We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance

( 33 )

Overview

“A book that I absolutely could not put down . . . and one that I will never forget.”
 —Stephen E. Ambrose
“One of the great escape stories of our time.”
 —Chicago Sun-Times
 “We Die Alone is a spine chiller. It may well become a legend.”
 —Boston Post
 
Here is one of the most exciting escape narratives to emerge from the challenges and miseries of World War II. In March 1943, a team of expatriate Norwegian commandos sailed from northern England for Nazi-occupied arctic Norway to ...

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We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance

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Overview

“A book that I absolutely could not put down . . . and one that I will never forget.”
 —Stephen E. Ambrose
“One of the great escape stories of our time.”
 —Chicago Sun-Times
 “We Die Alone is a spine chiller. It may well become a legend.”
 —Boston Post
 
Here is one of the most exciting escape narratives to emerge from the challenges and miseries of World War II. In March 1943, a team of expatriate Norwegian commandos sailed from northern England for Nazi-occupied arctic Norway to organize and supply the Norwegian resistance. But they were betrayed, and the Nazis ambushed them. Only one man survived—Jan Baalsrud. This is the incredible and gripping story of his escape.
 
Frostbitten, blinded by the snow, and pursued by the Nazis, Jan dragged himself forward until he reached a small arctic village. He was near death, delirious, and a virtual cripple. But the villagers, at mortal risk to themselves, were determined to save him, and—through impossible feats—they did.
 
We Die Alone is an astonishing true story of heroism and resilience. Like Slavomir Rawicz’s classic The Long Walk, and the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the crew of the Endurance, it is also an unforgettable portrait of the determination of the human spirit.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Jan Baalstrud encountered some of the most harrowing adventures yet recorded about the survivors of the Second World War . . . A mere outline of Jan's adventures cannot possibly suggest the emotional impact that Mr. Howarth creates by his sharp selection of revealing details and his terse skill in telling a plain, unvarnished tale. We Die Alone fills one with humber admiration for the stubborn courage of a man who refused to die under circumstances that would have killed ninety-nine men out of a hundred and with almost equal admiration for the many men and women who never hesitated to help him as best they could, knowing full well that death was the mildest punishment they could expect for their heroic 'crime.'" --The New York Times
 
"One of the great escape stories of our time." --Chicago Sun-Times
 
"Almost unbelievable. We Die Alone is a spine chiller. It may well become a legend." --Boston Post
 
 

March 2, 2010
Op-Ed Columnist
By DAVID BROOKS

The United States, a nation of 300 million, won nine gold medals this year in the Winter Olympics. Norway, a nation of 4.7 million, also won nine. This was no anomaly. Over the years, Norwegians have won more gold medals in Winter Games, and more Winter Olympics medals over all, than people from any other nation.

There must be many reasons for Norway’s excellence, but some of them are probably embedded in the story of Jan Baalsrud.

In 1943, Baalsrud was a young instrument maker who was asked to sneak back into Norway to help the anti-Nazi resistance.

His mission, described in the book “We Die Alone” by David Howarth, was betrayed. His boat was shelled by German troops. Baalsrud dove into the ice-covered waters and swam, with bullets flying around him, toward an island off the Norwegian coast. The rest of his party was killed on the spot, or captured and eventually executed, but Baalsrud made it to the beach and started climbing an icy mountain. He was chased by Nazis, and he killed one officer.

He was hunted by about 50 Germans and left a trail in the deep snow. He’d lost one boot and sock, and he was bleeding from where his big toe had been shot off. He scrambled across the island and swam successively across the icy sound to two other islands. On the second, he lay dying of cold and exhaustion on the beach.

Two girls found and led him to their home. And this is the core of the story. During the next months, dozens of Norwegians helped Baalsrud get across to Sweden. Flouting any sense of rational cost-benefit analysis, families and whole villages risked their lives to help one gravely ill man, who happened to drop into their midst.

Baalsrud was clothed and fed and rowed to another island. He showed up at other houses and was taken in. He began walking across the mountain ranges on that island in the general direction of the mainland, hikes of 24, 13 and 28 hours without break.

A 72-year-old man rowed him the final 10 miles to the mainland, past German positions, and gave him skis. Up in the mountains, he skied through severe winter storms. One night, he started an avalanche. He fell at least 300 feet, smashed his skis and suffered a severe concussion. His body was buried in snow, but his head was sticking out. He lost sense of time and self-possession. He was blind, the snow having scorched the retinas of his eyes.

He wandered aimlessly for four days, plagued by hallucinations. At one point he thought he had found a trail, but he was only following his own footsteps in a small circle.

Finally, he stumbled upon a cottage. A man named Marius Gronvold took him in. He treated Baalsrud’s frostbite and hid him in a remote shed across a lake to recover.

He was alone for a week (a storm made it impossible for anyone to reach him). Gangrene invaded his legs. He stabbed them to drain the pus and blood. His eyesight recovered, but the pain was excruciating and he was starving.

Baalsrud could no longer walk, so Gronvold and friends built a sled. They carried the sled and him up a 3,000-foot mountain in the middle of a winter storm and across a frozen plateau to where another party was supposed to meet them. The other men weren’t there, and Gronvold was compelled to leave Baalsrud in a hole in the ice under a boulder.

The other party missed the rendezvous because of a blizzard, and by the time they got there, days later, the tracks were covered and they could find no sign of him. A week later, Gronvold went up to retrieve Baalsrud’s body and was astonished to find him barely alive. Baalsrud spent the next 20 days in a sleeping bag immobilized in the snow, sporadically supplied by Gronvold and others.

Over the next weeks, groups of men tried to drag him to Sweden but were driven back, and they had to shelter him again in holes in the ice. Baalsrud cut off his remaining toes with a penknife to save his feet. Tired of risking more Norwegian lives, he also attempted suicide.

Finally, he was awoken by the sound of snorting reindeer. A group of Laps had arrived, and under German fire, they dragged him to Sweden.

This astonishing story could only take place in a country where people are skilled on skis and in winter conditions. But there also is an interesting form of social capital on display. It’s a mixture of softness and hardness. Baalsrud was kept alive thanks to a serial outpouring of love and nurturing. At the same time, he and his rescuers displayed an unbelievable level of hardheaded toughness and resilience. That’s a cultural cocktail bound to produce achievement in many spheres.

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 Cahners Business Information.
Boston Post
Almost unbelievable. We Die Alone is a spine chiller. It may well become a legend.
Chicago Sun Times
One of the great escape stories of our time.
International Herald Tribune
You won't stop until you come to the end.
New York Times Book Review
We Die Alone fills one with humble admiration for the stubborn courage of a man who refused to die under circumstances that would have killed ninety-nine men out of a hundred and with almost equal admiration for the men and women who never hesitated to help him.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599210636
  • Publisher: Lyons Press, The
  • Publication date: 6/1/2007
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 138,953
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

David Howarth ran a spy ring during World War II. He was also the author of two dozen major books of history.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 33 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(17)

4 Star

(7)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2002

    Gripping!

    This true story is an inspirational example of human courage and mans compassion to reach out and help one another at all costs. This is truly an extaordinary heroic tale that will grip everyone who reads it!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2000

    Amazing Story

    I am not a voracious reader by any stretch of the imagination but this story had me locked in for two days. 'We Die Alone' is an incredible story of determination and courage set against the imposing danger of the Arctic elements and Nazi-occupied Norway. The story is incredible and the idea that it is a true story makes it amazing.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2000

    A Great Adventure

    We Die Alone, captures Jan Baalsrud's amazing struggle for life. Trying to survive, Jan, a spy for the allied forces in WWII, makes an attempt to cross the Norweigen border into Sweeden in order to save his life, and evade the Nazi forces that are on his tail. Inorder to make it, he must first be able to mannage the journey in the cold arctic climate.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2001

    A PAGE-TURNER

    I could not put this book down once I picked it up. I read it cover-to-cover in one sitting. But an even better edge-of-your-seat page-turner is Dorit Whiteman's recent book, Escape Via Siberia, which also tells an against-all-odds WW II survival story but provides richer historical context.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 10, 2012

    Excellent story of survival during WW II. Highly recommended

    In March 1943, Jan Baalsrud and a team of Norwegian commandos land in Nazi-occupied Norway. Their mission is to organize Norwegian resistance. The team is ambushed on arrival with only Jan Baalsrud, though wounded, survives. The story is Baalsrud's amazing struggle against unbelievable odds to escape his German pursuers, traveling across the frozen landscape of Norway to Sweden. Throughout his perilous journey across Norway, he is assisted by Norwegian patriots who knowingly risk their lives to provide him aid. Fascinating story. A must read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 4, 2012

    Impressive!

    This is one of those books that shows us just how amazing some of those in the World War 2 generation were. Half of what this guy went through would kill most people today!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2012

    Highly recommed.

    I don't usually read this type of book but it was an amazing read--well written and the fact that it actually happened grabs your heart.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2012

    Heroism of a unique type

    Hard to believe story of endurance, trust and survival

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 11, 2011

    Higly recommend

    Being of Norwegian heritage may have influenced my rating a tad but even without this "connection" to the subjects in the story, it is still a gripping account of survival and compassion for fellow humans during a time of suspicion and uncertainty. It was, for me, one of those "hard to put down" books. It's an amzing account of the will to live.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book was stolen from me several years ago, and it made its way around a New Mexico high school. When I saw a new publication, I had to buy it and read it again. It is just unbelievable. I can't understand how Jan Baalstrud managed to survive at all. My favorite part has always been where Jan, wearing a jacket with the Norwegian flag on it, skis through a group of German soldiers getting breakfast. The determination of the northern Norwegians to help Jan, even if it meant that their village probably be wiped out by the Germans, is incredible. I can't imagine anybody amputating their own toes.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2003

    This book got me reading Howarth's stuff!!

    I'm serious this was amazing. It is somethin else for someone to tell a story when they knew the person. Outstanding.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2001

    Amazing

    Amazing story of a small group of ex-patriate Norwegians who sail from the UK to northern Norway in an attempt to build resistance movement against the Nazis. But they are ambushed, and one man from the group excapse to Sweden in an amazing story. What makes it amazing is that it was all true; and the main heroics go to the people of Norway (and the Lapps)who aided him, and literally dragged him to saftey. If you liked this type of book I also reccomend 'Jonas of Kiivijarvi : Finnish Freedom Fighter' by Leslie W. Wisuri and 'War in the Woods' by Mart Laar.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2000

    northern cali raver

    this is an excellent book . it makes you want to read it more and more

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    Good book

    I have to say it was worth the money.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    super story of WWII; but poorly written

    the man lived through so much hardship, that the saying "fact is stranger then fiction" how ever the writing was very dull despite all the research that went into it. At times; found myself skipping pages to move on!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2004

    Yawn or Yarn ?

    You'll need endurance to read this bad boy *Painstakingly; escape while you can... or suffer reading 5 narrated chapters on walking over a hill to see a shopkeeper!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2014

    A truly Epic "Epic of survival"

    Wonderful book, puts you into the smuggling of an injured soldier. The feats of human strength by the people is amazing

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    Disappointing

    A mountain climbers weather report i can see now way how a man can surive under the conditions described in this account also surprised by mr ambrose introduction

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2013

    Josh

    Walks in

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2012

    Alone

    Why have i been abandoned?! ~Alone/Broken~

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 33 Customer Reviews

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