Wergeland, Henrik Arnold°

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WERGELAND, HENRIK ARNOLD ° (1808–1845), Norwegian poet. Wergeland occupies a unique place in the cultural history of Norway as a leading figure in intellectual and national life in the 1830s and 1840s. In his Norges Konstitutions Historie ("History of the Norwegian Constitution," 1841–43), he praised the constitution of 1814 but also voiced his displeasure (in Section ii of the work) at the illiberal prohibition of Jewish immigration, a view which he also expressed in a number of newspaper articles. In 1839 Wergeland submitted to the Storting (parliament) a detailed proposal to rescind this prohibition (see *Norway), emphasizing considerations of justice and reconciliation. In his popular work, Indlaeg i Jødesagen ("Essays About the Jewish Question"), Wergeland spoke out against anti-Jewish prejudice, writing about Jewish religion, nationality, and patriotism, the occupations of Jews, their philanthropic activities, and moral excellence. Although he did not disregard the economic advantages which the admission of Jews would bring to Norway, moral considerations were of paramount importance to him; Christianity, justice, and charity demanded that the prohibition be rescinded. His collections of poetry, Jöden ("The Jew," 1842), and Jödinden ("The Jewess," 1844), contributed greatly toward creating a sentiment favorable to the Jews. They were translated into German under the title, Der Jude und die Juedin (1935), by the Oslo rabbi, Julius Samuel. Many of these poems, which still appear in anthologies, and which are also used in schools, have Jewish themes. In his essay Jødesagen i det norske storting ("The Jewish Cause in the Norwegian Parliament"), Wergeland described the parliamentary debate of 1842. He corresponded with prominent Jews in other countries, particularly in Sweden. After his death Scandinavian (primarily Swedish) Jews erected a memorial to him at his grave. It was unveiled in 1849 at a well-attended public ceremony and in the presence of three Swedish Jews, who had come to Norway with letters of safe-conduct. In 1851 the prohibition against Jewish immigration was rescinded.

Wergeland was instrumental in creating the special way Norwegians celebrate May 17, Norway's Constitution Day. Every May 17 children all over Norway march through the main streets in brass bands followed by children dressed in their best clothing or national costumes, singing, cheering, and waving Norwegian flags. On the morning of this day members of the Jewish community of Oslo (dmt) commemorate Wergeland, as they have since the 1920s, by gathering at his grave before the parades begin. A member of the Jewish Youth Organization (juf) delivers a speech and lays a garland of flowers on the grave. The Norwegian national anthem is then sung. In latter years the speeches have addressed the importance of following in Wergeland's footsteps with regard to present-day prejudices.


J.B. Halvorsen, Norsk Forfatter-Lexikon, 6 (1908), s.v.; Seip, in: Edda, 27 (1927), 113–45; Summit, in: American Hebrew (Sept. 8, 1939); F. Bull and F. Paasche, Norsk Litteraturhistorie, 3 (1932), 113–319; H. Koht and H. Jaeger, Henrik Wergeland, V Brev, Retsinlaeg, 1 (1930); L. Amundsen, Brev til Henrik Wergeland 1827–1845 (1956); O. Mendelsohn, Jødenes historiei Norge gjennom 300 år, 1 (1969). add. bibliography: "Wergeland, Henrik," in: Aschehaug Leksikon.

[Oskar Mendelsohn /

Lynn C. Feinberg (2nd ed.)]