After being subjected to vandalism and even theft, a bronze statue of wartime resistance hero Gunnar Sønsteby has been repaired and relocated, to a new spot that’s more historically significant as well. Meanwhile, a new prize has been set up in memory of Sønsteby, who died in May 2012 at the age of 94.
The statue, created by the late artist Per Ung, was unveiled in 2007 and mounted at Solli Plass in Oslo’s Frogner district, almost directly behind an earlier statue of another wartime hero, Winston Churchill. The site at Solli Plass, however, is also now used for a large outdoor party sponsored by a local bar on Norway’s Constitution Day, May 17th, and last year some partying Norwegians apparently got a bit carried away around the statue, which depicts a young Sønsteby with his ubiquitous bicycle. Its front wheel apparently got broken off in the revelry, and then disappeared.
The wheel was recovered, but just two weeks later, the entire statue was found broken and lying on its side at Solli Plass. Police initially suspected vandalism, but an embarrassed young mother later admitted that her four-year-old son had climbed onto the statue, and knocked it over.
At that point, Mayor Fabian Stang, in agreement with sculptor Ung just before he died, decided that the Sønsteby statue needed a new home in a more secure location. It was unveiled once again over the weekend, on what would have been Sønsteby’s 96th birthday on January 11, across from the University of Oslo’s downtown campus on Karl Johans Gate.
The location is where an historic photo taken on April 9, 1940 shows Sønsteby as a young man with his bicycle, standing and watching as German soldiers marched through Oslo after invading Norway. That’s also when the mild-mannered young Sønsteby decided to launch into resistance efforts during the German occupation of World War II. He went on to become one of Norway’s wartime heroes, for his myriad sabotage operations that frustrated the Nazi German forces until their surrender five years later.
On the same day, reported newspaper Aftenposten, friends and colleagues of Sønsteby announced the accumulation of NOK 4 million, and a goal of NOK 10 million, to fund a new prize for a person or organization that works in the spirit of Sønsteby, to promote peace and democracy.
Erling Lorentzen, another wartime hero who married the late Princess Ragnhild, wealthy businessman Hans Herman Horn and a foundation set up by shipbroker Inge Steensland have contributed seed capital for the prize project.