Source: article in Norway, Israel and the Jews blog
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has published an article under the title "Row grows over Norway honor for pro-Nazi Nobel laureate". We are of course talking about Knut Hamsun, the "from rags to riches" author who in the winter of his life cast his lot in with Adolf Hitler, about whom he wrote an obituary on the eve of Nazi-Germany’s defeat. In his article Haaretz journalist Cnaan Liphshiz quotes among others an analyst for the Anti-Defamation League:
"No government should honor Nazis, their collaborators or their sympathizers," said Carole Nuriel, an analyst for the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL drafted a statement on Norway in consultation with the country’s Jewish community, noting that in the framework of commemoration, the Norwegian government was "highlighting Hamsun’s moral failure, not downplaying it."
On the other hand Bjørn Svenungsen from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry emphasizes how:
… honoring Hamsun is "a commemoration of one of Norway’s most important authors." He said all parties involved have criticized Hamsun’s Nazi past. The celebration is "a tribute to Hamsun’s role in European literature, not an acceptance of his political views," Svenungsen added. "The event is also used to remember the massive criticism of Hamsun after the 1945 liberation."
Nazi collaborator and great author
The issue of Hamsun - Nazi collaborator and great author - was quite recently covered in the New York Times as well. On February 27th, 2009, Walter Gibbs (Norwegian Nobel Laureate…) included the following quotes:
"Hamsun wrote great novels, but they are completely overshadowed by his behavior as a Hitler lackey," said Jo Benkow, 84, a former president of the Norwegian parliament. "At least for my generation, it’s outrageous to give more honors. He won the Nobel Prize in 1920. That should be enough."
In Gibbs’ article, Jo Benkow is countered by a famous Norwegian Hamsun biogropher:
"We can’t help loving him, though we have hated him all these years," said Ingar Sletten Kolloen, author of "Dreamer & Dissenter," a Hamsun biography. "That’s our Hamsun trauma. He’s a ghost that won’t stay in the grave."
In response to the recent Haaretz article, several Norwegian newspapers have today run the NTB (Norwegian News Agency) article "Jewish criticism of Hamsun celebration" (Jødisk kritikk av Hamsun-markering).
In the end, all three of the abovementioned articles are the same. Is it at all possible to celebrate an author who sympathised with the Nazi-regime ? The only new voice worthwhile of comment is Manfred Gerstenfeld of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, quoted both in the Haeretz and NTB article, who claims that the national celebration of Knut Hamsun is just "the tip of the iceberg". This is the correct take on the issue of Hamsun. Like a score of other incidents and events which have taken place in Norway lately, this matter of Hamsun is, in isolation, not of such tremendous importance. Knut Hamsun was mad as a hatter, what do you expect of him?
Far worse than these ageing sins of a beloved madman are the anti-Semitic incidents which we see in contemporary Norway. And equally bad - the growing consciousness of how Israel is regularly demonized by prominent Norwegians for no good reason whatsoever.
This site says Knut Hamsun be damned, he is of no political significance. But oh Lord, do give us newspapermen who are able to cover the Middle East in an adult and proper manner.