OSLO Norway apologised for the first time on Friday for the country's complicity in the deportation and deaths of Jews during the Nazi occupation in World War Two.
"Norwegians carried out the arrests; Norwegians drove the trucks and it happened in Norway," Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said. "Today I feel it is fitting to express our deepest apologies that this could happen on Norwegian soil."
"It is time for us to acknowledge that Norwegian policemen, civil servants and other Norwegians took part in the arrest and deportation of Jews," he said in a speech marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Vidkun Quisling, the country's leader during the occupation whose name has become synonymous with traitor, ordered Norway's 2,100 Jews registered in 1942. More than a third were deported to death camps, while others fled to neighbouring Sweden.
"I regret to say that the ideas that led to the Holocaust are still very much alive today, 70 years later," Stoltenberg said. "All over the world we see that individuals and groups are spreading intolerance and fear."
In 1998 Norway acknowledged the state's role in the Holocaust and paid some $60 million to Norwegian Jews and Jewish organisations in compensation for property seized.
The payout fell short of a full apology but prompted national soul-searching that laid the ground for Friday's speech, said historian Bjarte Bruland.
"Until that time, Norwegians considered that only Germans were responsible," Bruland, the chief curator at the Oslo Jewish Museum, told Reuters.
"Norway acted similarly to Vichy France in that they implemented their own anti-Jewish laws, used their own manpower, confiscated property and discriminated against Jews before the Germans had demanded it," said Paul Levine, a history professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. "Norway didn't have to do what it did."
Levine said Norway's apology was "inappropriately" late.
French President Jacques Chirac apologised in 1995 for his country's complicity in the Holocaust.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald)