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Liberation and Veterans Day 8 May 2015

Akershus fortress, Oslo.

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Your Majesty, President of the Storting, veterans, ladies and gentlemen,

This is a joyful day. We are celebrating the fact that we live in a peaceful country, and have done so for 70 years.

It is also a day for reflection. A time to remember the price we paid in terms of suffering and death. Parts of the country were in ruins on 8 May 1945. Many people were traumatised and many were grieving, long after the rejoicing had died down. Today we honour all those who defended our freedom. Those who survived and those who fell.

Norway was not prepared when it was drawn into the war in 1940. After some short-lived, but important successes – at Oscarsborg and in Narvik – the battle was lost.

The King, the Government and important parts of our military forces fled the country in order to continue to fight from Britain. Many followed. This, and above all the invaluable efforts of the merchant seamen who sailed during the war, made a solid contribution to the final victory.

Last summer, I met some of our heroes from our forces based abroad and the merchant navy during the D-Day commemoration in Normandy. Their efforts are still remembered and valued by our allies. They were few in number, but there were many who were grateful to them.

I also wish to honour them.

In October, His Majesty the King and I took part in the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Finnmark. Let me repeat what I said then to the Russian veterans who had taken part in the operation: We are deeply grateful for the part played by the Soviet forces in securing our freedom.

The campaign to boost morale here in Norway was important for the outcome of the war. King Haakon’s ‘No!’ to the occupiers and their lackeys was crucial in this respect.

Morale among the population was high. This doesn’t mean that it was easy to stand up against the enemy. There were many risks, whether you were involved in illegal activities or trying to flee the country – eastwards or westwards. Any action could put you in a difficult dilemma and mean facing terrible consequences.

Nevertheless, many people took part in the effort. By helping people cross the border. By refusing to teach Nazi race theory in schools. By planning and carrying out sabotage actions. By protesting in trade unions, in churches, in sports clubs. By showing solidarity by wearing a paper clip or a red bobble hat.

Many took part, many risked their lives, and many gave everything. 

Norwegian Jews were harassed, and later persecuted and sent to death camps. Nearly half of Norway’s Jews were killed, and every single one of those who survived lost family and friends. Norwegian Roma were denied re-entry to their homeland, and ended up in concentration camps. Many of them also died. The deportation of Jews and Roma is a dark chapter of our history.

Samuel Steinmann was one of the survivors who passed on a great deal of valuable knowledge to new generations of Norwegians. He told me and many others his story. He was among the 532 Jews who were forced on board DS Donau on 26 November 1942. They were taken straight to Auschwitz, and only nine returned. Samuel Steinmann told the story of his horrific experiences calmly and without bitterness.

He died on 1 May this year, the last of the nine survivors. Thank you, Samuel. Thank you for all that you did to help us to comprehend the incomprehensible.

The history of the war is still being written, and there are many voices that still need to be heard.

But there are fewer and fewer left who can share what they experienced back then. This makes it all the more meaningful to have so many of our veterans here today. They represent the whole breadth of the resistance movement, and each one of them has a unique story to tell. Let us honour them and listen to them. Let us also honour them by passing their stories on to future generations.

We celebrate our freedom on 8 May – as do many other countries. The war affected virtually every country in the world, including all the major powers. More than 100 million soldiers were mobilised. Between 50 and 70 million people lost their lives. From the outbreak of the war in 1939 to its end in 1945, an average of 30 000 people were killed every day.

We must not forget all that the soldiers and civilians went through.

Today we will also remember the many prisoners of war in Norway: well over 100 000 Russians, Poles and Yugoslavs. Most of them were military prisoners, but there were also many thousands of civilians, including women and children. They endured hard labour and other ordeals in German prison camps in many parts of the country, and many of them were forced to build railways and roads in North Norway. More than 15 000 lost their lives.  

There are many countries we can thank for our freedom today. But the decisive effort was made by the three major powers: the US, Britain and the Soviet Union. Let me quote from the posters that lined Karl Johansgate – the main street of Oslo – at the victory parade in 1946:

Norge takker dere – Norway thanks you – Norvegiya blagodarit vas

In this anniversary year, our thoughts are naturally drawn back to the liberation of our country 70 years ago.

The fight for our security and for Norwegian interests cannot be fought in Norway alone, and we cannot win it by ourselves. We also need to promote security in countries far away. That is what our soldiers at home and abroad are doing every day.

8 May is a red letter day. It is a day to honour all veterans – those from the Second World War, but also those from more recent international operations. This includes all the Norwegian men and women who have served in international operations or been on standby. All those who have stood on guard and done their military service, and have thus helped to safeguard our country. Liberation and Veterans Day is a day to remember both old and new veterans.

For 70 years, we have been able to live in freedom. Today we celebrate this fact with great joy.

I would like to congratulate you all on this important day.


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