Tuesday, February 3, 2015



What sort of attitudes and stereotypes were Jews in Norway faced with in the early 1920s? In a country where Jews comprised less than half of 1 percent of the total population, why did the newspaper Aftenposten feel the need to warn against the danger of “Bolshevik Jews”? 

I came to write about this topic mostly by coincidence. I was simply drawn towards writing "something about anti-Semitism" because I had previously taken a class on Totalitarianism, where Nazism had been prominently featured. The purpose of my history studies in the first place was to become a history teacher. I always thought that anti-Semitism, and to a larger extent racism and treatment of minorities, were important topics to focus on in teaching history

My master thesis is an examination of different statements about Jews that were expressed in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in the period from 1920-1925. 

The study took into account all aspect of the paper, whether it was news reports, editorials or letters to the editor from both public figures as well as the general public. 

The purpose of this study was to uncover information about the attitudes towards Jews in Norwegian society in the early 1920s. This was a period which saw – among other things – a heightened anti-Semitism in parts of Europe (particularly Weimar Germany), and the turbulent establishment of the world’s first would-be communist state – namely the Soviet Union. 

And in Norway, as in many other European countries, socialist and even revolutionary communist parties became more prominent on the political scene. In this tense climate, Aftenposten was part in spreading the anti-Semitic stereotype of the dangerous Bolshevik Jew (Bolsjevikjøden) to its audience. 

This mythical figure, the Bolshevik Jew, was an expression of the anti-Semitic idea that the Jews played a leading role in the communist movements such as the Bolsheviks who had seized power in Russia. 

It was not unusual for Jews during the 19th and early 20th century to be accused of being responsible for a wide range of perceived societal ills, of which communism was just one of a longer list. 

Anti-Semites often considered Jews to be responsible for such modern phenomena as urbanization, modernism, communism and capitalism (!), the collapse of tradition, internationalism, parliamentarism, the power of the press, and so forth. 

From my examination of Aftenposten, I’ve found that the notion that Jews played an important role in communist movements was often expressed. It was often mentioned and accepted as an “established fact” that Jews had played an important role in communist uprisings, not least during the Russian revolution. 

For example, in an editorial of September 14th, 1920 commenting on the Russian revolution, the columnist Einar Woxen wrote that the revolution should not be likened to the English or the French revolutions, because the latter two had been “uprisings of the people”. 

Which flag - The Bolshevik has lowered the Norwegian flag and is raising 
a Soviet one - The Bolshevik's features could be interpreted as 
a Jewish caricature.

The Russian revolution, on the other hand, was not of the Russian people, because its leaders, according to Woxen, were overwhelmingly Jewish. This “fact” was often expressed and, as is it also worth noting, was hardly ever contested. 

Later, this “knowledge” would also be used in agitation against the Norwegian labor movement, which at the time was in contact with the Soviet-founded Communist International (Comintern). 

Aftenposten warned Norwegian workers against being a part of the Communist International, as that would also mean submitting to the will of the «Moscow Jews». Such allegations were implicitly and clearly meant to be taken as negative and detrimental to the communist movement. The allegations were, in short, anti-Semitic. 

While the anti-Semitic idea of the “Bolshevik Jew” would often be found in Aftenposten hardly any other kinds of anti-Semitic ideas were expressed. In fact, the study found very few accounts of other typical negative Jewish stereotypes, such as the stereotype of the greedy, capitalist Jew. 

As mentioned, during the 1920's Jews could find themselves accused on the one hand of being in control of the international communist movement, and on the other hand of being in control of international finance and banking. 

According to the logic of extreme anti-Semites, the common denominator in this seemingly contradictory accusation was that both capitalism and communism actually were Jewish tools in their plan for global domination. In Aftenposten, however, the notion that the Jews played a special leadership role in the communist movement outweighed, by far, any other stereotypical notions.

"Valgets lærdom for Martin Tranmæl" (above) is an editorial piece dated October 24th 1924. In it, the editor analyzes the results of the recent parliamentary elections. In this election the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP) got only 6.1% of the votes, while the Labor Party (DNA) got 18.4%. Aftenposten's editor explains these results in light of the two parties' stance on Comintern and the Twenty-one Conditions. 

DNA had in 1923 terminated their contact with Comintern, but NKP had remained a member of the international communist organization. Aftenposten's editor opined that the Norwegian voters had preferred DNA to NKP - because of NKP's "blind submission to the Moscow-jews". This is a typical example of how small quips and "by-the-way" references to Bolchevik Jews were used to sort of put an exclamation mark on Aftenposten's regular agitation against Norwegian communists.

I believe the explanation of the prevalence of one particular stereotype – that of the “Bolshevik Jew” – is in part due to the tense political climate in Norway at the time, and to the developments in Russia. 

During the 1920s, Norway experienced certain social and political tensions. On the one hand we had a politically radicalized labor movement, who at times toyed with the idea of a violent revolution, while on the other hand we had the conservative, bourgeois right, which wanted to keep Norway’s liberal democracy intact. 

This discord was reflected in the media, where both sides owned and ran their own press and newspapers. Within this landscape, Aftenposten was placed firmly in the conservative, anti-communist camp. 

Both sides were also influenced by the ongoing development in Russia, namely the revolution, the civil war and the establishment of a would-be communist state. To many in the Norwegian labor movement the development in Russia was an inspiration, while to many on the political right wing it was a source of anxiety. Could the revolution spread to Norway? 

In Russia, Jews had experienced increased persecution and anti-Semitism, not least from the White Army, which spread anti-Semitic propaganda such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to kindle the fighting spirit of their troops.

This clipping (above) is from a series of articles that were written regarding Chaim Moisei Klas, a 22 year old Jewish man, the son of Russian immigrants. Klas had prior to the 1924 election made Aftenposten's headlines after he spoke in favor of a bloody communist revolution at an election meeting. 

Klas had subsequently been arrested and briefly improsined for his agitation, but after he was released, Aftenposten demanded that he was expulsed from Norway. In the articles Aftenposten wrote about Klas, his Jewish origins were made an explicit point. The fact that the was a Jew, made his communist leanings much more offensive to Aftenposten. 

This can be seen in the headlines to the article from January 3rd 1925, where Klas is referred to as "The blood-thirsty Jew". In a later article from February 10th, a courtroom drawing of Klas was printed, and the readers were urged to take note of Klas' "noble" (read: "Jewish") facial features. This article series is where, according to my findings, Aftenposten reached the heigh of its anti-Jewish vitriol. It is also unique because it was directed against a single person. I have also found indications that people at the time, in other newspapers and elsewhere, did not share Aftenposten's hostility towards Klas, and were made uncomfortable by Aftenposten's campaign against him. 

The Anti-Semitic rumors and narratives that were proliferated in Russia at that time, also spread to Norway, where some newspapers were ready to pick them up and use them for their own political agitation. 

Accusing the communist movement of being of Jewish origin, or even under Jewish control, was a way of de-legitimizing communist ideology and the international communist movement. 

For example, one freelance reporter in July of 1920 alleged that Marx was a Jew and therefore not really European. From this he in turn concluded that communism itself was un-European and had nothing productive to offer Europe. 

During the parliamentary elections of 1924, the “Bolshevik Jew”-rhetoric reached a peak of sorts. Several letters to the editor which were printed warned of the danger of voting for the Comintern-affiliated communists, as this would mean giving away the nation’s sovereignty and result in “slavery under Russian Jews”. 

And on Election Day, Aftenposten’s front page featured a cartoon which illustrated the danger Norway allegedly was facing: A Bolshevik with recognizably “Jewish” features raising the Soviet flag in Norway, burning buildings in the background. After the election, this type of rhetoric would to a large degree subside. It had, apparently, served its purpose. 

To summarize: My thesis is that Aftenposten only accepted the stereotype that the Jews controlled Bolshevism and communism because Aftenposten was anti-communist, while the newspaper did not embrace the stereotype of the capitalist Jew because it was not anti-capitalist. 

The stereotype of the Bolshevik Jew was used to delegitimize communism for non-Jewish workers: Communism was likened to something un-European, something that would take away Norwegian sovereignty.

With thanks to Lars Sund for contributing this article.