Sweden in World War II - across borders

Refugees from Norway

When the Norwegian king and government left Oslo in the morning of 9 April, so did family members. The crown princess (who was born in Sweden) and her children were among those who continued with the train to Sweden [s11]. They stayed at the Högfjällshotellet in Sälen in Sweden, built by a Norwegian (who later was one of several persons along the border who helped the resistance and intelligence organisations.) [s26]. The following summer they were offered a sanctuary in the USA, and left via Petsamo harbour in northern Finland in August 1941 [s13]. It was a relief for Norway when they had left Sweden, a country Norway did not see as a safe place for them.

Swedish-Norwegian border area in the south When the pressure of the German troops became too hard near Kongsvinger, a Norwegian general lead the whole 1st division into Sweden, where they were detained [s11].

The old strongholds around Askim, Fossum and Mysen were built for defence against Swedish agressions, not attacks from the Norwegian side, but the Norwegian troops managed to hold the area for a week. Isolated and without anti-aircraft guns and air support. More than 3000 men walked across the border to Sweden, with various provisions [s01].

På Østlandet, the eastern part of southern Norway, Norwegian soldiers who had rushed to military areas in Østfold got under attack while forming their groups. Some units fought hard, but had to cross the border to Sweden. [s24]

On 15 April the Norwegian military aviation school at Kjeller, near Oslo, came to Sweden with 7 planes. [s75]

Around 4,000 Norwegian soldiers crossed the border to Sweden between 12-15 April 1940, after German attacks east of Oslofjorden. [s69]

For the German troops that landed in Narvik, the prime target was to secure the Narvik area and the railway to the Swedish border. [s51]

Between Narvik and Bjørnfjell

In the early morning of 16 April 1940 Germans attacked the Norwegian soldiers at Bjørnfjell station, close to the border. 6 Norwegians were killed and 45 captured, while 16 badly wounded soldiers went into Sweden. [s51]

Groups of Norwegians fought guerilla war in southern Norway until 10 June 1940 when the Norwegian forces in Norway capitulated. After that some went across the border to Sweden. [s10]

Norwegian soldiers who came to Sweden were detained. [s43]

On 22 April 1940 a chief of staff who had served in Oslofjorden wrote a report to the Norwegian king. The report was written in Stockholm. [s56]

After the two months the fighting in Norway ended, and most of the detained Norwegian troops in Sweden went back to Norway. [s36]

Many Norwegian civilians fled to Sweden after 9 April 1940, but most of them returned to Norway during the summer. Many men went to Sweden in hope of further transport to join Allied warfaring forces. From the autumn of 1940 there was an increased number of refugees that wanted to serve Norwegian authorities abroad, or were on the run from the Germans. [s10]

However, it was not so easy to travel on to Britain.

And it was not free of risks to flee from Norway. Besides storms on the North Sea, and freezing temperatures and snow blizzards on land, there was Gestapo and Norwegian collaborators.

One example of several was the arrests of 18 people who had prepared to leave for Britain. 15 of them were shot in a forest in Norway. [s47]

Swedish forest in late winter Most refugees from Norway to Sweden walked across the border, maybe on skis when there was snow. Another way was to row across the fjord between southern Norway and Sweden.

Sometimes between 100 and 200 refugees arrived in Sweden per day. The Norwegian authorities did not want them to linger in Stockholm, a large city. [s36]

Norway bought or hired larger properties around in Sweden to house the refugees. Young people got practical education, some studied in Swedish schools. Thousands of men got work in farming and forestry in Sweden. [s36]

(The winter of 1941-42 was the coldest since measurements began, with -35 degrees Celsius in southern Sweden. With the stopped oil import there was a huge need for wood, among others for cars using wood gas. The following winter 20 000 soldiers volunteered as lumberjacks. [s06] )

The dissatisfaction of many Norwegian refugees in Sweden was used by some to blame the Norwegian government. [s36]

The west coast of southern Norway is a rather short distance from British islands, and in the beginning of the war this was an often used escape route from Norway. The rumours about Norwegians who fled to Sweden, but could not continue to Britain to join the Allied forces, was one reason. But it was dangerous, not only because of bad weather. (One group with youngsters were caught by Gestapo in 1941 during preparations for the escape to Britain by ship. 15 of them were killed and others sent to Germany.). Then the German patrolling increased, and put a stop to most of the traffic. Instead long, difficult and dangerous land transports east to Sweden had to be used. [s46]

The people in Norway had to use identification papers, and special permissions to travel. Among others people in the Norwegian police force helped to issue false documents for refugees who needed to escape to Sweden. [s46]

When a person in a resistance group managed to escape to Sweden, it was a relief for others to know about it. Secret messages were often delivered to persons jailed by the Germans, so that they during interrogations and sometimes torture could blame a person they knew were in safety. [s46]

The British thought that the Norwegians were too cautious in their acting and that the Norwegian military resistance organisation Milorg acted like a kind of military Sunday school since they refused to perform sabotage and establish secret storages with weapons. Instead the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) sent their own agents, often Norwegans who had fled from Norway and joined the Linge company in Britain, who were supposed not to contact other resistance organisations and not inform the Norwegian government about their activities. After several operations that resulted in failures, with many killed Norwegian civilians and many others who had to excape to Sweden, the SOE found out that their methods could be questioned. They chose to instead support the Norwegian supreme command in London and Milorg, the Linge company was placed under Norwegian command, and Milorg performed later during the war also sabotage and executions. [s51]

In 1942 SOE sent 3 agents who should establish contact with Norwegian patriots in the Troms district, but two were caught by Swedish police when they tried to cross the border from Sweden to Norway. One of the failed SOE operations was called Martin Red and took place in the winter of 1943 when 5 men sailed from Shetland to Norway, and resulted in several killed persons and that the whole military resistance work in northern Norway had to be reorganised. Meanwhile Milorg in the Troms district was led from Stockholm in Sweden. The following arrests also threatened to destroy the British intelligence network in northern Norway. One of the agents managed to escape, Jan Baalsrud, and with the help of 60 persons he was brought to Sweden. (The incredible story about that journey to Sweden was told in the Norwegian book "Ni liv" ('Nine lives'), which later became a movie with the same title.). [s51]

At least one Norwegian in northern Norway who had helped with secret intelligence operations by the Soviet Union managed to escape to Sweden when Gestapo had discovered enough to act. [s51]

A merchant ship officer was arrested in Stavanger, on Norways west coast, in the summer of 1942. That forced his subordinate Jensen within a resistance group to hide. He and a friend in the resistance group decided to get to Sweden, but first they needed to help some others to escape to Sweden. Among these were two Austrian union workers who had escaped to Norway in 1938 when Austria was joined with Germany. They had with help lived in a fjord settlement for two years. The local NS leader knew about them, but didn't do anything about it until he also became a policeman. But the Austrians were warned about the nazi raid. An escape route was arranged for Jensen, dressed as a stoker on a ship around the south of Norway to Oslo, and his friend had visited Oslo to arrange a new inland route to Oslo for the Austrians. They all had false identifications and other documents. There were some incidents, but all four of them managed to get to Sweden in the late autumn. Others from Stavanger arrived in Sweden later in 1942, one of them continued by plane to Britain for special education. Both Jensen and his friend were wanted by the Germans shortly after. From the end of 1942 until the end of the war in early May 1945, Jensen went back and forth from Stockholm to Stavanger on secret missions 21 times. Once he had to take up a gun fight with a German border patrol to get back to Sweden. [s46]

During the last months of 1942 many Norwegian jews were helped to escape to Sweden, when the Germans made their situation in Norway harder and more dangerous. [s19]

Half of the jews in Norway got to Sweden, but 759 were caught and deported to Auschwitz (of which 25 survived). [s35]

When 1942 began there were some 3,000 Norwegian refugees in Sweden. During the last four months 4,300 new refugees arrived, and at the end of 1942 they were more than 10,000. [s60]

In Sweden foremost the national board of health and welfare cooperated with the Norwegian legation's refugee office to handle the refugees. The Norwegain legation took care of most of the costs. [s60]

Both Swedish and Norwegian authorities kept an eye on Norwegian refugees in Sweden. [s45]

Since the Germans seized the full power in Norway in September 1940 they had tried to 'nazify' the university in Oslo, but without success. After several incidents the Germans raided the university on the morning of 30 November 1943. Around 1500 students and professors were arrested, and half of them sent to concentration camps in Germany. Several of the students got help to escape to Sweden. [s19]

The Norwegian Labour Service was a tool by the Norwegian nazi leader Quisling to begin to form an army that could be sent to Germany's eastern front. Between 60.000 and 75.000 men would be conscripted. The plan was discovered by the Norwegian resistance, who sent out a message that Norwegians should boycott the registration. Thousands of young Norwegians had fled to the forests, mountains and to Sweden by May 1944. [s57]

In June 1944 one of the Stockholm couriers were in Stavanger again, when Gestapo made some arrests. He went by bike to a contact outside of Stavanger to warn him. A Gestapo man with a gun opened the door, and the courier asked for the pastor with a cover story. He got the answer to come back later, and turned to leave. Then the Gestapo man asked for his permission to be in that area. The courier said that it was in the bag on the bicycle. Followed by the Gestapo man he walked back into the garden where there were more guards. The courier then began to run, while the guards shot after him and hit him in his neck. A truck passed at that moment, and he was going to jump up on the platform when he was hit again and fell. The Gestapo man had shot all the bullets in his gun, and had thrown the gun after the escaping courier - and the gun hit the courier in the back of his head. He was brought to a hospital, where a nurse managed to warn some people in the resistance organisation. The couriers parents and two siblings were arrested the same day, while one sister (also in the resistance) managed to escape to Sweden. [s46]

A radio operator was arrested and a Gestapo operation followed. The people who lived on the farms in Vaule, who had helped him, had hid in the forest uphill. There were 21 people in a camp. On the afternoon of 18 September 1944 hundreds of Germans and Norwegian police began to search the area. All the men among the resistance group and refugees had been armed and taken up positions for defence on the higher ground. When the evening darkness fell (early in the evening this autumn day) and a fog was formed, the Norwegians managed to get away unhurt but spread out. Some of them got help to get to Sweden. The result of that Gestapo operation put more than 70 people in different prisons in Stavanger, Oslo and Germany, while almost 30 were hiding in the area or had fled to Sweden or Britain. [s46]

In late September 1944 a German ship with Norwegian prisoners on the way to Germany sank near the Swedish coast. Only a few Norwegians managed to reach land. [s60]

During WWII some Norwegian sailors on German ships escaped to Sweden when the ships were in Swedish harbours or Swedish waters. At first Sweden followed international rule and returned them to the ships, but soon the situation in Europe led to the decision that they were allowed to remain in Sweden. [s60]

On 24 October 1944 the advancing Soviet Union troops had pushed the German troops into the north of Norway, and soon after the German troops in Finland had been pushed into Norway by Finnish troops. The Soviet Union troops halted when they had liberated the Kirkenes area in Norway, but the Germans withdrew to a defence line further south in northern Norway. Meanwhile the Germans had time to fulfill the scorched earth policy. Lowflying fighter planes even shot at reindeer herds. Tens of thousands of Norwegians were to be evacuated southwards in short time, noone was allowed to stay, but many managed to hide in among others mountain caves or flee to Sweden. [s19]

Around 2 000 Norwegians fled to Sweden as Germany retreated southwards through northern Norway. In the wilderness in Lappland, Sweden had arranged food depots, groups of volunteers and air patrols to assist refugees that came to Sweden by foot or skis. [s58]

The Swedish Air Force made well over 100 flights from Kiruna with Fieseler "Storch" planes between 3 January and 11 May in 1945, foremost to help refugees from northern Norway who came over the mountains that winter. [s75]

In August 1943 there were around 25 000 Norwegian refugees in Sweden, in 1944 around 32 000. [s19]

In 1945 the number was around 40 000 [s03]. At the end of the war there were 50 000 Norwegian refugees in Sweden [s22].

During World War II some 50 000 Norwegians crossed the border to Sweden. [s19]

2019-04-07. www.granfoss.se. Text/pictures: Arne Granfoss