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Norway apologises for post-WWII mistreatment of 'German Girls'

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By Alice Tidey
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

Women in Norway who were vilified after WWII for having had relationships with German soldiers received an official government apology on Wednesday from Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Germany invaded Norway in April 1940 and soldiers were encouraged to father children with Norwegian women by SS leader Heinrich Himmler who considered Norway central to his 'Lebensborn' (Fountain of Life) Aryan breeding programme.

Some 50,000 Norwegian women are believed to have had an intimate relationship with German soldiers with 10,000 to 12,000 Lebensborn-children thought to have been born.

After the country was liberated in 1945, these women, nicknamed 'German Girls', were accused of betraying their country, deprived of their civil rights, arrested, incarcerated without trial and even expelled from the country.

'Undignified treatment'

"Young Norwegian girls and women who had relations with German soldiers or were suspected of having them, were victims of undignified treatment," Solberg said on Wednesday at an event celebrating the 70th anniversary of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Our conclusion is that Norwegian authorities violated the fundamental principle that no citizen can be punished without trial or sentenced without law.

"Today, in the name of the government, I want to offer my apologies," she added.

Norway has in the past refused to take the blame for the mistreatment and offered very limited compensation and few of the concerned women are likely to have heard the official apology, delivered seven decades after the fact.

But Guri Hjeltnes, head of the country's Centre for Holocaust and Minority Studies, said the apology is a welcome step.

"A good apology can have a lot of power. An apology can mean that groups receive answers to their treatment," she said.

Back in 2001, 150 of the children took the state to court for discrimination, seeking compensation. Their appeal was dismissed in 2007 by the European Court of Justice which ruled that the case was inadmissible because too much time had passed since the offences occurred.