Calls the critique naive – NRK Culture and entertainment

The debate about the role of Norwegians in the deportation of Jews during World War II continues.

On Friday, a new book will be published that addresses the massive criticism author Marte Michelet experienced after she published the book “What did the home front know?”.

The critics have been too concerned with the details, and have seen too little on the broad lines, says the author of the defense book “What do historians know?”.

– The aim of this book is to give an account of what happened in the autumn of 1942, and give some explanations as to why it happened, says author and philosopher Espen Søbye about the persecution of Jews during World War II.

Controversial book

How could it be that Norwegians helped send Jews to Germany? And to what extent did Norwegians actually help Norwegian Jews flee the Nazis?

The topic has been discussed in detail after Marte Michelet published the book “What did the home front know?” Three years ago. The book received strong criticism for containing factual errors and misinterpretations of the story.

In November last year, several descendants of Norwegian resistance fighters announced that they would sue the author.

Last year, three historians published the book “Report from a Review of What Did the Home Front Know?”, Which apparently tore apart parts of Michelet’s work.

CREATED DEBATE: Marte Michelet’s book “What did the home front know?” created a great debate when it was released in 2018. Michelet has regretted some of the content, but is also working on a response to the criticism.

Photo: BERIT ROALD / NTB

Little documentation

Søby’s book is thus a counterbook to the counter book. He has called it “What do historians know?”

– It goes without saying that the illegal work and the resistance work had to take place in such a way that it did not create sources, Søbye says.

Espen Søbye

NEW BOOK: Author and historian Espen Søbye is behind the new book “What do historians know?”, A book that defends Marte Michelet.

Photo: Finn Ståle Felberg / Forlaget Oktober

When there is little documentation, it is difficult to establish what the home front knew, what they did or chose not to do, he believes.

– What we must base ourselves on are stories, memories, explanations and facts in a mixture that is very difficult to dissolve into its individual components.

Søbye thinks historians are naive when they interpret the sources, especially when it comes to interviews that were done with the border guards several years after the war.

– I think they lack the necessary distance to the sources, and that they place too much emphasis on trying to describe exactly what actually happened, and forget the great perspectives that this should be put into, says Søbye.

Rejects criticism

This is the historian Elise Berggren, who together with the historians Bjarte Bruland and Mats Tangestuen is behind the book that criticized Marte Michelet’s work, completely disagrees.

– Our book is a review of Michelet’s use of sources. It is precisely the source criticism that is at the center, and we show at a basic level how Michelet treats the sources, and how it is not professionally sound, says Berggren.

She emphasizes that they have not yet read Søbye’s book and will therefore not comment on specific allegations. But she welcomes the debate.

– On an overall level, we see that despite Søbye directing criticism at us and having a polemical tone, he partly agrees that there are shortcomings in Michelet’s book. In addition, he has largely not mentioned and thus not disproved the vast majority of misleading source use that we have uncovered, says Berggren.

Michelet: Appreciates the book

Michelet has previously said that she will not withdraw the book, but will publish a completely new version this autumn. Some of the book is now being rewritten as a result of factual errors.

Marte Michelet tells NRK that she appreciates the book Espen Søbye is now publishing. She believes he is taking the debate to a new level.

Michelet has since last year worked on a comprehensive response to the historians’ report. It is to be published in June.

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