The exhibition Grossraum: Organisation Todt (OT) and forced labour in Norway 1940-45 opened in February 2017 at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo. The exhibition is a result of a large research project utilizing new historical source materials documenting the activities of the Norwegian OT branch: Einsatzgruppe Wiking. 

Prisoners of war at a OT construction site in northern Norway. Photo: Bundesarchiv/ Trondarnes Distriktsmuseum

The exhibition shows how Norway, during WWII, became an integral part of the Nazi forced labour economy. In relation to population size, Norway was probably the occupied country with the largest contingency of prisoners of war and civil forced labourers. More than 130,000 people were forcibly sent to work at German construction sites in Norway. Approximately 17,000 of them died.

During the war, over 300 forts and batteries were finalized along the Norwegian coast. 20 airports and power plants were built. The railroad was extended to the north and to the south. The existing roads were upgraded and numerous new roads, bridges and docks were built. OT was largely responsibile for the completion of these constructions; many of them are still in use today. The exhibition demonstrates how German and Norwegian construction firms profited from collaboration with OT. In some cases, the private firms became responsible for brutal treatment of prisoners of war and civil forced labourers.


The prisoner camp in Beisfjord on fire, July 17 1942. Photo: L. Miladjenovic / Narviksenteret

During the summer of 1942, around 900 Serbian prisoners came to the SS-camp in Beisfjord outside of Narvik. The plan was to put the prisoners to work on OT’s road site. Illness and exhaustion made many of the prisoners incapable to work. In the afternoon of 17th July, the SS commenced the execution of ill prisoners. They were placed in groups and shot down with machine guns. Prisoners who had hidden indoors were killed when their barracks were set on fire. 287 people were murdered in the massacre.




Constructing the polar railway: Soviet prisoners of war at work in Northern Norway. Photographer: Unknown

Towards the end of 1941 Hitler had the idea of a “polar railroad” northbound through Norway from Mo i Rana to Kirkenes. Measured by the number of prisoners of war employed, the polar railroad was OT’s largest project on Norwegian soil. The railroad would secure German lines of supplies to the Murmansk front, and transport iron ore and nickel south to Germany. Even though the reasons used to advocate for the railroad were short term, there was no doubt that the construction of it would take a very long time. Actually, the project only made sense in a long-term perspective; it was part of Hitler’s ideas of the upcoming Nazi Grossraum. If the polar railroad was connected to the existing Murmansk railroad, there would be a continuous railroad connection between Oslo and St. Petersburg.


Organizations that will appear on the exhibition: GROSSRAUM