Defiant Courage: Norway’s Longest WWII Escape: A True Story, by Astrid Karlsen Scott & Dr. Tore Haug
When I started this story, I realized that I was already familiar with this story from my previous experience reading and watching the movie based on it . Even so, although most of the story was familiar, this is a compelling story and it is worth reading from a different perspective, in this case largely from the point of view of the patriotic Norwegians who helped the desperately injured Jan Baalsrud escape from certain death at the hands of the Gestapo. If you want to read a story about Norway’s experience in World War II  and how a large group of people joined together to help someone in need and thumb their nose despite the extreme dangers to themselves at the Germans and their quislings, this book will certainly be worth your time. It is written in an intriguing style and at more than 300 pages it is not as fast a read as many contemporary books are. Even so, it is still a read full of pathos as well as an obvious and open admiration for the patriotism of Norwegians in the grip of Nazi oppression.
In terms of its contents, this book takes a chronological approach to the daring escape of Baalsrud from a sabotage mission gone wrong because of the mission’s betrayal by a Norwegian merchant whose name was changed so that he would not be subject to continual harassment by the readers of this (and other) books. The authors begin with some context about Norway’s fall to German troops and the response of many patriotic Norwegians to Norway’s fall, including a company of commandos who joined with the British and had a base in the Shetlands Islands where they would engage in occasional raids. The authors then discuss the mostly fatal raid that was taken by twelve commandos, eleven of whom were killed, as well as the dangerous cat and mouse game played between the Nazis and their local supporters and patriotic Norwegians concerning the rescue of Baalsrud, which is told in great detail. Some of the names are changed to protect the guilty, but the book is full of drama and testament to the courage of many brave men and women–the authors are wide in their giving of credit where it is due, to Norwegians and Lapps, to men, women, and children, to families and bachelors, to carpenters and fishermen and raindeer herders and teachers, and the book comes with plenty of maps and photos of the people involved to give the reader and understanding of the rugged and unforgiving terrain of Northern Norway in the area around Tromsø.
What is especially admirable about this book is the way it puts virtue out front and center. This is not a book that looks at history with a cynical approach, or that views patriotism as a bad thing or that is unable to call good and evil by their proper names. This is a book about the many ways that people can be heroes, and how even children in times of war and occupation can be forced into difficult and complex situations. The authors show the resourcefulness and resilience of people in immensely difficult situations while simultaneously showing aspects of social history that has a compelling narrative while also showing the “little people” who are often ignored by history. All of this is done in a way that ought to make Norwegians feel justly proud about how they maintained freedom in spirit even in the face of German oppression. Yet in reading this book, there is a sense as well that while this reader at least (and no doubt many others) have no problem celebrating the sabotage of German military efforts in occupied Norway and the bravery and resistance of the Norwegian people, that the commandos and freedom fighters celebrated here would not be nearly as noble if their cause had not been just. Thankfully, it was.
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