In the norwegian county Nordland the german occupying forces established during the war a large number of prisoner of war camps. Mainly soviet prisoners of war were sent to these camps, but also yugoslav and polish prisoners of war were deported to Nordland. About 30,000 Soviet, 2,500 Yugoslavian and 1,000 Poles were sent to Nordland where their main task was to carry out slave labor in building roads and railways in this inaccessible and barren landscape. In connection with these works, primitive prisoner-of-war camps were established where the prisoners were forced to live in miserable conditions.

One such camp was in Botn, about eighty kilometres west of Bodo and about two kilometers east of Rognan. In July 1942, 463 Yugoslavians arrived by boat to Botn to used as slave labor to expand the road between Langset and Saltnes. The Norwegian road system had already begun the road construction of highway 50 in 1940, but the Germans wanted to speed up the work and therefore decided that prisoners of war would be used as work force. These prisoners were housed in a camp squeezed in between mountains and valleys but strategically close to the road. Soviet and Polish prisoners of war were also sent to Botn. These camps in Botn were called Serbian camps due to its vast majority of serbian prisoners. The camp was first under SS control but in 1943 it was taken over by the Wehrmacht.

Conditions in the camp and at the road construction itself were disastrous, especially the Soviet prisoners of war were brutally treated because they by race were seen as inferior. The Yugoslav and Polish prisoners of war were not far behind. Starvation, hard work, harsh climate, beatings and diseases contributed strongly to a high mortality rate among prisoners. Executions were regularly carried out when prisoners were accused or guilty of crimes that the Germans punished with death. The camp chief Fritz Kiefer made himself known as a brutal and ruthless commandant. In addition to German guards, there were also Norwegian guards who were also guilty of war crimes. In 1942 and 1943, 344 Yugoslav prisoners of war were executed.

The stretch between Rognan and Saksenvik has come to be called the Blood Road because a Yugoslav prisoner of war in July 1943 was shot dead by a guard during work. His brother, who also was a prisoner of war, then painted a cross with his brother’s blood on the mountain wall next to where he was shot. The camp’s proximity to Sweden (about forty kilometres bird’s way) meant that about 30 prisoners tried to escape to freedom in Sweden. However, the inhospitable landscape made it difficult to escape, but some succeeded while others failed to reach freedom in Sweden.

By the end of the war in May 1945, the camp had been abandoned by the germans, leaving only Soviet prisoners of war behind. Those who needed medical treatment wer given, but after three months they were handed ove to the russians who sent them back to Soviet Union. What then happened to them we don’t know. Prisoners of war were seen by Stalin as potential traitors and not infrequently they saw themselves imprisoned after retunring to Soviet Union. As is often the case, it is difficult to estimate the number of prisoners who ended up in the camp during its existence, and it is equally difficult to estimate the number of deaths.

Current status: Demolished with museum/monument (2023).

Location: 67°06' 02.58" N 15°25' 49.60" E (museum) 67°05' 38.42" N 15°28' 32.39" E (War cemetery).

Get there: Car.

My comment:

At the Saltdal museum in Rognan there is an interesting museum called Blodveimuseet (Blood road museum). It’s focus is on the German prisoner of war camps in Saltdal and the slave labor they were forced to perform. It is located in a reconstructed barrack with many interesting objects, pictures and information. Along the road between Rognan and Botn, the christian cross painted by the brother of the murdered man has been recreated and there is also a monument along the way dedicated to the prisoners of war. Parts of the Blood Road is today part of highway E6. As a commemoration to the prisoners who suffered and died during road construction this part of the road is officially named, Blood Road.

At the camp there is a German War Cemetery for about 4700 Germans who died during the war in Northern Norway, a Yugoslav War Cemetery and a memorial dedicated to the Soviet prisoners of war who died in Norway and are buried at the site. At the German War Cemetery there is a memorial dedicated to the approximately 1800 sailors who perished when the German battleship, Scharnhorst, was sunked on 26 December, 1943. The stone was at my visit very worn and mossy and the text was difficult to read. At the Yugoslav war cemetery, 1,657 Yugoslavs are buried, where about 1,000 are unknown. About ten meters north of the cemetery, in a small sink, there are some debris from the camp.

Follow up in books: Moore, Bob, Fedorowich, Kent: Prisoners of War and Their Captors in World War II (1996).