The Largest Massacre on Norwegian Soil

On the night of 17th of July 1942, 287 Yugoslav prisoners were shot or burned to death in Beisfjord prison camp outside Narvik. The massacre was done by direct orders from Reichskommissar Josef Terboven, who had visited Narvik a few days prior to the massacre to see where the battles of 1940 had taken place.

24th of June 1942, 900 Yugoslav prisoners arrived in Narvik. They had been taken prisoners as partisans or sympathisers during the battles in Yugoslavia and were awaiting death penalty. Instead, SS sent them to Norway as slave labourers. 90% of the prisoners were Serbian, but also Croatians, Bosnjaks and other ethnic groups were among them. 88 prisoners were in the ages 14 to 18 years old.

On the night of 17th of July 1942, 287 prisoners were killed because the guards suspected that they had typhus. Whether the prisoners had typhus was never properly diagnosed. Fearing that this typhus would spread to guards and local inhabitants, the order was given that the prisoners were to be killed. In groups of 20, the sick prisoners were led to newly dug ditches and shot by machineguns from a nearby barrack rooftop and guard tower. Those who did not die immediately were shot by handgun.

A group of prisoners barricaded themselves in one of the sick-barracks, and refused to come outside. The prison guards then set fire to the barrack, not risking going inside in fear of being infected. The prisoners that tried to escape through doors and windows were shot.

In the evening of 17th of July 1942, 588 healthy prisoners were led out of the camp, being transported to the quarantine camp at Øvre Jernvann on Bjørnfjell. During the next five weeks, 242 prisoners died at Øvre Jernvann. The surviving prisoners returned to Beisfjord in August 1942.

748 (83%) of the 900 Yugoslav prisoners in Beisfjord prison camp died during the four months they spent in the camp. In October 1942, the remaining 152 Yugoslav prisoners were moved to camps by Korgen and Osen. 58 Norwegian prison guards served in Beisfjord prison camp.

In Beisfjord prison camp you can now find signs with information about the Yugoslav prisoners that were in the camp from 24th of June 1942 to 25th of October 1942, and the Soviet prisoners of war that were in the camp from 25th of October 1942 to May 1945.

On a day like this we commemorate the atrocity that happens when thoughts of “Us” and “The Others” can thrive, hoping that together we can pull away from and remove the foundation for these same thoughts today.