Norway’s Fearless WWII Resistance Fighters

(Click here to read “Margit’s Secret Cave: Hiding French POWs in Norway.”)

(Click here to read “Heroes In Our Backyard.”)

NORWAY’S FEARLESS WWII RESISTANCE FIGHTERS

Written by C.E. Chambers (a pseudonym used by Diana Einarsen since 1999).  A portion of this article was published in Viking magazine (2003) which “reaches the largest Scandinavian-American audience in North America.”  Read more info. after the article.  If you copy my work, please include my byline and a link back to this website.

(Photo by Bernt Rostad at http://www.flickr.com/photos/brostad/2290845430/)

“De kjempet de falt.  De gav oss alt.” (They fought here and they fell.  They gave us everything.)
The inscription on a memorial  at Akershus Fortress in Oslo, Norway, to the brave WWII Resistance Fighters who were imprisoned and executed there by the Germans.

When war broke out in Europe in late 1939, the Norwegian government repeated a successful tactic from the First World War and declared neutrality.  Trade agreements secured with Germany and Great Britain in early 1940 were thought to be an additional protection against invaders, as was Norway’s military presence on its national borders and the close proximity of Britain’s naval power.

With utter surprise, then, did Norway find itself in the talons of the German eagle on April 9, 1940.  The massive Nazi invasion by land, sea, and air — the first of its kind in history — conquered eight strategic Norwegian cities within 24 hours.  Despite the support of British, French, and Polish allies, the brutal onslaught pushed King Haakon VII and his administration into exile within two months.  The wide-sweeping Nazification of Norway began in earnest.

Hitler’s well-planned invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940, caused chaos and death – but not demoralization.  The profound patriotism of the Norwegian people soared to only greater heights in the rubble of war, and a heroic Resistance Movement began almost immediately.  Hundreds of thousands were eventually involved in some sort of underground activity, and military and civilian arms of the Resistance sometimes worked in tandem with each other.  Clandestine operations were so successful that close family members were oftentimes unaware of each other’s involvement until after the war.

Milorg, an underground military organization that evolved into the national Hjemmestyrkere (Home Forces), was officially formed in May 1941 and was recognized by the exiled Norwegian government in November 1941.  By the end of the war in May 1945 it had “trained and supplied 40,000 soldiers” (read link).  XU, members of Milorg who split from the organization in 1941 as a precaution against detection by the German occupiers, worked closely with Allied forces.  “The existence of XU wasn’t made known to the general public until around 1980 ” (read link).

The KK (Coordination Committee) directed the civilian resistance and oversaw matters regarding the schools, churches, homes, and the prolific underground press.  Kretsen (The Circle) coordinated with the KK and addressed economic and political concerns via steady but clandestine contact with King Haakon VII and his leaders in London.

During the latter part of the war, the diverse underground organizations began to operate under a single umbrella known as The Leadership of the Resistance.  In addition, Norwegians were recruited and trained in Great Britain for the SIS (Special Intelligence Service) and the SOE (Special Operations Executive).  The SIS was the first organization to establish clandestine radio contact from Norway to Great Britain in June 1940.

Heroes continued to emerge in spite of threats of imprisonment and execution, and some are well-known even today: Gunnar Sønsteby, a daring and innovative Resistance Fighter who was awarded his country’s highest honors; Leif Hovelsen, who was victorious even after betrayal, torture and a death sentence; Knut Haukelid, a Norwegian-American who was one of the ten successful saboteurs of the heavy water plant at Telemark.

Untold others deserve recognition.  Kåre Haukland was a teenager-turned-Resistance Fighter whose badly-scarred body bore evidence of incarceration in Oslo’s infamous Grini prison and also as a prisoner of war in Germany.  Kolbjørn Varmann was a Lutheran minister who fearlessly denounced Hitler from his church’s pulpit and secretly spirited Jews to Sweden.  Knut and Haldis Einarsen fled for their lives on skis from Norway to Sweden after Knut disabled his family’s commercial ship to prevent its confiscation by Nazis.

Margit Varnes is another little-known Norwegian hero.  Seven-months pregnant, she regularly walked 30 minutes at night on a long, treacherous trail to feed four French POWs who had escaped from a German slave labor camp on the island of Otrøy.  They were  successfully hidden for six months in a massive cave.

Journalist C.E. Chambers interviewed Knut and Haldis Einarsen and Margit Varnes.  Their stories are shared on this website as “Heroes In Our Backyard” and “Margit’s Secret Cave: Hiding POWs in Dryna, Norway.”

Note: Tusen takk (a thousand thanks) to Arnfinn Moland, historian and researcher from the Norwegian Resistance Museum in Oslo, Norway, for his input in 2003.

(A portion of this article was published by the Sons of Norway Viking magazine in April 2003 as a sidebar to a biography of Margit Varnes that was titled “A Well-Kept Secret.”  The author added new material, reworked some other sections, and renamed it “Margit’s Secret Cave: Hiding POWs in Dryna, Norway” for inclusion on this website in May 2011.  It was published the same year by the Norwegian American Weekly. )

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Responses

  1. I found your article interesting, since my Grandfather served in the resistance. As a result of his service, he received two decorations (that I know of) from the Norweigian government.

    Is there an office or person within the government that I can contact for additional information about the resistance, awards to its members, maybe even a mention of my Grandfather’s name?

    Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration.

  2. […] chemistry student at the University of Oslo. Østvedt wasted no time in becoming involved in the Norwegian resistance, first by writing, editing, and distributing an underground, illegal newspaper and later by […]

  3. I was born in Sandefjord shortly after the invasion. My mother worked in the Norsk underground. She would visit her OBYGN with my sister in a baby buggy. During the “check up” she would get the latest news, slip the notes into he shoe, and take my sister to the baby doctor where she would deliver the news to the doctor who produced the underground newspaper. My father was the block watchman who had to walk around to make sure all the blackout curtains were pulled down when the air raid sirens went off. The rest of us went into the basement bomb shelter

    We lived next door to a man who had been my father’s friend before the war. Because he joined the Quisling party I was not allowed to go next door and play with the boy my age. This man was a sergeant in the the Norwegian National Police Force whose job was to take lists of escaped Jews (criminals according to the lists) to the Swedish border and ask that the named criminals be returned. Sometimes the Swedes would comply. I found this out in a book on the Holocaust in Norway that I read in 1997.

    Of course, not all of the Germans were bad. One German soldier saved my dad’s life when he was stopped at a check point. He complained to my father about the war and being away from his family. This is not what he signed up for when he had voted for Hitler. The guard had figured out that my father was smuggling food from the family farm to our home. (Food was rationed and extra eggs and butter were needed when my mother was pregnant.) When the Gestapo turned up and demanded to search him, the guard lied and said that he had already searched my father and he was clean to go. Under his breath he told my father not to come back for several weeks.

    Kjell Agnar Johansen
    Whitefish Bay, WI 53217.

    • Takk for your fascinating story. My website has been inactive for a while and only recently have I been able to work on it again. You might want to read “Heroes In Our Backyard”: My father-in-law was a Resistance fighter in Norway. He lives in the Seattle area and was honored on Jan. 22, 2015 by the Commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces Veterans Center who sent a delegate here to present him with a specially designed double-sided coin, etc. A Norwegian documentary filmmaker recorded this and also the dramatized reading of a new play that followed. This documentary will be shown on Norwegian television (and possibly on the internet) by May 2015 — which is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Norway from the brutal Nazi occupiers. Continue to read updates at “Heroes In Our Backyard” (about Knut & Haldis Einarsen) for more details.

    • My grandpa was in the Norwegian resistance, imprisoned in the concentration camp and rescued by fellow Norwegian men. My father was a young teenager. Dad said the same thing that a lot of Germans were nice to them. Lots of scary stories though of being searched, them occupying their family farm (and not burning it down like they did so many). We put together a family book with lots of stories before my father passed two years ago. We are blessed in America to not have that fighting in our home towns!

  4. Your article is brilliant, my late husband was in the Norwegian Resistance and I would love to find out more details. Where do I go to find more information, do hope you can help.

  5. […] Norway’s Fearless WWII Resistance Fighters […]

  6. My father, mother, sister and myself lived in Oslo at Lokkeveien 5, passed the war in that city. it was horrible. My father woked at Mustad & son and with difficluties sustaind us. On a day the resistence exploded a ship with amunitions, it was horrible and we wher evacueted from our home due to the explotion but gladly at the next day could goe home. My sister lost a girlfrien when a apartment bulding was bombed. The ocupartion was dificul and bad no fud and so on. At the end 1945 oct we came to Brazil.
    George Prahl

    • Takk for sharing your experiences. This is very compelling history and should not be forgotten. Read “Heroes In Our Backyard”: It’s about Knut & Haldis Einarsen who defied the Nazis…and there are fascinating updates. For example, on Jan. 22, 2015, a Norwegian documentary filmmaker recorded a very special honor bestowed upon Knut at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, Washington. A combat veteran, at the behest of the Commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces Veterans Center, paid tribute to Knut’s work as a Resistance fighter in Norway during WWII and presented him with a specially designed double-sided coin. The finished documentary will be shown on Norwegian TV (and possibly on the internet) by May 8, 2015 which is the 70th anniversary of the liberation from the Nazi occupiers. It will also include footage of a new play, “The Epiphany,” inspired by the very challenging experiences of people like you who lived in Nazi-occupied Norway. (By the way, I lived for a while on Lybekkveien in Oslo in the early 1970s.)

  7. My 2nd cousin was John Hatland who was with Milorg and loaned to Max Manus. He was one of the three men caught and executed at Akershus Castle in Oslo. I have a poem he wrote while waiting for execution that supposedly received wide circulation after the war. There were cousins of mine that still kept their weapons from World War II under the floor boards in their house. My great grandfather was Gustav Marius Rud who was the business manager for Proviateringraadet in charge of the rationing of goods.

  8. We were in Oslo for 5 days in July. I intended visiting the Norweigan Resistance Museum but ran out of time and energy (age 68). Therefore, I really appreciate the information provided in this site. In fact, I may look into purchasing a book on the subject.

  9. My grandfather was in the Norwegian underground in the 1940’s and was in the concentration camp twice, got dissentary and his buddies broke him out. My father was a teenager then. Lots of stories that we have written down, one of which is when the Germans occupied their family farm in Jevnaker. God Bless all those fearless men who fought to protect their country.


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