On November 26, 1942, the German ship S.S. Donau left Oslo, Norway, carrying 532 of Norway’s Jews, en route to the Auschwitz concentration camp. A total of 761 Norwegian Jews were sent to death camps, of whom just 26 survived the war.
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When Norway adopted a constitution in 1814, it included a clause forbidding Jews and Jesuits from entering or residing in the country. The law was only repealed in 1851. A half-century later, the pogroms in Russia led to an influx of Jews seeking refuge in Norway, with another surge of immigration coming in the 1930s, as Jews began to flee Nazi Germany, and then countries that came under its occupation. By 1942, there were some 2,200 Jews living in the Scandinavian state, most of them in Oslo and Trondheim.
Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, and despite the arrival of French and British troops to help in its defense, all resistance was vanquished by June 10. (The royal family and the members of the government escaped and set up a government-in-exile in London.) From then until the end of World War II, the country was ruled by a combination of 300,000 occupying forces led by Reichskommissar Josef Terboven and an on-again, off-again puppet government headed by Vidkun Quisling, the head of the Norwegian Nazi party.
Anti-Jewish measures began in May 1941, when all radios owned by Jews were confiscated. Detailed registries of all Jews in the country were assembled by cross-referencing lists from government authorities with records demanded from the country’s synagogues and other Jewish organizations. Jews had to have the letter “J” stamped in red on their identity cards. Their businesses and households were legally defined as bankrupt, meaning the state could seize and redistribute their assets.
Mass round-ups of Jews began in October 1942, by which time approximately 150 had fled Norway for neutral Sweden. First males over the age of 15 were arrested and held in two concentration camps in Norway. Then, on November 26, a force of 300 Norwegian police and militiamen rounded up the country’s Jewish women and children as well, and sent both the men and women to the Oslo port, where they were put on board the Donau for transport to Stettin, Poland. Arriving there on November 30, they were sent by train to Auschwitz, where 346 of them were taken directly to the gas chambers. The remaining 186 people were dispatched to the Birkenau sub-camp to become slave laborers.
On the eve of the November 26 roundup, members of several Norwegian resistance organizations received notice of the impending action, and quickly got word to as many Jews as possible. As a consequence, at least 900 were able to make their way to Sweden and escape deportation. The Swedish government was liberal in dispensing naturalization papers via the consulate in Oslo.
On February 25, 1943, another 158 Jews who had not been included in the earlier deportation were shipped to Stettin via the S.S. Gotenland, and eventually to Auschwitz, where all but 26 (or 28) were sent immediately to their deaths.
In 1996, the Norwegian government appointed a committee to examine the fate of the country’s Jews during the war, and to determine what had happened to property that had been confiscated from them. As a consequence, a sum of 450 million Norwegian krone (approximately $62.5 million) was distributed, part to survivors and their heirs, part to Jewish institutions. Today, Norway has a Jewish community some 1,500-strong.