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Norwegian history: World War II

Norway was occupied by Germany from 1940 to 1945. Much was destroyed during the war. Buildings, factories and entire towns were bombed and burnt to the ground. Most goods were in short supply and many people experienced a difficult time.

World War II started in September 1939 when Poland was invaded by German soldiers. German soldiers invaded Norway on 9th April 1940. There were a few short battles in several places in the country, but within a few days the Germans had gained control over Norway. The King and the government fled to London in the UK and continued their campaign of resistance from there.

©J.W. Cappelens arkiv©J.W. Cappelens arkiv

After the first few days of the war there was not that much military resistance in Norway. The police were controlled by the Nazis and a new, Nazi friendly government was installed in the country. This government was not democratically elected.

Many Norwegians carried out activities that were illegal during the war. Some spread uncensored information, for example newspapers and leaflets. Others helped people flee from the Nazis to other countries, mainly Sweden and the UK. Many people were arrested and sent to prison camps.

Even though the country was occupied most people could go to their ordinary job and children went to school. However, food, clothing and other goods were rationed and the future felt uncertain.

Norway had a large fleet of merchant ships before the war. During the war years, 1940-1945, many of these ships transported goods to countries that were at war with Germany. The Norwegian government in London organised this traffic. Around half of these ships were torpedoed or bombed. Almost 4,000 Norwegian sailors were killed during the war.

A total of around 10,000 Norwegian men and women died because of the war. Around 700 of these were Jews sent to concentration camps in Germany and Poland.

On 8th May 1945, Germany surrendered and Norway was once again a free country. Around 50,000 Norwegians were found guilty of treason after the war. They had been members of the Norwegian national socialist party, Nasjonal Samling, who sympathised and collaborated with the Nazis. 25 people were executed for treason after the war.

©Sverre A. Børretzen/Scanpix©Sverre A. Børretzen/Scanpix

After 1945, the reconstruction of the country began. This was a very busy period. Both production and exports increased, and the merchant fleet was built up again.

Many people found work and, even though the wages were not that high, poverty declined. Most people were very optimistic and many were eager to play a part in Norway’s reconstruction. Terms such as equality and equal worth became important to the people. Norway’s economy gradually improved, even though some goods were still rationed until the late 1950s.

In the decades after the war a number of reforms were introduced that would improve the lives of everybody. Working hours got shorter , and holidays longer. In 1967, the National Insurance Act was introduced. This act was intended to ensure financial security for all citizens, including the old and the sick.

Discuss the link between the occupation of Norway, the reconstruction of the country after the war, and the emergence of the welfare state.

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