Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.5

November 4, 2004


Forcing countries to own up: Berit Reisel of Norway

By Frank Kuin

Concordians will be able to hear the remarkable story this month of Berit Reisel, a Norwegian psychologist who has been at the forefront of a long struggle to make European countries deal with their own role in the Holocaust.

Reisel, who was instrumental in convincing the Norwegian government to pay tens of millions of dollars in compensation payments to Jews who were robbed of all their possessions during World War II, will give a series of lectures and workshops at the University from Nov. 17 to 19.

“Berit Reisel is a beacon for truth and reconciliation,” said history professor Frank Chalk, who organized her visit to Concordia. “She has an incredible story to tell.”

In her presentations, Reisel will focus on her pioneering work as a member of a commission appointed in the late 1990s by the Norwegian government to investigate whether Norwegian Jews who survived the Holocaust should be compensated for the confiscation of their property during the war.

She will also discuss her current work for the Center for Studies of the
Holocaust and Religious Minorities in Norway, a new museum and institution for research and documentation in Oslo that will open to the public in January 2005. Reisel is responsible for the development of the museum.

“The governments of Europe have failed to take responsibility to address their past,” said Reisel, whose research has focused on the economic liquidation of the Jews.

“The Jews were stripped of everything they owned,” she said, “and for instance, in Norway, the state was the main profiteer.”

Although “incredible amounts of wealth and money and goods were
disappearing” in many European countries, hardly any of them have taken steps since to address that issue, Reisel said. “Europe addressed this question by trying to deny its existence.”

In 1997, more than 50 years after the end of the war, European governments resolved to look into the matter, Reisel said. “But then they realized that if they did so, it would cost them too much.

“So the focus was turned away from what Europe had confiscated and stolen from the Jews. Instead, the Jews had to prove that they had lost things. Which is sad, because it’s inviting anti-Semitism, as Jews are looked upon as people who are so greedy that they are making money out of the Holocaust.”

Reisel’s stint with the Norwegian commission sounds like a detective story. She and a colleague discovered that other members of the commission had been instructed by the government to find nothing. They secretly proceeded to write a minority report, and were promptly expelled from the commission once that came out.

In a stunning reversal, however, the Norwegian government adopted Reisel’s report as the basis for awarding $80 million in compensation payments to Norwegian Jews. A portion of that money has been used to establish the Holocaust Center of which Reisel is a co-founder. It is housed in the sprawling former residence of Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi collaborator who ruled Norway during the war.

“It’s fantastic that Norway in the end chose to do the right thing, I like that,” said Reisel. “But for the rest of Europe, I’m very disappointed and it’s a very sad story.”

Berit Reisel’s lecture, “Remedying Injustice and Nurturing Diversity:
The Struggle for Post-Holocaust Reconciliation in Norway,” will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at 6 p.m. in the D.B. Clark Theatre in the Hall Building. For the rest of her itinerary, see