Norwegian Resistance Museum Oslo
A well-established museum in Oslo
about the Norwegian Resistance during the German occupation in WWII
. But it also places the whole topic in a wider context, ranging from military aspects to the everyday life of ordinary citizens.
It's an endearingly old-fashioned museum, not hi-tech, so it may not be for everyone, but I'd recommend it to anyone with a genuine interest in Norway
's part in WWII history.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info: The "Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum", to give its original Norwegian name (sometimes also slightly mistranslated as ' Norway resistance museum'), was established in the late 1960s and as such predates most of Norway's other war-related memorial museums by quite some time! Its age shows, however, in that it's quite crammed, and palpably lo-tech compared to many other such institutions. But I liked that fact – some of the home-made looking dioramas with models and improvised accessories like cotton wool balls for smoke almost reminded me of my own childhood attempts at making such model diorama scenes ...
But I do not mean to belittle the museum's significance or the seriousness of its subject matter. Norway
did suffer a lot in WWII
at the hands of the occupying power of Nazi Germany
– as well as from its own collaborationist right-wing "government" under Quisling (see Villa Grande
The number of Norwegians who either fled into exile (mostly to Sweden
) or were arrested, deported or sent to the front, may not seem high at a total of ca. 50,000, but given how small the country's total population was/is (ca. 3 million) it is not really an insignificant figure. Nor is the proportion of Norwegians who were actively involved in resistance to the Nazi occupation anything but insignificant, even though its underground groupings may not have had quite the military prowess of, say, the Polish AK
or the partisans of Yugoslavia
In Norway, resistance took basically two forms: quietly in the underground, in particular with regard to information gathering and dissemination (also to/from the Western Allies, especially Great Britain
, i.e. it was espionage/intelligence), and direct acts of sabotage and other use of force (and that included the liquidation of informers too!).
The highest profile sabotage operation of them all was certainly the one against the heavy water plant at Vemork (see Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum
), but that was by no means a one-off.
There were also various attacks on transport links, goods depots and, famously, Gunnar Sønsteby's bombing of a German labour registration office in Oslo, thus saving thousands of young Norwegians from being sent to the Eastern Front in Russia. Sønsteby thus became something of a national hero and was highly decorated after the war; there are statues of him in both Oslo (Solli Plass) and in the town of Vemork. He died in May 2012 (aged 96) and was given a grand state funeral.
The Norwegian Resistance Museum naturally celebrates those efforts but also covers the tragic sides of the era, the reign of terror of the SS
, the prisons and concentration camps
, forced labour, and the Holocaust
. Unlike the similar museums in Narvik
(Red Cross Museum
, or the Blood Road Museum
, which all have a somewhat narrower focus specific to their respective locations/histories, the Hjemmefrontmuseum in Oslo offers a nationwide picture. It is thus the leading museum on the subject anywhere.
The museum is housed in a building that forms part of the historic Akershus fortress complex and is itself of related tragic relevance: it was used by the Nazis
as a prison and torture centre and executions took place in the courtyard. After the end of WWII
, Quisling, found guilty in a post-war trial and sentenced to death, was also executed, by firing squad, in Akershus fortress in October 1945 – thus ending one of the darkest chapters in the whole of Norway
What there is to see: As you enter the building a fortress-like, almost dungeon-like atmosphere immediately engulfs you. The walls are thick and made of heavy brick, there's no natural light, in short it is gloomy … but that's all only fitting, of course!
The actual exhibition starts exactly where you'd expect it to start: with the outbreak of WWII
. The scene is set by a wall of panels with reproductions of various Norwegian newspaper front pages. These, as many other documents on display in the rest of the museum, are in Norwegian only. However, most of the labels and explanatory text panels feature translations into English, so that you can get by fairly well as a non-Norwegian-speaking visitor.
The first exhibition room proper, with a sign specifying the date of Nazi Germany
's invasion in Norway
: 9 April 1940, has a spiky modern sculpture-like installation made from rifles on the one side, while on the opposite side of the oblong room is a series of photo panels and little glass display boxes with dioramas of the early battles.
The execution of these dioramas is, as already indicated above
, a particularly endearing element of this museum. They involve scale models of ships and aeroplanes (not always the same
scale even if closely positioned together!) as well as little soldier figurines populating the scenes, while plumes of "smoke" are made out of differently coloured cotton wool. Did I hear anybody say "toys for boys!"? Well, there is that element, for sure, but you can't help but finding it quite cute in this old-fashioned museum setting, really.
The scenes depicted include the sinking of the German cruiser "Blücher" in the fjord of Oslo (the wreck is still down there!), the capturing of Stavanger airport by German paratroopers, and grim scenes of burning cityscapes after air raids.
A more modern element at this point is a video screen showing Vidkun Quisling of the Norwegian right-wing Nasjonal Samling party after his coup d'etat to take over the government, when he basically ordered his fellow Norwegians to go along with the German invasion. You can press a button to listen to Quisling's radio speech to that effect. The labelling on the panel does not mince its words: they call it "betrayal" and Quisling a "traitor" (which his name did indeed become synonymous with after April 1940).
Also on display is a message from Hitler
to his troops from June 1940, in which he thanked his subordinates for their great service (in German, of course). Yet more documents on display (or rather: reproductions thereof) are also in a mix of languages, mostly Norwegian with some German thrown in. Only the general overviews have translations into English here.
After a brief coverage of everyday life under occupation conditions, the museum soon delves into its core subject matter: resistance. On display are clandestine radio receivers, more cute dioramas of undercover escapes by boat, and such like. The role of the "ex-pat" Norwegian Merchant Navy, which continued to play an important part in the Allied Atlantic
convoys rather than submitting to Nazi Germany's orders, is also emphasized.
The supportive role of Great Britain
is emphasized as well, both at the highest level (Winston Churchill) and at the level of e.g. the BBC reaching out to Norway's citizens, including coded messages. Internal information "warfare" is illustrated by means of a life-size mock-up installation of an underground printing shop.
As the exhibition progresses through the war years the tone of the German propaganda material on display changes noticeably. From a more or less genuine celebratory one after the first year of war, to desperate lies at the end of 1942. There's a newspaper front page dated 23 December 1940 in which reports about an impending defeat of Germany
's troops in Stalingrad
are offhandedly dismissed as "enemy lies" (as 'irrige Sowjetmeldungen' in the German original). We know better, of course, what really happened then – probably the most significant turning point of the war in the East. After the defeat at Stalingrad things went from bad to worse for the German war effort.
The usual exhibit of a striped concentration camp outfit is on display in this context too. Much more unusual, on the other hand, is a very special artefact indeed: the dentures with which captured Norwegian officers managed to pick up the BBC radio services even in prison! (Schildberg prison, to be precise, in what is today Poland
– in a way, then, it was a kind of Norwegian equivalent of Colditz
One further section is devoted to the Holocaust
. It ranges from coverage of the fate of Norwegian Jews to a grimly realistic scale-model diorama of Auschwitz
– featuring the famous "Arbeit macht frei" gate of the original camp, with lines of striped inmates being herded in (presumably after a long day's forced labour shift outside the camp). In brutal detail the beatings of inmates by SS
guards are depicted, including the flogging of one victim who's already flat on a stretcher. At this point the technique of such detailed scale-modelling ceases to be cute. It is rather heart-stopping in how realistic the scene is.
After these particularly dark sections, the exhibition moves on – or rather back – to normal civilian life in Norway
under the ongoing German occupation. Food rationing is one theme here. Then we come to what is probably seen as the proudest part of Norwegian Resistance: the great sabotage operations.
Obviously, the targeting of the heavy water plant at Vemork (see Industrial Workers Museum Vemork
for details) is particularly underscored and richly illustrated accordingly. Not only is there another scale-model diorama of the Vemork plant, they even have one of the original heavy-water production cells on display – allegedly this is the only one still in existence! The equally original British radio transmitter used in the sabotage operation that is also on display pales a bit in comparison.
We then come to the theme of Germany's stepped-up fortifications on the Norwegian coast – "Festung Norwegen", 'fortress Norway' was the term used in this context. On display is a gigantic shell of one of the super-heavy artillery installations built by the Nazis. As a counterpart of sorts, the sinking of the German battleship "Tirpitz" in November 1944 near Tromsø is portrayed as a devastating loss for Germany … although at that point, hidden away in a fjord without a proper role, its loss may no longer have had such great significance (cf. also Narvik Red Cross Museum
The British efforts in keeping the Norwegian Resistance supplied is also illustrated. For instance there is one of the tubes used to air-drop materials in Norway to get equipment to underground resistance groups.
Towards the end of the war, the Germans pursued a vile scorched-earth policy in the far north of Norway (see Kirkenes
) and this is one of the last chapters the exhibition covers. The very last part finally brings a positive note: peace at last. Large blow-ups of photos of the king returning to Norway
and of victory parades in open cars provide a celebratory flourish after all the doom-and-gloom of the central parts of the exhibition.
As an add-on to the exhibition proper there is an interactive workstation where you can punch up detailed information on the screen from a database of Norwegian POWs and other victims. This workstation is multilingual.
Outside the museum building, spare a minute or so for a look at the small memorial section set aside for those who were executed here. Their names are listed on a memorial plaque.
When I was there (in August 2012) there was also some kind of art installation down in the courtyard of the museum's building. Or rather: set into its basement-level window openings. A plaque explains the meanings/significance of the work. But I can't say whether this was just a temporary addition or whether it is there to stay.
In any case: the Norwegian Resistance Museum is certainly one of the most important dark tourism destinations within Oslo
, and the most significant of its type in the whole country. Some elements of the exhibition may be a bit on the old-fashioned side, but I didn't find that too much of a detraction from an overall very good impression. I'd go as far as saying it's an absolute must-do for any tourist (dark or otherwise) when visiting this city, especially of course for anyone with even a passing interest in Norwegian / WWII
in the Arkershus Fortress (address: Bygning 21, 0015 Oslo
) close to the city centre, a few hundred yards south of the City Hall (Rådhus).
Access and costs: fairly centrally located, and not too overpriced (by Norwegian standards).
The museum's location is just outside the heart of Oslo
's city centre, easily walkable from the Aker Brygge waterfront and Rådhusplassen. At the latter's south-eastern end ascend the stairs and right into the Akershus fortress. The museum is the second red-brick half-timbered building right behind the fortress's western outer rampart, and access is from up there – access is thus only on foot, no road or public transport in the immediate vicinity. Coming from Akershus castle, the museum is found immediately opposite of the northern entrance/exit.
Opening times: daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (to 5 p.m. during the summer), only from 11 a.m. on Sundays
Admission: 50 NOK (free with Oslo Pass)
I spent about an hour in this museum – but then again I had already been to most of Norway
's other WWII
-related museums (including Bergen
's Resistance Museum
) in the weeks before coming to Oslo
, and was thus able to skip certain parts here that delivered more or less the same narrative. But if this is your first encounter with this period of Norwegian history and you want to take everything in that's offered, then you'd probably have to allocate at least two hours to go through it all.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see under Oslo
– also part of Akershus fortress is the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum
further south-west (a bit more hidden inside the fortress complex). It has a lot of WWII exhibits too but looks less at the resistance side, more at the military aspects. Especially noteworthy from a dark tourism point of view, however, are its more modern, even contemporary elements.
One especially dark aspect of the era of German occupation during WWII
's own role in the Holocaust
, under its collaborationist regime of Vidkun Quisling, who resided in a grand mansion called Villa Grande on Bygdøy peninsula. Today this very building has been turned into a Holocaust Centre
(one of Norway's principal such education and research institutions – together with the Falstad Centre
Further afield, there is another Resistance Museum
on the west coast, only a few hours away from Oslo
by train. Further away still, more museums on a similar theme can be found in Trondheim, Narvik
, Tromsø and Hammerfest. And at the very other, northern end of the country, Kirkenes
also has two museums about that town's particularly tragic role in WWII.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The Akershus fortress and castle complex is quite a tourist attraction without its darker associations thrown in for good measure. This is particularly true for the stretch of the outer ramparts behind which the Resistance Museum is located. So taking a stroll on top of the fortifications nearby, walking south further out towards the fjord is one of the more pleasant things to do in Oslo. And it affords great views over the harbour and the central city's skyline (at least as long as none of those huge monster cruise ships are berthing right by the fortress and blot out the view).
If you head north, rather than further out, you'll get right back into the city centre too within just a few minutes – see under Oslo
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 01 - the building
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 02 - inside
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 03 - lots of models and dioramas
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 04 - Quisling
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 05 - radio equipment
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 06 - radio receiver dentures
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 07 - underground printing shop
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 08 - persecution and imprisonment
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 09 - prison door
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 10 - Auschwitz model
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 11 - concentration camps section
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 12 - food rationing section
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 13 - model of Vemork heavy water plant
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 14 - sabotage section
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 15 - fortress Norway
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 16 - keeping the resistance supplied
- Norwegian Resistance Museum 17 - victory at last