Norwegian Liberation Day – ‘Frigjøringsdagen’ – is inevitably overshadowed by the 17th of May festivities that follow 9 days later. Although the 8th of May is an official flag day in Norway, it is not a public holiday, and is not widely celebrated. Yet surely the occasion it marks deserves to be commemorated with equal significance?
The 8th of May 1945, known as Victory of Europe Day, or VE Day, saw the final liberation of Europe from the occupying forces. It was the day on which the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany. After Hitler’s suicide on the 30th April, the official declaration was authorized by his successor, Karl Dönitz, and the act of military surrender was signed on 7th of May in Reims, France, before being ratified in Berlin on the 8th.
Control was immediately passed to the Allied forces, and within a few weeks, administrative control was returned to the hands of the Norwegians. It was an ending that few had dared to anticipate, fearing that the occupying forces would prove far more resistant to surrender. The concentration of German troops on Norwegian soil remained significant, and many feared the erratic behaviour of the ruthless Josef Terboven, the German Commissioner (Reichskommissar) who essentially ruled the country, and who was in command of a sizeable force of troops, and of the secret police.
During the months preceding the liberation, the underground Norwegian resistance movement, which had grown to become a powerful force, cooperated closely with the Norwegian government, who were in hiding in London, and a careful plan was drawn up in preparation for the capitulation of the Germans.
Once the Allied troops had successfully liberated most of Europe after the success of the Normandy Landings on D-Day, Norway and Denmark were the only remaining countries still under the control of the Germans. On the 5th of May, the German occupiers in Denmark surrendered, and a telegram from General Eisenhower was sent to the resistance headquarters in Norway, detailing instructions on how to make contact with the Allied General Headquarters.
On the 7th of May, news spread about the signing of the act of surrender in Reims, and Norwegian flags were flown for the first time in years. But it was not until later that evening that General Böhme, the Commander-In-Chief of the occupying forces, was ordered to follow the capitulation plans and announced on the radio the readiness of the German troops to obey orders and hand over power.
The resistance movement was mobilised immediately, and 40,000 armed Norwegians soon occupied the Royal palace, the central police station, and other strategic buildings in the capital. On the afternoon of the 8th of May, the Allied troops arrived in Oslo and the conditions for surrender were arranged.
Following the announcement of Germany’s surrender, Terboven was forced to accept defeat and, following the lead of so many other Nazis, he committed suicide on May the 8th by detonating a bomb in a bunker of the Skaugum compound, fifteen miles southwest of Oslo, now the official residence of Crown Prince Haakon and his wife Mette-Marit.
As control of the country returned to the Norwegians, legal proceedings began in earnest, and measures were taken against sympathisers who had aided the Germans during the occupation. Twenty-five Norwegians would be executed, along with twelve Germans, and many were imprisoned. Crown Prince Olav returned to the country on the 13th of May, along with representatives of the Norwegian government. The King returned on the 7th of June, exactly five years to the day since he had fled. Norway’s Liberation was finally secured.
Frigjøringsdagen cannot be celebrated with the same sense of national pride as the 17th of May. It is, rather, a reflective and sombre occassion of remembrance, marked by the commemoration of a complex period in history, when people lost their lives to fight for the freedom of their country – a battle fought against both outsiders and fellow countrymen.
It is an opportunity to remember and celebrate the heroic efforts of the resistance, and to be thankful for the courage and resilience both of the Norwegian people, and of the Allied forces who secured the liberation of Europe.
But perhaps we should look towards the 17th of May as the real commemoration of Norwegian liberation; it has become an occasion for celebrating more than just the signing of a constitution. It is a celebration of Norwegian freedoms that have been fought for throughout many years, in a country that has been so frequently subjected to the rule of outsiders. It is a day that marks Norwegian sovereignty, and liberation from the German occupation of World War II was the final moment in the fight to secure lasting freedom and independence.
The 8th of May 1945 must not be forgotten. Amidst the jubilant celebrations that unite the country on the 17th of May, there will always be an undertone of sad remembrance, a reminder of those who sacrificed their lives in order to secure the freedom that is so central to these yearly festivities. Flags will be raised across Norway today, in a silent and evocative gesture of remembrance, marking sixty-five years of Norwegian liberation.
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