‘Betrayed’: Norway’s Holocaust role, explored

Betrayed will be screened at the Haifa Cinematheque on December 23 and at the Holon Cinematheque on December 24. 

 A SCENE from ‘Betrayed.’  (photo credit: COURTESY SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT)
A SCENE from ‘Betrayed.’

A hot topic this year in Norway’s educational system is whether or not to teach kids about the Holocaust, said Eirik Svenssen, director of the Norwegian film Betrayed, during the fifth Nordic Film Festival being held this month at the Herzliya Cinematheque.

When it was released in 2020, the movie – one of the first to be created about Norway’s complicity and active participation in the Holocaust – caused quite a stir in this northern European country. Some Norwegians even recognized villainous characters on screen as their own family members. 

While many know Norway for having “resisted” Nazi power in World War II, what isn’t known is that 742 Jewish Norwegians were sent to Auschwitz and other death camps in Poland. Only 34 survived. 

Betrayed is based on the shocking 2015 book What Did the Resistance Know? by journalist Marte Michelet, who wrote about the decimation of the Norwegian Jewish community. Her book rocked the country. According to the film crew, as people began talking about their history, they discovered what roles their families had played in the country’s dark past. 

What is the film about?

The film follows the Braude family, a traditional but assimilated Jewish family in Oslo. One son is a famous boxer known for his strength, who wins in regional matchups. However, his celebrity status and skill didn’t keep him from being sent to the camps. The film is a dramatic but realistic representation of his life and ultimately his struggle to survive. 

Out of the 34 Norwegian Jews who survived, 21 returned to Norway. One man had a daughter, Rita Porat, who moved to Israel and was in the audience for the first in-person viewing of the film in Herzliya. She said that she considers the film a big breakthrough, exposing that it was in fact the Norwegians who were in charge who arrested Jews and managed concentration camps. Local taxi drivers even agreed to drive Jews to the port where they would be shipped to their deaths. 

“Israelis are always very surprised to hear from me that there was a Holocaust in Norway,” Porat said.

She first saw the film when it came out online during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was invited to the screening by the Embassy of Norway, which partnered with the Herzliya Cinematheque on the Nordic Film Festival. 

Director Svenssen, actor Nicolai Cleve Broch who played a Norwegian SS officer, and screenwriter Lars Gudmestad flew to Israel for the screening and were interviewed at the event by moderator and film critic Yael Shuv.

Before the film premiere, Svenssen visited Yad Vashem for the first time and then went to Bethlehem. He said it was an important day for him, revealing a “big contrast” in history and present-day politics in Israel.

“I know I can’t grasp the complexity of the situation, so I won’t even try to come with a quick fix or solution. But it really made an impression on me. Both the awful history of a lot of people here, but also the really demanding present day,” Svenssen said.

Norwegian Ambassador Kare Reidar Aas said the film was “excellent” and that it was an easy decision to bring the film to the Israeli festival. “We have different projects at the embassy in order to strengthen relations between Israel and Norway. One of the things we want to do is focus on the situation of Jews in Norway during World War II. This was a good opportunity to make that sort of moment here in Israel, by bringing the film here,” Reidar Aas said. 

Betrayed will be screened at the Haifa Cinematheque on December 23 and at the Holon Cinematheque on December 24.