Norway is honoring the 150th anniversary of the birth of novelist and poet Knut Hamsun, who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1920. So acclaimed was Hamsun’s work that Isaac Bashevis Singer declared that “the whole modern school of fiction in the 20th century stems from Hamsun.”
But in his later years — he lived to be 92 — Hamsun, deaf and, some say, mentally impaired, became enamored of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. For this he was tried, convicted and punished after World War II. His controversial legacy has led critics to condemn Norway for honoring the man and, more, to insist that Norway be stripped of its chairmanship of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. One article urging this course of action, on a popular conservative online magazine, was titled “Norway’s Nazi Problem.”
Trouble is, much of Europe has a “Nazi problem,” but that has not prevented European leaders from vigorously dealing with their collective past. This task force, founded in Sweden in 1998, is the only inter-governmental agency dedicated exclusively to commemorating, researching and educating about the Holocaust and now counts 27 nations as members. The chair rotates each year. Germany has been chair. Israel is next.
Norway should be judged on its commitment to the work of the task force, and by several accounts it has performed effectively; no public criticism of its chairmanship was raised at a recent meeting in Oslo. Ambassador Tom Vraalsen, the chair, has condemned Hamsun’s pro-Nazi activities without qualification.
Intolerance bred the Holocaust. Let it not taint its remembrance.