A CORNER stone of the Nazi credo is a mystic belief in the superiority of the Nordic race. In the current Nazi conception, "der nordische Mensch" incarnates everything that is beautiful, strong, noble and pure. He is of handsome stature and shape, with a straight nose and a square chin, dreamy yet steely blue eyes, blond hair and a mailed fist. A gentleman and a hero.

I shall not venture to discuss the highly controversial question whether this fine figure is to be found anywhere in more than sporadic numbers. Instead, I simply state that the most authoritative dogmatists of the Nazi creed have repeatedly pointed to Scandinavia as the true home of the glorious Nordic race. In the September 1936 issue of the German review Volk und Reich, for example, the well-known Nazi "geopolitician," Professor (and General) Karl Haushofer, described Sweden as the "ancestral homestead" of the Germans. Another Nazi professor, Gustav Neckel, lecturing in Berlin on "Das Nordische und die deutsche Bildung" (see the Nordische Rundschau, Heft 1-2, 1934) explained: "To us Germans, Scandinavia should not appear a foreign land in the same cold sense as do neighboring Latin and Slav countries; there, the German does not have to feel quite abroad, for he is still in Germanien . . ." On many occasions, especially in messages to the "Nordische Gesellschaft" (see below) Alfred Rosenberg, Dr. Goebbels and other intellectual leaders of the Third Reich have expressed similar views.

It is pertinent to ask how the Scandinavians themselves respond to a doctrine that allots them so high a place in the hierarchy of human races. Their first reaction is quite naturally a feeling of flattered gratification. Peoples, the same as individuals, like to be held out as paragons to their contemporaries. Scandinavians are no exception. But their second reflection is unpalatable to the German mind. Seeing the Nazi dogmatist so busy establishing the superiority of the Nordic race, they might be tempted to scoff: "How we apples swim!" For, if the propagandists of the Third Reich deign to include Denmark, Sweden and Norway in the privileged section of humanity -- of which "Aryan" Germany is of course supposed to represent the pink -- Scandinavians are equally determined to keep the Nazis out of their Nordic world. In Scandinavian eyes, the southern cultural boundary of "the North" runs along the Schleswig frontier between Denmark and Germany. Beyond that boundary lies what to Scandinavian eyes is, in terms of geography, "the South." And they approach it with that half-amused, half-bewildered air of condescension that all over the world Northerners have towards Southerners -- towards what appears as the "Wild South" or something of the kind.

Actually it is fantastic to think that the "Nordic" dreamworld of the Nazis ever could coincide with the true Nordic conception of life. Scandinavians are individualists to the core, democrats by millenary tradition. As early as the year 1000 a French chronicler was already relating a characteristic episode. A horde of Vikings who had gone ashore in France were questioned by the local bailiff, "Who is your king?" The Vikings replied: "We have no king, we are all equally good."

True, the descendants of these proud Vikings have now been ruled by kings for many centuries, and they are among the most monarchic peoples in the world. Yet the old Viking spirit is still alive. Scandinavians are all equally good, and if they have kings now it is because these learned in good season not to be despots. What a world of difference there is between the broadly individualistic and fundamentally democratic outlook of the truly Nordic nations and the " Führer-Prinzip," the " Kadaver-Gehorsam," of the authoritarian, totalitarian Third Reich! Better than anything else, this one single fact indicates to a Scandinavian that Germany is being ruled today not by Nordic but by Oriental principles.

Again, the Scandinavian peoples are, as everybody knows, pacifists to the core. There is nothing they dislike more heartily than martial airs and bellicose gestures like the goose-step. But they passionately love freedom and independence; and they may be expected -- Sweden and Norway at least -- to fight desperately if attacked. Peace, freedom, progress and democracy -- those four words, now obsolete and outlawed in the Reich, cover the Scandinavian "Weltanschauung."

"I want to declare categorically that the Nazi system has nothing whatever in common with Nordic mentality," exclaimed, in June 1935, the Rector of Copenhagen University, Professor Östrup. And jubilant applause echoed back from the 1,400 students he was addressing. "It may sound quite absurd to Southern thinking," he also said, "but it is a fact, that the Vikings never felt themselves a will-less mass, but always a commonwealth of free men. That is the Nordic spirit. Russia and Germany are now in absolute opposition to the Nordic ideal of society; for they both have reduced man to a mere cog in the state machinery, suppressing all personal freedom." In such terms as those, again and again, the intellectual and political leaders of Scandinavia, supported by an almost unanimous opinion, have made it clear that they will not accept the idea of any "Nordic" system in which Germany sets the pace and sounds the key.

But the Nazi suitor is dauntless. "It is an open secret that we Germans nourish towards the North a strong affection which so far has not awakened there an equally strong love for us . . . . But we are as a nation powerful enough to be able to wait for this response to our love, which is bound to come some day -- we are convinced of that!" In these not quite unambiguous terms, the Schleswig-Holsteinsche Landeszeitung, official and most important Nazi organ in Germany's northernmost province, gave an outline in November 1936 of German feelings and aspirations with regard to Scandinavia. In other words, the Nazis are well aware that the genuine "Nordics" are very reluctant to accept their leadership. But for reasons much more of a political and economic than of a romantic character, Berlin is set on bringing the Northern countries into her orbit. To achieve this end one may safely expect her to go to any lengths of persuasion, cajolery, intimidation, and, in the last resort, violence. "Und bist du nicht willig -- so brauch' ich Gewalt." That is the essence of Nazi courtship in Scandinavia as it is in other parts of the world.

In their attempt to win over or, alternatively, vassalize Scandinavia the Nazis proceed along a triple line of assault.

As in colonial warfare, the advance-guard is made up of native troops, I mean the Scandinavian Nazi parties. Of these there are plenty. The victory of Hitlerism in Germany was bound to bring a general florescence of Nazi groups and factions in Scandinavia. History does not record any major political, social or religious movement originating in Germany which did not produce ramifications in the North.

Soon it became clear, however, that this time the seed had fallen on comparatively barren soil. In fact, nearly all the factors that contributed to the final success of Naziism in the Reich were lacking in Scandinavia. There was no lost war, no mass misery, no disgruntled middle class, no Jewish influence, no threat of Bolshevism. The economy and finances of the Nordic states, essentially sound, were just emerging from a comparatively short depression and entering a new period of prosperity. Capitalism, less crassly developed, more prudent and better controlled than in most other countries, had never had the opportunity of playing havoc with the minds and fortunes of people as it had done in Germany.

As a result, many of the Nazi parties founded in Scandinavia were mere ephemera; others still lead a sickly existence, almost entirely dependent on Reich subsidies. An endless succession of splits, fusions, scandals and unpleasant disclosures about finances supplied the final phenomena needed to discredit them in the public eye. Jew-baiting was doomed to failure in countries where the Israelite population averaged one per thousand; and it did far more harm to its initiators than to its victims. A timely ban on uniforms interfered badly with the spectacular efforts made to interest the youth.

In Sweden, there were at one time three Nazi factions of some importance. The oldest was the "Svenska National-Socialistiska Partiet," whose leader, Birger Furugård, began his career as a Nazi agitator as early as 1930. The salute of the party, "Heil Furugård," its favorite slogan "Awaken Sweden!" and its swastika emblem give the measure of its spirit and originality. The party recently merged with its rival, the "Nationalsocialistiska Arbetarepartiet," founded in 1933 by Sven Olav Lindholm (though soon a new split took place). A third group, the so-called National-Socialist Bloc, headed by Colonel Ekström, an exotic adventurer, and Count Eric von Rosen, brother-in-law of General Goering, slowly dwindled out of existence.

In Norway no less than four Nazi or semi-Fascist groups made a bid for leadership, but only one, the "Nasjonal Samling," founded by Major Quisling, ever came out of the embryonic stage. After a short vogue in 1933, when it polled 27,000 votes, the party declined. When finally Quisling's ablest lieutenant, J. B. Hjorth, quit, he left the organization in open deliquescence.

Denmark is still plagued by two rival Nazi factions, the "Danmarks Nationalsocialistiske Arbejder-Parti," the chieftain of which is a medical man, Dr. Fritz Clausen (Bovrup), and the "Dansk Socialistisk Parti," headed by an ex-officer, Lieutenant Wilfred Petersen. About a year ago a split occurred in the former group, numerically the more important. This was occasioned by the action of Dr. Clausen -- whose main stronghold is North-Schleswig -- in concluding a formal alliance with the German Nazis operating in that territory with a view to separating it from Denmark!

On balance, it can now be said with certainty that all the Scandinavian Nazi parties have proved hopelessly inefficient and that they are quite unable to make any serious bid for power. Except for occasional terroristic acts such as mauling lone Jews, and occasional kidnapping of Communists, the daubing of public monuments and statues with Nazi symbols, and the methodical disturbance of anti-Nazi lectures and demonstrations, they have never done anything spectacular. They failed invariably at all elections and never got as much as a single representative in any Scandinavian parliament.

Much more serious are the German Nazi organizations operating in Scandinavia. In the three countries under review there are large German colonies, especially in Copenhagen (about 4,000) and in Stockholm (about 2,500). There is now a local group of the German Nazi Party in every important center in Scandinavia. The activist elements of this are strictly organized into shocktroops. In each country the local "führers" are placed under the command of a "Landesleiter" or "Landesvertrauensmann" (Norway, Eberhard Günther Kern; Denmark, W. Haupt; Sweden, Heinz Bartels). Until a year and a half ago Herr Bartels exercised a general jurisdiction over the entire group of countries in his quality as "Landesgruppenleiter."

In January 1936 the "Landesgruppe Schweden der NSDAP," which had just rented for its headquarters a sumptuous building at Sveavägen 29, in Stockholm's most fashionable quarter, sent out a call for an all-Scandinavian meeting of Nazi chiefs, to be held on February 1. The letter convoking this rally, the chief purpose of which was to be the organization of a wide anti-Soviet campaign, concluded: "Our local group welcomes heartily to Stockholm its guests from the province and neighboring countries."

This, the Swedish Government thought, was carrying German hospitality on Swedish soil just a little bit too far. Moreover, when it transpired shortly afterwards that the same "Landesgruppe" had used monies collected from Swedish donors to the German "Winterhilfe" to finance Nazi propaganda in Sweden, the Government requested Herr Bartels and two of his lieutenants to leave the country. In spite of virulent Reich protests and reprisals, the expulsion of the "Landesgruppenleiter" was maintained. To avoid similar accidents in future, the German colony in Sweden in February 1937 elected Professor von Euler, a Swedish citizen of German birth, as its "Führer."

In Denmark, the German Nazis have given still more trouble, but the Danish Government has never dared to take action against them. In March 1936, for example, it was revealed that Herr Schäfer, president of the German colony in Copenhagen and leader of the Nazi local group there, had actively engaged in, shall we say, unusual inquiries. He had distributed among his followers a circular letter inquiring the number of motor cars, motor cycles, lorries, etc., which each of them owned. Another of the 37 questions was: "Do you possess a typewriter? Can you write shorthand?" These questions may look innocent on the other side of the Atlantic, but they are not, for in the accepted Nazi jargon a typewriter is a gun and shorthand means shooting. Another of Herr Schäfer's "inquiries" concerned his followers' knowledge of Danish lighthouses, their position and manning, the easiest way to approach them, etc.

A special feature of Nazi activity in Denmark is the extraordinary number of German "newspaper correspondents " dispatched there after the advent of Hitlerism. Many of them had never written a line before they were sent to Copenhagen, but they all had excellent records in the Party service. There are only two or three French and British correspondents in Copenhagen, but there are no less than a dozen Germans. One of them is the inquisitive Herr Schäfer, another is Captain Pflugk-Hartung, the once famous "Vehme-murderer" who killed the Spartacist leader, Karl Liebknecht. For what exact purpose the standardized Nazi press needs to maintain a full dozen correspondents in a small country like Denmark is a mystery which the Danish Government has never solved. In North Schleswig, the German minority runs a half-autonomous organization (membership between 5,000 and 6,000), which, however, keeps in constant touch with the party headquarters in Copenhagen. Of late, the Schleswig Nazis have begun to engage in openly terroristic activities, such as the poisoning of wells (the Stollig case in February 1937), sabotage, the boycott of Danish farmers and damage to their estates. Possibly these are a prelude to more serious outbreaks.

The indigenous Nazi parties and the militant German organizations in Scandinavia have the coöperation of a very peculiar institution called the "Nordic Society" ("Nordische Gesellschaft," abbreviated to "N.G."). True, the foundations of this body were laid as early as 1921, but, as its general secretary, Dr. Ernst Timm, declared at a meeting in Weimar last September, "it was not until after the events of the year 1933 that the purpose and mission of the Nordic Society became absolutely clear." Whereas at first the N.G. proposed merely to further cultural and economic relations between Germany and the Scandinavian states, no sooner had the Nazis taken control of the Reich than it was converted into something very different. Today it is the mainspring of all Nazi propaganda in the North.

By structure, purpose and activity the N.G. is now nothing short of a modern "Hanse." It aims to evoke the famous Hanseatic League that in the thirteenth century brought the Baltic under German control. Besides the headquarters in Lübeck and its branch in Berlin ("Nordische Verbindungsstelle"), the N.G. at present runs 30 agencies called "Kontore" (itself a Hanseatic name) which are spread all over the Reich. Abroad, the society appears under less conspicuous names -- "Swedish-German," "Danish-German" and "Norwegian-German" societies -- but actually these are merely its agencies. The Chairman of the N.G. is Herr Lohse, the Nazi "Gauleiter" and "Oberpräsident" of Schleswig-Holstein. He has the aid (in addition to that of the secretary, Dr. Timm) of an executive body called the "Grosser Rat" on which many of Herr Hitler's most prominent advisers have a seat: Rosenberg, Himmler, Darré, Baldur von Schirach and others. The select nature of this company shows what an important rôle the modern "Hanse" plays in the schemes of the Third Reich.

To judge by the scope of its propaganda work the N.G. is one of the best financed organizations in Germany. Every year it sends out lecturers to Scandinavia, including even Reich ministers (e.g. in May 1935 the Führer's deputy, Rudolf Hess, to Stockholm; in April 1937 Count Schwerin-Krosigk, Minister of Finance, to Copenhagen) and brash agitators and propagandists by the hundred. Once a year, generally in June, a great "Nordic Rally" is held in Lübeck, to which many hundreds of sympathizers from Scandinavia and Finland are invited as guests. In 1934, the N.G. founded a so-called "German-Nordic Authors' Home" at Travemünde. There every year eight writers (three Germans and five Northerners) are treated to a three-months' free stay and education in Nazi spirit. A "Hanseatic Foundation," established in 1935, awards three literary prizes of 10,000 marks each to meritorious authors. At the annual "Nordic Books Exhibition" in Lübeck, Scandinavian and Finnish conformists with the Nazi rules of writing are honored, recalcitrants banned.

Propaganda in the Scandinavian Press is another task of the N.G. On November 8, 1934, the Swedish Social-Demokraten (mouthpiece of the Government) reproduced a confidential circular addressed by the N.G. to German economic organizations, administrative bodies, publishing firms, etc., in which these were urged to influence the Swedish Press more actively, by means of advertising orders. Definite instructions were given as to which papers ought to be favored with advertisements, which should be neglected and which should be boycotted altogether. This was a sensational disclosure, and its accuracy has never been denied.

In recent years, owing to the stubbornly adverse attitude of the Swedish press -- the bulk of which the Nazis never could buy -- the N.G. has developed a new and less expensive means of propaganda. German business men dealing with Scandinavian firms were exhorted to attach to their ordinary correspondence such pieces of "confidential information" as this: "We understand that a Russian spy named Kiroff has just admitted that a Russian attack against the North Swedish ports on the Atlantic Ocean [the writer meant probably the Norwegian port of Narvik] and the important iron-ore deposits in North Sweden is under preparation . . . ." This characteristic specimen and more stuff of the same sort were reproduced in the Göteborgs Handels-och-Sjöfartstidning of February 6, 1937.

Hitherto, all the pains taken and all the money spent by the N.G. for propaganda in the Scandinavian countries have proved of no avail. Far from increasing, German influence in Northern Europe is steadily on the decline. Any unprejudiced eye can now see that the advent of Hitlerism in January 1933 opened up a bridgeless chasm, deeper than the Baltic, between Germany and the North.

In the sphere of cultural relations there occurred a sharp drop of German influence. In August 1935, the official Deutsche Diplomatisch-Politische Korrespondenz itself had to admit some of the more obvious defeats -- a 50 percent drop in the export of German moving pictures and newsreels to Norway; a 30 percent decline in the sale of German books to Denmark and Sweden; a marked drop in the teaching of German -- to the benefit of English -- in the schools and broadcasting programs of Norway; and so on. These things are very significant.

Politically, Scandinavia responded to the challenge of Hitlerism by voting Labor every year more massively. At the general elections to the Norwegian Storting in October 1933 the Labor Party won 126,000 new votes. In October 1935, the Danish Folketing elections resulted in a Socialist gain of nearly 100,000 votes. Last year, in July, the Socialist vote in Finland swelled by some 40,000. In September, the Swedish Social Democrats scored an increase of no less than 296,000 new votes. Finally, in October, the Norwegian Labor Party bettered its 1933 record by the gain of another 117,000 votes.

Thanks to Herr Hitler, Labor now stands as the dominating factor in all the four Nordic countries, including Finland. That does not indicate, by any manner of means, that Northern Europe is heading for Bolshevism. The large majority of the Scandinavian people have never voted "Red" in any revolutionary sense. They just wished to demonstrate, in face of the ravages of Fascism, that "der nordische Mensch" still holds to a program based on peace, progress, freedom and democracy.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • JOACHIM JOESTEN, for many years Danish correspondent of several European newspapers and periodicals
  • More By Joachim Joesten