Advertisements

Norway Apologizes, 70 Years Later, to Women Who Had Relationships With WWII Germans

nytimes.com — In a national reckoning with its past, the Norwegian government has offered an official apology to women — and their offspring — who were ostracized, stigmatized and in some cases deported because of their relationships with German soldiers during World War II.

The apology came from Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who lamented that the women had been treated in an undignified manner for having relations or bearing children with German soldiers — or were just suspected of having done so. They were seen as traitors by Norwegian society. Many faced unlawful arrest by the authorities.

“Norwegian authorities violated the fundamental principle that no citizen can be punished without trial or sentenced without law,” Ms. Solberg said at an event on Tuesday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Most of the women — known as the “German girls” — did not hear the apology because most have long since died. The prime minister conceded, however, that the apology was long overdue.

 

In 1935, the Nazis introduced the concept of Lebensborn, which means fountain of life in German. They set up Lebensborn homes, which were part of an SS program to increase the Aryan race.

Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, was the mastermind behind it.

“The idea was to strengthen the German, and then the Aryan, race,” Patrick Bernhard, an associate professor of modern history at the University of Oslo, said in a telephone interview.

Professor Bernhard described Lebensborn homes as racialized welfare — where pregnant women who were considered racially superior gave birth and received child support.

In 1941, one year after the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, the system was set up in Norway. Some Nazis homed in on Norwegian women as a means of perpetrating an Aryan race.

“The idea was to take care of racially valuable children,” said Kjersti Ericsson, a professor of criminology at the University of Oslo.

 

Even though Lebensborn homes existed in other occupied countries, at least eight — a relatively large number — were scattered across Norway.

“It has something to do with how the Nazis saw Norway,” Professor Bernhard said, “as a country, a society, close in racial terms to Germany.”

Thousands of Norwegian-German children were born out of the relationships Norwegian women had with German soldiers. Many of the children first saw the light of day in the SS-administered maternity facilities.

After the war ended in 1945, these children were socially stigmatized and in many cases abused. Their mothers and other women became known as “German girls.”

After Norway was liberated, the women who had married German soldiers were stripped of their Norwegian citizenship and deported, along with their children, to Germany.

“They were interned in special camps while waiting for their deportation,” Professor Ericsson said in a telephone interview. This policy was at the heart of the government’s apology.

Even though it was not illegal to have a relationship with a German soldier, the women were treated as criminals, according to Professor Ericsson, who has co-written “Children of World War II,” a book on children of war born between civilians and enemy soldiers.

Advertisement

“Women who were believed to have sexual relations with Germans were arrested and interned in special camps, too,” she noted.

They spent days, weeks and even months in the camps. Outside the camps, they weren’t free of social condemnation and abuse.

“Some got haircuts by mobs on the streets — street justice,” Professor Ericsson said. “The authorities saw the rage against the women, and wanted to punish them.”

Professor Bernhard said, “The violence against these women was institutionalized in Norway.”

Some were even committed to psychiatric institutions, he said.

In 2002, Norway officially recognized the torment of German-born children when the government offered to compensate victims of abuse.

The government decided to review the way the women and their families had been treated by the authorities after “individuals, journalists and researchers had brought to the fore the injustice done to the Norwegian women and girls who had relationships with German soldiers,” according to Trude Maseide, a government spokeswoman.

In 2007, a group of German-born children took Norway to the European Court of Human Rights to seek compensation for their lost childhoods. But their case was ruled inadmissible, as too much time had passed.

 

But 16 years went by before the country issued an official apology to the women. The delay may have had more to do with Norway’s generational gap. Enough time has now passed for memories of the war to have faded and remain alive among only a small part of the country’s population, who were most likely to be unforgiving of the women.

“These women were depicted as prostitutes; they were seen as psychologically abnormal, as if they must have been insane to have a relationship with a German soldier,” Professor Bernhard said.

Even worse, the idea was that their body belonged to the nation, and the nation had the right to punish them, he said.

It was also less controversial and easier for the authorities to issue an apology first to the children, who are in their mid-to-late 70s.

“The children weren’t guilty of anything,” Professor Ericsson said, “but still many in Norway of the older generation thought the women were unpatriotic and betrayed their country by having sexual relations with German soldiers.”

But young people in Norway are largely unfamiliar with the war, and thus the time for an apology was ripe — even though most of the women were not around to receive it.

Up to 50,000 women are thought to have been involved with German soldiers, while 10,000 to 12,000 children are thought to have been born of such unions, according to Professor Ericsson.

 

About half of them, Professor Bernhard said, were born in Lebensborn homes in Norway.

After Norway was liberated, most of the German-born children were abused because of their roots, stigmatized or even raped.

Others, like Anni-Frid Lyngstad, one of the lead singers of ABBA who had to emigrate to Sweden with her mother and grandmother after she was born to a German soldier, left Norway.

Some of those who stayed at a Lebensborn home were committed to psychiatric institutions. Others were hospitalized until they reached adulthood, according to Professor Bernhard.

“I spent the first 20 years of my life in mental institutions just because my father was a German,” Paul Hansen, who was born in a Lebensborn home in 1942, said in an interview with The Independent in 2008.

“We were war children, and therefore must be ‘retarded’ ” due to our parentage,” he said.

Reidar Gabler, whose mother fell in love with a German soldier when she was 22 and who was present for the apology in Oslo, told Norwegian news media: “The people directly affected are no longer with us. But this also touches their families and the children.”

“We just had to come. This is amazing,” he said, according to the BBC.

nytimes.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: