Folklore Fights the Nazis. Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945

By Tangherlini, Timothy R | Western Folklore, Spring 1997 | Go to article overview

Folklore Fights the Nazis. Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945


Tangherlini, Timothy R, Western Folklore


Folklore Fights the Nazis. Humor in Occupied Norway, 1940-1945. By Kathleen Stokker. (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997. Pp. 273. Illustrations, Bibliography, Index. $17.95 paper)

In this handsome paperback edition of an earlier hardback edition (1995), Kathleen Stokker introduces a fascinating aspect of Norway's history during the Second World War. Stokker illustrates how jokes and other aspects of folk culture were mobilized in resistance to the Nazi occupation. On April 9, 1940, Hitler's forces, in a surprise move, invaded Norway, and thus began a dark period in Norwegian history that would last until eventual liberation on May 7, 1945. Although the initial invasion was met by an armed resistance that lasted nearly two months (a contrast to the steamroller invasion of Denmark which left very little time for anything resembling an armed defense of the borders), once the Nazi war machine was ensconced in Norway, it met very little in the way of a coordinated, armed resistance. Indeed, as Stokker mentions, there was considerable collaboration with the Nazis among the Norwegian populace-if not outright collaboration, then at least tacit acceptance of the occupation. As the war progressed, however, and the occupying forces began to show their true colors, an ever growing segment of the population began to resist the occupiers in numerous ways. Informal acts of resistance, and jokes and stories of these informal acts, emerged over the course of the occupation as significant expressions of the resistance. Stokker identifies the Jossing as "those opposed to Nazism" (27), and a great deal of her work explores Jossing humor. Stokker does not stop with an evaluation of jokes and narratives, however, but also includes fascinating glimpses of visual culture such as posters and political cartoons. It is this multi-layered representation of the forms and uses of humor in occupied Norway that contribute to the success of her work.

Finding source materials for a study of this nature is a difficult task, as many of those who lived through the occupation are now old and their jokes and stories may well have faded from their memory. Indeed, contemporary interviews with occupation survivors would give only a poor reflection of a lively folk culture. Yet, during the occupation, recording occupation humor would have been a risky undertaking given the harsh punishments prescribed for those who were engaged in resistance activities. Luckily, Stokker is a gifted sleuth and, in her numerous field work excursions to Norway, was able to discover five previously unpublished diaries that record not only wartime jokes but also observations on day-to-day life in occupied Norway. Through these diaries, what otherwise could only have been a study of faded memories, Stokker discovers clear voices of resistance that, even in the face of Nazi occupation, are able to find humor and, through that humor, create a community of opposition and hope. An intriguing aspect of these joke collections/diaries is that all were written by women, a significant fact that, regrettably, Stokker only comments on in passing. Perhaps because Stokker is interested in documenting the broad contours of humor in occupied Norway, she decided not to link her study to the broader field of women's personal/private writing.

Indeed, Stokker's work is far ranging-the diaries are a jumping off point for a considerably detailed view of both narrative and humor in wartime Norway. …

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