Celebrating peace in the north
“Today we remember all those who contributed to the liberation of East Finnmark,” His Majesty The King said today. Seventy-five years have passed since the residents of Norway’s far north were able to welcome their Soviet liberators.
On 25 October 1944, 3 500 people who had sought refuge from the combat in the mines south of Kirkenes emerged into daylight and saluted the Red Army liberators. Today, King Harald took part in the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of East Finnmark.
On 25 October 1944, 3 500 people who had hidden in mining tunnels at Bjørnevatn came out to greet their Red Army liberators. Photo: NTB scanpix – Archive
In the autumn of 1944, the German occupation force withdrew south, leaving Finnmark and northern Troms counties. In the areas they abandoned, they destroyed everything of potential use to the advancing Soviet army or for sustaining life in general. Two thirds of the population were forced out of their homes. About 23 000 people went into hiding – in secluded cabins and caves, beneath upturned boats, and in the mining tunnels of Bjørnevatn.
German soldiers used scorched-earth tactics in their retreat from Finnmark. This scene is probably from Kirkenes. Photo: NTB scanpix – Archive
King Harald paid tribute to the people of the north today:
- The forced evacuations and destruction by fire in the autumn of 1944 caused great suffering to the civilian population of our northernmost region. I remember well the despair my grandfather and father expressed over the devastation when they visited Finnmark after the war. And as we all know, the end of the war did not end the suffering. The people of the north deserve to be honoured for the massive and arduous effort they undertook to rebuild in the wake of total destruction.
The suspicions that many of them faced after the war due to their close relationship with Russia was an added burden in an already extremely difficult time.
"The people of the north deserve to be honoured for the massive and arduous effort they undertook to rebuild in the wake of total destruction".
The suspicions that many of them faced after the war due to their close relationship with Russia was an added burden in an already extremely difficult time
Homage to the liberation forces
King Harald and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both spoke today in Kirkenes’s city square, where a wreath-laying ceremony was held at a monument honouring the contributions of mothers during the war. Members of the Garrison of Sør-Varanger carried the wreath. Russia’s Northern Fleet Choir and the Norwegian Army Band performed both the Norwegian and Russian national anthems.
The wreath-laying was followed by one minute of silence.
"I will repeat what is written on the memorial to fallen Soviet soldiers on the Western Cemetery in Oslo: "Norway thanks you". This is carved in stone".
Six thousand Soviet soldiers lost their lives in the final battles of the north. Some 100 000 Russian prisoners of war were sent to camps in Norway, and 13 000 died here.
"Norway will never forget the Soviet army’s war effort," said the King. "We know the losses and sacrifices it required. The many soldiers who took part on the Soviet side are also our heroes. The events of 75 years ago give strength and inspiration to relations between our neighbouring countries, which for centuries have been characterised by peace."
Wreath-laying at the monument to wartime mothers in Kirkenes. Photo: Heiko Junge, NTB scanpix
King Harald emphasised the importance of good cooperation.
"It is through cooperation,” he said, “that we can best honour the memory of Norwegians and Soviets alike who contributed to the liberation of East Finnmark 75 years ago. We share more than a border here in the north; we also share interests and hope for the future."
"It is through cooperation that we can best honour the memory of Norwegians and Soviets alike who contributed to the liberation of East Finnmark 75 years ago. We share more than a border here in the north; we also share interests and hope for the future."
Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov laid a wreath at the Soviet Liberation Monument (also known as the Russian Soldier Monument) in Kirkenes. Photo: Heiko Junge / NTB scanpix
Later, the foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov and Ine Eriksen Søreide placed a wreath at Kirkenes’ memorial to fallen Soviet soldiers.
Medals to veterans
Two medals were awarded during the anniversary luncheon that concluded the visit today. Elisabeth Aspaker, the Governor of Finnmark county, presented the Government’s commemorative medal to Valentin Alexandrovich Soldatov and Alf Rafaelsen. The commemorative medal was introduced in 2015 and this was the first time the honour has been bestowed on a Red Army soldier.
Valentin Soldatov served in the Soviet Navy and was only 15 years old when he helped liberate East Finnmark from the Nazis. Alf Rafaelsen was 16 when he reported for service. Today, the two war veterans are 90 and 91 years old, respectively.