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New museum for the heroes of Telemark

They blew up the cellar that could have provided Hitler with his atomic bomb. Now, a new museum is being built around the excavation.

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Published 1 March 2017

In the winter of 1943, a group of brave British-supported Norwegian saboteurs infiltrated a heavily guarded hydrogen factory at Vemork, blowing up a facility producing heavy water – a component essential to the nazi attempts to build an atom bomb.

Now, Norwegian broadcaster NRK reports that Norsk Industriarbeidermuseum (the Norwegian Industrial Workers Museum) in Vemork are planning on excavating the basement and building a new museum on the remains of what the saboteurs blew up, commemorating the events of the Second World War.

"Being able to tell the story of the war in a new building on the site of the actual heavy water sabotage operation is going to be amasing," says museum director Runar Lia to NRK.

The museum will consist of a glass room, and is aiming for a 2018 opening.

At the moment, what kind of remains one can expect to find during the excavation is unknown. As Lia says to local paper Rjukan Arbeiderblad:

"We're gonna dig, but we're not quite sure what we're gonna find."

Architect and manager Bart Burgerhoudt of Point AS is the man responsible for the building plans.

"The entire area is marked for preservation, the buildings as well as the landscape, so this was a very different assignment – building something where you are not allowed to build. So, we've come up with a building that is 400 square meters in size, designed to convey wartime history and tell the story of the sabotage, but also showcasing the factory that was once situated there."

Rjukan museum
Credits
Rjukan museum.
Photo: Point AS

Credits
Rjukan museum.
Photo: Point AS

Burgerhoudt’s solution is a glass silhouette of part of the factory.

"We are visualising the building and the event, rather than merely copying the big factory. We've made sure to give the sense that the building is part of something much larger that was once there."

Rjukan new museum
Credits
Rjukan new museum.
Photo: Point AS

Credits
Rjukan new museum.
Photo: Point AS

According to NRK, the architectural plans were presented this Tuesday. Along with the presentation, a video shown featured Joachim Rønneberg, the leader of the 1943 operation and its last surviving member, giving his blessing to the project.

"It's going to mean a lot," Rønneberg says upon being presented with the plans.

"If it turns out that you can find a significant amount of remains through excavation, that is excellent."

The heavy water sabotage operation in Vemork 74 years ago has since become an essential part of the history of Norwegian resistance during the war.

The saboteurs were flown in from England and parachuted down onto the Hardangervidda mountain plateau, before being forced to survive for several months in a mountainside cabin in freezing temperatures and with little food.

73 år siden tungtvannsaksjonen på Vemork💣

Et innlegg delt av Maren Holm Olsen (@marenholsen)

The operation has formed the basis for several films and tv-series, both Norwegian and international, the most well-known probably being "The Heroes of Telemark" from 1965, starring Kirk Douglas and taking more than a few artistic liberties with the source material:

 

A better way to experience the story is probably the Norwegian tv-series «The Heavy Water War» from 2015:

 

However, the most interesting take might be the BBC series «The Real Heroes of Telemark», a fascinating real-life demonstration of the hardships that the saboteurs faced while surviving alone on Hardangervidda in the months leading up to the operation.

Here, British and Norwegian elite soldiers were pitted against the same conditions in an effort to mimic the operation – doing everything from parachuting in to eating boiled reindeer moss in lack of other sustenance.

 

Apart from the planned museum, several attractions linked to the sabotage operation can already be found in Vemork and Rjukan. For instance, there is the Saboteur's trail, where visitors can opt for guided tours to the spot where the saboteurs were parachuted in.

Norsk Industriarbeidermuseum also have an exhibition dubbed "Heroes in Telemark", relating the story of the network of locals in Vemork assisting the saboteurs.

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