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Norway's last search for war graves

The icebreaker "Isbjørn" helping the freight wessel "Inger Elisabeth" towards the port in May 11 1939, two years before the hijacking. FOTO: Store Norske

Norway's last search for war graves

The government is providing a 300,000-kroner grant to find the graves of six Svalbard people. This is the last attempt the state is making to find remains from World War II in Norway.

At Håøya in Oslofjorden, five coal workers were executed in 1941, along with one of the crew of the icebreaker Isbjørn. They belonged to a group of 14 men who hijacked the boat at Isfjorden and tried to set a course westward towards an allied port. Their gravesite has never been found.

Finding the cartridge shells
Helge G. Simonsen has been pushing for the search campaign for the past seven years. In the spring of 2013, Simonsen and personnel from Norway's Armed Forces' Special Command thoroughly searched parts of the island with ground radar - without results.

"We now have dug deeper in the archives and found information that has meant that we are now looking at a completely different place than before, he said.

The discovery of a Mauser cartridge shell, produced in 1941, in Nordbukta at Nord-Håøya is one of two reasons Simonsen sought additional funding from the Ministry of Defense. Another piece of the puzzle that has come out is the story of a man who lived on Båtstø, just west of Håøya. The man is dead now, but according to his son the father was down on a rock jetty one winter morning to pull nets. He saw a darkened boat that came from Oslo that went into Nordbukta. A little while later, he heard gunshots.

"All of this is circumstantial and is not enough to draw conclusions," Simonsen said. "But it is enough that we will investigate the matter more thoroughly."

Ground radar
Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide told Bergens Tidende the grant of 300,000 kroner is the ministry's final effort to find the remains of executed Norwegians from World War II.

"We are putting a final end to the ministry's continued involvement in such cases in the future," she told the newspaper.

According to Simonsen, archaeologists from the Akershus county administration will excavate in that area. But first, people from the military's special command will go over Nordbukta with ground radar – the same technique that was used further south on the island.

In addition, some of the funds will be used to search archives, especially the German
National Archives known as "Bundesarchiv."

"We have begun to look there and will spend a lot of effort searching for additional documents," Simonsen said. "In addition, the archives of the treason police in Norway are interesting."

Morally outraged
Paul Kaiser, a Germain chaplain, was present during the execution. In 1947 he was back on the island again, this time with eventual Bishop Dagfinn Hauge, who had served as chaplain for death row prisoners at the Akershus fortress during the war.

"Hauge must have written a report and a travel invoice for the stay," Simonsen said. "We hope to find those, but unfortunately much of the archive is little in order."

Simonsen said his commitment is twofold. In addition to being curious by nature, he is also morally offended by what he calls "the government's lack of interest" in finding the graves from the war in Norway.

"It is shameful. These were people who gave their lives so that we might live in freedom. To find their remains is an honor to attempt," said Simonsen, who in 2012 published the book "Kapringen" about the evacuation of Svalbard and the hijacking of the Isbjørn.

What does he think about the ministry stating this is Norway's final attempt?

"We know that there are at least 14 man who are not buried," Simonsen said. "They were executed at Akershus. But there exists few traces of them."

If there are potential discoveries, Follo police officials will get involved in follow-up work on the case.

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Helge Gert Simonsen has been searching for the graves for a long time. FOTO: Birger Amundsen

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