Norway’s liberation came on 8 May 1945, resulting first from Soviet intervention and then intervention from exiled Norwegian troops and the secret Norwegian military, Milorg, which had developed during the occupation to a strength of 40,000 soldiers. The capitulation of the Nazis in Norway came as the Third Reich was in rapid decline, but nonetheless, the preparedness and key role of the Norwegian resistance was exemplified to the last moment. Two days after the liberation on 8 May, Milorg occupied the Royal Palace and the Nazi headquarters in Lillehammer, and had a transition administration ready to takeover across the nation.
Grini Nazi concentration camp located outside Oslo, Norway between 1941 and 1943.
Photo: US Library of Congress
Resistance Under Occupation
Under occupation, the Nazis requisitioned homes, property, schools and businesses, and soldiers arrested civilians they viewed as suspicious. Viewing the Norwegian people as Aryan, the Nazis implemented the ‘Lebensborn’ programme: state encouragement that “German soldiers conceive as many children as possible with Norwegian women”, as an SS policy stated. As many as 12,000 children were born from this policy.
Efforts were made to suppress patriotism for pre-occupied Norway, with its national anthem, flag and any other symbol of the Norwegian royal family and pre-Nazi state banned. However, Norwegians pushed back. In the autumn of 1940, Oslo University students began wearing paperclips as a symbol of resistance. During Christmas, civilians would say “Merry Norwegian Christmas” and wear red caps to symbolise Norwegian identity, and flaunt the occupiers’ suppression.
Continued German and Allied bombing displaced many, compounded by an increasingly austere rationing policy by the occupying government which by 1942 included clothes, toys, furniture and sugar, coffee, flour, bread, butter, meat, eggs, and vegetables. Under such circumstances efforts to frustrate the occupiers were carried out daily. Norwegians often pretended not to be able to speak German, gave the wrong directions to soldiers, and refused to sit beside Germans on the bus, which became so common the Nazis made it illegal to stand if there were seats available.
Despite Norway’s neutrality, even prior to the Nazis invasion it already had a base of citizens clearly prepared to organise. When the Soviet Union invaded Finland in 1939, over 700 men and women volunteered to fight alongside Finnish troops, including individuals who would go on to be key figures in the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis, including Leif Larsen of the ‘Shetland Bus’.
Shetland Bus memorial in Scalloway, Shetland
Resistance Across Norwegian Society
Resistance efforts against the Nazis began with passive acts and strikes, but as the nation’s sense of refusal solidified, such efforts became more varied, widespread and more on the offensive, including industrial sabotage. A key force was the aforementioned Milorg. Initially reluctant to engage in more than intelligence gathering despite the wishes of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), a British body that aimed to foster anti-Axis resistance abroad, Milorg would carry out sabotage and play a vital role in stabilising the country when the occupation ended.
Resistance developed in many institutions connected to normal citizens. The Christian church in Norway, which was ordered by the Nazis to share parishioners’ confessions and to not preach against the occupying government, was one example.
Resistance developed in many institutions connected to normal citizens.
Lutheran bishop Eivind Berggrav became particularly famous for his resistance efforts. Initially, Berggrav did not call for opposition, hoping the Nazis would allow the church and state more generally to continue as it was, yet he came to refuse their demands.
Imprisoned in the Bredtvet concentration camp and later put under house arrest in a forest north of Oslo, he nonetheless managed to organise the mass resignation of almost all priests of the Church of Norway.
As the country’s clergy were also civil servants at the time, this act helped embolden citizens to disobey the occupiers further. Berggrav even managed to meet members of the Norwegian resistance movement whilst he was under house arrest. Given his celebrity, he would wear disguises such as a policeman’s outfit.
Norway’s resistance efforts also included an underground press which included around 300 publications run by possibly 15,000 people, printing literature to counteract Nazi propaganda and to share news from the BBC, done in collaboration with the Norwegian government-in-exile in London.