Wednesday, May 18

It is 80 years since Norwegian teachers rebelled against the Nazi regime. Too few have heard history.

  • Gunnar Grut

    Senior Lecturer, Department of Teacher Education, NTNU

  • Martin Øystese

    Senior Lecturer, Department of Teacher Education, NTNU

  • Unni Eikeseth

    Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education, NTNU

National Commissioner Josef Terboven finally ordered the imprisonment of 1,100 Norwegian teachers. This picture from the spring of 1942 shows 11 of the 647 who were sent to forced labor in Kirkenes.

This year it is 80 years since the teachers’ action, where thousands of teachers put an end to the Nazisation of Norwegian schools.

This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.

Norwegian resistance fighters have received much attention for their efforts in the fight against the Nazi occupation. The same cannot be said of the teachers who took part in the non-violent resistance struggle.

This year it is 80 years since the teachers’ action, where thousands of teachers fought against the occupying power’s attempt to Nazify the Norwegian school. Despite threats, violence, captivity and deportation, teachers refused to play a role in the introduction of Nazi ideology.

This is an event that is largely unknown to many, but which is an important part of the story of Norway.

The future of the nation

On 5 February 1942, a law was passed stipulating that all teachers must be members of the NS-controlled Norwegian Teachers’ Union. At the same time, a law was passed that all Norwegian youth should register in the National Assembly’s youth county (NSUF), a parallel to the Hitler Youth in Germany.

In the struggle to incorporate Norway into the new Pan-German world order, the rising generation was to encounter a Nazi worldview both in school and in leisure time. Therefore, it was crucial to get the teachers involved.

This victory for civil society is a story that is hardly conveyed.

In the book “The Struggle for School”, historian Nicola Karcher describes this as a struggle for the future of the entire nation: The one who controlled the school, controlled the country.

Everything in 1941 was therefore the leadership in the various teacher organizations was replaced with NS people. Many teachers had already chosen to protest.

Among other things, 90 per cent of the members of the Norwegian Teachers’ Association resign. There were also established teachers’ associations that carried out resistance work in secret, many in the secret organization Skolefronten.

Support from church and parents

With the introduction of the new law, all teachers were faced with the choice between being a member of NSUF or being punished by NS.

Despite the fact that much was at stake, thousands of teachers all over Norway sent a letter to Quisling’s Ministry of Church and Education on February 20, 1942. The letter sent by the teachers had similar content and stated that the teachers refused to comply with the new lova.

This was the starting point for a dramatic action that is known as one of the world’s most successful non-violent resistance actions. The Norwegian teachers’ non-violent resistance struggle has internationally formed a school for civil society’s opposition to violence and oppression, among other things during the Arab Spring.

The teachers received support in the community, especially from the church, where the bishops resigned, and from a parental revolt, primarily driven by the mothers, who sent more than 200,000 letters of protest to the Quisling regime.

1100 in prison

The regime realized that they had now started a battle they seemed to lose. In order to gain time, the regime announced a one-month “fuel holiday” in the schools on the pretext that there was a shortage of firewood. They also increased the salaries of teachers.

National Commissioner Josef Terboven finally ordered the imprisonment of 1,100 Norwegian teachers. These were interned in concentration camps, between Anna Falstad, Grini and Jørstadmoen.

Teachers on forced labor in Kirkenes in the spring of 1942.

647 of the teachers were sent to forced labor in Kirkenes, accommodated on a fox farm. Here they lived under harsh conditions for eight months. Despite this, the vast majority of teachers refused to join the teachers’ association.

The story of the teachers’ action is the story of a particularly effective rebellion against the occupying power, and the inflicted occupying power inflicted a great defeat.

Barely convey

The result was that most of the demands placed on teachers were withdrawn. The schools could reopen without the teachers being bound by the NS ideology.

This victory for civil society is a story that is hardly conveyed. For example, some of the curricula that have come out in connection with the new curriculum have hardly been mentioned.

Democracy demanded active smoking from the citizens. Contrary to indoctrination and pressure from powerful interests, teachers often have our leaders.

It is necessary to put democracy on the agenda, but not sufficiently. One also needs an open and critical examination of how power behaves.

History has shown us that the role of teacher is an important defense for democracy, and it is time to acknowledge that.

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