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A continuing overwhelming silence

oktober 15, 2007

I have written and spoken about the Norwegian War Children’s situation on several occasions (see for instance the article “Memory, Archives and Justice“ on this site). Here’s a short summary: The Norwegian War Children are the 10-12.000 individuals that were born between 1941 and 1945 with Norwegian mothers and German fathers. During the first decade after World War II, these children and their mothers were subject to harassment and discrimination by Norwegian society in general. A research project organised by the Norwegian Research Council in 1998 concluded that the “War Children” as a group had been victimized and illegally deprived of some of their civilian rights.  

In 2004, the Norwegian Government issued a White Paper that proposed a system of reparation to War Children who had experienced infringement and persecution in neighbourhoods, at school or by public officials. The size of the compensation was to be made dependent on the documentation that each individual might bring forth. If an individual could document “grave suffering, loss or damage”, she or he could get between NOK 20.000 and NOK 200.000. When such documentation couldn’t be found, a compensation of maximum NOK 20.000 might be given dependent on individual statements that made it credible that the person in question had been subject to harassment. The Storting (the Norwegian parliament) approved this proposal in 2005.  

The problematic thing about this system is that the authors of the White Paper did not define the concept «documentation”. In comparable cases documentation usually is synonymous with archival evidence, i.e. public records. In this case, however, it was very unlikely that such archival evidence existed. Even the authors of the White Paper did acknowledge this.   

And there is absolutely no doubt that the archival evidence of the War Children’s individual histories is defective and unreliable. There are mainly two reasons for this: Most of the war children who needed help did not get it, because the public and the school and child care authorities usually did not act when war children suffered mobbing and harassment. Secondly, when the authorities did act and the children were moved to children’s homes, these actions were documented in a way we today would consider defective, or they were not documented at all. Eventually, some of the archives that were created have been lost or destroyed, due to poor records management or even to hide someone’s acts.  

This has led to situation where the archives usually are silent about the “War Children’s” individual histories. The children did not create their own archives, and their memories are not regarded as documentary evidence. What remains is an overwhelming archival silence. 

And this silence continues.  

In 2006, 585 individual War Children applied for compensation. Only 19% of these were given compensations that exceeded NOK 20.000. 77% got NOK 20.000 or less. The last 4% were refused. In other words: Less than 1/5 of the applicants were able to provide any evidence of their pasts. But most disturbing is the fact that merely 5% of the War Children applied for compensation last year. Of course, this number will increase when the results for 2007 are made public. Even so, the most probable outcome seems to be that only a minority of the War Children will apply.  

This begs for an analysis, and I will return to this issue next year. At the time being, it suffices to say that the lack of archival evidence might be one important reason.                             

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