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Dark figures study a map on the wall, above Trondheim. Model of the city in the foreground. Photo.

The Trondheim model (in the foreground) was used to plan the German construction activities around Trondheim. The picture was taken in Stiftsgården in Trondheim, summer 1942. National Commissioner Josef Terboven with his back to the camera, Willi Henne is no. 3 from the right. National Archives: RA/RAFA-3309/U/L0071, photographer: unknown

Hitler's builders

New book about the Second World War, based on a research project at The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology , sheds light on the lesser-known stories of megalomaniacal engineering projects in Norway and thousands of tragic, forgotten fates.  

The book is sold via Fagfokforlaget and physically in the museum shop .

Norway was unique

Norway differs from the other countries that were occupied by Germany during the Second World War in that more resources were added to the country than it was taken away.

Usually the occupied countries were drained of great resources. In Norway, the Germans had great ambitions for the development of the infrastructure, military installations and power development. Adolf Hitler ordered his top engineers to embark on several ambitious construction projects in Norway, but the country lacked most of the materials involved. In the book "Hitlers byggherrer - Fritz Todt and Albert Speer in Norway" it is estimated that steel equivalent to ten to twelve Eiffel Towers was transported from Germany to Norway to build the Polar Railway - a continuation of the railway from Mo i Rana to Kirkenes. The development was mainly motivated by strategic warfare, to transport food and ammunition to German soldiers who fought at the front in the north, but according to the author there must have been several motives behind it:

- If you look at the Polar Railway project as a whole, the project makes no sense at all in the short term.

The orbit was part of what I call the Nazi space policy. It was about the long-term plans for the geographical reorganization of Europe, says author and first conservator Ketil Gjølme Andersen. Norway had a central place in this spatial policy, the future Grossraum. In this context, the Polar Railway played an important role. As Hitler stated in August 1942: "We will only get a firm grip on Norway when there is a railway to Kirkenes." In addition to cement and rebar, large amounts of labor were also brought in from abroad.

It is estimated that over 100,000 workers were sent to Norway - many of these were prisoners of war and political prisoners. A high price to pay

The ambitions for Norway were big, and included, among other things, a 33 meter wide motorway to Trondheim and the Polar Railway.

Very short deadlines were set for the completion of the projects. According to the Allied Intelligence Service, Hitler had initiated the largest construction projects in Europe since Roman times. The projects were gigantic and had to be carried out at a record pace.

Within one and a half to two years, the new Polar Railway had to be completed, the Driver demanded. Labor would not be a problem. Hitler stated that the construction was to be carried out with "reckless exploitation of Soviet prisoners of war", says Andersen. 2,200 prisoners of war had to pay with their lives during the construction of the Polar Railway.

Another thousand workers drowned during the transport to Norway. Although knowledge of these gross war crimes has been limited in Norway, there is no lack of documentation. In the book “Hitler's builders. Fritz Todt and Albert Speer in Norway.” the print is one of countless prisoner cards. Prisoner cards are documents with detailed information about the individual prisoner.

The cards contained information such as year of birth, occupation and where the prisoners were stationed in Norway. In the book, the prisoner's card of the Ukrainian Michail Kulik is reproduced. It says that Kulik was "shot for refusing to work" in October 1944, while he was building a railway over Saltfjellet. The prisoner cards were part of a large bureaucracy which, in a sinister, rational way, recorded all the information that Organization Todt needed.
Because the system is so comprehensive, the Germans somehow ended up documenting their own war crimes.


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From inside the truss for the railway bridge over the Ranelva. Photo.

Raufjellfossen bridge carries the Nordlandsbanen over the Ranelva in Dunderlandsdalen.
It was built by OT and taken into use by NSB after the war. The National Archives: RA/RAFA-3309/U/L0068a/0001/7 photographer: Pieper

Many men dig in the snow on Saltfjellet. Photo.

Snow clearing on Saltfjellet, 1944. Forced laborers improve construction of the Polar Railway. The National Archives: RAFA-3309/U/L0067b/0006/D2 photographer: Pieper

Uniformed men study a map aboard a plane. Photo.

Fritz Todt on board the service plane that crashed in Rastenburg on 8 February 1942. Here together with Willi Henne (centre) and Xaver Dorsch (right). The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology , NTM F 006799, photographer: unknown

In this video, author Ketil Gjølme Andersen is interviewed by Øyvind Arntsen, journalist and former host of NRK's ​​radio program "Museum". You can also watch it on Vimeo .

A large number of prisoners of war wearing winter clothing. Photo.

Concentration camp for Soviet prisoners of war on the Eastern Front, autumn 1941. Michael Stokke's photo collection, photographer: unknown

A soldier guards prisoners of war at work by the railway track through a mountain landscape. Photo.

A long way to go to Kirkenes. Soviet prisoners of war at work on Saltfjellet, 1944. National archive: RA/RAFA-3309/U/L0067b/0006/D3, photographer: Pieper

Men in military uniform wait for the train steaming into the station in the background. Photo.

In the first phase of the war, it was the Wehrmacht, led by Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, who led the German railway venture in Norway. Falkenhorst on the far right. Helgeland Museum, VBH.F.2001-068-0007, photographer: unknown

An unrealistic construction project

The projects in Norway required large resources, resources that Hitler eventually desperately needed for warfare.

Despite the fact that Germany was about to lose the war, the development of the Polar Railway continued. The polar railway is an interesting example of how Hitler's technological optimism and his long-term space policy ambitions had negative consequences for Germany.

The track was a drain on resources. The need for steel, concrete and wood was so enormous that it created major problems for the German armor industry, says Andersen. The projects in Norway were part of Organization Todt, named after the engineer Fritz Todt.

However, Todt became increasingly skeptical of Hitler's large building projects and also confronted Hitler with his views.

After German tanks got stuck in the mud outside Moscow, and the war was set to be protracted, Germany lacked the necessary resources to initiate projects such as the Polar Railway. Todt actually went so far as to try to prevent the track being supplied with resources, says Andersen.

This coincided with a dramatic confrontation between Hitler and Todt. On the way home from a meeting between the two in February 1942, Todt's plane exploded and everyone on board died. Historians have long speculated whether this was an accident, or whether it was an assassination staged by Hitler. It remains a speculation, but it cannot be ruled out that the Polar Railway was part of an assassination attempt against Todt, says Andersen. A few hours after Todt's death, another renowned builder, Albert Speer, became head of OT. Among other things, he was tasked with building the Polar Railway.

Speer also quickly realized that the project was not realistic, but unlike his predecessor, he did not dare to speak against Hitler. The construction of the Polar Railway continued until 7 May – the day before Liberation Day.

The book is part of a larger project

“Hitler's builders. Fritz Todt and Albert Speer in Norway" is part of a larger research project that has previously been highlighted in an exhibition at The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology called " Grossraum ".

- The Norwegian Museum Of Science And Technology has a long tradition of research that contributes to new knowledge about technology and industry. The research is linked to our dissemination activities and often takes place in collaboration with other institutions and across disciplines. This book is a good example of just that, says head of department Frode Weium. The book takes up an important topic that has been the subject of little research, and it will stand as a central contribution within historical research on Norway during the Second World War.

The book “Hitler's builders. Fritz Todt and Albert Speer in Norway" is written by the first conservator at The Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology , Ketil Gjølme Andersen, published by Fagbokforlaget. The book can be purchased via Fagbokforlaget and in the museum shop .

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