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Norway Converts Nazi HQ into Holocaust Center

By James Kilner
Reuters
Nov 13, 2005

Harry Fransman (L),77, and Adrian Vanas, 81, both of them of Dutch origin, reflect on their memories of the Holocaust, during a break in the filming of 'Courage To Care' at the Great Synagogue in Sydney. Fransman is a survivor of three years at the notorious Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and Vanas, not jewish by birth, is credited as helping to save the lives of many jews in the transit camp of Westebork in the north of Holland. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Greg Wood/AFP)

OSLO - The bright sun sparkles on the cold waters of the fjord, forcing the Grey-haired man to squint slightly.

"This is where I come to think," Odd Bjorn Fure says without breaking his gaze.

From a balcony on the central tower of the fortress-like Villa Grande, he stares out over the treetops toward a cargo ship heading slowly out toward the sea.

"And I'm sure Quisling came here to think too," he adds.

Vidkun Quisling was the head of Norway's collaborationist government during the 1940-45 Nazi occupation and the imposing Villa Grande was his home and headquarters.

"This is a house that has a strong aura of power and an authoritarian style. It was marvelous for his purposes," Fure had said earlier in his office, Quisling's former bedroom.

Now the history professor and his team have moved in and in the rooms where Quisling entertained his Nazi masters, they exhibit and study the Holocaust and other 20th century genocides.

And Fure wants to take the study of the Holocaust a step further.

He wants to explore the links between the breakdown of society in the Holocaust and the fracturing of relations between Muslims and Christian Europeans today.

By next year, 10 researchers from across the world and a resident academic will work at the HL Senter in Villa Grande. The H stands for Holocaust and the L for livssynsminoriteter, the Norwegian word for religious or ethnic minority.

"We will work on constructing models on how Muslim societies can live peacefully within predominantly Christian societies by looking back at the Holocaust," he said.

TROUBLING RELATIONSHIP

July's suicide bombings in London, when four young British Muslims killed 52 people, underlines how urgent the work is, the 63-year-old said.

"That is at the center of our work because it shows a troubling relationship between a majority population and the minority."

It is impossible to know where the cargo ship crawling down the Oslo fjord is heading.

However, there was no doubt where the cargo ship Donau was going as it steamed out of the Oslo fjord with 500 Jews on board on the cold, gray morning of November 27, 1942.

When it reached Germany, the Jews were taken to Auschwitz, the most notorious of the Nazis' death camps.

"This ship came to Norway carrying Soviet prisoners of war with a one-way ticket to perish through labor and it left carrying Jews to their death," Fure said.

Further batches of Jews followed bringing the total number rounded up, imprisoned and then sent to Germany by Quisling and his men to about 770. Only 30 survived.

Other countries in occupied Europe deported more Jews and the Nazis killed about 6 million in all, but it is the efficiency that Norway -- a well-run, democratic country before the war -- arrested the Jews that strikes Fure.

"The Quisling regime was actually more radical than other regimes as it did not differentiate between those Jews who had integrated and those who had just arrived," he said.

TIPPED OFF BY NORWEGIANS

It is not clear who ordered the arrest and deportation of the Jews but Norwegians, and not Nazis, carried out the order, Fure said.

"Norwegians rounded them all up. The machine arrested everybody."

About half of the Scandinavian country's Jewish population managed to escape, tipped off and hidden by ordinary Norwegians.

In 1999, Norway became the first country to pledge compensation to Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Quisling was an anti-Semite. He was tall and strong with blue eyes and blond hair. Although highly intelligent, Quisling struggled to live with reality, Fure said.

"He was a fantasist who wanted to take Norway back to what he thought were its glory days during the times of the Vikings."

Stained-glass windows depicting centuries old Viking battles decorate the ground floor of Villa Grande.

In the spring of 1945, Norwegian resistance fighters entered Oslo. They made their way toward the wooded peninsula on the fjord and surrounded the villa.

Quisling had planned to fight to the death but his supporters deserted him and he surrendered without a shot being fired.

Within months, he was tried by a Norwegian court, branded a traitor and executed.