THE HEROIC LIBRARIAN

Reidunn Johnsen

was the library manager at the Kristiansand public library from 1938 to 1971. When Norway was occupied by Germany on 9 April 1940, a number of challenges were soon in place for the country’s libraries and others who kept and cared for literature and books. Norway’s authors were not allowed to write what they wanted, and the public were not allowed to read what they wanted. The Nazis had lists of books that were prohibited and after the occupation, these were applied in Norway as well.

On 10 April 1940, the Germans conducted their first action against the book shops, publishers and libraries in Oslo. By 15 April, the first seizures were made at the Kristiansand public library.

What do you think Reidunn Johnsen and her colleagues at the Kristiansand library did?

Reidunn Johnsen and her colleagues openly protested against the Nazis.

After the first war actions in 1940 when it became clear that Norway was occupied by Germany, there were very few Norwegians that openly resisted the Nazis. Almost all resistance took place clandestinely. But many who disagreed with the new government of Norway, made a symbolic resistance. Examples of this were people who wore paper clips on their coats, which signified unity against the Nazis. On the King’s birthday, people wore flowers in their buttonholes to sympathise with the royal house, which was against the new government. Wearing a Christmas elf’s red stocking cap signified that the owner was against Quisling and the Nazi regime in Norway. For a short while, wearing a red stocking cap was prohibited and those doing so could be arrested.

It was difficult for a public library to resist the decrees and rules they were subjected to.

Reidunn Johnsen and her colleagues complied with the Nazis’ new rules for public libraries.

Reidunn Johnsen and her colleagues at the Kristiansand public library did not openly work against the new regime, but did as they were asked by the Nazis and NS. They removed prohibited books from the shelves and stored them in sealed boxes in the attic. They accepted and exhibited the NS literature that was required to be promoted by libraries. But quietly, most librarians worked to counteract Norway’s new regime. Secretly they let trusted borrowers “steal” banned books and the borrowers kept these books until the war was over. In retrospect, this was known as patriotic book theft. Several librarians were also involved in other resistance work and many were arrested.

What happened to Reidunn Johnsen?

On 27 January1944, seven librarians in Kristiansand were arrested. Reidunn Johnsen was one of them. After 2-3 weeks, five of them were released, but library manager Reidunn Johnsen remained a prisoner in Grini prison camp until liberation. She was arrested for financially assisting the resistance movement. Her colleague, Margot Jacobsen, was arrested for the same thing. Margot was sent to a prison camp in Poland.

The Nazis never found out how the library manager and her colleagues worked against Norway’s new regime by protecting the banned book collections in the library.

After the war, Reidunn Johnsen told the newspaper Faedrelandsvennen:

“These books [the Nazi propaganda literature] have now been removed from the shelves and except for one single copy will be destroyed. We hope to establish a separate department somewhere in the basement for this propaganda literature. One or another historian may one day have use for them in the years to come. Besides, we cannot get rid of five years of literature.”