Handicraft in Grini Prison Camp

By Nina Granlund Sæther

Editor’s note: This article was taken from the blog of Nina Granlund Sæther, Hjertebank, originally published on September 16, 2015Thank you to the author for permission to reprint her interesting observations, and to Katherine Larson for translating it into English.
Grini Prison Camp was the largest camp for political prisoners in Norway during the Second World War.  Almost 20,000 Norwegians were imprisoned.  The camp opened as a museum in 1996.

This evening I visited Grini Museum in Bærum with the Asker Historical Society. Almost 20,000 women and men were imprisoned in Grini for some period of time during the Second World War. The museum has an assortment of items that were made by the prisoners in secret. Especially evocative are drawings that illustrate life in the barracks and terrorism by the Germans, but a number of small handicraft items also captured my interest.

grini1There were about 6,000 women imprisoned in Grini during the war. They were kept strictly separated from the male prisoners. Several spent long periods in isolation cells after torture and abuse at Møllergata 19 or Victoria Terrasse. Prison guards did their best to torment them, but in the dead of night, they still managed to both embroider and knit.

Grini2Several of the embroideries show what it was like in the prison camp: barracks, barbed wire, bars on the windows.

The first women came to Grini in 1941, and they quickly discovered that this was no holiday retreat. In contrast to the male prisoners, they were not allowed to go outside, and they were given hard work to do. Uniforms were to be washed, mended and starched. According to All verdens historie, the youngest and fittest were sent to the washing cellar, older and weaker women worked in the sewing room.


I want out – out…

Access to materials was extremely limited. Gudrun Fuglestad, prisoner number 9326, was one of those who managed to steal various fragments of cloth that she could decorate. Belts were made of sackcloth from the mattress she slept on, but she also managed to get hold of a tablecloth, perhaps in the laundry. Threads [for embroidery] were removed from coats and sweaters. Many of the textiles are decorated with the Norwegian flag in red, white and blue. One of the embroideries is a map of Norway. With white stitches on a blue background, she embroidered: “Fight for all that you hold dear.”

grini4Among Gudrun Fuglestad’s creations are a miniature red knitted cap, a tiny knitted teddy bear, and a pair of tiny socks. All are knitted with hairpins. Those were the only “knitting needles” they could get. The red cap was of course a jab [at the Germans]. During the war, many indicated their opposition to the German occupation and Quisling’s Nazi administration by wearing a red knitted cap.

grini5The Germans were so angered by the red caps that in 1942 they banned their use:

Warning. Red hats. The use of red hats has recently increased so much that from now on they will be considered a demonstration. The use of these hats is therefore forbidden from and including Thursday, February 26, 1942. From that day forward, hats will be taken from anyone who appears in same and the offender will be subject to criminal penalties – for children under 14 years – parents or guardians will be liable. Trondheim Police Office, February 23, 1942.

grini6Another who knitted with hairpins was Dagny Qvist. In the photo below, one can see both the mittens she made and the hairpins she used.


MITTENS. Is it possible to knit with hairpins? Yes, if no other needles are to be found and if one has a lot of time. These small mittens were knitted by Dagny Qvist in 1945. The needles she used for knitting were hairpins that she bent straight. The embroidery on the backs of the mittens represents barbed wire. She was arrested for illegal activities. Her husband, bookseller Erik Qvist, was also imprisoned at Grini.

There are a number of other small handicraft items that are well worth seeing. The museum is open on Sundays, and if you are lucky, you might get a tour from one of those who was imprisoned here. Hopefully, the museum will be expanded next year.

The Chairman of the Grini Museum Foundation, Bjørn Krogsrud, wants to make sure that the prisoners who were incarcerated at Grini receive the consideration they deserve.

“They share the fate of wartime sailors. I am amazed that they have not received the honor they deserve. Here the silent heroes sat, [but] they were modest and would not promote themselves. I think all towns in Norway have had Grini prisoners in their midst,” he said to Budstikka.

Currently the museum is lacking only a few million [kroner] to rebuild one of the barracks that existed at Grini. The hope is that funds will be allocated in the national budget this fall.


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