Monday, November 28, 2005

The Blood Road

When I was in Norway, I visited the Blood Road Museum (in German and English) in Rognan, the town where my mother was born and raised. The museum commemorates those many thousands of prisoners of war, mainly Red Army soldiers, who died working on the railroad Hitler hoped to build through northern Norway. The railroad never materialized (it fell just short of Rognan, well short of Kirkenes, the launching point into Murmansk) but the Germans kept their captives working even when they realized their initial plans, to complete the project in three years, were overly ambitious.

One of the worst camps in Norway was in Botn, a beautiful fjordal inlet just a couple miles from my mother's cabin. After the war, it was deemed to be an execution camp because so many prisoners there died, some from mass executions (this during the first year of operation, when the SS ran the camp) and then many later, when the Wehrmacht took over, from drinking water that was allowed to mix with raw sewage (this is what gave the camp its legal definition as an "execution camp," like Dachau or Auschwitz, because securing clean drinking water should not be a problem in Norway, where the streams run clean).

The picture above is of a headstone from a former Russian graveyard located at the edge of my mother's cabin's property line. The graveyard and camp were just up the road from her, though the former was moved, as were the graves of all but a few Red Army soldiers, when the Cold War came around (the graves were moved to a cold Norwegian island where Soviet visitors could be more easily contained and surveyed).

Anyways, all of this is a sort of quick look at the subject; I'm working on an essay that goes into it in greater depth. Because here's the thing, and I hope she doesn't mind my saying so (if so, I'll take this down): My girlfriend's great-great grandfather was in one of these camps, but we don't know which one. I probably want to find out more than her; if I don't know something, I want to know it. Call it a form of autism, or mental retardation, or just plain curiosity -- I don't know. Anyways, what I do know is this: that one-third of all Soviet soldiers were held in Saltdal, the county where my mother was born and raised; beyond that it's like grabbing at the fog. In the final days of the war, the Germans did a good job of destroying their scrupulously-kept records, while after the Cold War, Moscow was mum on who was where or when. So: I'd like to write about all this, and it seems logical that my search be part of the essay.

Anyone know how I can find more information? How I might match a name to a camp?