Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 10, No. 6. May 28, 1947
Oslo Student Describes Struggle During Occupation
Oslo Student Describes Struggle During Occupation
A very short outline of the Norwegian University struggle 1940-43 (abridged from a little pamphlet published by the Royal Norwegian Information Office in London, 1944).
After the occupation of Norway in April, 1940, the Germans thought they would be able to achieve a total nazification of the University by quisling infiltration, propaganda and threats. They did not wish to dose down the University but hoped, to convert the students little by little, by the help of Nazi students and by appointing new. Nazi professors. But this scheme revealed their total ignorance of the Norwegian spirit and tradition. The vast majority of students and professors immediately took their stand on the basis, of Norwegian democracy and intellectual liberalism, and the University remained under the firm leadership of its Rector (Chancellor), Professor Seip. The students continued their activities as usual, but the big debating and cultural society, "The Students' Union," was dissolved in October, 1940, after a meeting with the students vigorously protesting against the German plans to depose the King.
But the step by step nazification of the University totally failed, and the Germans decided to remove Professor Seip and fill the students' organisation with quislings. The Nazis co-ordinated their first strike upon the University with an attack upon the Trade Union movement in September, 1941. Oslo was declared in a state of emergency, and two labour leaders were shot. Professor Seip was arrested and transferred to a concentration camp outside the town. Some six months later he was deported to Germany. A quisling "minister" was appointed Rector, and one of the few quisling lecturers was appointed Acting Rector. The Students' Faculty Committees and the Students' Joint Committee were taken over by the few quisling students.
What was now to do for the students? At first a spontaneous strike broke out at the University. Many students would have preferred to have the University closed down for the duration of the war, and they felt it a painful humiliation to continue their studies when their leader was languishing in a concentration camp. But for many reasons they decided to go on as if nothing had happened. To the nation the mere existence of the national University was a source of strength in this time of trial. The few Nazi students mattered little to the others, they were completely frozen out. Most of the Nazi lecturers did not appear at the University at all, as they got no audience. And the other professors continued their lectures with a boldness, as if no Germans were in the country. But safe the students and the professors never felt.
There were constantly rumours that the University would be closed down by the Germans, and this hampered the studies. Besides, a great number of the students and teachers took part in the underground movement in some way or other.
In February, 1943, universal labour conscription was introduced, and the students had to register at the Labour Exchanges. The Oslo students were summoned to a meeting at the University, and the head of the Nazi students declared that the labour service of the students only should consist in cutting wood to meet the fuel requirements of the University. Next day the newspapers brought the sensational news that the students now supported their Nazi leaders and trusted them to safeguard their interests. The students answered this assertion by sending in individual protests, signed with their full names, rejecting all association with the Nazified committees. Numerous arrests of students suspected of being instigators of the protest followed.
In August; 1943, new regulations concerning the admission of students to the university Were circulated from the "Ministry" to the faculties. The Rector was given full power to grant or refuse admission. The consequence would be that students undesirable to the Nazis would be rejected, and Nazis without the necessary qualifications would be admitted.
The professors and lecturers of all the faculties protested in writing, threatening to resign if the regulations were put into force. In October the Gestapo stepped in and arrested 68 students, nine professors, and two lecturers. All the faculties and practically all the students who at this time were in Oslo, protested in writing, demanding the release of their colleagues and friends.
The conflict was plainly moving towards a climax. On November 28 a mysterious fire broke out in the University Celebration Hall, the Aula.
The fire was most likely started by the Nazis, who had to find a pretext to close down the University. The controlled newspapers immediately flashed the event on the front page, accusing "Communist elements among the students" of "vandalism and sabotage." The whole next day the students went laughing to each other at this silly assertion, titling each other "communist" and "saboteur." But the day after, November 30, the Gestapo struck.
The University buildings, libraries, laboratories, and museums were surrounded by German troops with machine guns. All male students were detained, a great many were arrested in their homes or in the streets. The female students were ordered to leave for their homes.
Germans Close University
In this way the Gestapo laid their hands on 1,200 male students and more than 80 professors and university teachers. They were all taken into the Aula, the scene of the fire, where they had to listen to a violent speech by the German Gestapo chief, Redies. He declared that ever since the autumn of 1940, the Oslo University students had formed a centre of resistance to the occupation authorities and the national (quisling) government. The University would therefore be closed until further notice, and the male students would be transferred to a special camp in Germany. In the following two weeks the Germans succeeded in arresting between two and three hundred students in addition. The rest of the male students escaped to Sweden or went into hiding in Norway.
About 400 students and forty University teachers were released soon after. Some few of the students and the rest of the teachers were sent to the Norwegian concentration camp. But about 650 students were deported to Germany where they remained until April, 1945, when they were taken to Sweden by the Swedish Red Cross. The University was closed, but the Germans attained nothing with this fierce strike. It made people still more obstinate and hateful, and the students stood firmer than ever on the basis of intellectual liberalism; and no one forgot the ideas and ideals of the University.
This is in short the story of the Norwegian University during the occupation. It has been much discussed in Norway about the students' attitude 1940-1943, whether they did right or wrong in continuing their studies after the arrest of Rector Seip, etc. But, as it is difficult for foreign students to follow or understand this discussion, I will stop here.
Member of the Students' Committee at the Historical-Philosophical Faculty, Oslo.