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We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance Paperback – June 1, 2007
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If this story of espionage and survival were a novel, readers might dismiss the Shackleton-like exploits of its hero as too fantastic to be taken seriously. But respected historian David Howarth confirmed the details of Jan Baalsrud's riveting tale. It begins in the spring of 1943, with Norway occupied by the Nazis and the Allies desperate to open the northern sea lanes to Russia. Baalsrud and three compatriots plan to smuggle themselves into their homeland by boat, spend the summer recruiting and training resistance fighters, and launch a surprise attack on a German air base. But he's betrayed shortly after landfall, and a quick fight leaves Baalsrud alone and trapped on a freezing island above the Arctic Circle. He's poorly clothed (one foot is entirely bare), has a head start of only a few hundred yards on his Nazi pursuers, and leaves a trail of blood as he crosses the snow. How he avoids capture and ultimately escapes--revealing that much spoils nothing in this white-knuckle narrative--is astonishing stuff. Baalsrud's feats make the travails in Jon Krakauer's Mt. Everest classic Into Thin Air look like child's play. In an introduction, Stephen Ambrose calls We Die Alone a rare reading experience: "a book that I absolutely cannot put down until I've finished it and one that I can never forget." This amazing book will disappoint no one. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
This 1955 volume is one of the most remarkable survival stories ever written. Jan Baalsrud was the only survivor of a Norwegian commando team ambushed by the Nazis during World War II. Wounded and with the Germans in pursuit, Baalsrud escaped and miraculously fought his way through the Norwegian tundra to a distant village, where he was saved by locals who helped spirit him to Sweden. Baalsrud suffered frostbite and snowblindness, came through an avalanche, and lived to tell the tale. This edition has a new introduction by Citizen Soldiers' author Stephen Ambrose.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's about Jan Baalsrud, a Norwegian. He begins WWII as a courier between Stockholm and Oslo, gets caught by the Swedes, imprisoned, and then manages to make his way to England and join a group of other Norwegians being trained to return to their country and fight the Nazis. That's where the book begins, with Jan and the other men on his mission approaching the Norwegian coast. Their plan is to hide their sabotage gear, train local groups to resist the Nazis, and then attack a German airfield that's wrecking havoc on convoys between England and the Soviet Union. But their plans fall apart pretty quickly, and Jan soon finds himself alone in the snow with nothing but his clothing, his pistol, and one boot. What follows is how he survives and eventually makes it back to Sweden, with a lot of help along the way.
I was initially interested in this book because of its title. I like titles with the words like "death" or "die" or "dead" in them. But the title isn't entirely accurate: Jan doesn't die (comes close several times). And the people who do die don't die alone--there's usually at least a gestapo agent around.
But enough about the title. Jan is brave and resourceful and he can ski like something else. But then events leave him gradually more and more at the mercy of others, and the tough commando becomes vulnerable. Howarth did a wonderful job of finding an amazing story, researching it thoroughly, and then writing it in a way that uses good principles of storytelling so that this true story reads like a novel.
We Die Alone is one of those books I recommend for just about everyone. Readers that enjoy Unbroken or The Long Walk may be especially interested in adding this to their to-read list.
Before going further ... let me thank previous reviewers who added their thoughts here on Amazon.com. If you really want to understand the story, you need to buy one of the older hard-cover versions of this book. These were printed back in the 1950's. These old versions have important maps on the inside covers, and the maps help considerably in understanding the background of what happened. Fortunately, the older hard copies can be found fairly readily by searching the used copies of the book. It's a shame that the recent paperback versions did not reproduce the maps.
The subject of this story, Mr. Baalsrud, tried to infiltrate Norway with a small team of well-trained commandos. Unfortunately, the whole plan backfired when an incredible foul-up occurred with a local contact who was supposed to help the team (I won't spoil the surprise - read the story). After that, Mr. Baalsrud became very dependent upon his personal energy and resourcefulness, combined with the sympathy of Norwegian partisans, as he struggled to avoid capture in enemy-occupied territory. Ultimately, through mistakes of judgment about weather, he was plunged into a terrible struggle against the elements. It is actually hard to believe that he survived what happened to him - I can't imagine how anyone could be entombed in a frozen wasteland and get through the experience. So this really is an epic story of Man vs. Nature.
Overall, I was very impressed by the spirit of the Norwegian partisans in WW2. Frankly, I had little knowledge of what took place in Norway under the Nazi's, and this book explains a lot about the exemplary people who lived in that country. The patriotic Norwegians made a mighty effort to save their own man, and by a miracle they managed to succeed. But only at great cost. So the background material about Norway was all very interesting and made for a great story.
Overall, this is one of the finest escape stories from the WW2 era. But mostly - it is the true tale of an epic struggle between a man and the hostile forces of nature in the "white north" of Scandinavia.