One Of Us – Norwegian front-line soldiers during war and peace – Vegard Sæther

Norwegian title: «En av oss»: Norske frontkjempere i krig og fred

Hello everyone!

How was your summer? Mine has been blissfully bookish. I’ve read almost six books over the course of four weeks. After having a reading slump since I don’t even remember any longer it was super nice to feel the reading vibes sneak back in.

What’s quite fun about this book is that it’s written by my younger brother’s secondary school teacher. It was my brother who made me aware of the fact and of course I had to ask Mr. Sæther who remembered my brother, his class and a football bet they made many years ago. I do believe Mr. Sæther won that bet…This book took me some time to read but it was not for lack of good writing! It requires you to adjust your mindset a little bit since it’s showing you the side of the story you normally think of as the enemy. The synopsis is borrowed from Goodreads and translated by me:

From June 1941 many young Norwegian boys participated voluntarily in World War 2 in the attack on the Soviet Union on the Nazis’ side. Their experiences of war in varied sectors on the Eastern Front would mark many of them for the rest of their life. The front-liners own war experiences in war and peacetime are what this book is about. Based on 50 in-depth interviews with previous front-liners supplemented with personal stories, diary notes, letters written whilst at the front, maps, and photos the author gathers the treads that create a strong and engaging document providing the reader with exciting angles of incidents to a story where a lot is still hidden even so many years after the war.

What made young Norwegian men sign up for war service under the Nazi regime? What consequences did this choice entail? These are among the questions the author provides an answer to which leads to yet more questions: Who did they fight for really? The book underlines the importance of brotherhood and a network for volunteers. This issue is relevant whether the battles were fought on the Eastern front in the 1940s or today in Afghanistan.

«One of us» conveys the tension between the gruesome events of the war, and its trivialities and creates a wider understanding of destinies on an individual basis and the Norwegian front-liners as a group.

I’ve now read several, I’ve lost the count really, books about World War 2, and I believe it is the first time I’ve read a book where I felt sorry for people who aligned themselves with the Nazis. Whilst reading I understood without quite understanding their choices. Many went into the war service on the Nazi’s side due to arguments that seems quite sound which I won’t spoil here cause that is quite a big part of the book. Knowing how history turned out I believe it is more difficult today to understand the choices these young people made. That, and today we have the internet which bombards us with information so we’re given many perspectives on one event before we potentially make a choice. Yet those youngsters weren’t so different from their modern counterparts. Whilst reading you saw the many character traits of the youth like the urge to seek adventure, make a name for themselves, participate in building the country they lived in, protect their families from what they feared, and some also want to stand on their own two feet proving that they could stand by the choices they made. I believe that this hasn’t change. I recognized several traits I possessed as a younger version of myself and still possess today. In the retrospect of history I think it is important that we remember the things that Sæther points out in his book when it comes to making choices as a young person. Sometimes you just know what’s right for you even if society tells you otherwise, and sometimes you do need a little help to see the error of your ways by trying and failing.

I really enjoyed that Sæther has some core characters that we meet at the start of the book and as others turn up we’re introduced to them and their background which makes it easier for the reader to understand how they’ve ended up in the situation where we’re introduced to them. Non-fiction, at least the one I’ve read, is often without central characters and I find that that sometimes makes the story hard to follow because there is no direct thread to follow. Therefore, I really enjoyed this way of writing a non-fiction book. The characters stories are different because these characters came from all parts of the society. Some were farmers whilst some were members of high society. Some had parents who sided with Quisling and NS whilst other had parents who couldn’t stand him. It was very interesting to follow the characters and see how their mentality and viewpoints altered during the war. Since Sæther has used diaries and notes from the soldiers themselves this gives the reader a unique opportunity to follow the soldiers mental development as they are exposed to some of the worst scenes during WW2. As a prior psychology student I was very fascinated by this and really appreciated this viewpoint of the story.

The writing style in the book is very easy without being simple. There aren’t a whole lot of foreign words and if there are they’re explained. Sæther brings one of the darker sides of Norwegian war history into the light, and this is a group of people who made a choice based on what they believed to be right and Sæther is very good at presenting this perspective. It is unbiased written with facts at the core and I believe that’s why it was a challenge yet possible for me to alter my regular understanding of the war and see it from another point of view. These soldiers were also humans with beliefs, faith, character, and morals. When they returned to society they were shunned, and it took many years before that was set right.

«One of us» is a very interesting book about a different perspective than what we normally see when it comes to WW2 and its soldiers. If you’re looking for a book where you can learn more about Norwegians who served under Nazi Germany this is a really good book to start with. You get a lot of the basics but also the development of the war in the different sectors of the Soviet Union.

Published: 2010

Genre: Non-fiction

Theme: World War 2, Norwegian front-liners, Soviet Union

– The Book Reader

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