Editor’s note: Arland Fiske passed away June 16, but as a tribute to him, The Pilot-Independent will continue to print his column for the next couple of months.
The sign at the entrance to Norway’s Resistance Museum reads: “Never again.” The museum is located at Akershus Castle in Oslo’s harbor. It opened May 8, 1970, by then Crown Prince Harald (now King Harald V), exactly 25 years after peace and constitutional government was restored. The purpose of the Museum is for “the young people of today and the coming generations.”
It is still an embarrassment for Norway that it was so ill prepared to defend itself in 1940. But it’s easy to understand. Norway had not been in a military conflict since 1814, and then only briefly.
The people trusted in their neutrality. None of its military leaders had been in a war. But 61 bitter months of occupation convinced its leaders that “never again” shall this happen. Despite its uneasiness about sharing a border with the Soviet Union for many years, Norway was a cooperative member of NATO since its beginning.
It was an unforgettable experience for my wife and myself the first time we visited the Museum, to be personally escorted by the Director, Reidar Thorpe. He had been a part of the Resistance. He told us that the last person he took through the Museum had been the U. S. Secretary of Defense, Casper Weinberger.
The director made it a point to tell us that the most important part of the Resistance was to help the Norwegians to stand up against the Nazi propaganda to collaborate with the enemy. The Gestapo used both promises to beguile and torture to bend people’s wills.
The name “Quisling” has come down in history as a term of shame. He was the leader of a small political party called “National Unity.” It was Vidkun Quisling that urged Hitler to “save” Norway from the British and the Communists.
Before the war, Quisling collected less than 2,000 votes. By the end of the war more than 40,000 Norwegians had joined his party. Most of them were quite innocently unaware of his Hitler connections. The underground newspapers led the cause for truth to the people. Dignity, calmness and discipline were the watchwords of Resistance leaders.
The museum, called the “Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum” (Norway’s Home Front Museum), is well researched and designed. Maps, secret papers, photos and audio-visuals bring the war years vividly to the visitor’s awareness in 48 displays.
The saddest part was to see the torture instruments used by the Gestapo. At the Grini Prison Camp near Oslo, 19,000 Norwegians were detained, beside 9,000 more that were sent to Germany. Of these, 1,340 died, including 610 Jewish Norwegians.
Germany and Norway have traditionally been friends, having bonds through commerce, church and culture. The well-kept German cemeteries in Norway are a testimony to this. I visited one in Trondheim. It was heart-rending to see the grave markers of so many youths who died for the follies of evil rulers.
A sign of the Resistance Movement was to wear a paper clip in the lapel of one’s suit coat. It meant, “Let’s Keep Together.” A friend told me that his father wore a paper clip in his lapel all through the war, though he never knew why until years later.
If you ever visit Oslo, be sure to visit the Resistance Museum. You may have to make a special effort to see it, because tour guides today seem to bypass it in favor of more popular sites. It has made me think that many of them have already forgotten.
It is a visit, however, that you will never forget. Americans need to be reminded too that the price of freedom is “eternal vigilance. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, are a grim reminder of this. We all need to do our part so that this will “never again” happen in the lands we love.
Next time: “Ole Rolvaag — A Giant in the Earth”