How interesting that President Trump picked Norwegians as the model for the type of immigrants he’d welcome to America. “Thanks,” say the Norwegians, but don’t expect many takers. Norway is a phenomenal success story, with a standard of living that rivals America’s. Trump’s comment triggered a slice of history from World War II that I like to fall back on when trying to convince people to look at more than one side of an issue, when they consider such broad-mindedness unnecessary.
Norway was neutral in World War I. After that war, Norway looked compassionately upon the thousands of young Germans and Austrians who had tuberculosis. Norway had beaten back a tuberculosis epidemic and had dozens of hospitals in the mountains where the fresh air and sunshine helped defeat the disease. Now those hospitals were almost empty. The idea quickly struck and was quickly implemented. “Let’s invite as many young Germans and Austrians as care to come for treatment here in Norway!” You can always bet on Norway to jump at missions like that.
In the mid-1930s, the Nazi Party took over Germany. Hitler demanded that Norway be thanked for its humanitarian altruism and that the German and Austrian children should be returned to their respective fatherlands.
And when the Nazis invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, guess who spearheaded the German attack on Norway? It was those same young German and Austrian boys, now proud warriors of Hitler’s Third Reich! Could there possibly be a more dastardly betrayal in history? Yes, there could. You haven’t heard the Austro-German side of things.
The Germans keep good records. It was no major challenge for the Nazi military machine to assemble hundreds of those German and Austrian boys, now of military age, in a top-secret amphitheater in Berlin in early April of 1940, where a high-ranking German officer was about to brief them. We don’t know whether he began his talk with the famous “You may wonder why I called you all together,” but we know his remarks must have sounded something like this:
“Every German soldier has his duty and knows his duty. All of you in this room have a duty far beyond the ordinary. All of you spent your early childhood in Norway as a welcome guest of the great people of Norway. Indeed, your very lives were saved by the kindness and generosity of the Norwegian people.
“The hour has now come for you to repay your debt to the Norwegian people.
“It is now clear that this small nation of three and a half million people is about to be attacked by Great Britain. Our Führer, Adolf Hitler, has decided that you shall have the honor of rescuing those Norwegians who saved your very lives by leading the rescue operation to secure Norway’s safety. You speak their language, so beyond the mere symbolism of your sacred mission, you will be extremely helpful. And if your Norwegian is rusty, you have nothing to do for the next 72 hours but refresh that precious knowledge. Good Luck! Enjoy your trip to the land that those wonderful Norwegians allowed you to call home.”
And, indeed, that Nazi officer’s pitch was more than plausible. Norway’s most recent diplomatic protest had just been sent, not to Germany, but to England, whose warships had repeatedly violated Norwegian territorial waters. And then, on April 9, began the Great Betrayal. Those German and Austrian troops expected to be greeted as sons and brothers and rescuers. Indeed, a handful of Norwegian quislings (including Norway’s collaborationist prime minister, Vidkun Quisling, from whose name this term for “traitor” derives) did welcome them, but it didn’t take days, only minutes and hours, before it was clear they were regarded as invaders, conquerors and oppressors. Many of those Austro-German troops were so heartbroken they committed suicide.
The intent here, may I remind you, is not to carry water for any branch of Hitler’s military, only to entertain the viewpoint of others in the portrait.
One reason Trump may admire Norway so has to do with his desire to accomplish a lot with little risk investment. Gambling built Las Vegas and skiing built Aspen, and both took billions of dollars in investments with no guarantees. Trump may possibly be familiar with the Norwegian town that made itself prominent and profitable merely by changing one letter in its name!
About 20 kilometers outside the west Norwegian city of Trondheim there was a tiny village named Hel, which means “light” in Norwegian. One Trump-like townsman suggested that, if they just added another “l” to the end of “Hel,” everybody from the English-speaking world who ventured anywhere near “Hell” would drop in and buy some postcards and T-shirts and other memorabilia attesting to the fact that he’d been to and thoroughly enjoyed “Hell.”
And that may be because, in freedom and democracy, that particular “Hell” seems a lot more like Heaven!