Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Jews in Norway

Jewish history books do not contain many references to the Jews of Norway, because until 1851 it was actually illegal for Jews to settle and live there. Actually, from 1687 until 1814, some Jews were allowed to settle in Norway if they had royal permission. In 1814, when Norway joined a union with Sweden and created its own constitution, the language of the constitution clearly stated that no Jews could settle in the country (leaving off the provision of royal approval). Although inspired by the French revolution, Jews seem to have been an exception when it came to “liberty and fraternity.”

Credit for the change in the Norwegian constitution to allow Jewish settlement is generally given to a poet named Henrik Wergeland. It is interesting to note that his father, Nicolai, was a strong supporter of banning the Jews during the creation of the constitution. Wergeland could not understand how a country espousing the Christian value of loving one’s fellow could have such an exclusionary law. He even wrote a poem meant to alter people’s biased perspective. The poem, titled “Christmas Eve,” was about an old Jewish peddler trying to protect a small, lost (Christian) child from the freezing cold after having been cast away by the townspeople. Unfortunately, Wergeland did not live to see the results of his efforts, as he passed away in 1845, while the law was not reversed until 1851.

The Jewish population of Norway was never very large. There were fewer than 3,000 Jews in Norway when the Nazis occupied the country in April 1940. Many hundreds of these Jews were deported and/or murdered by the Nazis, while others managed to escape to Sweden.

Today, there are two small communities in the country. One is in Oslo. The other, in Trondheim, is one of the northernmost cities in the world.

June 7 is a public holiday in Norway marking the dissolution of its union with Sweden in 1905.

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