Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Norwegian Resistance in WWII: Escape to Sweden

Today's story comes from Leif Krisoffersen and Hanna Spiers. It's the story of Odd Westeng and Alf Bredesen who, in 1942, resolved to join the resistance. Two city boys, they disguised themselves as lumberjacks and moved to the country in eastern Norway, where for three and a half years they shuttled people along a 12-mile route to the Swedish border.

When Odd and Alf would do this, there was no exchange of names; “firm grips and open smiles sealed the comradeship, leaving no doubt that we stood for the same principles and against the same enemy.” The 12-mile trip would take the escapees to the border of Sweden, then 250 yards across to a road that would take them to a safe village. The story is told from Odd's point of view.

At dusk, with the evening breeze sweeping through the forest and the mist rising from the lakes and moors it was like a world of make believe taken out of the annals of Norwegian folklore: trolls with three heads, lurking behind the hills. As always, the last stretch before the border was the most unnerving and distressing part for the refugees. It was just as if the trolls became Germans, hiding in every bush and behind every tree. Suddenly the group heard rifle shots and a single burst of machine gun fire.

We were very close to the border now. I dropped to the ground and everyone followed suit immediately. We crawled through the undergrowth. There was no further shooting, no sound, once again the forest was still. Then, faintly, coming from the south-east, we heard the sounds of footsteps. They were coming closer and it startled everybody to hear German voices coming through the night. We saw their torch lights flickering from side to side, searching the path.

So we waited and waited, noiselessly, everyone with their own thoughts, some perhaps thinking of their homes, their loved ones or their dramatic escape through the blacked-out streets of Oslo; all wondering what might lie ahead or what might happen before they reached the safety that was only 200 yeards away.

It was a long wait, but when it ended we heard nothing suspicious from any direction. We set off and reached the road in Sweden without any further difficulty.

Brede told the escapees, “you have a mile to go to the village. Good luck to all of you.” Then they turned to us with outstretched hands, thanking us again and again. So, we parted from our friends, never to know their names.

To read another story about Odd Westeng visit The Second World War Experience Center online. And don't forget, if you want to read all the stories we've run so far on the Norwegian Resistance, you can click here to view them.

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