- unwelcome change
- unwelcome pressure
- courage and endurance
- working underground
- learning about heroism
- further reading
Wherever war gets a foothold, it spreads its poison. Small acts of violence spark larger ones, and lead to a cycle of attack and reprisal. Even when most people are responding without violence, and with resourcefulness, imagination and courage, the violent minority, whether it's a regular army or a group of amateur saboteurs, sets the cycle in motion and causes harm to everyone. This alone is a reason for making nonviolence a universal strategy for dealing with conflict.
The period immediately following war has its own built-in awfulness: devastation, instability, resentment, anger, grief, physical and mental damage, emotional and economic despair. Like all other countries, Denmark and Norway were affected by such damage. Though they were in reasonable shape compared with most of Europe, post-war trauma touched them too.
After liberation, resistance workers in both countries attacked suspected collaborators with startling hatred and disregard of human rights. In Denmark, the pacifist organisation Aldrig Mere Krig (No More War) expressed their anxiety to the new post-war government: all kinds of people were being brutally abused or even killed by members of the armed resistance movement, who ought to be disarmed and disbanded at once. But the government itself was acting harshly: new laws were passed to imprison people who had profited from working for the Germans in any way, and death sentences were introduced for people who had been involved in Nazi terrorism. (Denmark had resisted the introduction of the death penalty during the Occupation; now they activated it themselves, and, worse, made it retrospective to 1940.) In all, 12,877 men and 631 women were arrested; 46 men were executed.
There was also a disturbing and unexpected surge of anti-Semitism in Denmark. Resentment had arisen in Sweden between Jewish and non-Jewish Danes who had escaped there. Jewish families were given accommodation in cities and were relatively comfortable and secure. Non-Jewish Danes in Sweden were mostly young single men, out-of-pocket underground workers escaping capture, and cut off from home: they were given hard physical work in the northern forests, which seemed to them unfair, particularly after their rescue work. Some Jews returning to Denmark after the war found that their furniture had been sold (to finance the rescue), or that their homes were occupied by people who refused to leave; in some cases their former jobs had been taken by non-Jews, or their businesses were lost. In Copenhagen the word 'Jew' was, for a time, used as a term of abuse. Later, this period was deeply regretted.
In Norway, a number of people in power during the Occupation (including Josef Terboven) committed suicide rather than face the reprisals they were sure were coming. There were certainly mass arrests, including thousands of Nazi party members whose only crime was to have joined. They were interned in the same Oslo concentration camp to which the teachers had been sent; they were overcrowded, poorly supplied, and treated brutally by the guards. Women known to have slept with German soldiers had their heads shaved and were paraded humiliatingly through the streets. A total of 18,000 people were imprisoned for war crimes; 25 collaborators and 12 Germans were executed, as was Vidkun Quisling himself. (Denmark's commissar Werner Best was sentenced to death but this was commuted to a 5-year prison sentence after appeal.)
Of course there has to be a period of adjustment and recovery after war; and some healing does take place. Many of the decisions taken immediately after Occupation were made too soon, before passions had cooled and trauma eased. The sad events of aftermath are related here not to awaken painful memories, but to show how much damage war goes on doing even when it is over.
Historians have worked hard to discover and record in great detail the military facts of war. The hidden history of civilian lives in wartime needs the same scrupulous telling. Damage done by and to civilians caught up in war's horrors is a warning to their leaders against embarking on war at all. The positive actions of civilians who choose to act nonviolently in the face of war's violence are a model for what might well be the only way to abolish war once and for all.