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The Teachers' Strike

One remarkable, successful example of the extent of citizen resistance in Norway came on 20 February 1942, when roughly 12,000 of its 14,000 teachers sent letters refusing to join a new Nazi teachers’ union and rejected the Nazification of the curriculum. That Norway’s public were able to organise and successfully carry out such an action so early was a testament to the level of support in the country for collective resistance against the Nazis.

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After the announcement that teachers must join the new union, a group in Oslo created a statement for teachers to copy and send to the authorities stating their refusal. Secondary school teacher Einar Høigård created four principles for this resistance:

  • Demand for membership or a loyalty declaration to the Norwegian Nasjonal Samling (Norwegian Nazi Party) is refused;
  • every attempt to bring Nazi propaganda into the schools is refused;
  • resist every order from non-competent actors;
  • resist any participation in the Nazi Youth League.

Høigård persevered till his death. Arrested while escaping to Sweden in 1943, he faced torture, and committed suicide by jumping out of the window of the building he was held in in Oslo. He was 36 years old.

The strike was a testament to the level of support for collective resistance

The Teacher’s Action Committee decided that teachers should individually protest by sending a letter to the Quisling government stating:

I cannot participate in the upbringing of Norwegian youth according to the guidelines of the Nazi Youth League (NSUF), because it is against my conscience. Since membership in [the Norwegian Nazi Teachers’ Union] Norges Lærersamband makes me obliged to contribute to such (nazi) upbringing, and because membership also puts other obligations on me which are against the conditions on which I was employed, I hereby declare that I do not consider myself a member of Norges Lærersamband.

A young man disobeys the German occupiers by marching through the street carrying the Norwegian flag in an act of defiance

Photo: digitalarkivet.no

Following the strike, the occupying government closed schools for a month and arrested 1,100 teachers. This was followed by 200,000 parents writing letters of protest to the government alongside resistance from the Norwegian Church to the teachers’ persecution. Two secondary school teachers, Aasta and Helga Stene, were key in organising the parents’ resistance. Being members of the Quaker organisation The Women’s League for Peace and Liberty, they were able to utilise contacts across Norway.

The strike was remarkable for its success

Teachers continued to hold their classes in private and underground groups paid the salaries of incarcerated teachers. When the government decided to send 499 teachers to a concentration camp near Kirkenes in the Arctic, students and farmers congregated along the tracks of the train carrying the teachers to sing and give food as the train passed.

By 4 November 1942 the government capitulated, and all the teachers were returned from the camp. The event was remarkable in its success, enabled by the extent of the support it had across different sectors of the public, its clarity and organisation, and the willingness of the teachers to persevere despite harsh suppression from the Nazis. 

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