We Die Alone by David Howarth

Posted by Sherry on 5/27/2011 in 1945, 20th Century History Project, General, History, Nonfiction, World War II |

We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance by David Howarth. Recommended by The Ink Slinger.

This true adventure story was published in 1955, and it read like 1955. Maybe it’s that I expected a first person memoir, and I got a journalist’s view of the story, a bit detached and told from the point of view of several of the participants in the story. However, that journalist’s retelling didn’t feel strange to me when I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I’m not sure what it was about this book, but I never felt the same empathy for Jan Baalsrud, the hero of We Die Alone, that I did for Louis Zamperini, the hero of Unbroken. Maybe I felt more for Zamperini because I got more background on his life both before and after his World War II adventure. Or maybe Jan Baalsrud was too much of a Scandinavian stoic for me to be able to identify myself with him; I’m certainly no stoic.

That’s not to say I didn’t like the book, We Die Alone, because I did. If Jan Baalsrud remains a sort of distant and remote character in spite of his very real sufferings described in excruciating detail in the book, the adventure and survival story itself is riveting and amazing:

“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.”

Incredible it is. Jan Baalsrud is frostbitten and snowblind. He becomes unable to walk and must be carried to freedom by some astonishingly brave Norwegians and Lapps, through the snow and the mountains and at the risk of Nazi capture and reprisal.

Wouldn’t a book of World War II survival stories for young people (YA) with a chapter for each survivor be a great idea? The book could condense adult books like this one and Unbroken and then refer young adult readers to the full length stories if they were so inclined. What other survival adventures would you recommend for such a compilation? Add your favorite WWII survival stories to my list in the comments.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom.
Night by Elie Wiesel.
The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The Zookeeper’s WIfe by Diane Ackerman.
Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose.


  • What a fantastic idea, Sherry! I’ll have to think about it.

  • Ditto what Amy said!

  • Barbara H. says:

    The one by Darlene Diebler Rose would be my favorite, but another good one is A Boy’s War by David Michell about students from a mission school who were taken captive and in the same prison camp as Olympic runner Eric Liddell. Eric did not survive but died in the camp, I think from a brain tumor.

    There is also Beyond Prison Walls by missionary Marian Bomm, about her interment in a Japanese prison camp in WWII.

    Interwoven by Russ and Nancy Ebersole has a part where his first wife’s family was saved on the very day they were scheduled to be executed.

  • That is a great idea! The only book that I recollect right now is the one Barbara mentioned, Beyond Prison Walls by Marian Bomm. I’ve just finished reading it. I’ll have to think about your question.

  • Ruth Hill N says:

    I added the books in your list to mine. I love these stories:
    The Diary of Anne Frank
    The Book Thief

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