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Fire and Ice: The Nazis' Scorched Earth Campaign in Norway, by Vincent Hunt

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A raw and powerful, hidden history uncovered

In Northern Norway 1944 is known as Year Zero. It was declared Year Zero because it was the year that all history stopped when the retreating Nazis’ razed it to the ground. The entire Finnmark region was reduced from thriving villages, bustling towns and burgeoning cities to little more than smoking ash and crumbling rubble. The victorious Soviet army advanced into Northern Norway and Hitler himself responded with one simple order: burn and destroy. The order was known as a ‘Hitler command’ and viewed as utterly inviolable, on pain of death. A mass, forced evacuation of all Norwegian citizens was ruthlessly enforced and the population was forced to endure long death marches and hellish sea crossings, as their beloved homes, livestock, factories and farms burned all around them. Those that fled the flames and evaded the Nazi evacuation found themselves fighting an equally ruthless foe in the climate and environment itself. In ice-cold mountain caves a different kind of battle emerged: a fight for survival against a cruel Arctic winter, ravenous hunger, starvation and roaming SS assassination squads, ‘mopping up’ those who escaped the march.

For the thousands of Soviet prisoners of war that the occupying Germans already held, an even harsher fate awaited, and they found themselves dispatched to the nightmarish Mallintz Death Camp, to prepare for a ‘last stand’ defence against the encroaching Russian army, that in the end was never mounted. They spent their final days under the Nazi lash, building the ‘Lingen Line’ mountain top defences that were ultimately never used. The conditions the men were kept in were equal to the horrors of Auschwitz and as the cold, hunger and desperation bit hard, they were forced into cannibalism. In one camp a 1000 men entered and not one man emerged alive. They were told to claw into wet clay with their bare hands if they wanted shelter – that or sleep under the cold stars – and to eat their boots if they required food. Those unable to work were ordered to report to a morning ‘sickness parade’ where they were simply shot where they stood and rolled into the nearest hole. The only medical care offered was the merciful despatch of a bullet to the head, delivered by a Luger pistol and a blank Nazi smile.

Yet war brings out the best and worst in soldiers and amidst the death and destruction there are solitary beacons of light such as the German colonel who refused the ‘burn order’ and quietly vacated his troops on borrowed fishermen’s boats – which he returned – and the heroic Norwegian Resistance ‘super-spy’, Bernt Balchen, whose derring-do saved thousands of lives, as he flew scores of death-defying sorties and repeatedly volunteered for the most dangerous missions.

Fire and Ice is an immensely important work that shines a piercing light on a crucial period of WW2 history that for political reasons has been grievously overlooked and ignored, because it contains painfully inconvenient truths for the Norwegian establishment and its treatment of Finnmark survivors and their descendants. The cruel fate of the Norwegian children unfortunate enough to be born of German fathers and cast into abusive care homes – through no fault of their own – makes for powerful and disturbing reading. Many were raised as orphans under what appears to be a semi-approved official stamp of shame, and continuously punished for the perceived sins of parents they didn’t even know. It is a dark stain and a reminder of a time that many in Oslo’s corridors of power would rather forget, but the victims of Finnmark cannot. Vincent Hunt has done the displaced survivors of Finnmark’s forced evacuation and the forgotten Soviet prisoners of Mallintz a great service with this book. He has uncovered a raw, hidden history, and I hope the Norwegian government recognizes him for this ground-breaking and scholarly work.

 
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