A real hero just died. His story is thrilling

I don’t remember when or how I first learned about what a small group of Norwegians did during World War II, to ensure that Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel-prize winning German physicist, would not get his hands on heavy water, a necessary element for producing the atomic bomb Heisenberg and the Nazis were working on.

But I did learn about it. There was a book entitled The Heroes of Telemark. There certainly was a movie bearing the same name, weirdly starring Kirk Douglas (not Norwegian) and Richard Harris (also not Norwegian), and a lot of other actors, some of them fine ones, who were nevertheless also not Norwegian. And the plot lacked verisimilitude, to put it mildly. And why? Because no one needed to over-dramatize the actual story.

True, the Brits had something to do with the astounding act of sabotage the real heroes, all of whom were Norwegian, inflicted on a formidably defended factory in the Telemark region of southern Norway.

Today, Joaquim Ronneberg, one of these extraordinary people and the last of the group, died.

The obit by Robert McFadden is marvelous, a compact thriller in its own right. If it makes you hungry for the fuller story, MhZ, the streaming service, has been presenting a six-part series, The Heavy Water War.

Do not be put off by the dull title. Although Ronneberg — correctly, I think — objected to the film’s pseudonyms used for Norwegian Nazi collaborators who were running the factory (and if I remember rightly were, like Quisling, brought to account after the Norwegian occupation had ended), the series is otherwise factual.

No fictional thriller could be more fantastic than the true story. You will watch the series, with its stunning panoramas of Norway in the snow, on the edge of your seat. You will fall in love with the country and its heroes and will, inevitably, wonder whether you could in such circumstances be so courageous.

 

 

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