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The Lights Went Out

ISSUE:  Autumn 1942

Once upon a time there were three happy little kingdoms called Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. They lived together in harmony, like good brothers, and the world liked them. From the four corners of the earth, wondering tourists flocked in to see them, bringing back marvellous tales of peaceful prosperity and human perfection.

So the Danes, Swedes, Norwegians came to be all the world’s pet nations. They were courteous, educated, and soft-spoken. They had fair and benign monarchs ruling through democratic governments. They never coveted foreign territory, being satisfied with their lot. They wrote good books, ate delicious “smorrebrod,” lived and let live.

They had only one fault, these perfect Scandinavians: they were too rich in a hungry world; and they had forgotten, long ago, that even well-acquired wealth must be defended. They were definitely not in tune with their time. As bad luck would have it, there lived, right next door to their happy family, a big, bad wolf, also a “Nordic” of sorts, and voracious to a degree. And the three little kingdoms, for all their knowledge of German classics, had forgotten Schiller’s warning:

Es kann der Beste nicht in Frieden leben, Wenn es dem Bosen Nachbarn nicht gefallt.

The fairy-tale ended on April 9, 1940. All of a sudden the lights went out in Europe’s most enlightened countries and it was night—a night as dark, as dismal, as unending as only the Far North knows. Today, after two and a half long years, there is at last a hint of dawn; but before the shadows lift, let us try and steal a glance into the night of Hitler’s Scandinavia.

It is not by chance that the Nazis’ first, and most drastic, blow fell on the press of the occupied territory. Only a few hours after the first German troops had landed in Oslo and Copenhagen, stringent and obviously long-prepared regular tions were issued to newspaper and magazine editors. It was not the first taste of censorship for the Scandinavian journalists, for ever since the outbreak of war—and in Denmark even before—the governments of the three countries had restricted the freedom of print, although in an unofficial manner. But now, with the invasion, came censorship of a new, and a hundred times more deadly nature.

Ever since then, the Nazis have worked systematically, and alas! very efficiently, to destroy the freedom of speech and print in all Scandinavian countries, including Sweden. But the means by which the desired effect was produced varied greatly from one country to the next, according to the extent of military and political control.

In Norway, occupied after brave resistance, the invaders made short shrift of the local press, as they had done in other countries before. Buildings and equipment were simply taken over; publishers, editors, and writers were shot, jailed, or sent to concentration camps if they did not submit and “collaborate.”

The large, modern plant of the Oslo Arbeiderbladet, chief organ of the powerful Labor Party and of the Nygardsvold government, was promptly expropriated and turned over to Quisling’s gutter-sheet Fritt Folk, which thus overnight became a “big newspaper.” Other Socialist and Liberal newspapers like the Trondheim Arbeideravisen and the Stav-anger Aftenbladet were similarly dispossessed and handed over to the quislings.

But this persecution was by no means limited to Leftist editors alone. It hit, indiscriminately, all Norwegian pressmen whose sympathies had remained with the lawful King and government. By this time, the great majority of prominent Norse journalists are either in jail or in exile; only very few have turned quislings.

Martin Tranmael, editor of Arbeiderbladet, had to flee to Sweden; Finn Moe, foreign editor of the same paper, is now in New York where he heads the broadcasting division of the Norwegian legation. Jonas Schanche Jonason, editor of the great Oslo daily Tidens Tegn, which the Germans suppressed, safely reached London. Einar Skavlan, editor of the Liberal Oslo paper Dagbladet, which was also suspended, was arrested last April. H. Nesse, editor of the Conservative Aftenposten, Norway’s largest daily, is in Grini concentration camp. Editor Christian Oftedal of the Stavanger Aftenbladet was condemned to death by a German court-martial, but later reprieved and sent to a German concentration camp.

Further steps toward the complete nazification of Norway’s press are now being prepared by the new cabinet of puppet Premier Vidkun Quisling. The Nazi press dictator, Anders Beggerud, recently announced that a new law governing the press would be put into effect soon. All editors are to be appointed by the government, and no editor is to be financially interested in his newspaper. The editors are to be given a very long and thorough training, after which they will become “authorized” by the government.

Before the invasion, Norway had more newspapers in relation to its population than any other country in the world. In two years of occupation, the number of Norwegian papers dropped from 350 to 280, and of these some 71 more were recently ordered to discontinue publication. The remaining papers have been required by the Quisling authorities to reduce their consumption of paper by 50%—this in a country that used to be one of the world’s leading producers of newsprint!

With the same ruthlessness with which they have whipped the Norwegian press into submission, the Nazis have purged all other fields of cultural life. The number of prominent artists, actors, authors, and publishers that have been either jailed or deported to Germany increases daily. In the summer of 1941, for instance, Quisling’s cultural leader Finn Halvorsen had four directors of the Oslo National Theater arrested and sent to Grini concentration camp. Among these were Professor Francis Bull and Harald Grieg, head of Gyl-dendal Norsk Forlag, the largest publishing firm in Norway. About the same time, a well-known actor, Georg Richter of the New Theater in Oslo, was deported to Germany.

Among famous Norwegian authors who have been arrested by the Germans are Ronald Fangen, a leading exponent of the Oxford Group Movement, who suffered barbaric ill-treatment at the hands of the Gestapo before he was taken to a concentration camp in Germany for indefinite internment, and Arnulf Overland who was transferred from a Norwegian to a German prison last March, along with Oslo University’s heroic Dean Didrik Arup Seip. More lucky than these, Sigrid Undset, Ella Anker, Nordahl Grieg, and a few others have succeeded in getting out of the invaded country. The books of these authors and of Aksel Sande-mose, Ingeborg Refling, Lars Berg, Johan Borgen, Niels Christian Brogger, Hans Heiberg, and many more well-known writers have been banned by the Nazi authorities.

Unfortunately, Norwegian literature also has its quislings. They are not many, but at least two of them bear world-famous names. The most noteworthy and tragical case, of course, is that of the 83-year-old Knut Hamsun, whose “Growth of the Soil,” “Hunger,” “Vagabonds,” and other novels have won him countless admirers in the United States, in spite of his scathing attacks on this country in his early book on the “Cultural Life of Modern America” (1889). True, Hamsun’s pro-Germanism had been known for a long time before the invasion, yet nothing could allay the shock of hearing Norway’s greatest living man of letters call on his countrymen, as he did in the days of the Nazi onslaught, to “throw away your guns and go back home,” and to berate the “runaway king and his private government.” After this feat, it is not surprising that all loyal Norwegians have come to boycot Hamsun, who has since become one of the pillars of the Quisling regime. His son Tore, incidentally, has just stepped into Harold Grieg’s shoes as head of the now nazi-fied Gyldendal publishing house.

The other literary quisling who has befouled a famous name is Erling Bjornson, youngest son of the great Bjorn-stjerne Bjornson, who wrote Norway’s national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet.” Erling Bjornson, whose worthier brother, the actor Bjorn Bjornson, recently died at Oslo at the age of 82, is now 74. On several occasions, since the invasion, he has come out publicly for Nazi Germany, lashing out against the “corrupt democracies.”

In Denmark, occupied practically without fight, the Nazis proceeded in more subtle fashion. The goal was the same— co-ordination of the Danish press with the standards of Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda—but the methods were somewhat less high-handed. In accordance with the official fiction of Denmark’s continued sovereignty and independence under German “protection,” the Nazis refrained from seizing any newspaper plants in Denmark. Nor have they, thus far, arrested any Danish newspapermen on their own authority.

Instead, the Germans cleverly got Danish authorities and Danish pressmen to do their dirty work. The papers are obliged to observe a long list of directions and regulations on what to print and what not, how to deal with this or that sort of material, but they are told it is a voluntary censorship and a patriotic duty.

These regulations are devised and compiled by the office of Dr. Gustav Meissner, whose official capacity is that of a “press attache” with the German Legation. But they are issued through the press section of the Danish Foreign Ministry, which is headed by Karl J. Eskelund. The enforcing agency, with authority to fine and suspend recalcitrant papers, is a board on which the various organizations of publishers, editors, and newspapermen are represented.

This complex set-up lends to the Danish censorship a seemingly democratic and national character which is, however, pure eyewash. In reality, “Press Chief” Eskelund and the control board have no more real authority than the Quisling authorities have in Norway. They are mere puppets acting on orders from the German Legation.

That this is so has been proved time and again by the arbitrary and dictatorial manner in which leading Danish journalists have been dismissed from their post. Out of a large number of cases illustrating this point, here are the three most significant, spanning the entire gamut of Danish journalism:

In May, 1941, the publishers of the widely read church paper Kristeligt Dagblad (Copenhagen) were forced by a peremptory demand from the German Legation to dismiss the long-time editor of the paper, Gunnar Helweg-Larsen. A few months later, his brother, the Rev. P. Helweg-Larsen, was also removed from a responsible position on the paper on grounds of “political disagreement.”

Last summer the well-known editor-in-chief of the Labor Party organ Socialdemokraten, H. P. Sorensen, one of the oldest and closest associates of the late Prime Minister Stauning, was forced to resign when he refused to accept articles from a renegade Socialist writer named Harald Bergstedt, who had turned Nazi after the invasion.

More recently, the editor of the ultra-Conservative Copenhagen daily Nationaltidende, Aage Schoch, was ousted from his post through Nazi pressure. Three times the German Legation protested against Schoch’s conduct of the paper, and last February, after two preliminary suspensions, the publishers finally were forced by an undisguised ultimatum to drop Editor Schoch. What had aroused the vehement ire of the Nazis, in the last instance, was an article published in the religious section of the paper in which the author related the misdeeds of the tyrant Herod with some pointed references to the present.

In spite of the constant Nazi pressure which is felt in all walks of cultural life, only a small minority of Denmark’s internationally known authors and artists have turned quislings. The two most prominent examples in the world of letters are Svend Fleuron, the author, and Svend Borberg, the poet, whom Nazi propagandists have tried to build up as “a new Goethe.”

By contrast, a number of Denmark’s outstanding writers have suffered imprisonment, bans, and persecution rather than bow to the tyranny of the invaders. The greatest of contemporary Danish writers, the 72-year-old poet and novelist Martin Andersen-Nexo, was arrested last June when the collaborationist Minister of Justice Eigil Thune Jacob-sen ordered a general round-up of Communists and alleged sympathizers. According to latest reports, Andersen-Nexo has now been released because of serious illness.

The Rev. Kaj Munk, Denmark’s leading playwright and, since the invasion, an outspoken enemy of Nazism, has as yet escaped arrest, but several of his works have been banned. Munk’s latest production, the drama “Niels Ebbesen,” was confiscated the day it came out, April 14,1942. This is not surprising, for Ebbesen, the hero of the play, was a Danish patriot who, in the 14th century, killed a foreign oppressor, the German Count Gert of Holstein, invader of Denmark’s soil.

Even more interesting is the case of Dr. Vilhelm la Cour, noted Danish historian who has become the Nazis’ public enemy No. 1. Dr. la Cour had been a thorn in the Nazis’ flesh for many years before the invasion. As editor and publisher of the monthly Graensevagten (The Border Guard) he conducted, from 1918 on, a spirited defense of Denmark’s right to South-Jutland (or North-Schleswig), the province which Germany was forced to return to Danish sovereignty, in accordance with the plebiscite of February 10, 1920.

After the invasion, the Nazis’ hatred of the Danish patriot grew much more intense when it became clear that he was taking the lead of fearless national resistance to the invaders, In a country muzzled by censorship and infested with Gestapo agents, Dr. la Cour managed to get out three pamphlets neatly assailing Hitler and all he stands for. La Cour’s weapons were those of the seasoned historian: he related and commented upon episodes of the past and left it to his readers to draw the obvious inferences.

In this manner, he enlisted last year the support of none other than the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), whose greatest achievement was the masterful “Reden an die deutsche Nation” (Speeches to the German nation), delivered in Berlin, in December 1807, shortly after the Peace of Tilsit.

Quoting from these speeches in a pamphlet entitled “Ord til os I Dag” (Words to Us Today), la Cour, under the very noses of the Gestapo, published passages like this one:

”. . . Nearly all of Europe lay downtrodden under that little Corsican devil. Now he was turning against Russia. Would she be able to resist him? If not, there was no hope left outside of Britain. Good old tough Britain, so incredibly slow, and so incredibly enduring. Britain,—the last bulwark of freedom and culture in Europe …”

Not until some 22,000 copies of the pamphlet had been sold did the Nazis detect the historian’s trick. Last February la Cour was arrested for the second time and since then he has been a prisoner in Vestre Faengsel, a Copenhagen prison.

In Sweden, by-passed by the Nazi wave of conquest, the fall under Hitler’s sway of the surrounding sister-nations produced a singular and greatly confusing state of affairs, The country is still nominally free and independent, and its neutrality, though no longer intact, is backed up by a show of considerable military power. Yet there is no denying that two years of strenuous German pressure, combined with economic penetration and skilful fifth column work, have gone a long way toward undermining the time-honored freedom and cultural excellence of Sweden.

The Swedish constitution, one of the oldest in the world, guarantees the freedom of speech and print. The Swedish nation, fundamentally a democratic and liberty-loving race, clings to this sacred heritage of freedom. Yet the Swedish government, yielding here to diplomatic persuasion, there to the lure of an economic advantage, or still more frequently to sheer military threats, has step by step curtailed and muzzled this freedom of thought and expression.

There is as yet no overt censorship in Sweden, although the Riksdag, on June 18, 1941, put through a constitutional amendment permitting the government to establish one “in war time or in a time of war danger.” While there was, as in other democratic countries, little objection to a wartime censorship of news, the latter part of the proviso aroused general opposition, as it was apt to throw the doors wide open to foreign pressure and to administrative control of public opinion.

In view of this risk, all the professional organizations of Swedish journalism protested against the bill, and in January, 1941, six hundred prominent Swedish citizens endorsed their stand in a letter to parliament. Yet in spite of these authoritative protests a Riksdag controlled by the parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson and Minister of Justice Karl Gustav Westman, prime sponsors of the bill, passed what came to be known as the “mun-korglag” (muzzle-law).

But even before the Censorship Act came into effect, the Swedish government had found ways and means to keep the press from attacking Hitler, Mussolini, or any other Axis satellite. For this purpose an article in the old Press Law of 1809 which had not been applied for more than a century and had thus fallen into desuetude a long time ago, was furbished up and revitalized. This article makes it a criminal offense to insult the head of a foreign state or to endanger Sweden’s good relations with foreign powers. To date, several hundreds of Swedish newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and books have been seized in this manner, and in many cases their editors or publishers were sent to jail. In all but an insignificant number of cases, where token prosecutions were instituted against Nazi-minded editors, the offenders were Leftist or pro-Allied.

The most recent and most shocking example of this arbitrary law occurred last March when Minister of Justice K. G. Westman, who is known for his reactionary and pro-German tendencies, ordered the seizure of seventeen publications in one sweep, to soothe the ire of Nazi Minister Prince von Wied.

What the offending papers had ventured to print was a series of eyewitness accounts in which fourteen Norwegian patriots who had managed to escape across the border described the inhumane treatment inflicted on political prisoners in Norway. These reports have since been authenticated under oath before representatives of the Norwegian government-in-exile in London. Yet Minister Westman, terming these affidavits “horror stories” and speaking of “alleged” atrocities, ordered the papers to be confiscated and criminal proceedings to be instituted against their publishers.

It is the policy of Sweden’s diplomatic representatives abroad to dismiss all references to this curbing of pro-Allied sentiments as “propaganda” and to pretend that the traditional freedom of the press in Sweden is intact. It may be of interest, therefore, to quote what one of Sweden’s leading publicists, Editor Zeth Hoglund, wrote in Social-Demok-raten as far back as July 9, 1940:

With the exception of a few isolated newspapers which still uphold their independence, there no longer is a really free press in this country. The public must keep this fact in mind when reading comments upon this or that international event. There is still liberty of expression on issues of municipal interest, and such things as theater or sports. Foreign policy, by contrast, is taboo. Step by step the Swedish press has been regimented and muzzled in this respect, so that the bill which is to be placed before the next Riksdag session to amend the Constitution and curtail the freedom of the press appears to be quite unnecessary.

Maybe it was a coincidence, but the fact is that Zeth Hoglund, a few weeks after he had written these lines, was forced to resign his post as editor of Social-Demokraten. There are other prominent Swedish journalists who have proved their mettle in the fight against Nazi pressure and government complacency. The most famous of these is Professor Torgny Segerstedt, the courageous editor of the often-suppressed Gothenburg Trade and Shipping Gazette, Sweden’s Manchester Guardian. Another is Ture Nerman, editor of the crusading weekly Trots Allt which has been suspended innumerable times and even banned from the mails, as a result of persistent demands made by the German Legation.

Not only the press, but every manifestation of intellectual and cultural life in Sweden is now subject to this German control. Dozens of books by outstanding Swedish, Norwegian, British, and anti-Nazi German writers have been confiscated. Hermann Rauschning’s “Hitler Speaks” is a case in point. No less than six editions of the book, each more fully expurgated than the last, were seized. This proves that the censors not only objected to certain remarks about Hitler, which were eliminated in later editions, but disapproved of the whole book. Even the factual eyewitness account “I Saw It Happen in Norway” by the President of the Norwegian Parliament, Carl Joachim Hambro, was suppressed when it came out in Sweden.

The theater, screen, and radio are censored in the same manner. In August, 1940, while I was still in Sweden, the government cracked down on “Gullregn” (Gold Rain), a spirited show produced by the internationally known author, actor and stage manager Karl Gerhard (“The Swedish Aristophanes”). At the time the German troop transports through Sweden were in full swing and Karl Gerhard, like 90% of the Swedes, didn’t like this unneutral traffic. So he composed a satiric song with the timely title, “That Notorious Trojan Horse.” It was a splendid piece, but it didn’t last long. After the first night, the Prince von Wied protested and the song was banned by order of the police.

Sweden’s grievous example shows that the stifling arms of the Nazi octopus reach far beyond the bounds of military conquest. But the oppressors’ sway has its limitations too. Outside of Germany proper, Hitler’s henchmen have not been able anywhere to convert more than a fraction of the population to their doctrines of political and religious intolerance, racial prejudice, and individual self-effacement before the almighty State and its godlike leader.

The Nazis once more have proved that brute force for a considerable time can silence the voice of truth and reason, hold down all opposition, and throw a dozen freedom-loving nations into abject servitude. But other conquerors have done this before and failed in the end. For Hitler, too, the supreme test of his experiment is yet to come. Does his “New Order” really have in it the makings of a millenium? Will the enslaved nations not only endure, but accept or even embrace his regime? No one familiar with the state of affairs in Europe can be in doubt about the answer. The spirit which Hitler sought to kill is very much alive.

This applies in particular to Scandinavia with its millenary tradition of personal freedom and responsibility, its five centuries of parliamentary rule, and its powerful, enlightened Labor movement. Hitler, the prussianized Austrian, may not understand it, but the really “Nordic” man can never feel at home in the Germany of today. To him freedom means everything, the “Fuehrerprinzip” nothing. The Scandinavian nations have sinned by their weak defense of their liberties. But none of them has lost the love of freedom or the belief in a civilized, democratic world.


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