The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the north of Norway has quite rightly been dominating the media in the region for the past few weeks. Some really amazing stories have come to light along with some excellent pictures taken at the time.
This particular story on the NRK broadcast website has caught my eye because it involves another of the contributors to my book about the scorched earth time, ‘Fire and Ice’. Rune Rautio is a highly regarded military historian when it comes to what happened in Finnmark and he was kind enough to sit down with me and tell me a few stories.
For this NRK article though he has dug into his extensive collection of photographs for something which is really dramatic: a picture capturing the moment in late October 1944 that German officers were told to begin the burning of homes in the far Arctic region.
The picture was taken by a German photographer who followed the German withdrawal from the border areas of Russia, through the northern Sør-Varanger area and back to the defensive bunkers at the Lyngen line near Tromso.
“Shortly after the picture was taken they started the burning, which is the first systematic burning in Sør-Varanger after Hitler’s orders arrived.
Rune, who has been collecting documents, pictures and artefacts relating to the war in Finnmark for 25 years, thinks the image is taken early in the morning on 29 October 1944. Hitler’s order to burn the north to deny Soviet troops any shelter should they pursue the retreating Nazis reached the German military leadership in Oslo the day before, and first reached the troops in Finnmark during the night… by which time they were at Bugøyfjord.
“It’s a notable image for at least two reasons,’” he says. “One is that it is relatively rare to have a photo taken by the German side during the withdrawal. The second is that the image conveys quite a lot of human emotion. It is very clear to see the facial expressions of the three commanders being given this order order. They know that this is a serious moment.
“On the back of the picture the photographer has written that this was an order they felt divided about. On the one hand, as a soldier one would execute the order as efficiently as possible, but at the same time as a human as you would wonder how you could avoid having to carry out this order.”
* adapted from the NRK website piece: http://www.nrk.no/nordnytt/her-far-de-ordren-om-a-brenne-finnmark-1.12009914