Prisoners in the camps were subjected to appalling conditions. Perhaps the greatest threat to POWs was sickness. Diseases such as diphtheria, tuberculosis, dropsy and pneumonia spread rapidly. Many also died from abuse and starvation.
Many of the camps in northern Norway were virtual death camps due to the lack of food. In July 1945, a burial site was found at Trondenes in Harstad with 1800 bodies. Of these, 609 had been shot and the rest had starved to death.
The pitiful food rations were not the only hardship the POWs had to contend with, as the Germans were not too interested in furnishing their prisoners with adequate clothing. The miserable conditions were like extra punishment in addition to their imprisonment. Sufficient clothing meant the difference between life and death for the Soviet POWs.
Many died in the quarry at Engeløya in Steigen, and the Germans often beat those prisoners who were too weak to work or disabled. «Death ruled everywhere,» says Viktor Petrasjevskyj. Hard labour, poor food and inhumane conditions ruined the prisoners’ health. Camp discipline was very strict and the smallest misconduct would be punished with 10 to 25 or even 50 lashes of the whip. Theft or an attempt to escape earned 50 lashes.