532 Jews were taken to their deaths to Stettin and Auschwitz in November 1942. Only nine returned. In a historic move, Norwegian police issue a formal apology for their role exactly 70 years ago, Monday.
“I remember thinking were these Nazis or ordinary, clear-thinking Norwegians that led me away. I’ve wondered what kind of people were these?” says Samuel Steinmann, the sole living Norwegian Auschwitz survivor today.
89-year-old Mr Steinmann was one of the 532 Norwegian Jews the Nazis deported from Oslo harbour in the cargo hold of the DS ‘Donau’, the 26 November 1942.
He was a 19-year-old student at the time. Two plain-clothed Norwegian State Police officers (Statspolitiet) arrested him at his home. They took him to the ship using an existing city tram, newspaper Dagsavisen reports him as telling them.
The DS ‘Donau’ left at 14:55 for Stettin in Poland. Trains were used for onward transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Over 300 police officers, led by police inspector Knut Rød, took part in the arrest and deportation operation of Norwegian Jews that year on orders of the Gestapo. About 2,100 Jews total lived in Norway at the time.
According to historian Mats Tangestuen at the Jewish Museum in Oslo, the youngest child deportee was four months old.
“Probably none of them could imagine what destiny they were going to meet. It’s likely none of them were aware they would be shipped out of the country and sent to a camp where they were gassed the same day on arrival,” he theorises to Aftenposten.
“I wish to apologise on behalf of the Norwegian police and those who had dealings with the deportation of Norwegian Jews to the concentration camps,” newly appointed director of police Odd Reidar Humlegård says to Dagsavisen.
His expression of regret today also comes following Labour (Ap) Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s public apology for the deportations on 27th January, the UN’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Without relieving the Nazis of their responsibility, it is time to for us to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews,” said the Prime Minister.
“Today I feel it is fitting for me to express our deepest apologies that this could happen on Norwegian soil,” he continued.
Samuel Steinmann was also present there, which Stoltenberg made a point of acknowledging at the time.
“I want to say the same about the police director’s apology [as I commented regarding the Prime Minister’s then]. I don’t go round thinking about it, it’s so long ago. Nevertheless, I accept it with good will when I now get to hear an apology,” says Mr Steinmann.
Both Guri Hjeltnes, director of Oslo’s Holocaust Centre, and Jewish Community spokesperson Ervin Kohn welcome the apology.
“It’s very gratifying and an important occurrence”, Ms Hjeltnes says.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” declares Mr Kohn, adding, “I hope this can also lead to anti-Semitism being taken gravely in 2012.”
Oslo Conservative Party (H) Mayor Fabian Stang and Labour’s recently appointed Minister of Culture Hadia Tajik held speeches at the monument to the M/S ‘Donau’ deportation at Akershuskaia this morning. Bishop of Oslo Ole Christian Kvarme also attended.
The Jewish Museum has just opened an exhibition about the deportations today, with a concert scheduled to take place in the Synagogue this evening.
772 Norwegian Jews total were sent to death camps under WWII. Just 26 of them survived the war.
Resistance fighter and saboteur Max Manus sank the M/S ‘Donau’ in the Oslo Fjord on 16 January 1945 using limpet mines.
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