Norway has a much shorter Jewish history than most other European countries. The Constitution banned Jews from entering the realm, a ban that was lifted in 1851.
Allowing Jews entry to Norway did not lead to an influx of Jewish immigrants – in 1879, only 24 Jews lived in Norway, most of whom came from Denmark and Germany. This number climbed somewhat from 1880–1920, as individuals and families emigrated from the Baltic areas of Czarist Russia, primarily from what is today Lithuania, as well as from northern Poland. Some 2.5 million Jews left Russia during this time; around 1200 made their way to Norway.
A larger group of Jews from the Eastern European immigrant wave settled in the areas in Oslo’s “eastside”. A vibrant Jewish community took root, and several small congregations were founded. Yiddish was commonly spoken, and a wide range of Jewish associations and cultural activities were established. Some immigrants brought trades and handicraft traditions from their former homelands, but many started to earn their living as peddlers all over the country. A Jewish community emerged in Trondheim, in Central Norway, building a synagogue there. Gradually the Jewish population, although small, spread throughout the country, from north to south, to smaller towns and villages.
The Jewish people who settled in Norway quickly integrated into Norwegian occupational, social and cultural spheres, while at the same time maintaining their own religious and cultural traditions. Their numbers remained small, however. In 1940, the year Nazi Germany marched into Norway, the country’s Jewish population was among the smallest in Europe, in both percentage and absolute numbers. It is estimated that just over 2,100 Jews lived in Norway at that time.
Like in other countries of occupied Europe, the Germans sought to exterminate Norway’s Jewish minority.
In the autumn of 1942, assisted by the Norwegian police, they deported Norwegian Jews to the concentration and death camp at Auschwitz. All in all, 772 individuals of Jewish descent were deported from Norway during WWII. Only 34 survived.
More than 1,100 Jews had managed to escape across the Swedish border and avoided deportation. Following the end of the war, the majority of them returned to Norway and started the painful reestablishment of a community that had been decimated.
Today, the Jewish community of Norway numbers an estimated 1300 people. It is more diverse than it was 100 years ago, as it comprises both Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi and converted Jews. Two synagogues are still active, one in Trondheim and one in Oslo. Both cities are also home to several Jewish cultural initiatives, such as Jewish museums and cultural festivals.