World War II and Scandinavia: As Seen through the Pages of the Scandinavian Review

By Leiren, Terje I. | Scandinavian Review, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

World War II and Scandinavia: As Seen through the Pages of the Scandinavian Review


Leiren, Terje I., Scandinavian Review


When war threatened in the late 1930s and fighting broke out in Finland in November, 1939, the AmericanScandinavian Review (as the Scandinavian Review was then called) seized the opportunity to join in the war effort by advocating Finland's position and increasing awareness of Scandinavia in the minds of Americans.

Ironically, Finland had not initially been included in the Foundation's statement of purpose as being an identifiable Scandinavian state, focusing rather on Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Although cultural and historical ties between Finland and Sweden imposed a natural inclusion of Finland on the Review, the Winter War confirmed that Finland was, indeed, a part of Scandinavia. Occasional issues devoted to Finland had been published earlier, but by 1939, the concept of Scandinavia was officially broadened, as, indeed, it would be again when Iceland gained its independence in 1944.

Prior to the war, the Review regularly advertised more than 50 publications in translation, including classics of fiction, biography, poetry, drama and old Norse sagas, as well as scholarly monographs of history, politics and literary criticism. The Review maintained a lively book-review section throughout the war years focusing on books that chronicled wartime events, while continuing to publish translations of fiction and poetry. While Finland's fight remained fresh in the minds of the readers, Johan Ludvig Runeberg's Tales of Ensign Stal, from 1848, depicting the fight against Russia during the Napoleonic period, was heavily advertised by the Review.

Carl Joachim Hambro's I Saw It Happen in Norway, an eyewitness account of the invasion, written by the president of the Norwegian Storting, was in the stores by Christmas, 1940. In her review of the book, Hanna Astrup Larsen, Review editor, wrote: "All friends of Norway have reason to be grateful to Mr. Hambro for getting out this book so quickly. It is the book we have been waiting for to set Norway right before the world." Hambro's book was followed a year later by Halvdan Koht's account, Norway, Neutral and Invaded.

Published in Sweden in 1941, Frans Bengtsson's Rode Orm, published in English translation by Scribner's in 1943, was reviewed enthusiastically by Larsen who noted that an earlier Bengtsson book, a biography of King Carl XII, had been banned by German authorities in Berlin, Vienna and Prague. Whether the story of a Viking was a metaphor for a past when Swedes played a role in world affairs is not mentioned by the reviewer, but the reference to the tenth century, when Scandinavians were the occupiers, not the occupied, must not have been lost on contemporary readers.

The German invasion of Norway and Denmark on April 9, 1940, brought the war fully-not only to Scandinavia-but to the pages of the Review, as well. For the next five years, the war and the war efforts were emphasized. The fight and the plight of occupied Scandinavia, the life and work of Scandinavian exiles in America, and the dreams of restored democratic governments for Denmark and Norway came to dominate the journal.

Not only were books that featured the war and its numerous stories of heroism reviewed, the reviewers themselves displayed interpretations that the passions of the time seemed to call forth.

Details of the death of Nordahl Grieg, a Norwegian writer the Review had featured on several occasions, in a bombing raid over Berlin in December of 1943, were published in the March, 1944 issue.

In June, 1940, Grieg's most famous war poem, "17. mai 1940," was published as "We Shall Come Again," translated by Augustana College professor Henrietta Koren Naeseth. In March, 1942, historian Halvdan Koht had published an insightful look at Grieg's personal and literary career, calling him a "true national poet". A portion of a second Grieg poem, "Norway In Our Hearts," appeared in the same issue. Indeed, several Scandinavian poets were presented by the Review during the war. …

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