Gunnar Sønsteby is dead

Gunnar Sønsteby in 2008. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gunnar Sønsteby was one of Norway’s greatest heros of World War II. He was awarded the War Cross with three swords in 1946, making him Norway’s most highly decorated person.

Sønsteby was known for his extraordinary work as a Norwegian resistance fighter during World War II. He took part in many tremendous acts of sabotage against the Nazis in Norway, including smuggling printing plates to England to produce Norwegian coins, blowing up the office for Norwegian Forced Labour, the theft of 75,000 rations books, destroying or seriously damaging over 40 aircraft, and otherwise making life very difficult indeed for the German invaders of Norway.

“It was an attack on democracy from a foreign nation; especially when we knew that this was a terrible Nazi domination. It was hard to believe,” Sønsteby said about the April 9, 1940, when the Germans invaded Norway.

Sønsteby was at the top of the Gestapo’s most-wanted list in Norway, but the Nazis never managed to catch him; he used over 30 different aliases, including “Number 24” “Kjakan” and “Erling Fjeld.” The Germans didn’t even know his real name until after the war. For the last six months of the war, he carried hand grenades with him at all times, determined to kill himself if the Nazis were to capture him. “I was never scared. I didn’t feel that I was tough, but did not think I would survive,” he told NRK.

But he did survive, and in the years after the war has been a supporter of Norwegian defense and and foreign policy. He also spent much time at the Norwegian Home Front Museum at Akershus Fortress, helping with the collection of World War II history. In 2006, he was awarded the Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav for his work with war history. He remained a presence at the museum, at least once a week, until recently.

“He has had a long and rich life and meant a lot to many people, including the royal family,” HM King Harald said in a recent statement. “Our thoughts go out, of course, to his family.”

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