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The Largest of the Concentration Camps in Norway

View of the camp premises in Eiksmarka by Oslo in 1940s
View of the camp premises in Eiksmarka by Oslo in 1940s
Photo courtesy of Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum (Norway's
Resistance Museum)

Several conentration camps were established in Norway during the 5 years of the German occupation. Grini was the largest one: it was originally built as a woman’s prison in 1938; but was not used until April 9th, 1940, after the beginning of the occupation when it served as a Wermacht prison for prisoners of war. The first prisoners were Norwegian officers taken in the first fights. Most of them were from Lofoten and were captured after the Lofoten raid on March 4th, 1941. They were called the Svolvær Hostages.

On June 14th, 1941, it became a concentration camp run by SS and was used as a transit camp for prisoners who were to be sent to Germany. On June 22nd, 1941, Jews were arrested in Harstad, Tromsø and Norvik, some of them were sent to Grini where they underwent a very harsh treatment. They were beaten and placed in special rapid works group, according to Haakon Holmboe, they had their hair torn off with skin and were forced clean up the 'bloody mess'. Many Jews were interned after the massive arrests in October 1942. By 1942 the Germans needed to expand the camp due to the increasing number of prisoners: 19,788 prisoners were registered between 1941 and May 1945, until Norway's liberation.


From the Trial of Adolf Eichmann

State Attorney Bach: The first of the documents is No. 1622, and it is actually composed of a number of papers concerning the same event. They are instructions concerning the deportation of Jews from Norway to Auschwitz by boat. The Court will see that the first document is a confirmation of the delivery of 230 Jews [according to the document: 532 Jews (302 men and 230 women)] in Stettin. On the 2nd page there is a telegram sent by the Commander of the Security Police, Oslo, IVB4, and signed by a Sturmbannführer named Reinhard, who announces that the ship 'Donau' has left Oslo harbour with 532 Jewish prisoners on board.

At this point, Your Honours, I should like to call the witness, Mrs. Henrietta Samuel. (...)

Witness Samuel: I was born in Berlin. 

Q.: Did you come to Norway in 1930 together with your late husband, Rabbi Samuel?

A.: Yes... My husband was called to Oslo as Rabbi in the year 1930. (...) He was called as Rabbi for Norway, and in the course of his tenure he officiated as Chief Rabbi. (...) The men in Oslo, among them my late husband, were again called to the Gestapo on September 2nd, 1942, and did not come home again.

Q.: Does this mean all the Jewish men in Oslo?

A.: No. On September 2nd, it involved only the men from Nersnes.

Q.: Did you find out where your husband was when he did not return?

A.: The men were taken to Grini, the Norwegian concentration camp near Oslo.

Q.: Did you try to see him there?

A.: All my efforts to get a visiting permit through the Gestapo were in vain. So were the requests of the Jewish Community to let the Rabbi officiate at least on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. (...)

Q.: Do you also know how your husband was taken to Germany?

A.: My husband was deported on the Monte Rosa on November 20th, 1942, together with the other 18 Jewish inmates of Grini.

Q.: Mrs. Samuel, you said your husband was arrested on September 2nd, together with others, with 12 persons who had been in Nersnes. When were the other Jewish men arrested in Norway?

A.: On October 26th, 1942, all Jewish men were arrested in a lightning operation.

Presiding Judge: All the Jewish men in the whole of Norway?

Witness Samuel: The operation was meant to apply to the whole of Norway, to all the Jewish men. However, thanks to the Norwegian underground movement, some went into hiding.

State Attorney Bach: Who actually made the arrests, both times, of the Jewish men in Norway?

Witness Samuel: The operation was carried out by the Norwegian police accompanied by the Germans.

Q.: Did they also come to your house in order to arrest your husband, who was in fact no longer at home?

A.: They came and asked for Rabbi Julius Samuel. They wanted to arrest him. They did not know that he was already in Grini.

Q.: Do you know when and on what ship the Norwegian Jewish men who were arrested in October were deported?

A.: The men were carried off to Germany together with the women and children who were arrested on November 26th, 1942, and were taken straight to the ship 'Donau', with the men from the Berg camp who were arrested on October 26th.

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