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Resistance fighter Jan Baalsrud's dramatic escape during World War II has become the Norwegian movie of the year. Now, you too can retrace the breakneck route he undertook.

Published: 21 December 2017

In March 1943, Norway was occupied by the Nazis. The resistance group Company Linge was among those who worked against the occupying forces, but the fishing vessel they were aboard, the MK "Bratholm I", was spotted during an attempted sabotage mission in Norway. 

11 of the 12 men were arrested, tortured and executed by the Germans. Only one of them - Jan Baalsrud - got away. 

For over two months, he was on the run towards the Swedish border, which he finally reached on the first of June. Before that, he had had to contend with snow blindness, gunshot wounds, and bitter cold so intense that he single-handedly had to amputate most of his toes.

– Incomprehensible that he survived

The story of Jan Baalsrud made its way to the silver screen already in 1957, in the Oscar-nominated film Nine Lives, which has been voted Norway's best film of all time. Now, a new film adaptation that was directed by Harald Zwart is ready. 12th Man will premiere at Norwegian movie theatres on Christmas Day.

Thomas Gullestad - formerly best known as a musician - has the film's lead role as Jan Baalsrud. 

In an interview with the website Filmweb, Gullestad says that the exhausting shooting schedule gave him insight into the unimaginable accomplishment that staying alive in the frigid Northern Norwegian mountains actually was.

"It was a physically demanding shoot. For every day that passed, it became more and more incomprehensible how Jan Baalsrud actually survived. He could not have done this without help from the local inhabitants. In addition, he had an amazing instinct for survival," says Gullestad to Filmweb.

Mountain caves and secret helpers

Visit Lyngenfjord is now doing their part to enable visitors to retrace Jan Baalsrud's footsteps, and in that way gain some insight into this unique chapter of Norwegian military history.

The proposed 1-day tour starts near the Toftefjorden on Rebbenesøya Island where Baalsrud swam more than 300 metres in ice cold water - with gunshot wounds.


Photo: Svein Petter Aagård / www.nordnorge.com

Here, we visit the Bratholm monument where the eleven resistance fighters who were executed are honoured with a formation of pebbles. 

Other sites to be visited along Baalsrud's escape route include a small cabin with the ironic name, "Hotel Savoy", where he hid after getting a ride across the fjord, and a haybarn in the village Furuflaten, which that today houses a small exhibition with Baalsrud-related items - including the skis he used during his escape.

Manndalen, Kåfjord

Manndalen, Kåfjord.
Photo: Magnus Ström / www.nordnorge.com

The most thought-provoking moment is perhaps when you come across the little mountain crevice/cave that has become known as "Baalsrudhula" or "Baalsrud's Cave" in English. Here, at the top of Manndalen Valley, Jan Baalsrud spent over three weeks in the biting cold. It was here that gangrene made it necessary for him to amputate several of his toes in order to survive. 

For the absolute fittest visitors, there is also an even more physically demanding alternative excursion - the annual Jan Baalsrud-Marsjen, an annual, long-distance trek which takes place over the course of a week in late July. Several of the daily legs require superb physical conditioning.

A humble hero

Jan Baalsrud died in 1988, 71 years old. He is buried in the cemetery of Manndalen Valley in Kåfjord in Troms County where he was given help, shelter and food by the brave local inhabitants. 

The simple gravestone at his grave is inscribed with the words: "Thanks to everyone who helped me to freedom in 1943”. 

Baalsrud never hid the fact that he considered the people he met during his escape to be the true heroes, and he spent large parts of his life after the war fighting for the rights of war invalids and their families.

Den 12. mann

Den 12. mann.
Photo: Petter Skafle Henriksen

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