A museum manager in northern Norway fears that the worst massacre to occur on Norwegian soil during World War II has been consciously suppressed, because Norwegians themselves took part in it. Now he’s leading an effort to cast new light on the massacre at a Nazi death camp in Beisfjord.
“This is a part of our war history,” Ulf Erik Torgersen of the War Memorial Museum (Krigsminnemuseet) in Narvik told newspaper Aftenposten . “Events at the camp were kept quiet. Norwegians who wanted to help its prisoners were threatened to stay away.”
The camp where the atrocities occurred was located at Beisfjord, 13 kilometers south of Narvik. Its victims were mostly Yugoslavian men aged 14 to 22, who had been brought to Norway by ship after being arrested for fighting against Hitler and Nazi Germany.
Around 900 of them arrived at Narvik on June 24, 1942, according to Aftenposten . They were taken to the camp, from which they’d be ordered to build a railroad, barracks in northern Norway and roads, including what later became the E6 highway over Saltfjellet.
The camp at Beisfjord “was an extermination camp on Norwegian soil, similar to those in Germany and Poland,” Svein Tore Aspelund of the Northern Norwegian Peace Center (Nordnorsk Fredssenter) in Narvik, told Aftenposten .
On the evening of July 17, 1942, prisoners considered healthy were herded out of the camp. The others, 288 men, were ordered to stand in rows of 20 in front of freshly dug trenches. Then they were shot. One group of prisoners refused to leave their barracks. They were set on fire. Those jumping out of windows were shot. All 288 men were killed in the course of the night.
Survivors were barely fed and worked to death, researchers believe. After four months, fully 748 of the 900 Yugoslavians had died. They were replaced by Soviet prisoners arrested by the Nazis.
The museum and the peace center now want to probe the role played by Norwegians at the camp, the so-called hirdmenn who supported Vidkun Quisling and German occupiers. Aspelund thinks it’s ironic that Norwegian schoolchildren today travel to Poland to learn about atrocities at Auschwitz, without learning that similar atrocities occurred in Norway as well.
Norwegian war history ‘is more than the resistance heroes’
Mass graves were opened at Beisfjord after the war, and the dead were reburied at cemeteries in Narvik and Tjøtta. A memorial was placed at the site of the camp in the 1950s, but it’s poorly marked and offers little information about what happened on land where a football field was later placed.
Torgersen and Aspelund are determined to raise public awareness of the massacre. “We plan more research into this part of our war history,” Torgersen said, adding that there also are plans to build a national memorial at Beisfjord. “Our war history is more than the resistance heroes. It’s about time Norwegians’ roles as guards at German extermination camps also became known.”