Book review: Defiant Courage

defiant courageBill Asplund
Wenatchee, Wash.

Here is an exciting story of escape and survival of one of Norway’s most profound commando of WWII.

The story begins in spring 1943, when a small fishing boat, disguised as being on a fishing trip, sails into peaceful Toftefjord, near Tromsø. The boat is carrying Norwegian saboteurs and supplies for their clandestine activities. They are intercepted by a Nazi Patrol boat and challenged. During the fight, several commandoes are killed outright, some are captured, but only one escapes—Jan Baalsrud.

This story describes how with the help of Norwegian people, Baalsrud, who is in constant danger, outwits the S.S. troops assigned to hunt and capture him. When reading this story, it would be most helpful following Jan Baalsrud’s escape using a detailed map of Troms.

During the gun battle in Toftefjord, Baalsrud is shot in his right foot. This does not stop Baalsrud. Wearing only one boot, he continues traveling for several days on snow-covered rugged mountains, braving snowstorms and surviving an avalanche.

When Baalsrud’s injuries progress to the point that he is unable to walk, the inhabitants of a small village of Manndal risk great mortal danger helping him. The men and women move him by sled (fjellpulk), under the darkness of night, to a 4,000-foot pass in the Kjerringdal Mountains above the village. Here he is hidden between rocks in a cave for several weeks before rescue.

Wrapped only in a sleeping bag and left alone for days at a time, Baalsrud’s ordeal lasted from the 25th of April to May 22. It is incredible how he masters enough courage and strength to survive. Jan is finally rescued by a group of Sami men with reindeer, who whisk him away to Sweden and safety while being violently pursued by armed Nazi S.S. ski troops.

Exciting story yes, indeed. This event is still remembered in Norway as one of the nation’s heroic tales of their famous freedom fighter. In the sixties, there was a movie produced about his escape, “Nine Lives.” I understand that “Nine Lives” was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign film.

This is a must-read book for anyone who enjoys reading true historical, well-researched stories of intrigue, suspense, and adventure.

This article originally appeared in the May 30, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.