Today around 1400 Jews make their home in Norway. Some 870 of these belong to one or other of the country’s two Jewish communities, respectively in Oslo and Trondheim. Oslo’s Jewish Community is the larger of the two, and also initiates and supports organised activities related to religious holidays and festivals for Jews living in the cities of Bergen and Stavanger.
The first Jews came to Norway after the 1492 expulsion from Spain, only to be expelled from the country in 1687 and forbidden to return. This prohibition was enshrined in the first National Constitution, adopted in 1814. In 1851, thanks to the campaign led by the Norwegian writer Henrik Wergeland, the anti-Jewish clause was dropped from the Constitution and Jews were again permitted to settle in Norway. The country’s first synagogue was established in 1862, in the capital Kristiania (now Oslo).
By the time German forces invaded Norway in 1940 some 2 100 Jews were settled in the country, all but 400 as Norwegian citizens. After Quisling’s collaborationist government took over running of the state, in the same year, Nazi anti-Jewish legislation was promptly acquiesced to and implemented. In 1942 the demand that Norwegian Jews be sent to Nazi concentration camps led to the government-organised deportation of 772 Jews, 740 of whom were killed in the death camps. The Norwegian resistance movement succeeded in smuggling 900 Jews to safety across the Swedish border.
First in 1996, following revelations in the media and public pressure, the Ministry of Justice appointed a commission to examine the issue of the restitution of Jewish property confiscated by the Quisling regime.
On March 11th 1999, parliament voted to award a total of 450 million NOK in collective and individual restitution payments.
Although small, the Jewish communities in Norway have a high level of activity relative to their size. There are local chapters of B’nai B’rith, Menorah and B’nai Akiva. The community in Oslo runs a kindergarten and an extra-curricular Hebrew school for primary and secondary school students. The community also organizes seminars and summer camps for young primary school children, and B’nai Akiva organizes seminars and camps for older children, youth and students. Maccabi is also active, and a team from Norway regularly participates in the annual Pierre Gildesgame Tournament. The community owns a countryside retreat used for summer camps, Shabbat seminars and parties. In addition, the community produces a magazine, Hatikva. The Jewish retirement home, in Oslo, opened in 1988 adjacent to the synagogue and community centre.
In Trondheim, the synagogue and community centre is in regular use by the city’s Jewish Community for religious and social activities.
Norway has a rabbi, who officiates at the synagogue in Oslo and supervises the kosher food outlet in the capital. Meat is imported as shechita is prohibited in Norway, in the name of animal rights. Between 60 and 200 people attend Shabbat services. The Kosher Catering unit can provide kosher food for tourists, served by prior arrangement in the Oslo community centre.
Norway and Israel enjoy full diplomatic relations. Norway played a central role in bringing together Israeli and Palestinian leaders and helped facilitate the Oslo Accord. A total of 320 Norwegian Jews have made Aliyah to Israel since the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948.
Norway’s handful of Jewish sites includes the two synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in both Trondheim and Oslo. Monuments to the local victims of the Shoah have been dedicated in several Norwegian cities; those in Oslo and Trondheim are located in the cemeteries.
There are also Jewish museums in Oslo and Trondheim, whilst at Bygdøy in Oslo, the Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities presents an exhibition of the Holocaust. In Levanger, north of Trondheim, the Falstad Centre houses a permanent exhibition on the related themes of prisoners of war and human rights.