Knut Hamsun's obituary of Adolf Hitler
In 1945 at the age of 86, the Nobel laureate novelist Knut Hamsun wrote an obituary of Adolf Hitler in the newspaper Aftenposten. Hamsun's eulogy to Hitler served as the collaborationist newspaper's feature article on Hitler's death. The obituary came to be among his better known written pieces.
The short obituary read in extenso:
I'm not worthy to speak up for Adolf Hitler, and to any sentimental rousing his life and deeds do not invite.
Hitler was a warrior, a warrior for humankind and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations. He was a reforming character of the highest order, and his historical fate was that he functioned in a time of exampleless [unequalled] brutality, which in the end felled him.
Thus may the ordinary Western European look at Adolf Hitler. And we, his close followers, bow our heads at his death.
Knut Hamsun has been described as anti-British and pro-German, and as sympathizing with the Nazi cause. He openly supported the Norwegian Fascist party Nasjonal Samling (NS) before World War II, but even though Nasjonal Samling eventually formed a government controlled by the German Reichskommissar after the war broke out, it is unclear to historians whether he was actually a party member (in a civil lawsuit, he was found to have been a member under dissent from the professional judge, during the legal purge in Norway after World War II). Hamsun never signed up for any membership in the NS. Nonetheless, Hamsun was an opponent of the Reichskommissar Josef Terboven, and in 1943 he unsuccessfully appealed to Adolf Hitler in person to remove Terboven from office.
Aftenposten, the newspaper in which he wrote the obituary, was one of two leading conservative newspapers in Norway before the war. It was also Norway's largest in circulation. The paper frequently expressed support for fascist governments in Europe, including the Nazis, in the years before the Second World War. The Nazi government assumed control over the newspaper from 1940, and replaced the political editor and subeditor in 1941. Aftenposten became Nazi Germany's main organ in Norway, alongside the German-language Deutsche Zeitung in Norwegen. It agreed to pay a minor compensation to the government after the war, and remains Norway's largest newspaper.
Publication and reception
The obituary was published on the evening of 7 May 1945, one week after Hitler's death. Parts of the rather short obituary soon became infamous: Hamsun referred to Hitler as "a warrior for humankind and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations" and "a reformer of the highest order".
The obituary is often cited as a pivotal point in Hamsun's expression of his own political views, severely affecting the reception of his complete body of works. Writings such as these rose somewhat in importance due to the fact that the praised novelist Hamsun had not released a work of fiction since 1936's The Ring is Closed. Biographer Ingar Sletten Kolloen has referred to the obituary as one of "four mortal sins" committed by Hamsun which came to erode his position in Norwegian post-war society. On the other hand, Jørgen Haugan at the University of Copenhagen has stated regret that Hamsun's wrongdoings, among others the obituary of Hitler, had not overshadowed his literary qualities to what Haugan deems to be a sufficient degree.
For Hamsun himself, the obituary and other statements and writings led to his arrest soon after the war's end. However, the charges against him were softened as professor Gabriel Langfeldt and chief physician Ørnulv Ødegård found him to have "permanently impaired mental abilities". In 1949, in his 90th year, Hamsun issued the self-defending book On Overgrown Paths. He died in 1952.
Professor Atle Kittang at the University of Bergen stated on "Hamsun's legacy" at the web-site of the Knut Hamsun Centre, that among "the complex set of reasons" behind Hamsun's "act" of publishing the obituary, knowing that post their one 1943-meeting Hitler did not "rank very high in the poet's evalutation", one should look to Hamsun's "need to provoke" as demonstrated by the author's life and work.
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