History of the Jews in Norway
|Norwegian, Hebrew, Yiddish|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Swedish Jews, Finnish Jews, Danish Jews, other Ashkenazi Jews|
The Jews in Norway are one of the country's smallest ethnic and religious minorities. The largest synagogue is in Oslo. A smaller synagogue in Trondheim (63° 25' N) is the world's second northernmost synagogue.
Although there likely were Jewish merchants, sailors and others who entered Norway during the Middle Ages, no efforts were made to establish a Jewish community. Through the Early Modern period Norway, still devastated by The Black Plague, was ruled by the originally German House of Oldenburg in Denmark and later the French House of Bernadotte in Sweden, Norway thus prohibited Jews by royal edict from Copenhagen or Stockholm.
The first known mention of Jews in public documents relates to the admissibility of so-called “Portuguese Jews” (Sephardim) who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and 1497. Some of these were given special dispensation to enter Norway.
Christian V rescinded these privileges in 1687, specifically banning Jews from Norway, unless they were given a special dispensation. Jews found in the kingdom were jailed and expelled, and this ban persisted until 1851.
In 1814, Norway formulated its first constitution that included in the second paragraph a general ban against Jews and Jesuits entering the country. Portuguese Jews were exempt from this ban, but it appears that few applied for a letter of free passage. When Norway entered into the personal union of Sweden-Norway, the ban against Jews was upheld, though Sweden at that point had several Jewish communities. On 4 November 1844, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice declared: "...it is assumed that the so-called Portuguese Jews are, regardless of the Constitution’s §2, entitled to dwell in this country, which is also, to [our] knowledge, what has hitherto been assumed."
After tireless efforts by the poet Henrik Wergeland, politician Peder Jensen Fauchald, school principal Hans Holmboe and others, the Norwegian parliament lifted the ban against Jews in 1851 and they were awarded religious rights on par with Christian dissenters.
The Jewish community grew slowly until World War II. It was bolstered by refugees in the late 1930s and peaked at about 2,100. During the Nazi occupation of Norway, nearly all Jews were either deported to death camps or fled to Sweden and beyond. The Jews fleeing to Sweden were in many cases assisted by the Norwegian underground movement, consisting mostly of non-Jewish Norwegians, but sometimes had to pay guides to lead them over the border.
During the war, civilian Norwegian police (politiet) in many cases helped the German occupiers to arrest those Jews who failed to escape in time. In the middle of the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, there were at least 2,173 Jews in Norway. Records show that during the Holocaust, 758 Norwegian Jews were murdered by the Nazis—mostly in Auschwitz. In addition, at least 775 Jews were arrested, detained, and/or deported. Most of the Jews who survived did so by fleeing the country, mostly to Sweden, but some also to the United Kingdom. A few also survived in camps in Norway or in hospitals, or in hiding. All Jews in Norway were either deported and murdered, were imprisoned, had fled to Sweden, or were in hiding in Norway by 27 November 1942. Many of the Jews who fled during the war did not return, and in 1946, there were only 559 Jews in Norway.
The 1990s World War II restitution
In March 1996, the Norwegian government appointed a Committee whose mandate was "to establish what happened to Jewish property during World War II ... and to determine to what extent seized assets/property was restored after the war."
- Majority view of uncovered losses was estimated to be 108 million NOK, (based on the value of the NOK in May 1997), (≈15 mil USD)
- Minority view of uncovered losses was estimated to be 330 million NOK, (based on the value of the NOK in May 1997),
- On the 15 May 1998, the Prime Minister of Norway, Kjell Magne Bondevik, proposed 450 mil. NOK, covering both a "collective" and an "individual" restitution.
On 11 March 1999 the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget) voted to accept the proposition for 450 mil. NOK. The award was divided into two parts; one collective and one individual. The collective part, totalling NOK 250 million, was subdivided in three:
- Funds to sustain the Jewish community in Norway (NOK 150 million);
- Support for development, outside of Norway, of the traditions and culture which the Nazis wished to exterminate. The money is to be distributed by a foundation, where the executive committee members is to be appointed one each by the Norwegian Government, the Norwegian Parliament, the Jewish community in Norway, and the World Jewish Congress/World Jewish Restitution Organization. Eli Wiesel was suggested to lead the executive committee. (NOK 60 million).
- The formation of a national museum for tolerance, established as Norwegian Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities (NOK 40 million);
The individual part was estimated to total not more than NOK 200 million:
- Compensation to individuals and their survivors, a maximum of NOK 200,000 each.
31 November 1999 was the last date to apply for compensation from individuals, and the result was that 980 persons got 200,000 NOK (≈26,000 USD) each.
Norway today is served by two synagogues, one in Oslo and one in Trondheim. Oslo synagogue runs a full cradle to grave range of facilities including kindergarten and cheder. They also have an outreach program which gathered still functioning groups in Bergen and Stavanger. In June 2004 Chabad-Lubavitch established a permanent presence in the capital city, Oslo, also organising activities in other parts of Norway. Oslo also has a Jewish renewal Rabbi who organises services and activities. There was a Society for Progressive Judaism in Oslo, but it no longer exists.
As of 1 January 2012 there were about 1,500 living in the country as a whole. The number of registered members in religious Jewish communities has been declining in recent years, and was at 747 in 2015. Most of these were based in Oslo.
Norwegian Jews were well integrated into Norwegian society, and prominent among them were Jo Benkow, a former president of the Storting, or parliament; Leo Eitinger and Berthold Grünfeld, both notable psychiatrists; Robert Levin, the musician; theatre critic Mona Levin and Bente Kahan, an actress and singer. Of these, only the last two are still living.
Antisemitism in Norway
There have been episodes of desecration of the synagogue in Oslo. In July 2006 during the 2006 Lebanon War the congregation issued an advisory warning Jews not to wear kippot or other identifying items in public for fear of harassment or assault.
On 17 September 2006 the synagogue in Oslo was subjected to attack with an automatic weapon, only days after it was made public that the building had been one the planned target for the Algerian terror group GSPC that had been plotting a bombing campaign in the Norwegian capital. On 2 June 2008 Arfan Qadeer Bhatti was convicted on the shooting attack and given an eight-year preventive custody sentence for serious vandalism. The Oslo city court judge could not find sufficient evidence that the shots fired at the synagogue amounted to a terrorist act. The synagogue in Oslo is now under continuous surveillance and protected by barriers.
In August 2006, writer Jostein Gaarder published an op-ed in Aftenposten, titled God's Chosen People. It was highly critical of Israel, as well as Judaism as a religion.. Allegations of anti-Semitism and an intense public debate resulted in the Jostein Gaarder controversy.
In December 2008, Imre Hercz filed a complaint to the Pressens Faglige Utvalg against a comedian who mocked the Holocaust, but fellow comedians and his TV station have backed the controversial performer. Otto Jespersen joked on national television in his weekly comedy routine that "I would like to take the opportunity to remember all the billions of fleas and lice that lost their lives in German gas chambers, without having done anything wrong other than settling on persons of Jewish background." Jespersen also presented a satirical monologue on anti-Semitism that ended with, "Finally, I would like to wish all Norwegian Jews a Merry Christmas - no, what am I saying! You don't celebrate Christmas, do you!? It was you who crucified Jesus," on December 4. Jespersen has received criticism for several of his attacks on social and ethnic groups as well as royalty, politicians and celebrities, and in defence of the monologue TV2 noted that Jespersen attacks in all directions, and that "if you should take [the monologue] seriously, there are more than just the Jews that should feel offended".
In 2010, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation reported that anti-Semitism was common among Norwegian Muslims. Teachers at schools with large shares of Muslims reported that Muslim students often "praise or admire Adolf Hitler for his killing of Jews", that "Jew-hate is legitimate within vast groups of Muslim students" and that "Muslims laugh or command [teachers] to stop when trying to educate about the Holocaust". One Jewish father also told how his child, after school, had been taken by a Muslim mob, "to be taken out to the forest and hanged because he was a Jew". The child escaped. But apparently Antisemitism appears also among the rest of the Norwegian population, as it is reflected in antisemitic graffiti that was sprayed on a school and sports facility in Skien on August 2014. Later that year a swastika was carved into the glass doors of the Trøndelag Theater the day after the premiere of a Jewish puppet theater performance. On October 2014 a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in Trondheim with sprayed marks and the word "Führer" scribbled on the chapel.
An article published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs stated that the antisemitism in Norway comes mainly from the leadership – politicians, organization leaders, church leaders, and senior journalists. Despite other opinions claims the Antisemitism in Europe originated in the Muslim immigration, this essay blame the European-Christian leadership in antisemitism that begins around 1000 CE, centuries before Jews came to Norway. Another issue rises from the article is the publishing of antisemitic caricatures. Since the 1970s many Pro-Palestinian caricatures published in the Norwegian media. But a comparison of those sketches with antisemitic caricatures from the Nazi-era rises some similarities. Common motifs such as "Jews are evil and inhuman", "Jews rule and exploit the world" and "Jews hate peace and propagate wars" repeat in latetly-published drawings, as well as in antisemitic sketches from the beginning of the twentieth century.
According to an ADL telephone survey of 501 people, 15% +/-4.4% of the adult population in Norway harbor antisemitic attitudes and 40% of the population agree with the statement: "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Norway", and 31% think that "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust".  However, this survey has been critiqued for being unreasonably simplistic in its classification of "harboring antisemetic attitudes".
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- Aftenposten Newspaper: "Jews warned against harassment"
- Aftenposten Newspaper: "Synagogue shooting spurs calls for tighter security"
- Aftenposten Newspaper: "Synagogue was terror target"
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- Two public documents about the 1997-1999 discussion regarding restitution of assets seized from Jews during WW II