Soviet POWs. Saltfjellet 1945. Owner of photo: National Archives of Norway.
The Non-Aggression Pact and war
On 23 August 1939, Stalin and Hitler sign a non-aggression pact, also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. The pact makes it possible for Stalin to gain control of new areas west of the Soviet Union. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia are included in the Soviet Union. In addition, Germany and Soviet agree to divide Poland between them.
On 1 September, Germany invades Poland. Great Britain and France respond by declaring war on Germany. Soviet troops occupy eastern Poland.
Norway is occupied
In 1940 Germany invades the countries Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and France. In Norway the occupation force sets democracy aside, and introduces Nazi laws and courts. The Norwegian Nazi party, under Vidkun Quisling’s leadership, becomes the only legal political party in the country. Prisons and camps for political prisoners are established in Norway.
On 22 June 1941, Hitler launches Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. According to Hitler, the invasion has four goals: First, to exterminate the “Jewish Bolshevik” leaders in the Soviet Union. Second, to subjugate the Slav population. Third, to acquire areas for colonisation, so that Germans can settle down in the best parts of Russia. Fourth and last, to have a self-governing ”Großraum” Continental Europe with Germany as the ruler.
The first Soviet prisoners of war are sent to Norway.
Soviet soldiers and civilians are taken prisoners
A large number of Soviet soldiers are captured on the Eastern Front during the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. An unknown number of civilians are also taken as prisoners by German forces. The war leads to huge loss of life. Before February 1942 more than 2 million Soviet prisoners of war die from malnutrition and typhoid, or are murdered by German Einsatz groups.
Germany further develops plans for how to use the prisoners of war as labourers. The number of PoWs sent to Norway increases dramatically.
Germany loses the Battle of Stalingrad. This marks a turning-point of the Second World War. In Norway the German occupation force starts building the railway line between northern Norway and central Norway, a line known as Nordlandsbanen. Soviet prisoners of war are used as slave labourers. By the end of 1943, more than 50,000 Soviet prisoners of war are sent to Norway.
The Red Army advances into Norway
In October 1944 the Red Army breaks through German lines by the Norwegian border and advances into Norway’s northern-most county, Finnmark. The German occupiers retreat further south. On their way they destroy buildings and infrastructure that may be of use to the Red Army. Prisoners from the camps in northern Norway are evacuated with the civilian population.
The war is over
On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler commits suicide and the Soviet Union takes control of Berlin. On 8 May, Norway is liberated. On 9 May, the last German forces surrender. The war is over.
During the war years, 100,000 Soviet prisoners of war and civilian forced labourers have been sent to Norway. 13,700 of them died on Norwegian soil. About 2000 managed to escape across the border to Sweden.
At the time of liberation in Norway, about 84,000 Soviet PoWs are sent home after several years of captivity in Norway. A few hide to avoid being sent back. They remain in Norway after the war.