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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Encouraging words as Utøya memorials loom

Just a few hundred meters away from the scene of Norway’s worst attacks since World War II is a well-preserved message from the war itself. The message may encourage those venturing towards the island of Utøya, either during the first anniversary this weekend of last summer’s terrorist attacks on the island, or anytime. 

The "Vi Vil Vinne" (We Will Win) war memorial is located just 200 meters from a makeshift memorial to the victims of the massacre on the island of Utøya last year, and uncannily relevant as Norwegians recover from the tragedy. Various memorial events will be held this weekend, tied to the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on July 22, 2011. PHOTO: Views and News

Motorists driving north on the narrow road along the Tyrifjord known as Ringeriksveien, just under and paralleling the E16 highway, will encounter the message on the way to Utvika and the mainland dock for Utøya. It amounts to three words painted on the asphalt in the middle of the road: Vi Vil Vinne (We Will Win), with emphasis on the capital “Vs” for victory.

They were first painted, illegally, by three young men from Oslo in 1941, a year after Norway was invaded by Nazi Germany. The trio – brothers Henrik and Frans Aubert and their friend Egil Breen –  unwittingly or not thus created an important symbol for the Norwegian resistance movement (Hjemmefronten, the home front) as they battled Nazi forces.

A smuggled photo of the original words was used for an historic stamp from the war era. PHOTO: Views and News

A photo of the illegal and daring message was taken by another young Norwegian and friend of the three men, Carl Dihle, before wartime authorities removed it. According to the historical society for the local municipality of Hole (Hole historielag), Dihle’s film was smuggled out of Norway to Stockholm and then to London, where Norwegian royalty and the government were in exile. It eventually was used in an historic series of stamps engraved at the time to portray resistance efforts during the war.

Today, more than 70 years later, the words vi vil vinne, or variations of them, have been used frequently in public response to the terrorist attacks of July 22, 2011. “Det er vi som vinner (It’s we who win),” declared folk singer Lillebjørn Nilsen to an audience of around 40,000 Norwegians who gathered in pouring rain two months ago to sing his version of Children of the Rainbow and demonstrate their disgust for the terrorist who’d ridiculed the song and killed so many because he opposes immigration and multi-culturalism. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and many other political leaders have also claimed the Norwegian people must win over the forces of evil, and resist all forms of racism and intolerance. Countless others have noted how Norway mustn’t let terrorism win.

The terrorist of July 22, 2011 has consistently promoted many of the ideals of the Nazis in Norway in 1941, making the words of the resistance at that time uncannily relevant to those of the post-July 22 generation. It’s a twist of fate that they’re located so close to the scene of the assault not only on Stoltenberg’s Labour Party and government, but on Norway’s democracy and values last year. Various events marking the first anniversary of the attacks, with memorials to their victims, will be held all over Norway this weekend.

After being scrubbed out by Nazi forces, the words Vi ViL ViNNE were restored by officials of Hole Kommune in 2001, on the 60th anniversary of their initial emergence. Of the original four men who memorialized the message, only photographer Carl Dihle, 93 years old at the time, could attend their authorized re-emergence.

Breen, who made it to London during the war and later became police chief in Fjordane, died in 1999.  Henrik Aubert, who was arrested during the war but survived, died in 1973. Aubert’s younger brother Frans, also arrested a year before the war ended for his resistance and refugee efforts, was executed at Akershus Fortress in Oslo on February 9, 1945, just three months before the Germans surrendered and Norway was liberated.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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