The History of Utøya

In 1932 the labour movement bought Utøya, and it soon became a popular summer retreat. In 1950 the island was given to AUF, and it has since been managed by AUF, the labour youth organisation. For over 60 years it has been the arena for AUFs summer camp, where young people come together for a week each summer to engage in politics and social activities. It is a place where politics are discussed, where politicians are asked the important and difficult questions. It is a place where new ideas are formed – ideas that have made it into Norwegian politics, and changed peoples lives for the better.

Utøya has also been used extensively by other civil society organisations. Scout camps have been held at the island, environmental organisations have made controversial and groundbreaking decisions here, while religious organisations have celebrated themselves and their beliefs. Guests from all over the world has visited on the island, exchanging experiences and joining forces in the work for a better world.

Utøya is a meeting place for engaged youths – a political workshop and a place for culture, sports, friendship and love.

On the afternoon of July 22nd 2011, AUFs summer camp was attacked by a right-wing terrorist. The attack followed the detonation of a bomb outside the government building in Oslo. 77 people, most of them under the age of 20, lost their lives that day, 69 killed on Utøya. Many more were injured. Hundreds of young campers fled Utøya, swimming in the cold waters of the Tyrifjord as the only escape. Many of these were saved by heroic local residents and summer guests in private boats from the near-by Utvika Camping.

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The plans for Utøya

Standing up for democracy, diversity and the freedom of speech can come at a high price. But violence, threats and hate can only be met by knowledge, debate and tolerance, both as individuals and as a society. Extremists must not be allowed to dictate how we use our freedom of speech, or to make our societies less open and more intolerant. The battle for freedom and justice, human rights, freedom of speech and democracy concerns all of us, regardless of where in the world we live.

With this as a guiding principle, we wish to make Utøya an important international symbol for democracy and free speech. New generations of young people from all over the world will through exchanging stories, experiences and practical knowledge be better equipped to stand up against and defend these essential rights that are important for any society.

When we tell the history of Utøya, it is therefore important to tell the whole story. By understanding the light and the dark, the good and the bad, of Utøyas history, future generations can understand the importance of fighting the evil that came to Utøya 22.7.2011.

A place for rememberance

After the attacks 22.7.2011, AUF decided to establish a memorial on the island, in order to commemorate those who where killed, those that survived, and those that where marked for life. Our goal has been to create a respectful and permanent memorial for reflection. While the national memorials at Sørbråten and in Oslo will serve a public function, the memorial on Utøya is meant to serve as a more private memorial, for those directly affected by 22.7.11.

The design competition for the memorial was concluded on November 28th 2014. After an open and inclusive process, where the considerations of those directly involved in the 22.7.2011 attacks were heavily weighted, a design proposed by 3RW architects was chosen.

The memorial consists of a large, unifying circle on a ridge on the northside of the island. The terrain is sunken along the circle, making it possible to sit along the circle. On the opposite side, the terrain is raised, allowing for more seating with a view of the Tyrifjord. Along the circle and within parts of it, slate is put down to create a floor. In the clearing, there will be planted plants that attract butterflies that are native to the island. From the tall pine trees surrounding the clearing a steel ring will be suspended, roughly 1,5 metres from the ground. Cut into the steel ring is the names and age of those killed 22.7.2011.

The memorial will allow for peaceful reflection, accessible to all, in a beautiful and quiet area of the island. It is sophisticated yet unpretentious, where anyone regardless of social, cultural or religious background can come for remembrance and reflections.


Hegnhuset – a place for learning and remembrance

The horrific attack left few physical traceson Utøya. The most visible ones are found in the café building, where 13 people where killed, and many more hurt physically and physiologically for life. These traces are visible evidence of the atrocities that happened on that day, and carry with them important memories and stories. We wish to keep these traces for the affected families, for those who where there and for the Norwegian people who have stood together with us in the mourning. And we wish to keep these traces for posterity, so that new generations can learn and take responsibility for safeguarding our democracy. This is the ambition with the new building, “Hegnhuset”.

In building “Hegnhuset”, we will preserve parts of the old café building, including “Lillesalen” and parts of “Storesalen”, where lives were lost. We will also preserve the toilet area, where paperthin walls saved many lives. These are all stories we wish to tell.

Over the existing structure, we will build a new structure that adds a learning space. The key concepts for this space will be democracy, freedom of speech and tolerance. Through dynamic exhibits, digital installations and other modern learning tools, new generations will learn about values that bind us together across political lines, and how the fight against racism and intolerance can come at a horrifically high price. This way, “Hegnhuset” will encapsulate the old memories and add a new learning space.

“Hegnhuset” will be a place for learning and remembrance.

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A place for engagement and political debate

For more than 60 years, Utøya has been Norways most important camp-site, and has had enormous value for AUF and the young parts of the labour and trade union movement. The island has been a meeting point where engaged youth come together for a political workshop, and for culture, sports, friendship and love. These were the ideals that were attacked on 22.7.11. When we now return to Utøya, it is important to commemorate those who lost their lives that fatal day. Through telling their stories and showing how they lived and what they believed in, AUF will honour the memory of those who were lost on 22.7.11. This memory will forever be part of Utøyas identity, and will be important also for future generations of campers. They should be able to create new, positive memories, so that the history of Utøya can continue. Utøya should strike the balance between memory and new life.

To accommodate for new activities and democratic debate, we have built new buildings which houses kitchen, dining hall and conference rooms. The new buildings create a square, which will become a meeting point and social arena for new generations of campers and other visitors. The new square has roughly the same footprint as the old café-building, but the new buildings have upgraded facilities that can accommodate up to 240 people. The spaces are interconnected and flexible, allowing for different room configurations , to accommodate for groups of all sizes. This is important to ensure that Utøya can be used for many different purposes for many years to come.