Norwegian Anti-Nazi Protest
Norwegian Anti-Nazi Protest
German Occupation of Norway, 1940–1945
Date: January 5, 1942
Source: © Bettmann/Corbis.
About the Photographer: This photograph is a part of the archive maintained by Corbis Corporation, an international provider of visual content materials to a wide range of consumers in the communications industries. The identity of the photographer is unknown.
Prior to 1905, Norway had been organized in a variety of national structures and had participated in various alliances with its Scandinavian neighbors. Norway became an independent nation once more in 1905, when its union with Sweden terminated. Shortly after Norway's independence, King Haakon VII (1872–1957) was installed as the head of Norway's constitutional monarchy, fulfilling a national referendum that selected this form of government over that of a republic. Norway was an officially neutral nation during World War I.
When World War II erupted in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, Norway immediately declared itself neutral, as did its Scandinavian neighbors, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Norway's proximity to England across the North Sea made its fjords and ice-free ports an attractive potential base for Germany from which to attack British shipping with both surface ships and submarines. Germany also saw Norway as a useful staging ground for its air force. The Russian invasion of Finland in late 1939 reinforced for Germany the strategic importance of the entire Scandinavian region.
Germany invaded Norway in April 1940. After a two-month campaign in which the Norwegian armed forces were supported by British troops, the German army gained control of the country. King Haakon and his ministers escaped to England, where they established a government-in-exile for the duration of the war. Many Norwegians left the country shortly after the German occupation began, many of whom joined the British or Canadian armed forces. Approximately 50,000 Norwegian civilians fled to neutral Sweden, where they lived in refugee camps for the duration of the war.
The German effort to subjugate Norway was significantly aided by local sympathizers led by Vidkun Quisling (1887–1945), a former military leader who headed a political party modeled after the German Nazi Party at the time of the German invasion. Quisling was established as the prime minister of the pro-German government that nominally led Norway until the end of the war in 1945.
NORWEGIAN ANTI-NAZI PROTEST
See primary source image.
Norway represented a considerable strategic prize for the German armed forces in the spring of 1940. When France fell to the German army in June 1940, the earlier conquest of Norway meant that England was effectively surrounded on the European continent. However, the distance from Germany, the rugged terrain, and the determined efforts of the Norwegian underground resistance movement throughout the entire German occupation required Germany to maintain a very large military presence in Norway— approximately 350,000 German soldiers were stationed in Norway throughout the war. This deployment, a ratio of one German soldier for every eight Norwegian citizens, represented a significant drain on German military resources.
The sign supporting King Haakon shown in this photograph is an example of the Norwegian civil disobedience that took place throughout the German occupation. The government-in-exile headed by the king in London made regular radio broadcasts into Norway. The London exiles also produced a continual stream of leaflets and other paper propaganda in an effort to maintain a national spirit in Norway throughout the occupation.
The most subtle of the acts of civil disobedience was the "paper clip protest" conducted by Norwegians in every walk of life at various times during the German occupation. The paper clip was invented by a Norwegian, Johan Vaaler, in 1899. When the Norwegian government fled the German invasion in 1940, the German military leadership decreed that no Norwegian citizens could wear any button, image, or likeness of King Haakon on their person. The paper clip—a uniquely Norwegian invention designed to hold items together—was the popular symbol seized upon as a replacement for images of the king and as a sign of Norwegian unity.
The paper clips also came to have a second meaning. When the German occupiers required the Jewish residents of the capital city of Oslo to wear a yellow star to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Norwegian population, the paper clip became a symbol of solidarity with the Jewish citizens. Ultimately, the German occupiers learned of the significance of the paper clip that appeared on the lapels of Norwegians and many were jailed for this form of silent expression.
The photograph is also significant in its representation of the depth of passion that most Norwegians felt for their nation throughout the German occupation. The Norwegian resistance movement was an active and well organized force throughout the war. Given the proximity of the Norwegian coastline to England, a number of commando-style raids were conducted as joint operations by the Norwegian resistance and British operatives. The most significant military success achieved by the Norwegian resistance was directed at the German atomic research program based in Norway. A key heavy water manufacturing plant was destroyed in March 1943, followed by the sinking of a ship carrying 1,300 lb (590 kg) of heavy water in February 1944. (Heavy water contains deuterium, a heavy isotope of hydrogen, which renders the water useful in the creation of a sustained, nuclear chain reaction.) These acts slowed the German nuclear research program that, at the time of the attacks, was probably more advanced than the Allied program.
It is clear that the Norwegian sense of patriotism did not dim during the five years of occupation. Norway quickly re-established itself as a constitutional monarchy after the German surrender in Europe in May 1945. Quisling was tried and executed for treason in October 1945. However, Quisling achieved a peculiar form of immortality; a "quisling" is a recognized term for traitor in European English usage.
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