Norway's Police Apologize for Their Role in the Holocaust

Norway's chief of police yesterday expressed "regret" over the police force's role in the arrests and deportations of Jews from the German-occupied country during World War II.

Odd Reidar Humlegard, who was formally named to his post on Friday, issued the apology on behalf of the national police force: "I want to apologize, on behalf of the Norwegian Police and those who were involved with the deportation of Norwegian Jews to concentration camps," Humlegard told local newspaper Dagsavisen. Earlier this year, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg formally apologized for his country's role in the Nazi persecution of Jews.

Humlegard said it would have been easy to simply add himself and the police force to Stoltenberg's official apology but he didn't feel that was sufficient given the active cooperation by hundreds of Norwegian police officers with their Nazi occupiers. Humlegard's came a few days after popular Norwegian poet Jan Erik Vold, in an interview to Dagsavisen, called the police involvement in the deportation of Norwegian Jews a "national shame" for which the police should have apologized long ago.

The Nazis invaded Norway on April 9th, 1940, forcing the king and the government to flee to London. A puppet regime was installed that began persecuting Jews, despite protests by the public and the church and Resistance activity.

Around 800 Norwegian Jews, half of the community before the war, died in the camps. On November 26, 1942 a group of 532 Jews was rounded up and sent to Oslo. The majority of the group was Norwegian, but it included refugees who had fled to Norway. In Oslo they were forced to board a cargo ship, the SS Donau, which took them to Poland and eventually to the Auschwitz concentration camp. About 300 Norwegian police officers handled the deportations.

One of the passengers on the Donau was Ruth Maier, a young woman who came to be name as "Norway's Anne Frank." Maier's diaries were recently published in Hebrew.

Only 34 Jews returned to Norway after the war. Samuel Steinmann, 89, is the only Norwegian Jewish survivor of Auschwitz still alive. Steinmann, who was arrested at home by two civilian Norwegian police and escorted to the ship, told Dagsavisen that he remembered thinking, "Were these Nazis or ordinary Norwegian, clear-thinking people." As for the apology he said: "This was all so long ago ... I don't go around thinking about it all the time. I can probably say 'it was about time,' but it is nice to hear,"" Steinmann said.

The head of the Jewish community in Oslo, Ervin Kohn, told Dagsavisen, "It's fine that they come with an acknowledgement and apology for what happened in 1942. I hope this can lead to them also taking anti-Semitism seriously in 2012."