In the summer of 1940, the German Security Police (SIPO) established the Polizeihäftlingslager Ulven in a small former Norwegian military facility in the municipality of Os, southwestern Norway. But in 1942, the German Wehrmacht wanted to take over Ulven, which meant that SIPO had to find another place. SIPO found a desolate area called Espeland, about ten kilometres east of Bergen, suitable for building a brand new Polizeihäftlingslager. Due to Espeland’s desolate location a road had to be built where the camp itself was to be built. In June and July 1942, between 50 – 100 Yugoslav prisoners of war were working on the construction of the road, and only then did the construction of the camp begin. The first barrack was completed in January 1943 and the same month the first prisoners were transferred from Ulven to Espeland.

As Espeland expanded, more prisoners were transferred from Ulven, which in December 1943 was completely discontinued as Polizeihäftlingslager and transferred under the direction of Wehrmacht. During the next two years, Espeland was expanded as needed. In 1943, the camp guards lived in the same camp as the prisoners, but in 1944 a separate sentinel camp with four barracks was built next to the prison camp. When the last barracks had been completed in October 1944, the prison camp consisted of a total of eight barracks, three barracks, two penal barracks, a kitchen, a laundry/toilet barracks and a stable/chickenhouse. Everything was surrounded by a barbed wire fence with a watchtower in each corner. The camp consisted of four barracks.

About 200 meters from Espeland, the Germans around the turn of the year 43/44 began to build a Russian camp for Soviet prisoners of war. But neither Soviet prisoners of war nor other prisoners ended up in the camp because it was never completed before the war ended. Compared to other similar camps, conditions in Espeland were good, especially with those in Germany and Eastern Europe. The guards came from the police and not from the SS and were much milder in their treatment of the prisoners and the work was of the milder nature. Some guards even conveyed contacts between prisoners and outsiders. 

In total, there were more than 2,000 prisoners in the camp between January 1943 and May 1945, about a hundred of them were women. Most prisoners came from the region and some were sent on to Grini. No prisoners on Espeland were sentenced to death, nor were there any executions on Espeland or near the camp. The camp was liberated completely intact and after the war it was used to imprison Norwegian collaborators and German war criminals. In 1952, the camp was taken over by the Norwegian civil defence, which remained until the mid-nineties when the camp (or buildings) were put up for sale.

Current status: Preserved with museum (2011).

Address: Moldamyrane, 5267 Arna, Bergen.

Get there: Car.

My comment:

All the barracks, except two, still exist, they have of course undergone some external and internal changes but can still be considered authentic. This means that Espeland is actually one of the best, if not the best, well-preserved German camps from the second world war. Given that it was built from the ground up, it may well be the best preserved camp. Auschwitz I – Stammlager which is also intact was not built from scratch. However, so-called Russian camp was demolished a few years after the war. Espeland was never sold but was taken over in 2000 by the Foundation Espeland and there is today a small exhibition in the former penal barracks for men. In there, some prison cells have been reconstructed. Other barracks are used today as storage units. The idea from the foundation is that other barracks will also be included in a future museum. However, everything is an economic issue, but hopefully a first stage of the camp can be opened as early as 2012. In 2011, it was only possible to visit the exhibition by contacting the foundation in advance.

Follow up in books: Kogon, Eugen: The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (2006).