Front Fighters

Documentary film review

Geir Mæland
Films of Norway

If you have ever thought that Norway’s war history is interesting, then I suggest that you read through this and at the very least take a look at the series that this article is about.

We Norwegians seem to have an insatiable need for information about our own war history. Of course, it is an important part of our culture, past and present, but it is also something that the generations who experienced the war years chose not to talk about. Their experiences must have been so traumatic that they simply repressed them.

Another side of the same issue could be that much of what subsequently came to light about what happened during World War II was so shameful that it somehow becomes an “addendum” and in a way “too much.” An example is the way we treated the women who during the occupation period had romantic relationships with German soldiers. They were physically and mentally abused in a way one would not think possible. Their children were also ostracized and harassed in the worst way. “German youth” was a slur for generations in the post-war years.

Now it turns out that themes from Norwegian war history have become very popular again. The public flocks to cinemas and streams TV series because of their insatiable desire for more information and enlightenment. Part of the reason, I think, is because new, more or less unknown stories from the occupation period 1940 – 1945 are constantly appearing. They are stories that have not been told before and thus appear as “news” so many years later.

Last year alone, two new feature films and a TV documentary were launched with incredibly exciting and dramatic stories. Krigsseileren (War Sailor) and Kampen om Narvik (Narvik) can be seen in Norwegian movie theaters, and Last: Jøder (Last: Jews) is a documentary television series shown on NRK. I think that I will come back with mentions of all three on later occasions, but right now, I will talk about a chapter in Norwegian war history that has been “silenced to death.” It is the story of some 3,500 Norwegians who fought side by side with the Germans.

Of course, they were not fighting in Norway but went to the Eastern Front, the then Soviet Union, what is today Russia. In retrospect, many people ask why on earth they did not use their energy and will to fight against the Germans who occupied Norway instead of standing on the side of the Germans on the Eastern Front.

Front Kjemper, or Front Fighters (2021) provides answers to many of these questions.

Some of the men who enlisted in the service of the Germans were interviewed a few years ago for the series and were given free rein to tell their version of what happened.

“I chose to believe them,” some say. It seems credible enough. The series provides great dramatizations of scenes that took place in reality and give this documentary a kind of “feature film look,” which makes it feel very real.

Front Kjemper had a large viewership when it was shown on NRK. Afterward, there were a number of historians who stubbornly claimed that there were errors and omissions in the front fighters’ testimonies. I wonder if it is the historians who have read the history that we should blindly trust. Are they the ones sitting on the facts? Maybe they do to some extent, but one thing is certain as I see it: The historians were not there when it all happened and at the very least were not in the brains and hearts of those who were on the battlefield and experienced what the front fighters did.

It is certainly possible that those who were there adapted their truth to make it more palatable to the outside world. When watching historical films, I often ask myself how would I have reacted. What choices would I have made? In the clear light of posterity, with the final answer before us, it is easy to say, no, I would never have fallen in love with a German, I would never have become a Nazi, I would never have become a front fighter. It is said that the victor writes the history, and that often turns out to be true.

It’s worth taking a look at this series and then afterward reflecting on these topics. If there were a war where you live and your choices were to either remain passively occupied, become a Nazi, or the fight communism, what would you do? There were only these three options that the front fighters had.

Front Fighters is available for streaming at filmsofnorway.com.

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Geir Mæland

Geir Mæland is the founder and manager of Films of Norway, a Norwegian film-streaming service based in Stavanger, Norway.