Digital Liberation Day events at the Falstad Center

This year, the Falstad Center will be honoring the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and commemorating the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War with a digital live stream program.

“For several months, the Falstad Center had been planning a traditional commemoration ceremony in the Falstad forest, where the SS executed more than 200 prisoners and buried them in mass graves in 1942 and 43. At the Center, we were also going to host a large concert and invite a broad audience to view our exhibitions and archives,” Mr. Christian Wee, Director at the Falstad Centre, said in a statement. “When it became clear that it was no longer possible to physically meet at the memorial site because of the coronavirus, we decided to mark the occasion on digital platforms instead. We believe a digital commemoration that reaches out to a large audience is an important and honorable alternative to a traditional ceremony.

History of SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad 

From 1941 to 1945, SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad was one of the largest Nazi camps in Norway. Around 4,200 people of about 15 different nationalities were imprisoned in the camp. More than 200 people were executed and buried in the Falstad forest, situated about 1 km from the camp. Many of the victims were POWs from Russia and Eastern Europe. Falstad played a key role in the Holocaust, as most of the region’s Jewish population was imprisoned in Falstad before being transported to Auschwitz. The Falstad forest has been a national memorial since 1947. Ever since, the memorial has organized official commemoration ceremonies on liberation day, May 8th.  

A rich digital commemoration program 

Divided into three parts, the digital commemoration program will honor the memory of victims and survivors. The commemoration ceremony will include wreath laying, official speeches, statements from former prisoners of SS Strafgefangenenlager Falstad, as well as a special cultural program. Among the speakers will be Nora Savosnick, granddaughter of one of only 37 Norwegian Jews that returned from Auschwitz, whose great-grandfather and other relatives were executed in the Falstad forest where she will be delivering her speech.

This will be followed by a feature, "Holocaust Memories," which will take a closer look at the history of the Holocaust, Nazi camps and the Second World War in Norway. This will be accompanied by live music and theater performances based on the best-selling Norwegian novel on the Holocaust, Keep Saying Their Names [Leksikon om lys og mørke] (2018), which tells the story of Hirsch Komissar, a Norwegian Jew who was murdered in the Falstad forest.  

The third and final portion of the digital program, "Inside the Falstad Center," will include staff from the Center who will share different ways of working with the memory of the Holocaust, especially in terms of teaching, research and curatorial practices. This will include a discussion with historian and Holocaust specialist Anette Homlong Storeide, who will reflect upon the meaning of 8 May in a European context, and another with two residents of the area, who will talk about living in a small community dominated by the memory of the former SS camp. 

A further highlight of the digital commemoration is the official launching of fanger.no, an online database of the more than 40,000 Norwegians who were held as political prisoners during the Second World War. The database is the result of cooperation between the Falstad Center, the National Archives of Norway and the ARKIVET Peace and Human Rights Center.  

Dr. Ingvild Hagen Kjørholt, Head of Research at the Falstad Center, sees promise in these new forms of commemoration. "Like numerous other cultural institutions these last months,” she stated, the Falstad Center has increased its digital presence. We interact with our audience on digital platforms, and their feedback tells us that digital media adds new value to the memorial site. We discover connections across geographical and social borders, and we reach out to a larger number of people than we usually would at our physical events. We hope that our audience will value the digital commemoration events and that they inspire a future in-person visit to our memorial. 

The events will be streamed on several digital platforms, including www.falstadsenteret.no. 

Image caption: Preparing the 8 May 2020 digital commemoration live stream event at the Falstad Center