“We are part of something big. . . .” Norwegian teacher Edvard Brakstad in a letter to his family on April 30, 1942. He and hundreds of other teachers had just been arrested by Nazi officers and were being shipped north to an Arctic prison camp. Their crime: they had refused to teach the Nazi curriculum.
Following Hitler’s invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940, Norway’s Minister-President Vikund Quisling ordered teachers to enroll in an organization headed by the leader of the Norwegian storm troopers. Olav Brakstad, Edvard’s son describes the resistance:
“An underground network replacing the now “illegal” teachers’ organization was set up with printing presses hidden in basements and an efficient messenger system by which the teachers could be contacted all over the country. This way everybody could be kept informed about what was going on. The teachers could put up a united front against the Nazi demands, and . . . each individual teacher could be assured that if anything should happen to him in his resistance against the oppressors, his family would be taken care of financially through funds collected for that purpose.”
The resistance was not limited to teachers. Olav, still in high school at the time, describes what happened when the new Department of Education tried to win favor by declaring National Sports Day.
Every student in high schools all over the country was to participate in cross country ski races. I remember how we all started out, moving very slowly, and after having completed most of the course, stopped on a large flat area a quarter of a mile from the finish line and just stood there singing patriotic songs and having a good time until the whole thing had to be called off.
In The Politics of Nonviolent Action, part 1, Power and Struggle (p.88), Gene Sharp describes how people across Norway rallied in support of the teachers who were arrested and how that support sustained the teachers:
Children gathered and sang at railroad stations as teachers were shipped through in cattle cars. In the camps, the Gestapo imposed an atmosphere of terror intended to induce capitulation. On starvation rations, the teachers were put through “torture gymnastics” in deep snow. When only a few gave in, “treatment” continued.
The school reopened, but the teachers still at liberty told their pupils that they repudiated membership in the new organization and spoke of a duty to conscience. Rumors were spread that if these teachers did not give in, some or all of those arrested would be killed.
The resistance never wavered. Parents and teachers who hadn’t been arrested conducted classes in homes. In the end, Quisling caved into public opinion and ordered the release of the teachers who returned home as heroes. Quisling, who blamed the teachers for ruining everything, became a household word for one who collaborates with the enemy.
For a video presentation about the resistance, click here. Among other things, the presentation offers four acts of resistance. There is also the reading of the letter that the resistance asked each teacher to send to the government ministry. 12,000 of 14,ooo teachers sent the letter on the same day. The church joined the resistance as did the Quakers and various women’s organizations. Resistance was a network of people who acted out of conscience—including letters from 200,000 parents who wrote that they didn’t want their children to join the Nazi Youth League.
“The flies have conquered the fly paper.” —a German occupier about the Norwegian people in “The Moon Is Down”, John Steinbeck’s fictionalized account of the Nazi occupation of Norway