Earlier this month, a book written by Randi Crott, with her mother Lillian Crott Berthung, was published in Norwegian. The original German title of the book is “Erzähl es niemandem!” In Norwegian, “Ikke si det til noen!” that in English reads, “Don’t tell anyone!” The main author is a German journalist, who tells the story of her mother who is now 91 years old. Her husband, Helmut Crott, was a German soldier in Norway during World War II and Lillian became his fiancée and after the war, his wife. Many people in the small north Norwegian town of Harstad either knew or were suspicious about their secret love affair. Even after the war, a part of Helmut’s identity was kept secret in his homeland.

In Norway, Lillian’s best friend, the ‘kind aunt’ and other relatives did not want to admit the truth - that two young people had fallen in love, in spite of what was socially and politically acceptable. The Norwegians were all against it; and the Germans did not encourage it.

Helmut’s deepest secret was that he was of mixed Jewish background, which was only revealed when his daughter had grown into a woman. Then there were many ex-Nazi sympathisers in high posts and it was safer not to tell anyone about his background. Had it been discovered during the war, he would have been sent home and liquidated.

After the war, when Lillian finally was allowed to travel to Germany, the Norwegian state cancelled her nationality and she acquired a German passport. In the first years after the war, the border with Norway was sealed for visitors from Germany. It took the couple two years to locate each other. They then married in 1948 and in 1951, their daughter Randi was born. Over the years, the family visited Norway almost every summer and restrictions died off in the late 1950s. Today, relations between the two countries are excellent.

Crott passed away four years ago and was buried in Norway. After all, that is where they met and that is where they want their final resting place to be.  Gone are the days when people in Harstad spat at the “tyskertoes”, or the German soldier’s tart, as people said in despise. There was, indeed, injustice and cruel treatment of innocent people, as I will explain below – even in Norway, a land where human rights are held high; and the land where the United Nations found its first Secretary General from 1946-52, namely Trygve Lie.

In my columns, I write about issues of relevance to Pakistani readers, and often I refer to issues in the other country I know well - i.e. Norway. Readers may think that that land is the closest you can come to ‘heaven on earth’. Today’s story, however, reveals that that is not the case in all matters.

True, Norway’s economy is good, with good systems for redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor segments of the population. The education and health systems are excellent. The justice system is among the best in the world, with fair and humane treatment of everyone, irrespective of who one is, how one lives and what one believes about religious or secular issues.  All this lies deep in the minds and hearts of the people and the institutions in Norway and the neighbouring Nordic countries - as it does in other countries.

But it was not always like that. There are black spots even in Norway’s recent history, scarlet stains on our conscience and our reputation. The story about Lillian shows that a young woman and man, who by chance fell in love, were treated badly during the war when Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany from 1940-45. Even the children born to such mothers were treated badly and kept socially apart, even ostracised throughout their childhood into adulthood.

It can be useful to know the sad Norwegian war history - especially for the five million Norwegians themselves and hundred thousand immigrants in the land today, including almost forty thousand of Pakistani background. It can be useful to reflect on this ‘history of intolerance’ in Norway for people in Pakistan and in other countries, where there is still a long way to go to reach equality and justice for all; and where countries like Norway often point a finger when human rights abuses occur and when there is lack of equality, freedom and justice.

Nevertheless, it is good to know then that at the bottom, intuitively, if we are not swayed by political, social and even religious intolerance, human beings everywhere know what is right and what is wrong. Ordinary Pakistanis know what is right, as do ordinary Norwegians.

But sometimes, like during the war in Norway, people tend to ‘forget’. Currently, the American state and many other countries forget what is ethically and morally right in the war on terror - and I fear, even in Syria if bombs will be used there. In Pakistan, sometimes religious groups interpret blasphemy and other concepts and laws, especially against women, in ways that are not in line with God’s word. Sometimes, however, we get so used to certain forms of injustice that we no longer, intuitively too, distinguish between right and wrong.

For instance, it was easy for Norwegian women to develop friendships with German soldiers during the war. But they were victimised more than private businessmen, who carried out work for the occupying forces. There were up to three hundred thousand German soldiers and administrators in Norway during the war in a land, which had just about three million inhabitants at that time. About one-tenth of the Norwegians were members of the Nazi Party (NS) and many more were sympathisers. In areas with high numbers of young German soldiers, it was inevitable that some Norwegian girls would fancy them, maybe even feeling sorry for them having to stay in a foreign land for years.

I was born the same year, as the author of the above-mentioned book. My father had been active in the resistance movement and was held at the Nazi-prison at Grini in Oslo during the last year of the war. Despite this, he never spoke a bad word about the Germans, thus I had the privilege of growing up in a tolerant home. When I, in 1967, went to Germany for language studies, my parents were very supportive.

I should remind myself, though, that no one can take credit or be blamed for his or her background, whether positive or negative. It is inexplicable that so many Norwegians were so hard on Norwegian girls, who, according to them, had ‘stepped wrong’ and, indeed, the way children were treated. As late as in the mid-1970s, I remember that a fellow student was pushed out of the university course we were taking just because some ‘righteous’ students suspected that his parents had sympathised with the Nazis during the war. Such intolerance is intolerable!

I am glad that the book, “Don’t tell anyone”, has been published in Norway and, even more, that it has become an instant bestseller. That shows that we are finally able to reflect on injustice in our near past. It comes too late for the victims. Yet, it gives me renewed hope and trust in my fellow human beings. May we all draw the lessons from this piece of history that are relevant to us in the land and community where we live.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.