King commemorates WWII liberation of Finnmark

Dignitaries gather in northern Norway to remember the Red Army driving back Nazi troops 70 years ago

Photo: Wikimedia Commons The Royal family on their return from England six months after the liberation of Kirkenes. HRH King Harald V is on the far left.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Royal family on their return from England six months after the liberation of Kirkenes. HRH King Harald V is on the far left.

Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

Soviet troops crossed the border into Norway on October 18, 1944. This was 11 days after starting their counter-offensive (the Petsamo-Kirkenes Offensive) against the Wehrmacht in the Arctic region’s northern Finland.

Nazi Germany’s troops’ strongpoint was 70 kilometers (about 43 miles) north of Russia’s Murmansk. They were pushed back into Norway from Petsamo (now Pechenga).

Kirkenes was liberated on October 25. It was the first Norwegian town freed from the German occupation of Norway. This happened over six months prior to the end of the Second World War in Europe.

Three days later, on October 28, Adolf Hitler ordered the southwards evacuation of the population of Finnmark and Troms County’s northern parts. While this operation involved some 75,000 people, one-third of them hid in hillside huts and caves after refusing to follow the order.

Retreating Wehrmacht troops employed scorched earth tactics during the evacuation, rendering everything the Red Army could use useless. This included the town of Kirkenes where some 30,000 Nazi Germany troops were originally stationed.

According to Saturday’s 70 years’ commemoration program, HRH King Harald V will be attending a wreath-laying ceremony at Krigsmødremonument—dedicated to wartime mothers’ efforts for their children and home—in Kirkenes’s main square.

Among others scheduled to attend are Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende, and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. One minute’s silence will be held as part of the ceremony, followed by playing of the Russian and Norwegian National Anthems.

Both Foreign Ministers will lay a wreath at Russemonumentet. This is a monument to the Red Army soldiers who liberated the Sør-Varanger area in the autumn of October 1944, following the four-year occupation by Nazi Germany soldiers.

The afternoon sees the preservation ceremony of Rørbua and the Bjørnevatn tunellen. Rørbua was originally a bathhouse for workers employed by nearby mining company A/S Sydvaranger (now, Sydvaranger Gruve AS), which mined iron ore. The modern-day company was established in 2007, and is owned by the Tschudi Group.

Felix Tschudi, chairman of the board of Tschudi Shipping, is one of the people who will receive the diplomats and officials.

Bjørnevatn tunnelen (also known as 1944-tunnelen) is located about 50 meters (some 164 feet) from Rørbua. Up to 3,500 people hid in the tunnel during the battles between Nazi German and Soviet Red Army troops in Sør-Varanger.

Many people began to come into the tunnel around October 14. People settled in places on makeshift wooden floors, and had their pets, winter clothing, and other things they needed with them. They did not know how long they were going to stay there while the battles raged outside.

At 2:15 one morning, four Red Army soldiers stood at the mouth of the tunnel. They told the people in the tunnel to “raise the Norwegian flag—you’re free.” Ten children were born in Bjørnevatn tunnel.

Saturday, October 25, 2014, will see HRH King Harald V and Prime Minister Solberg meet five of those born in the tunnel under the Second World War, according to the official program.

They will also meet people including witnesses from that period, and some young descendants of those who stayed in the tunnel. Moreover, dinner for everyone who stayed in the tunnel will be arranged.

Sources: The Royal Palace, Norwegian Government, Norwegian Parliament, The Foreigner, Wikipedia.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Oct. 31, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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