Teachers of Norway: Event on Nonviolent Action

by Carly Alvarez | April 28, 2014

Picture of oratorio singers mid-song

On April 9, Boston College hosted a musical performance and panel discussion inspired by the Norwegian teacher’s resistance to the German occupation of Norway during World War II. Through noncooperation and defiance, determined teachers in Norway successfully blocked Nazi indoctrination of the Norwegian school system.

“Nowhere through all these discussions,” Hakon Holmboe, one of the resisting teachers, said, “did the idea of nonviolent resistance come in. Instead of an idea, it developed as a way to work- a way to do something.”

Professor Severyn Bruyn, a lifelong scholar of nonviolent struggle and professor at Boston College for over 30 years, planned and organized the event.

Dr. Bruyn was deeply moved by the success of the Norwegian teachers, particularly in their ability to defeat a notoriously brutal and violent opponent.  He composed an oratorio and wrote lyrics based on Dr. Gene Sharp’s interviews with key teachers in the struggle, which are recounted in the article Tyranny Could Not Quell Them.

The McGee Ensemble, consisting of four opera singers and one pianist, provided the audience with an emotional expression of courage and determination, closing the performance with the teacher’s victory.

“We defeated our invaders without killing them. We suffered but carried on to win a nonviolent war. We won back our freedom. We saved a lot of lives by civilian defense.”

The musical component to the event engaged and educated the audience on the teacher’s role in resistance prior to a panel discussion on the potential of nonviolent action.

“I thought that the libretto was an interesting and moving way to present the resistance of the Norwegian teachers. The music reflected both the anxious fear and intense determination of the resisters and their eventual triumph was presented with a soaring musical finish”, an audience member told us.


Our Executive Director, Jamila Raqib, joined Dr. Bruyn on the panel along with Mr. Pat Scanlon of Veterans for Peace and Boston College professors John Michalczyk and Lorenz Reibling.

Ms. Raqib emphasized the neglected role that nonviolent history has had in societies around the world.  “Nonviolent history is often ignored in favor of highlighting war and violence. Efforts like this performance today remind us that another history exists. It is our responsibility to recover that history and share it in various ways, including through the arts. An understanding of this history will allow current and future generations to learn from it and understand the great power they have in refusing to submit to injustice, oppression or tyranny”.

Professor Reibling currently teaches a class on German resistance against Nazi occupation and emphasized the need to study similar historical cases.

“For me it is a splendid example not only of nonviolence but also very effective resistance. My underlying belief is that principles are taught not so much by words but by acceptance. Meaning, if you accept forms of violence or certain forms of oppression or certain forms of abuse, that is what you teach. You teach the next generation, predominantly your children, by accepting certain things as immutable, as things that can’t be changed. In most cases in my opinion, nonviolent resistance is much more effective than violent resistance”, he said.

Boston College students were encouraged to attend the event, and many were previously unfamiliar with this example of applied nonviolent action. Two students who attended said the following:

“I believe the story was shocking, in that the resisters were ordinary citizens and they went through such trials, as well as awe-inspiring, in that it was such a grand-scale display of both the power of the human spirit and the duty educators feel towards the intellectual and moral growth of their students.”

“These teachers chose to resist the perversion of the children they were sworn to protect and, as a child of a teacher, I cannot think of a more noble nor impactful example. Had they yielded to the Nazi Regime, it would have left lasting effects on the Norwegian people for generations to come. This event brought much needed light to their struggle, resistance, and hard-fought triumph over the oppressive rule of the Nazis in Norway.”


Note: A video of the event will soon be made available on our website.