilje i ulike former så utbredt at de nazistiske makthaverne måtte installere politisk pålitelige folk for å få et politi de kunne stole på?

Through a detailed analysis of three Norwegian police districts, the project aims to answer several unclear questions regarding the Norwegian police during the war. The main question is to which extent it was possible to transform the existing Norwegian police into an obedient or even eager enforcer of National Socialist policies. How far was the average Norwegian policeman willing to go? When did he conclude that enough was enough? What will existed to actively resist the occupier and NS in each police district? Was reluctance and resistance widespread enough to necessitate widespread purges by the National Socialist authorities, in order to gain a police they could trust?


Master Projects

Ane I. Støen: The Department of Justice during the German Occupation of Norway 1940-1945 (Finished, in Norwegian)

The Master's thesis examines three questions:

  1. To which extent the Department of Justice's organisatorial structure and personnel became Nazified.
  2. How Nazification affected the division of labour and procedures within the department, and which political impact the internal changes had.
  3. Which patterns of reactions which can be observed among department employees as a response to Nazification efforts and the revolutionary policies of the occupation authorities and their NS allies.

A fundamental finding of the thesis is that it makes no sense, due to partial Nazification, division of labour and complex patterns of behaviour among employeed of the Department of Justice, to speak of "the Norwegian bureacracy's" contribution to Nazification of the wider Norwegian society or the persecution and deportation of Jews. It is necessary to differentiate and group department employees in order to gain a realistic image of just who contributed to the implementation of these policies, who were passive, and who actively resisted them. 

The analysis shows that the Department of Justice was partly, but also thoroughly Nazified during the occupation. Nazification partly took the form of new NS-based institutions, detached from all traditional structures and working according to new procedural principles. Positions within these new institutions were filled by NS members or sympathisers. Furthermore, a clear connection between the number of NS sympathisers and the department's mode of operation has been indentified. After the new NS institution "The Minister's Office" had been established during spring of 1941, and after more and more positions within traditional sections had been manned by NS sympathisers, the responsibility for handling topics or invididual cases that were of political nature were transferred to Nazified parts of the department. This transfer was politically important because it changed the premises for the implementation of policies favoured by NS or the occupation authorities, destroying the barriers against outcomes that were not in line with the goals of the new authorities.

This transfer of tasks must on one hand be attributed to Minister of Justice Sverre Riisnæs, who wished to leave the handling of cases to persons who were willing to take political considerations. It was also, however, a result of resistance from other employees of the department, who did not want to handle such cases. The thesis shows that few employees who were not members of NS desired to collaborate with the new rulers. Because NS authorities had few possibilities to use force or overt pressure against this group without jeopardising efficiency or case-handling capacity, there were few instances of forced collaboration. The dominant pattern of behaviour was pragmatic collaboration. This form of collaboration -  which was represented a form of voluntary cooperation, yet also characterised by a rejection of the political goals of NS and the occupation authorities - was often combined with non-violent acts of resistance.


Jo S. Refseth: The Police and their Past

The project seeks to chart how the police handled their problematic history during the occupation in post-war publications. The police's own literature will be analysed in order to see how the police role during the war is presented and interpreted. Central questions are who are allowed to speak, which events that are found worth mentioning, and whether certain topics are systematically avoided.


Tags: Okkupasjonshistorie, sentraladministrasjonen, politiet, skolen
Published Nov. 25, 2013 11:04 AM - Last modified Oct. 21, 2020 12:36 PM