The peace turned out as difficult as the war

- women of the Osvald resistance organization were persecuted after the war by Norwegian authorities. These were only a few of the women in Norway for whom the war never ended.

Photo from the liberation days in Oslo, May 1945. Photo: Scanpix.

Unni Rustad has interviewed women who were active in the sabotage organization that went by the name of the Osvald Group. Together with Kjersti Ericsson, she has written a chapter concerning this in a newly published book on women and war. After the war, the Osvald women were subjected to surveillance and harassment by the Norwegian police.

- When the political climate changed from the euphoria of liberation into cold war, former heroes from the Communist segments of the resistance were branded potential traitors, Ericsson relates.

Even though women participated in the work of the Norwegian resistance as couriers, helped people into hiding, piloted fugitives across the border, participated in the distribution of illegal newspapers and carried out sabotage missions – they were forgotten when peace came in 1945. The story of local Milorg head Eva Kløvstad, who was not allowed to march alongside the male Milorg members when liberation was celebrated, is well known.  

- It is often easy to think that the Second World War in Norway ended during these days in May 1945, but as the articles in the anthology «Women in War. Examples from Norway and Beyond» show: war experiences often mark women who lived through the war for the rest of their lives, says Kjersti Ericsson. It is particularly gripping to read about Jewish women, haunted by thoughts of their loved ones that were impossible to talk about.

As editor she has gathered a range of researchers writing about women’s lives during and after war. Government sanctions during and after World War II was a fate the Osvald women shared with other women, including the so-called «German girls» (Norwegian women who had relations with German soldiers) and their war children. The Eastern European, female forced laborers were another group stigmatized and faced with suspicion upon their return to the Soviet Union.

Various roles during World War II

«Women in War. Examples from Norway and Beyond» shows the breadth of the various roles women occupied during World War II. Using Norway as example, the anthology explores what happens to women and gender relations during wartime. The book is interdisciplinary and deals with women in different roles: as resistance fighters and «German girls», as persecuted in the Norwegian Holocaust, as employees of the State Police, as Eastern European forced laborers, and as housewives during hard times.

- The book emphatically shows that women were seen through gendered lenses, and treated and remembered in gendered ways after the war, says Ericsson. One example is the chapter by Professor Per Ole Johansen. It shows how women active in the Nazi State Police during their trials were portrayed according to contemporary stereotypes of women as being unintelligent, neurotic, passive and easily misled. They were depicted as human typewriters without a will of their own. This view could be used to the women’s advantage in court. Women who held comparable positions to men in the State Police received more lenient sentences than their male colleagues. Kristin Hobson’s chapter on homosexual women and men shows that lesbians were viewed as different, but insignificant. That women possess their own sexual desires and sexuality was not acknowledged in this context, hence lesbians were not persecuted to the same extent as gay men.

Women in war

Even today women in war are seen through gendered lenses, as the contributions including those of Anette Bringedal Houge, Kristen P. Williams and Inger Skjelsbæk show.

- International organizations have a much easier time seeing women as victims of sexualized violence, but to involve them in peace processes as equal social actors faces more reluctance, Ericsson relates. Women’s bodies were and still are a «war zone». This is for instance manifested in war rapes. During the Second World War in Norway the «German girls» provide the clearest example that women’s sexuality attains significance in war, Ericsson thinks. They were seen as sexual traitors for their relationships with German men, and their children continued being «Germany’s children» after the war was over. Powerful forces thought they should be deported to Germany to prevent the Norwegian people from becoming sullied.

That gendered notions and patterns of action also obtain in war is demonstrated by the research of Ericsson and her colleagues. This research also testifies to the wounds having to be borne by women after war.

By Per Jørgen Ystehede, Marit Fosse
Published Nov. 11, 2015 10:27 AM - Last modified Feb. 4, 2016 9:05 AM