Rostock native Marcel Gleffe, 32, was holidaying with his parents on the mainland when he heard gunshots being fired by far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik on the nearby island of Utøya, where 69 people died.
"Initially I thought that it was fireworks,” said Gleffe. “Then I quickly realised that someone was shooting, and that someone had to bring these people out of the water," he added.
Instincts took over as Gleffe, who had been living in Norway for several years working as a roofer, jumped in a boat and began pulling youths from the cold waters of surrounding the island.
He made multiple trips in the hour that it took the police to arrive at the shooting, managing to bring between five and eight people at a time back to the mainland. His boat was shot by the attacker during the rescue.
Officials believe he rescued around 30 survivors from the island, which was hosting a camp for the Norwegian Youth Labour Party.
The prestigious “Norwegian of the Year” award, which is run by the Norwegian news magazine Ny Tid was also awarded to Norwegians Prableen Kaur, 18, and Synnøve Kvamme, 20. The ceremony took place on Thursday, at the House of Literature in Oslo.
Kaur is the deputy head of the Labour party's youth wing in Oslo and the youngest person ever to be elected to the Oslo City Council.
Kvamme organized the largest demonstrations in Norway in the last 30 years, against the construction of massive electricity pylons in the rural west of the country.
In the past year, Gleffe has also received the German Federal Cross of Merit, the Ludwig-Beck Prize for Civil courage and the Golden Hen German media prize.