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Blood Road Museum

  
   - darkometer rating:  4 -
 
A small museum about the construction of a vital road in northern Norway during the occupation of the country by Nazi Germany. The construction work was done by forced labour namely by the inmates from nearby POW camps. Most of these prisoners had come from Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The museum is part of a larger folk museum complex, which unfortunately is not particularly well geared towards foreign visitors.  

>More background info

>What there is to see

>Location

>Access and costs

>Time required

>Combinations with other dark destinations

>Combinations with non-dark destinations

>Photos

      
More background info: The Blood Road Museum, or "Blodveimuseet" in Norwegian (sometimes also "Blodvegenmuseet"), commemorates the plight of the thousands of POWs who during the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany in WWII were used for hard labour, namely for the construction of roads and railway lines in the Nordland region and beyond.
   
At that time, road conditions in the north of the country were still very bad, and the railroad hadn't even reached these northern parts at all (it ended much further south in Mosjøen). The Nazis' demand for supplies for their troops in the far north (see esp. Kirkenes) or for the transport of raw materials from or via Norway (e.g. iron ore from Sweden via Narvik, or nickel from Finland) to Germany could not be met by the existing networks. Nor was sea transport an good alternative option, as it was too risky, given the British Navy presence in the Atlantic and North Sea. So it was decided to extend the road and rail network all the way up to Kirkenes within four to six years, beginning in 1942. It never got that far, though. By 1945 the railway reached Dunderland, the stretch via Fauske to Bodø was finished after the war (and it is here that the Nordland railway terminates still today – the only more northern railway line in Norway is the iron-ore line from Kiruna in Sweden to Narvik).
 
The roads, including the stretch reaching east and north from Rognan, however, was completed with the massive use of forced labour from the huge pool of POWs the Germans had amassed in the first few years of WWII, mainly from the Soviet Union, Poland and also Yugoslavia. In the latter categories it was mostly captured partisans, and as essentially political prisoners, they had it particularly bad.
 
The epithet "blood road" for this stretch of roadwork was apparently given to it by the prisoners themselves. Work and living conditions were as harsh as for those in the concentration camps in other parts of the German Reich and the occupied territories (esp. Poland). In Norway, the camps constructed for the labourers tended to be much smaller – but at the same time more numerous. In Nordland about fifty camps were set up, housing around 30,000 POWs in total. One of the earliest and most notorious such camps was located at Botn just east of Rognan/Saltdal.
 
In addition to succumbing to malnutrition, cold, and atrocious sanitary conditions, many prisoners also ended up victims of killings – there were even mass executions. General mistreatment and brutality on the part of the camp guards was the norm on a daily basis, especially during the period in which the SS was in charge of the camps (later the Wehrmacht took over). Norwegian guards were involved as well. On the other hand, some prisoners managed to escape and attempt to flee to the nearby Swedish border for safety. Many of these received help from the Norwegian civilian population, who gave the escapees food and directions (otherwise even fewer would have made it).
 
After the war had ended, provincial Norway was left with the massive task of organizing medical help and supplies for the thousands of POWs left behind – almost 10,000 were still in the Saltdal area alone in May 1945 – and to organize their relocation to their homelands. Sweden also assisted with food supplies.
 
But even for the dead, it wasn't over yet. In the years following the war, the victims buried in the original camp mass graves were exhumed and reburied – partly to provide more appropriate memorial cemeteries. But the Cold War was also raising its ugly head – and for that reason the Soviet victims were reburied yet another time in the early 1950s and moved to a centralized burial and memorial place on Tjøtta island further south.
 
The Blood Road Museum at the larger museum complex of Saltdal was established in 1995, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Norway's liberation from German occupation.  
 
 
What there is to see: The Blood Road Museum is quite small – housed in a single building at the far end of the larger Saltdal museum complex. The building is said to be an original German barrack, moved here from Dunderlandsdal. Next to its is a garage with an old war-time vehicle.
 
The museum proper is divided into six sections, beginning with an overview setting the scene with coverage of the German invasion of Norway and the establishment of the first POW camps. The main original artefact here is a part of the original gate to Botn camp.
 
Next comes a room with a reconstructed office of the German camp command. Communications equipment and various documents are on display. Next door is part of a kitchen, and a scale model of the original camp of Botn (presumably).
 
The main part consists of a small section of one of the typical arched-roof prisoner "dorm" barracks, complete with dummies in bunk beds on straw, and a large blown-up photo of what it really looked like back then. There's also a rather short, maybe half-scale replica of a watchtower to make it all look even grimmer.
 
Objects on display include items made by the prisoners (often in secret) such as wood carvings – some astonishingly elaborate – as well as work equipment, signs and one of those old suitcases that have become so typical of museums of this type. Finally, the topic of liberation finishes the exhibition.
 
Labelling and (rather limited) background explanations in text form are all in Norwegian only. Multilingual brochures and information sheets, however, can be obtained at the entrance. There are also guided tours available in English – but when I arrived at the museum the guide was already busy taking a Norwegian group around, so I didn't make use of this service. I only chatted to the guide for a little bit afterwards.
 
She also pointed out the cliff face on the opposite side of the valley. This is linked to a story relayed within the museum too, namely that of a daring "sabotage" operation: one Norwegian "patriot" dared to lower himself on ropes off the cliff edge to reach a large swastika which the Nazis had painted on the rock face; and he then proceeded to paint it over with a Norwegian flag!
 
The rest of the Saltdal museum is barely linked to the topic of the Blood Road – except a film that is shown (summer only) in the building adjacent to the central large one nearer the road.
 
This film, explicitly titled "Blodvägen", is in Norwegian as well, but: a number of the people interviewed speak their own native languages, and that includes mostly Russian, and also some German, subtitled in Norwegian. So if you at least have a certain grasp of these other languages, it is still worth watching the film, even if you don't get much of the Norwegian (chances are, though, that if you know German you can at least decipher a certain proportion of the Norwegian subtitles, if not much of the spoken Norwegian, since both are Germanic languages with some degree of similarities in vocab and grammar).
 
All in all, the Blood Road Museum didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had. It's really quite small and despite its relative youth (established 1995) feels somewhat underdeveloped (albeit in a kind-of endearing old-fashioned way). Because it is all in Norwegian only you'd need to arrange a guided tour to get the most out of this museum if you don't understand the language. Or make do with the brochures you can buy.
 
Given that the museum is so far from any other dark tourism sites, the detour required to get here may ultimately not really be worth it – unless you're passing through the area anyway. At least it's just off the main backbone E6 highway through the country, so it could easily make for a short stopover if driving up to the north of Norway beyond the Arctic Circle. Specifically flying into Bodø and driving to the museum by hire car (expensive!), like I did in August 2012, is certainly excessive and not to be recommended for the regular tourist (dark or otherwise). Only for the really determined.
 
 
Location: in Saltnes just east of the small town of Rognan in the Nordland region of Norway, ca. 12 miles (18 km) south of Fauske, which in turn is almost 30 miles (50 km) east of Bodø.
 
Google maps locator: [67.103,15.430]
 
 
Access and costs: It's a bit off the beaten track, and especially for the dark tourist quite far from anything else that can be visited in this niche category in these parts of Scandinavia. OK to take in when passing by, but not worth a massive detour.
 
Details: You will most likely need a car to get to this museum, although it is possible to get to neighbouring Rognan by train, e.g. from Bodø, which takes about an hour (for times and fares see nsb.no). From the train station the distance to Saltdal museum is walkable (though less than scenic): take Preben Von Ahnens Veg north-east, turn right onto Kirkegata, cross the bridge and follow the Saltnes road north that goes straight to the museum entrance. It's a bit over a mile (1.8 km).
 
If driving, simply take the main E6 north-south highway and, coming from the north/east (e.g. from Bodø/Fauske) take the turn-off to the right just before the entrance to the road tunnel. This minor road then winds around the hill (rather than through it) following the course of the original Blood Road. The museum appears on your left just after the turn around the Saltnes headland. When coming from the other direction it's best to follow the E6 past Rognan and after the tunnel (where you can't turn straight left) carry on to the next turn-off to the right and make a U-turn here to proceed as above. There is sufficient parking at the museum. From Bodø the journey takes about an hour to an hour and a half to drive.
 
Opening times: only in season, from 16 June to 19 August, between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
 
Admission: 40 NOK (students 10 NOK).
 
 
Time required: Without the necessary language skills you won't need much more than 5-10 minutes for looking around in this museum when doing it individually. With a sound enough knowledge of Norwegian, or with a guided tour in English, something like half an hour seems sufficient, but add a little time for the other parts of the museum. And if you can understand enough Russian and German the film is worth factoring in (shown in a different building, daily at 1 p.m.); its total running time is 40 minutes.
 
 
Combinations with other dark destinations: Nearby at Botn can be found a Yugoslav POW cemetery and a German war cemetery that are linked to the same part of the history of the place. They are located up the hillside east of Saltdal, where the infamous Botn camp used to be (see above). To get there, go back on the old Blodvegen towards the E6, but instead turn right at the intersection and follow the narrow road up the hillside until you get to the cemeteries and memorial stones.
 
There's yet another single memorial stone for Yugoslav partisans directly by the old Blood Road a short distance from the turn-off from the E6. A bit further up the road towards Saltnes, note a red cross painted on the rock. This marks the spot where one prisoner painted such a cross with the blood of a fellow prisoner who had been shot here. These days the cross is touched up regularly with red paint.
 
Further away, the town of Bodø may be something for those with an interest in military aviation. The town's airport doubles up as one of Norway's key Air Force bases and you can see F-16 fighter jets take off and land noisily with some regularity. It is also the departure point for support flights to the extremely remote Jan Mayen island, which is located between Iceland and Svalbard and is Norway's only active volcano. However, it is not normally possible for ordinary civilians to go there (although some extreme cruises sometimes do get the permission).
 
Much more accessible and without doubt a veritable tourist attraction, arguably even Bodø's best (some would say its only) proper sight is the Norwegian Aviation Museum. Amongst the various planes to see is a U2 spy plane such as the one that, headed for Bodø, was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 leading to the arrest of US pilot Francis Gary Powers … and sparking off a major diplomatic stand-off between the two superpowers of the Cold War at the time.  
 
Bodø's other asset for the dark tourist is that from here (and only from here!) you could still get short internal flight connections to the little regional airport in Narvik (Framnes) in 2012 … but the future of these connections is somewhat uncertain, I was told (the Harstad/Narvik Evenes airport is much more frequently used, but requires a long bus transfer of well over an hour).
  
Those with a really profound interest in the Blood Road, and this region's general war history, could use the services of a former museum guide at the Blodveimuseet who now offers private independent tours e.g. to sites of yet more former POW camps in the forests of the area, as well as full-on battlefield archaeology expeditions – see here (external link, opens in a new window).
 
 
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The Blodveimuseet is but one part of the Saltdal museum complex which also includes rustic turf-roof cottages, an old school classroom, a dentist's practice, various farm buildings and farming equipment, and such like. Those into such folksy stuff will greatly enjoy it (I found most of it rather tedious).
 
As almost anywhere in these parts of Norway, the surrounding landscape is fabulous, so just driving around in it is great fun.
 
The most outstanding natural attraction in the area is the Saltstraumen maelstrom. This is created by the tide being forced up a narrow strait, so that every six hours its fantastic, fast-moving, ever-changing white and emerald swirls can be observed – either from close up on the shore, or, much better, from the bridge that takes the Rv17 road over the strait. It's best just before high tide. The wildest part of the maelstroms are to be seen towards the western end of the bridge. If you don't just want to take your chances (like I did – and I was indeed lucky with the timing), then you should check the tide's times in advance. There are buses available that go here from Bodø.
 
  
 
  • Blodveimuseet 1 - in Saltdal historical villageBlodveimuseet 1 - in Saltdal historical village
  • Blodveimuseet 2 - Blood Road MuseumBlodveimuseet 2 - Blood Road Museum
  • Blodveimuseet 3 - model of a POW campBlodveimuseet 3 - model of a POW camp
  • Blodveimuseet 4 - map of the Blood RoadBlodveimuseet 4 - map of the Blood Road
  • Blodveimuseet 5 - POW possessionsBlodveimuseet 5 - POW possessions
  • Blodveimuseet 6 - watchtower replicaBlodveimuseet 6 - watchtower replica
  • Blodveimuseet 7 - mock-up of a POW barrackBlodveimuseet 7 - mock-up of a POW barrack
  • Blodveimuseet 8 - the cheeky and brave repainting operationBlodveimuseet 8 - the cheeky and brave repainting operation
  • Blodveimuseet 9 - that cliff, now without any paintingBlodveimuseet 9 - that cliff, now without any painting
  • German war cemetery nearbyGerman war cemetery nearby
  • Yugoslav war cemetery in the forest tooYugoslav war cemetery in the forest too
  • classroom mock-up in Saltdal historical villageclassroom mock-up in Saltdal historical village
  • dental practice mock-up at Saltdal historical villagedental practice mock-up at Saltdal historical village

        
  
  
  
  
  

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