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Episode 5

Arne Brun Lie

“I, I was, of course, very scared. But I thought, Oh, this is something I’ll get away with. I played innocent. And then they took me down to the Norwegian Nazi police headquarter. And there everything really changed.”


Eighteen-year-old Arne Brun Lie answered the patriotic call to join the Norwegian resistance. But instead of fighting for his nation’s freedom, he found himself in the hands of the Nazis, fighting for his life.

Photos and Artifacts

Karl Johans gate, Oslo (then Kristiania), 1924. Source: Flickr.

Young Arne Brun Lie with his older sister Sylvei in a makeshift "boat." Credit: Courtesy of the family of Arne Brun Lie.

Arne Brun Lie as a young man. Credit: Courtesy of the family of Arne Brun Lie.

Arne Brun Lie sailing his boat, the Tresbelle, in the mid-1990s. Credit: Photo by Ellen Korey-Lie, courtesy of the family of Arne Brun Lie.

Arne Brun Lie sailing his boat, the Tresbelle, in the mid-1990s. Credit: Photo by Ellen Korey-Lie, courtesy of the family of Arne Brun Lie.

Arne Brun Lie, ca. 1988. Credit: Photo by Ellen Korey-Lie, courtesy of the family of Arne Brun Lie.

Akershus Castle. Credit: Photo by Jim & Robin Kunze, via Flickr.

A convoy of Swedish Red Cross buses, used to evacuate concentration camp prisoners and transport them to Sweden, 1945. Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Eric Saul.

Jewish survivors, wearing concentration camp uniforms and carrying Zionist flags, hold wreaths to lay at Dautmergen on the first anniversary of the liberation of the camp, April 1946. Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Nat Soffer.

Wreath laying ceremony at Dautmergen by Jewish survivors on the first anniversary of the liberation of the camp, April 1946. Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Nat Soffer.

The concentration camp of Natzweiler-Struhof in Alsace, France. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo.

Norwegian refugees outside their barracks, undergoing military training in Sweden. The Norwegian resistance to the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany began after Operation Weserübung in 1940 and ended in 1945. In 1942, the Norwegian government, in cooperation with the Swedish authorities, began training 8-9,000 younger Norwegian refugees for the purpose of taking over the police service and maintaining peace and order in the liberated areas of Norway. Credit: Riksarkivet (National Archives of Norway), via Flickr.

Transport list for the transfer of Norwegian citizens from the concentration camp at Dachau to the Swedish Red Cross, created March 23, 1945. Credit: Courtesy of Arolsen Archives.

By Dr. Samuel Kassow

Arne Brun Lie was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1925. He had a sheltered middle-class upbringing in a suburb near Oslo, where his father worked as a master tanner. Arne’s first love was sailing, and he spent happy summers in the Sea Scouts, steadily honing his skills. He became an expert sailor and, thanks to his father, he also learned how to build boats from scratch.

Two months after Arne’s 15th birthday, on April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Norway. While the German Navy suffered heavy losses on the approaches to Oslo, Norwegian resistance collapsed within two months and the Germans completed their occupation of the country by June.

While the Germans regarded the Norwegians as racial cousins worthy of far better treatment than the Poles, their occupation of Norway became increasingly oppressive. The Germans had hoped that the king and the legitimate Norwegian government would stay in place and govern the country, as had happened in Denmark. But when King Haakon VII and the government fled to Britain, the Germans recognized Vidkun Quisling, the unpopular head of the Norwegian fascist party Nasjonal Samling as prime minister. Ultimately, though, the real power rested in the hands of Germans, specifically the rabid Nazi Josef Terboven, whom Hitler appointed Reichskommissar for Norway, and SS Gruppenführer Wilhelm Rediess.

While a majority of the Norwegian population opposed the occupation, there was plenty of collaboration as well—enough to endanger Norway’s small Jewish population and those Norwegians who chose to resist the Nazis. It was the Norwegian police, rather than the Germans, that played a key role in the roundup of Jews in November 1942. And 15,000 Norwegians volunteered for the Waffen-SS and the Wehrmacht.

Indeed, it was the STAPO, the Norwegian political police, that arrested and tortured Arne before turning him over to the Germans. In 1943, when Arne was 18, he was asked to join a Norwegian resistance cell, an “action group” that was to prepare various acts of sabotage. He eagerly agreed, shrugging off a warning that he would face torture and execution if caught.

In the spring of 1944, Arne’s group went on a mission to destroy lists of Norwegians targeted for forced labor. The mission was compromised, and the STAPO trapped most of the group. Although Arne himself had not joined the mission—his training had not yet been completed—the police somehow got his name. They stormed his house in the middle of the night, arrested him, and took him to STAPO headquarters, where he was badly beaten.

Soon afterwards, the STAPO moved Arne to Akershus Castle, a notorious prison, where he was handed over to the German Gestapo and suffered more torture. In Akershus Arne found out that three close friends of his who had gone on the mission—Jon Hatland, Per Stanger-Thorsen, and Lars Eriksen—had been caught and were in the same prison. The four of them were tried before an SS court. Jon, Per, and Lars were sent to be shot. By some miracle, Arne was not executed. He was told later that one reason for his reprieve was that the Germans had misplaced his file.

Although spared execution, Arne was sent to a series of brutal Nazi concentration camps, where most of his Norwegian co-prisoners died. His case fell under the notorious Nacht und Nebel (Night and Fog) Decree, issued by Hitler on December 7, 1941. The purpose of this decree was to crush resistance to German occupation by denying arrested prisoners any contact with their family or anyone else; they would simply vanish “into night and fog.” The directive streamlined German repression by eliminating the necessity of trying each suspect in Wehrmacht military courts. Nacht und Nebel prisoners had a special status, wore a large “NN” on their uniforms, and were, in effect, sentenced to death.

In June 1944, Arne and some other Norwegian NN prisoners were taken to Stettin on a German ship and from there by rail to Natzweiler, a notorious German concentration camp in Alsace. Over time, nine convoys of Norwegian NN prisoners, totaling 504 men, arrived in Natzweiler. The mortality rate in the camp—because of inadequate food, hard labor in a stone quarry, and rapid marches up and down the mountain where the camp was located—was very high. Up to 20,000 prisoners died there in all. Natzweiler was also notorious because of the medical experiments performed there; eminent German professors used the prisoners to test vaccines against typhus and investigate the effects of mustard gas and typhus.

As the Allies approached Natzweiler at the end of August 1944, Arne and the other surviving prisoners were transferred to Dachau and then to Dautmergen. Although Arne described the guards at Dautmergen as “Polish SS,” it is more probable that they were Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans who lived outside the Reich), perhaps from Silesia or Pomerania, former Poles who had opted for German nationality. There were no Polish SS formations per se.

In his original interview, Arne gave graphic descriptions of the horrors he witnessed: hangings, beatings, senseless sadism, fellow prisoners strangling a comrade because he had stolen a tin of meat. One by one, the Norwegians died; very few lived to see the end of the war. During his time in the camps, Arne suffered acute dysentery and typhus. By the time the war ended, he was 19 and weighed 90 pounds.

In April 1945, facing a looming German defeat, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, sought to burnish his image by making a deal with the Swedish Red Cross to release all Scandinavian prisoners. On May 1, 1945, Arne arrived in Copenhagen, alive and safe.

After the war, Arne went to England to study tannery. He returned to Norway, married, and had three children. In the 1980s, now divorced, he immigrated to the United States and had two children with his second wife. His first love remained sailing. He crossed the Atlantic under sail four times.

For many years, Arne did not want to talk about his experiences, but, in time, he decided to speak out. The 1961 Eichmann trial, growing ignorance about Nazi atrocities, and many serious conversations with friends persuaded him that telling others about what he had seen and lived through was a responsibility he could not shirk.


Additional readings and information

Brun Lie, Arne (with Robby Robinson). Night and Fog: A Survivor’s Story. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1990.

Passage, a 1991 documentary about Arne’s cross-Atlantic voyage in a sailboat he himself built and his visit to the concentration camps where he was imprisoned during the war:

Arne’s unedited testimony at the Fortunoff Video Archive (available at access sites worldwide):