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The Falstad Memorial: An introduction
"Over 5000 prisoners were incarcerated in Falstad prison camp from 1941 to 1945. Jews from the middle region of Norway were gathered here in 1942 before they were sent onwards to concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
At least 200 prisoners were executed in the Falstad Forest.
In the summer of 1945, all known graves in the forest were opened. The dead were, if possible, exhumed and identified. Most of the Norwegians were buried in their home towns. The executed from the town of Grane in Northern Norway were buried in Nidarosdomen Cathedral in Trondheim.
Russians and Yugoslavians were buried in war cemeteries in Trondheim.
The memorial site at Falstad includes the museum, the monument and the site in the forest."
War in Europe
The Occupation of Norway
In April, 1940, Norway was occupied by Germany. Schools, healthcare, politics, the police – the whole society became Nazified. Falstad was turned into a prison, and it kept political Norwegian prisoners and Norwegian Jews.
Life during the occupation
Antisemitism in Norway
“We did not invite the Jews to this country, and we have no obligation to obtain animals for them to use in their religious orgies.”
Member of Parliament Jens Hundseid, 1929, in the public debate regarding the Jewish butchering method "Schächtning". Hundseid would go on to become Prime Minister of Norway three years later.
While opinions like these were not commonplace in Norway during the period, they did exist in certain political circles. Hundseid would later go on to join Vidkun Quisling's "Nasjonal Samling" (National Gathering) in 1940, the party that functioned as the political face of the German military occupation of Norway. After the war he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for treason, but was pardoned in 1949.
The prisoners had specific symbols on their uniforms that identified what type of prisoners they were (mainly reason for why they were there and nationality) to be able to control them.
Julius Paltiel was a Norwegian Jew from Trondheim who was sent to Falstad. In October 1942 he, and all other Jewish boys and men from Trondheim over the age of 15, were arrested and sent to Falstad. He was a prisoner there for around a month before being sent to Oslo, and from there to Auschwitz. Though his time at Falstad was brief, it was no less traumatic. He is in a video at the museum, where he talked about his time at Falstad. In this video he told a story about an incident where the Jews were in the courtyard. They were forced by the camp guards to crawl on their knees across the space, pick up every single leaf on the ground with their mouths and gather them in a pile. When they were done, the guards laughed and kicked the pile of leaves and they had to go through the humiliating process all over again.
Women in the camp
We just missed an exhibition that shows the lives of women in the camp. From August 1942, the prison camp had a special section for female prisoners. The majority were hostages or in opposition to the Nazi Regime. They were at first isolated from the rest of the camp in a separate part in the main building, but eventually they were assigned to different tasks in the kitchen, the laundry room in the cellar and in the tailor workshop. It was here contact with the male prisoners could occur. As far as we know, no women were executed in the camp.
Picture of Falstad prison camp just after the liberation of Norway, taken on the 12th of May.
The executions took place in the forest nearby the camp. The guards dug holes where there was moss, shot several prisoners and threw the bodies into the holes. Because of the moss, it would almost be impossible to see where the holes had been dug, and a forest is always changing and will never look the same from time to time. 200 people were executed at Falstad, but less than half of the bodies are found. Some of the bodies were dug up, left on a boat that was sent out in the fjord nearby to be blown up. There have been several attempts to find the boat, but no one has succeeded.
The Forest Memorial Grounds
Prison camps in Norway
After the invasion on the 9th of April 1940, the Norwegian Government eventually fled to exile from London. While under occupation, Norway eventually ended up being ruled by a combination of a German administration and a Norwegian government run by NS (Nasjonal Samling - National Unification) the Norwegian Nazi party with Vidkun Quisling as Minister President.
After this, the name "Quisling" becomes synonymous with "traitor".
The exterior of the Falstad prison building
The new interior - quite cozy!
"The trip to Falstad was a reminder of how close the war came to our local area, and to the atrocities that were being made in an area we now consider peaceful and natural. It is hard to think about the fear and uncertainty people had to live under in this period, not knowing what might happen and who the they might take. For my part, the trip to Falstad brought a familial aspect in to it. My grandfather was a prisoner at Falstad, accused of being in the resistance. He was there for about a year, before he was sent to Grini, and finally down to Poland at the end of the war. He lived through the war, but was marked for life. There is a huge importance in preserving the history of Falstad, and the war in general, in order to learn and reflect on the evils of the past which help the world move forward." - Ola
Thoughts and impressions
"The things that made the biggest impression on me at the Falstad Centre were the mass graves and the museum.
Outside in the forest, it gave me chills to see that clearly visible grave, knowing there were several more graves that could not be seen all over the forest. For all we knew, we might have walked right over some of the undiscovered ones. At that moment, the hundreds of people buried there seemed like an unfathomable number, though it drowns in the millions that were actually killed during the holocaust on the continent.
The final part of the trip was downstairs in the museum, where I especially remember the tiny chamber next to the cells that was used for torture. The description there said that prisoners were put in it for days in complete darkness, with water on the floor so they could not sit down. They would be taken out several times a day, but only to receive beatings. Somewhere on the wall, there was a caption as well, which stressed how important it was for the prisoners to wash every day, to keep clean, because the less human they looked, the worse the guards treated them. It mentioned a prisoner who stopped washing, and how everyone knew then that he had given up and resigned himself to whatever would happen to him." - Celina
"Visiting the grounds of a prison camp had a huge impact on me, and walking through the Falstad forest was especially strong for me. Hearing about people being dragged out here to be shot just because of their nationality or religion was horrible, but knowing that you are standing on their graves and knowing that on this exact spot is where they took their last breath, is even worse. At one point I felt physically ill thinking about the horrors that happened out there." - Helene
"The thing that I found most special or that left the biggest impression was the fact that Falstad was closely connected with Nordland, which is my home district, and as I was looking thru the overview of the people who was imprisoned there I found people from my own home town, Mo i Rana and the areas around." - Kristine
"Even though the prison camp at Falstad was relatively small compared to the enormous camps down on the continent, it is usefull as a reminder of the horrors of war. Auschwitz and Treblinka have become monuments to remind us of the Holocaust. Falstad is, and should be a reminder of the need for humane treatement of POW, and the atrocities that happens during a war." - Øystein
"Even though the Falstad Center is quite small compared to, say, Auschwitz, it still gave me that feeling of hopelessness in numbers. Seeing the hundreds of inmate files in the basement gave us insight into each individual person who was there, but it still leaves so much unspoken.
The prisoners of Falstad are listed by name, crime and other data
In Auschwitz Paltiel was experimented on by the notorious doctor Josef Mengele, who injected 96% alcohol into Paltiel's knees. Against all odds, Paltiel survived Auschwitz and was a part of the death march across Europe after the Germans had lost the war. He was one of 28 Norwegian Jews who survived the concentration camps. After the war, he spent a lot of time traveling to schools and talking about his experience. Paltiel died in 2008, at the age of 83.
The graves that were found are now marked with grave stones
1. A pathway 2. A memorial obelisk 3. Stone sculpture depicting Germans shooting the prisoners in the woods 4. Another memorial sculpture, with the names of the victims shot in the woods and including a map of where they were found. One of the victims managed to escape his execution, and had to send a letter to the Falstad centre to remove his name from the sculpture. They still haven't.
A crash course of WWII
(Just watch for 2-3 minutes, or longer if you want to know more...)
Pre-war history of Falstad
The main building was a workhouse project developed at the end of the 19th century. Its purpose was for children who were deemed criminals and it was built in the early 1920s. The architecture was defined as a German prison, and it was a break with the island principle (institutions were often put on islands) to better integrate the problematic children.
The four first years after the war ended (1945-49) Falstad was used as a prison for Nazi collaborators. In 1950, Falstad was turned into a school again for children with special needs, but it got shut down in the early '90s. The center we know today opened in 2006, only nine years ago.
A model of the camp