Contemporary Diary – Blog
This section comprises media snippets, events, and personal notes that have a bearing on the aims and interests of our Web-site. We started keeping this diary in April 2007, 62 years after the Germans left Norway. Interest in the war was then and is still intense: new books, films and TV programmes produced, ancient arguments raged – and still rage. It is the same all over the world – stories about the war are never-ending. Now that we have moved our web site to a modern platform, readers can make their own contribution to this diary. These do not necessarily have to be connected with Norway, any items of interest about the war in Europe will be considered.
Holocaust Day has been commemorated fully in the media and in the public arena today: Front page photograph of the entrance to Auschwitz and a quotation from Elie Wiesel – “We know how Holocaust happened but nobody knows why.” A two page interview of Wiesel by Guri Hjeltnes gives a concise and objective portrait of the man who, incarcerated at 15, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 for his book “The Night.”
Journalist Monica Csango, in a debate article tells about her difficulties in being Jewish in Norway – a country where, according to a survey by the HL Centre, 12.5 percent of the population are prejudiced against Jews.
This morning, a large crowd gathered at the pier where, on November 26 1942, 532 Jewish men, women and children were packed into the infamous Nazi ship Donau for the journey to Auschwitz. Only 9 returned to Norway in 1945 and of these, only one, Samuel Steinmann was there to add his personal witness to the event.
Seventy years ago today the German siege of Leningrad ended – after 872 days. This disaster for the Germans gave heart to the Resistance movements throughout occupied Europe. Thousands of young men took to the woods to prepare for the final battles.
The latest episode of the French TV’s ”Resistance” series has reached 1943 when German setbacks in North Africa and Russia gave heart to the fledgling resistance movements in occupied Europe. As if to take part in the pro and con sabotage debate that often crops up in Norwegian discussions, the programme strongly supported sabotage – regardless of reprisals – because the alternative, heavy bombing by the Allies, would result in more civilian casualties. Norway was a central feature of the programme in a detailed sequence showing the theft of Ration Cards by Milorg in 1944
At Rotary today we heard a fascinating lecture from Karsten Alnæs based on his book about the 200 year anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution. During the lecture I thought about the Constitution and the events I wrote about on January 16 when the Constitution was used to refuse the Roma family entry to Norway. Later, in some notes from a TV programme last week I read that 90% of the 8000 Danish Jewish population in 1940 were ‘exported’ to safety by the Danish Resistance.
Another episode of Resistance in the Shadowlands showed and told how the Nazi horror against the Jews spread from Poland to the Baltic States. Eyewitnesses described their experiences graphically and, while the individual stories were brutal, they added nothing new to the evidence presented on many occasions previously. Except for the one survivor from the Warsaw Ghetto who described how the Nazis killed 7000, burned to death 600, how 200 survived briefly even this butchery, but how only 50 finally escaped, including himself.
When writing about the Holocaust we tend to forget that Jews were not the only minority that didn’t fit into the Nazi’s conception of an ideal society. In Aftenposten today Natalina Jensen, who at birth was named Mimi Karoli tells a frightening story, not only of Nazi atrocities but also of Norwegian apathy and downright official lawlessness.
In January 1934, six years before the occupation of Norway, a group of three families comprising 68 men, women and children were stopped at the Danish-German border. Most of them were Norwegian citizens, some had been born in Norway and all spoke Norwegian. They were fleeing from a Germany where Adolf Hitler had taken power and promised to rid Germany of all its “undesirable” inhabitants – Jews, Romani, Homosexuals, Christian sects, etc. After an exchange of telegrams with Oslo the Danish authorities were told to deny entrance, “regardless of what passport they held”, Norwegian or otherwise. Natalina Jensen found a copy of this telegram in Danish Archives.
The three families were sent to a special internment camp for Romani near Hamburg and were later expelled from Germany to Belgium Holland and France. In 1943, Hitler’s Final Solution infected the whole of Europe and the families were again arrested. In January 1944, from the holding camp in Malines, Belgium, their journey continued to Auschwitz-Birkenau where Milos Karoli, Natalin Jensen’s grandfather, saw all his family and friends murdered. In the last month of the war he was sent to Buchenwald and then, days before the surrender, on a forced march towards Dachau, he was saved by the Allied forces, 16 years old and weighing 30 kilos.
How did the Norwegian authorities refuse to admit Norwegian citizens in 1934? They used the paragraph in the law that refused to permit “…gypsies and vagabonds” into the country. Why they used it is another question – one we should remember in these days of celebration of the Constitution in 1814.
The ‘gypsy’ paragraph remained in force until 1956 when it was repelled for being “racist”.
In Germany there has been a rise in neo-Nazi crimes in recent years. Most of them targeted Germany’s growing immigrant population, including Turks and Roma immigrants, derisively called “gypsies” In one of Germany’s most high profile cases – members of a neo-Nazi subgroup are currently on trial for ten racially motivated murders across the country. Last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel felt the need to publicly apologize for these racist crimes, calling them her country’s “shame”. And later, Merkel visited the Dachau concentration camp– and again warned of the growing extremism in her country.
Wherever one reads about the Second World War, at least in books, magazine articles and Wikipedia written many years after the war, one comes across the word ULTRA or ENIGMA – often in a sentence like…”the Allies knew all about the German movements thanks to Ultra.” Enigma was the word given to the intricate coding machine first developed by the Germans prior to the war. Ultra was the information that came out of the machine. Enigma was a fiendishly clever machine that was capable of sending coded messages with an almost infinite number of combinations. The story of how the Allies came to understand the machine, and how to read the messages is a long one: from resistance workers in Poland, radio amateurs in London, attacks on trawlers in the North Sea to dare-devil raids on submarines in the North Atlantic. The brunt of the work of actually constructing an Enigma machine fell to the scientists and intelligence experts at Bletchley Park, the top-secret cipher establishment north of London. The man most credited with the solution to the Enigma problem was the brilliant mathematician Alan Turin.
In 1952 , before the full story of his war-time contribution was known, Dr. Turin was convicted for criminal homosexuality. Shortly afterwards he committed suicide.
On December 24, 2013, H.M. Queen Elizabeth II granted a posthumous pardon to Alan Turin.
A decade-long action for pardoning Dr. Turing, fronted by many influential people, has finally achieved its aim.
A new book, Jacob’s Oath by five time Emmy Award winner and NBC news correspondent Martin Fletcher is a different WWII novel that describes what it was like in Europe after the end of the war. Jacob’s Oath is Fletcher’s first fiction book but according to the author, it is based on a true story.
The story opens in Bergen Belsen in April 1945, moves to Berlin and then off in search of the Americans or the British. This was when refugees clogged the roads, when Nazi criminals were on the run and hunted by members of the Jewish Brigade. The journey promises to be exciting and according to one reviewer, the characters jump off the page directly into the reader’s heart with their emotions and struggles to return to the life they lived before the war.
A new film based on Australian author Markus Zusak’s bestseller The Book Thief has received generally favourable reviews and the 8 million people who have read the book should provide a welcoming audience.
Today’s Aftenposten brings us the news that the statue of resistance hero Gunnar Sønsteby (Kjaken) has been moved to a new location on Karl Johans Gt. The statue was originally unveiled by H.M. King Harald V on May 13 2007. (See diary below) The new site links the statue to an iconic photograph of the Nazis marching down the main street of Oslo watched by curious crowds, including several with bicycles, on April 9 1940. Many writers, including some respected historians, have stated that one of these cyclists was Gunnar Sønsteby. Through the years however, there have been vociferous denials and counter-claimants. In unveiling the relocated statue yesterday Oslo’s Mayor, Fabian Stang, made what we hope will be the definitive conclusion: “There has been some discussion as to whether it is actually ‘Kjakan’ in the photograph but I do not think this is relevant. The photograph is a symbol of the violation that Norway was subjected to and against which, Sønsteby and many others, fought against.”
Aftenposten reports today that a TV programme featuring two Norwegian commandos will retrace the footsteps of Jan Baalsrud, the sole survivor of the failed SOE “Martin Operation.” Baalsrud’s escape from the icy coast of Troms to the safety of Sweden took two months, from March 30 to June 1 1943. The amazing journey has been described by David Howarth in his book “We die alone.” The author himself says that parts of the story are almost unbelievable – but he is convinced of its truth.
Looking back – ‘Lest we Forget’ :
The first ‘Contemporary Diary’ entry in 2007 was about a stage presentation by Bente Børsum of her mother’s story from WWII. Lise Børsum, the wife of a doctor, became involved in the Resistance Movement in Oslo. She was arrested, tortured, sent to Grini and then, from May 1943 to April 1945, she was incarcerated as an NN prisoner at Ravensbruk. Aftenposten reported today that Bente Børsum has performed “My Conception of Mother” more than 500 times since 2006, at theaters throughout the country – most of them “by popular demand”
Other items that have contributed during recent weeks to the continuing awareness of WWII:
Last week I saw an exhaustive documentary about the 12 British bomber raid on Gestapo Headquarters in Victoria Terrace in which 105 lives were lost including 78 civilians. One of the pilots was interviewed at his home – in New Zealand! He said that the second strike of six aircraft didn’t drop their bombs because the target was covered in smoke and dust from the 12 bombs dropped by the first flight.
None of the bombs hit the target however, but several nearby apartment houses were gutted, a passing tram was severely damaged and many lives lost.
There has been much controversy about this raid which was called for by Milorg leaders in Oslo. They were probably encouraged by the earlier, successful attack on Gestapo HQ in Aarhus. The attack on Oslo took place on New Year’s Eve – which prompted the German propaganda machine to describe it as “The New Year’s gift from the Allies to the people of Oslo”.
Jens Christian Houge, the man who persuaded the authorities in London to sanction the raid on Victoria Terrace, was the subject of a recent two-part TV series. Houge was studying law when the war broke out but after a short stint in prison for minor resistance work he joined Milorg and became the ‘shadow’ for Knut Møye the then Milorg leader. When Møyen had to flee to Sweden, Houge took over and remained as a powerful Milorg head for the rest of the war. He “remained” because he insisted on anonymity and a highly compartmentalized organization. Meeting at which participants each wore masks may look amusing today but not knowing to whom you were talking could save lives in those days of Gestapo infiltration and torture. After the war Jens Christian Houge turned to politics and became one of the most influential men in the country. Olav Njølstad has written the most comprehensive biography of Houge: Fullt og Helt.
The International Human Rights Court in Strasbourg has decided that the Soviet Union was guilty of a ‘war-crime’ with the murder of 22000 Polish soldiers in 1940. The ‘Katyn Massacre’ was originally thought to have been carried out by German forces but the Russians finally accepted responsibility and blamed Stalin for ordering the annihilation of the Polish armed forces, including over 8000 officers.
Hitler’s Mein Kampf has been mentioned several times previously and now the Bavarian authorities have decided that a new edition of the much-discussed opus will be printed before the copyright expires in 2013. Authorities claim that the new edition, with its critical notes, will expose the work as the rubbish it really is.
Rolf Olaf Haavik is a spritely 85 years old today. He is a gold medal winner for kajakk, an active skier and golfer, but his main interest these days, and his main interest for us, is the Grini Museum where he is a popular guide and where he spent time involuntary, during the war. He was 16 years old when arrested in 1943. He is passionate in his belief that the triumphs and tragedies of the Second World War should never be forgotten and that Norway should never again be so unprepared.
Towards the end of the war many young Norwegians left their homes and headed for the hills and forests to prepare for the arrival of the Allied forces and the end of the war. They became known as The boys in the woods. In 1944 Milorg arranged a song competition “to keep up morale.” These songs, long forgotten by most, have been collected and arranged by vocalist Per Vollestad for an album that was issued today.
On this day in 1945, American Forces entered the infamous concentration camp at Dachau, north of Munich. Dachau was established in 1933 as a regular prison for political opponents but became the model for future concentration camps. The archives record that over 200,000 persons were incarcerated there during its 12 year existence. Of the two hundred Norwegians who were at Dachau, 37 died.
April 30 2012
It is difficult to keep track of all the new books that in one way or another relate to WWII. The General who didn’t support Hitler was the headline on a two page article in Aftenposten yesterday. The general in question was Kurt von Hammerstein, but the article tells almost as much about the author, Hans Magnus Enzensberger as it does about Hammerstein. Hammerstein didn’t support Hitler in 1933 and he died “in his bed” in 1943. One of his sons was involved in the plot to kill Hitler so Hammerstein’s peaceful end was fortunate. The critic Ingrid Brekke described the newly translated into Norwegian book as “as fascinating as a novel.” The book has been translated into English with the title The Silences of Hammerstein.
Although there are still 6 days to go before the official anniversary of the German capitulation in Norway, the local newspaper, Asker og Bærum Budstikke, gave us 3 full pages describing the last days at Grini – the concentration camp located in Bærum, just outside Oslo. The Grini Museum is hoping to move into larger quarters but lacks the funds to complete the project at the moment.
From 6 days accumulation of Google news the WWII interest, especially in the USA is reflected in the following:
The WWII Museum in New Orleans expects to receive its 3 millionth visitor sometime next week. The museum opened in 2000 – on D-Day, June 6.
In 1944 George Vujinovich, head of the OSS in Bari, Italy, led a team of agents in an airlift, Operation Halyard that saved over 500 airmen from Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia. The operation was featured in a book The Forgotten 500 by Gregory Freeman. George Vujinovich died on April 24 in New York.
A trip to Majdanek, a Nazi concentration camp in Poland, made a lasting impression on Daley Epstein. Because of her experience listening to Holocaust survivors tell her about the loss of life they witnessed first-hand while in Poland, Epstein, a former Daily Texan columnist, decided to apply to the Department of History’s Normandy Scholar Program on World War II. The program focuses on World War II curriculum, and Epstein hoped to expand her knowledge beyond her Jewish lens. “My reccurring theme with both World War II and the Holocaust itself is the more I know the less I understand,” Epstein said. “To this day, after traveling to Poland, I’m still baffled that the human race can sink so low. (University of Texas newspaper).
The 3 millionth visitor entered the WWII Museum in New Orleans on May 2.
Alf R Jacobsen has written another war book, this time around the events at Narvik Ulf Andenes writes that the book, Angrep ved Daggry (Attack at Dawn), is in the same masterful style as Jacobsen’s earlier books. Angrep ved Daggry has two co-authors, Dan Petter Neegard and General Sverre Diesen, who cover respectively the sinking of the Eidsvold and Norge, and the military point of view.
On this day in 1945 at 02.41 in Reims, France, Col. General Jodl signed the unconditional surrender document on behalf of Admiral Dønitz, the official German head of state. The news reached Norway the same day and spontaneous outbreaks of celebration occurred throughout the land. The official day of liberation however, is May 8th…
...which, however, in Norway, has been changed to ‘Veterans Day’ – to honour all who have served in Norwegian military participation around the world. The ceremonies last year caused a storm because H.M. King Harold was not invited to the distribution of medals to those who had served in Afghanistan. Although the King attended today’s ceremonies, the dissatisfaction continues as critics claim that the event has become ‘politicised’. This is hardly surprising since the entire history of the war, the resistance and the liberation have always been ‘politicised’.
Susanne and I went to the theatre this evening to see ‘Abraham’s barn’, written and performed by Stein Tindberg. As usual I was a little sceptical but Else was certain I would enjoy the one-man show that in a light-hearted, but at the same time deadly serious manner brought out the absurdity of the schisms between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. And she was right, I did enjoy the show; it was a crash course on comparative religion that everyone should see and learn from.
This afternoon I received an e-mail from someone called Lore Frank, she had got my name from the web-site and was trying to find out if Bjørn Ullmann was still alive. She had lived in Oslo in 1940 and knew Bjørn slightly from that time. Both Bjørn and Else were thrilled by the request and made contact immediately. It turns out that during the preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, Bjørn used to visit the Lore’s home for lessons from her father. “It was always Lore who opened the door” said Bjørn. In an e-mail to Bjørn, Lore admitted that she had had a childhood ‘crush’ on him. Like Bjørn and Else, Lore and her family had to flee Norway – a story that I hope to be able to write about later.
On another note: ‘The Lady’ is a film everybody should see. It tells the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient who has led the opposition to Burma’s military regime for the past decades. Only 10 other people were in the cinema to see this important film.
While watching the ‘Veteran’s Day’ ceremony on Television on Tuesday evening a thought crossed my mind – where is Gunnar Sønsteby? We learned this morning that he had died today, aged 94. The news of Sønsteby’s death has been reported in many newspapers around the world. In many ways he epitomized the Resistance Movement but perhaps his greatest achievement was his untiring crusade to communicate the follies of war to post-war generations.
The BBC and several British newspapers reported that a holidaymaker on a trip to Norway had received full VIP and a civic reception after being mistaken for a World War II fying-ace who “bombed a Nazi warship off Norway in 1944.” The report later identified “a warship” as the mighty Tirpitz. David Wilson, 47, had flown to Tromso to find out more about his great-uncle Capt Paddy Gingles, who had been one of the pilots on the successful attack. The museum he had contacted ahead of his trip thought he was Capt Gingles himself and put on the VIP show. Mr Wilson was a bit embarrassed to have to explain that he had never actually met his uncle before he died more than 20 years ago.
Several newspapers have carried reports of the discovery of a WWII Kittyhawk aircraft in the Sahara desert. The pilot, Flight Sergeant Dennis Copping, survived the crash, rigged up a shelter against the sun and presumably tried to get the radio working. But from that day in June 1942 only silence reigned over the sandy site almost 200 miles from the nearest town. Flight Sergeant Copping almost certainly perished trying to reach civilization. The almost perfectly preserved plane was discovered by an oil worker.
At a party last night I spoke with Erik Waal who told me that he had been a Milorg member for the last two years of the war. He has written a report on the group’s activities which, he admits, were nothing very spectacular. As he described one of the less-glamorous tasks – pasting posters around the town – I realized that he was talking about the Black Propaganda initiated by Erik Gjems-Onstad in Trondheim. (Operation Durham). Erik Waal confirmed that this was correct and said that the work was nerve-racking, – I knew that if we were caught we would receive no mercy from the Nazis he said.
“Ours to Fight For: American Jews in the Second World War” is the name of the exhibition at the Illinois Holocaust Museum which will end on June 17. Last week, at a seminar, 3 veterans from the war told of their experiences. One of them, 92 year old Monty Nachman said: “War. You can’t describe the damage it does, and you have no idea how scary it is to be in a war.” Nachman and his platoon found dead bodies of thousands of Jews in the death camps in Poland. I didn’t know there was a Holocaust museum in Illinois. I wonder how many there are in the United States?
Music, flags, marching cheering children and patriotic speeches are order of this, Norway’s Independence Day – the only national day of celebration dominated by children rather than military or political pomp and power displays.
News from around the world however, is dominated by the trial of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic which started in the Hague yesterday. Mladic is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes during the 1992-95 war in which claimed more than 100,000 lives. The 70-year old Mladic is accused of instigating the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered almost within sight of UN peacekeepers. Mladic is the third leader from the Bosnian conflict to appear at the Hague: ex-President Slobodan Milosevic died of a heart attack during his own trial in 2006, and Radovan Karadzic’s trial opened in 2009.
The 68th anniversary of D-Day did not go by unreported in the US media. Perhaps the most quoted story was the unveiling of the Colorado-made statue of Pennsylvania native Maj. Dick Winters who was the inspiration for the acclaimed television series ‘Band of Brothers’. The statue was unveiled in Sainte-Marie-Du-Mont, a small French village close by Utah Beach where so many Americans lost their lives. was one of many events marking Wednesday’s 68th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied operation that paved the way for the end of the war. While the troops were landing, pilots and crews were patrolling the skies and harassing enemy fortifications. “It was bedlam,” said Homer K. Buerlein, pilot of a B-26 bomber, recalling his impressions from his bird-eye view of the invasion
Ryan Taylor writes of his Memorial Day speech: The Norwegian Resistance was the service of a teenaged Norwegian who would later marry my aunt when he came to America. The little known Norwegian Resistance was a story of underground guerrilla fighting and sabotage, and deserves the credit for crippling Germany’s nuclear program as Axis and Allied scientists raced to build the first atomic weapon. I have asked him to explain who the teenaged Norwegian was.
Visits to the Veterans Memorial in Washington continue apace – and this day was no exception. A sign of improved times at least for the motor industry: Ford Motor Corporation sponsored one of the many trips. Similarly in New Orleans, the special day brought out historians and veterans to the National World War II Museum.
All contributing to our motto: Lest We Forget.
Anthony Beevor, talking to NPR News about his book ‘The Second World War’ is reported as saying that there are specific things the EU must watch for. “This is the real parallel with the Second World War, if you ever start seeing the dehumanization of ethnic groups or of foreign minorities or whatever it might be,” he says. And he points to one more parallel: In 1938 as in 2012, the European population is ill-informed about the danger of their situation. “The difference, of course, is that the threat of war tends to be a unifying factor, and the threat of economic collapse could not be more divisive,” I’m not so sure that we are “ill informed” about the danger of the current financial situation although here in Norway, informed or not, we seem to be ignoring the danger signs.
I have recently finished reading The Silences of Hammerstien, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger. It was a worthwhile read mostly for the insight into life amongst the leading families of pre-war Germany. I particularly like General Hammerstien’s answer when he was asked according to what criteria he judged his officers:
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent – their place is the General Staff. The next lot is stupid and lazy – they make up 90 per cent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent – he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
Many sources have recorded that Alan Turing, was born 100 years ago on June 23, 1912. Turing might not have invented the computer. (That honor goes to Charles Babbage and Lord Byron’s daughter.) But today’s computing would be unthinkable without the contributions of the British mathematician, who laid down the foundations of computer science, broke Nazi codes that helped win World War II at the famous Bletchley Park, created a secure speech encryption system, made major contributions to logic and philosophy, and even invented the concept of Artificial Intelligence. But he was also an eccentric and troubled man who was persecuted (and prosecuted) for being gay, a tragedy that contributed to his suicide just short of the age of 42 when he died of cyanide poisoning, possibly from a half-eaten apple found by his side. He is hailed today as one of the great originators of our computing age. (Daily Beast)
My long silence during the so-called summer, which, after the sunny promises of April and May, turned into an almost never-ending period of dreary, wet, weather, is unexplicable.- Many things have happened, some of them rather interesting, that I could have written about, but I have not been inspired. The most important was the e-mail from Trevor Baker in England telling me he had the original Visitors’ Book from Leuchars Airport – the terminal for the flights to and from Stockholm during the war. Here’s what he wrote:
I have in my possession RAF Leuchars’ visitors book covering the years 1938 to 1966. It contains almost 3,500 signatures including about 800 signatures of Norwegians who visited Scotland during WW2. I am slowly working my way through identifying them. I have already identified many Norwegian resistance fighters, Norwegian Government members and British SOE people. Ian Herrington, author of The Special Operations Executive in Norway 1940 – 1945 is going to help me identify the signatures, although I am finding Little Norway’s list of 3,595 names and your excellent website very helpful (eg, I have just identified Odd Nilsen using your site). I have hi– resolution photos of 268 pages of the visitors book into Google+ and would be pleased to give you access.
Since then there have been many e-mails in which future plans, indecipherable signatures and general information have been exchanged. Then, last week he informed me that there was some doubt now as to his ownership of the book – he had bought it from a man who had found it in a rubbish skip when the airport was being closed down. However, today he sent the good news that the legal problem seems to have been solved and so it is down to business again. Ironically, today I also receive a reply to an e-mail I sent to Cato Guhnfeldt, journalist in Aftenposten to whom I had sent some information a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t seem so interested in learning any more so perhaps this is typical Norwegian. Trevor has met with a younger British journalist who was full of ideas for what could be done – commercially – with the book.
The article about Kristian Fougner is now finished and waiting for photographs from Berit. Berit invited Else and me for lunch a couple of weeks ago. When we arrived, Kristian seemed rather uninterested – he had had a nasty fall a few days before – but after a while he brightened up and had a good conversation with Else.
Coincidentally, school friends of granddaughter Miriam gave her a tandem parachute jump for her birthday – coincidentally because the drop was to take place at Østre Aere Airport near asdf. This was the airport that Kristian came to from Trondheim a few days after April 9 1940. I offered to take him with us up there but he didn’t feel up to it and I am glad – it was a long, tedious trip. There was nothing there that Kristian would have recognized, the two buildings were contemporary and the whole place was a bit depressing. Still, it was exciting to see Miriam enjoy her unusual birthday gift.
Margi Preus, the woman who has written a book based on our web-site story of Erling Storussten, wrote me the other day saying that she would be sending the book to me. Ten minutes after I read this e-mail, Erling rang and said that he had received the book the day before, that he had read it through in one sitting, and that he thought it very good.
So those are three interesting developments that may influence the web-site in some way.
Margi Preus’ book, Shadow on the Mountain, arrived yesterday afternoon. It’s an attractive, rather old-fashioned looking book, but securely bound and good to hold. I think it is the cover that gave me the ‘old-fashioned’ sensation. The sub-heading reads: A novel inspired by the true adventures of a wartime spy. Inside, large titles head the short chapters and the spacing makes for easy reading. There’s a glossy coloured photo section at the end headed: Erling Storrusten, The Real “Espen,” and his World of Espionage. The first photograph shows Aase-Berit and Erling together with Alv Magnus and one of the photographs is “courtesy Else Ward.” After acknowledging Erling and Aase-Berit, the author writes: Thanks also to Geoff and Else Ward for the wealth of stories that can be found on their website ….” There is also a ‘Timeline” which looks very familiar! Look forward to reading the fictionalized version of one of our ‘stories.’
I have just finished reading one of the truly ‘great’ stories from the Norwegian Resistance, not great in the dramatic sense – no dangerous assignments, explosives and shootings – just a remarkable diary of a man imprisoned for 216 days in 1944. Petter Moen Dagbok, is the simple title on the economically produced book first published in 1946 and at least 9 in editions, my copy, January 1950. What’s so special about a diary? you might ask. Considering the fact that Petter Moen was not allowed paper, pencils, books, visitors or any kind of mental stimulant, the fact that his cell was regularly ransacked for any sign of evasion of these rules, and the fact that he died during a sea transport to Germany, the diary is more than remarkable, it is almost a miracle. Consider; he alone knew where the ‘manuscripts’ were hidden, during the journey he told a couple of other prisoners about the hidden trove, and one of these men survived the sinking of the ship Westphalia. One of only five survivors!
Pappa forlat oss idag kl.18 – email from Berit telling us that Kristian had died peacefully in the hospital.
The chapel was almost full at the funeral service of Kristian Fougner. Prominent amongst mourners was a representative from the Military, Erling Storrusten, and other Rotary Club Members. Afterwards, at Berit’s insistance, we took Erling to the reception and met some of the family. Once again, I feel that I only scratched the surface of Kristian’s character and I wish I had had the opportunity to meet him more.
The latest contribution to Norwegian war history is Erik Veum’s first volume of three projected books covering the actions of Norwegian sympathisers during the German occupation. This first volume describes the active participation of members of the Statspoliti (State Police) many of whom were already members of the NS. The book contains all the usual ingredients: betrayal, torture, the deportation of Jews, liquidation and execution. Veum claims that most of his material came from private documents, but in the detailed book review by Cato Guhnfeldt in Aftenposten (22.10.2012) I didn’t find one piece of information that I hadn’t already read elsewhere. The most contentious part of the book is identification of most of the State Police members. The reaction was not slow in coming; the next day Aftenposten reported that one of the men identified has threatened a lawsuit to stop publication of the book.
When we mention the word Holocaust most people think of the massive murder of Jews but other minorities were similarly slaughtered. Twenty years after promises were made, on October 24 Chancellor Merkel opened a monument in Berlin to the Roma and Sinti minorities who lost their lives in German concentration camps.
On TV, an Australian documentary related the story of a Sunderland flying boat that flew a reconnaissance mission over Oslo on April 9 1940 The 10 man crew were not told that the Germans had invaded Norway that very day and, unsurprisingly, the aircraft was shot down over the hills south of Oslo. Nine of the men died instantly but 1, miraculously, fell 1000 feet, through some trees and into deep snow. A local man found the injured Welshman, got him to a hospital and saved his life. The airman spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp. The nine fatalities are buried in Sylling Church where the graves are cared for and honoured each May 17th.
Not to be outdone by TV, Aftenposten yesterday brought us the story of the mostly unknown heroes of WWII . Over two pages, with detailed information about flights, fights, medals and heart-warming photographs, the saga of the pigeons in wartime unfolded. The statistics are impressive: 200,000 British and 54,000 American pigeons were in service during WWII. Thirty-two received the Dickin Medal – the animals’ ‘Victoria Cross.’ I first read about these winged warriors in Hysing-Dahl’s book.
A coincidence of sorts: Secrets from World War II may have been found in a coded message attached to the skeleton of a carrier pigeon found while renovating a chimney by David Martin, of Bletchingly, Surrey. A red capsule, containing a message, was attached to one of the leg-bones. It is thought that the bird might have been returning from behind enemy lines during the D Day invasions. Britain’s main de-coding station during the war, Bletchley Park, is not far away. No doubt code-breakers are working overtime to decipher the 70 year-old mysterious message from Martin’s chimney.
National Geographic, now a major TV presence, is showing a three-part mini-series about the Second World War. The programme comprises first-hand accounts by veterans and civilians.
The biography of Leif Tronstad, by Olav Njølstad, the man who wrote Jens Chr. Hauge’s biography was published this week. I have been collecting information about Tronstad for a long time – he was a key member of the Resistance movement both in Norway and in England – but have waited for this book before posting my articles on the web.
The largest museum in the world dedicated to Judaism has opened in Moscow.
German TV producer Nico Hofmann is planning an historic TV series based on the life of Adolf Hitler. The subject has never been aired in Germany and the new series is expected to be shown in 2015.
Seventy years ago Operation Freshman ended tragically when the glider carrying British Troops, sent to demolish the heavy water plant at Vemork, crashed on trying to return to England because of bad weather. Those who did not die in the crash were murdered by the Gestapo in accordance with Hitler’s ‘Commando’ edict. Bodies of 24 Britons are buried in Stavanger and today, Memorial Day, military representatives, friends and family from Norway and Britain paid their respects.
Lise Børsum In 1946 Lise Børsum wrote a book about her experiences during the war.
This evening we have been to the theatre to see a one-woman show by Norwegian actress Bente Børsum. Bente’s mother, Lise Børsum the wife of a doctor, became involved in the Resistance Movement in Oslo. She was arrested, tortured, sent to Grini and then, from May 1943 to April 1945, she was incarcerated as an NN prisoner at Ravensbrook. With the aid of a single violinist, Bente portrayed her mother’s life during these years: the pain, the suffering, the horror, the tragedy – and the triumph. I have spoken to men about their experiences in concentration camps but this was my first exposure to an account of a female prisoner. Bente’s mother, in her soliloquay of life as a prisoner, admits that the Norwegians were the favoured few – they were, after all, Arians, they received Red Cross packages and letters from home. But Claes Berg told me that he had had to visit Ravensbrook once and: “… the women there were in a much worse state than us.” The theater in Asker was packed and comments after the show: “I didn’t realise it was so terrible” and “Where did she get the strength?” (A question that Bente asks herself.), and the prevalence of surreptitious eye-wiping; showed that the performance had succeeded – another group of people had been touched by an event 60 years ago.
This year Gyldendal; possibly in response to Bente’s solo performance on the stage, has re-issued Lise Børsum’s book, ‘Fange i Ravensbrück.’
Norwegians never seem to tire of investigating and judging their international celebrities, especially when there is a connection with the war. In 1913 Kirsten Flagstad made her debut as an opera singer in Oslo and by 1932 was performing leading Wagnerian roles in Norway and Europe. Her debut in New York in 1935 was a widely acclaimed and she became the favoured suprano of the Metropolitan Opera House. I am one of those who believe that art and politics, and art and personal lives, should kept – read judged – separately. Unfortunately Kirsten Flagstad was married to a man who, by joining the hated National Socialist Party and collaborating financially with the Germans, made this an impossible task for large portions of the populations in Norway and the USA. Her decision to return to Norway from New York in 1942 had disastrous consequences for her: branded as a Nazi and ostracized during the war, interrogated and stripped of her wealth in 1945 and denied a passport until 1946.
April 24 Max Manus was one of the most active and well-known members of the ‘Linge Company’ As one of the ‘Oslo Gang’ he took part in numerous daring sabotage actions. Two Norwegian film directors now plan to make a film of Max Manus’ film experiences – a further proof that we are far from finished with the war years.
April 26 Newsreels made under the direction of the Quisling authorities during the war will be released on the Internet. The 13 Newsreels give an impression of what every-day life was like during the Nazi occupation. (www.filmarkivet.no)
May 3 At the launching of her new book “Alliert”, Vibekke Løkkeberg, a well-known film director, said that Milorg knew in advance about the allied bombing of Laksevåg in October 1944. According to Bergen Tidene, Løkkeberg said that Milorg folk made sure that their own children were not at school that day fully aware that other children would be there and perish.
May 9 Film director Vibekke Løkkeberg has been accused by August Rathke of libel in connection with her new book “Alliert” and her statement in Bergen last week. She is reported to have said that Milorg members in Laksevåg knew in advance about an Allied air attack on October 4 1944. During the bombing, 194 civilians were killed including many children who died when their school was destroyed.
May 10 Documentary film about Quisling on Norwegian TV. (Bergens Tidende) A German propaganda film from 1940 was found last year by a man from Bergen. “Kampf um Norwegen” was directed by Dr. Martin Rikli in 1940 and was intended to show the German public how the heroic German soldiers had made the surprise attack on Norway, how they established their footholds in Kristiansand, Bergen and Norway and how they fought their way to Trondheim. The film includes scenes never seen before but, probably because Goebbels thought it was too ‘factual’, it was never used as propaganda.
“Kampf um Norwegen” is available from the Norwegian Film Institute and comes with an informative booklet in English, Norwegian and German. The film is subtitled in English and Norwegian.
May 13. Sønsteby Statue.
”Actually I should have come here on my bicycle today but unfortunately one of the tires was punctured” It was a surprised and sprightly 89 year old Gunnar Sønsteby who injected this spot of humour in his short speech of thanks at the unveiling of Per Ung’s characteristic statue: a young Sønsteby, cloth cap on head, one hand in his pocket and the other supporting his trusty Diamond cycle.
On May 13th 1945 Sønsteby waited on the pier in Oslo for Crown Prince Olav to return from his five war years in exile. He then accompanied the Crown Prince on his triumphant drive through streets packed with cheering citizens.
Now, exactly 62 years later, Sønsteby watched as Crown Prince Olav’s son, King Harald, unveiled the statue in his honour – Norway’s most decorated civilian – and probably the one with the most aliases – Agent 24 was just one of several dozen. A few feet away another war hero, Winston Churchill, in larger than life bronze, stood and silently approved.
Lieutenant-General Arne Bård Dalhaug had welcomed King Harald, invited guests and the several hundred spectators who had gathered to participate in the ceremony in a square not far from the Embassy of the United States.
As the main speaker, Jo Benkow, an ex-President of the Norwegian Parliament, praised Sønsteby and his colleagues for their extraordinary exploits during the war but emphasised the importance of Sønsteby’s post-war program of lectures, articles, and books.
Keeping alive Sønsteby’s exploits is one way of keeping alive the reason why these exploits were necessary – to make sure that Democracy prevails today was the main thrust of Benkow’s speech. “He (Sønsteby) would rather be called a fighter for freedom than war hero” said Benkow.
Other speakers included Arnfinn Moland, head of the NorwegianResistanceMuseum and author of the book “Gunnar Sønsteby – 24 kapitler i Kjakans liv” (“Gunnar Sønsteby – 24 Chapters in Kjakan’s Life”) and Erling Lorentzen, who represented Sønsteby’s colleagues in Milorg.
At one of his many lectures Gunnar Sønsteby said: ”At the end of the war I had three choices: I could become a successful criminal, I could pursue a military career, or I could take up the threads of my education – I chose the latter and spent 5 years in the United States.”
Else and I took the ‘plane to Trondheim. Lt. General Reidar Kvaal met us at the airport. He is 91 years young and he drove us around for three hours. It seems he is related to most of the population of Stjørdal. We saw helleristninger (rock drawings), old farms and he explained how the landscape had been formed. He seemed to avoid talking about the war and I got the distinct impression that he didn’t think much of the book ‘Lapwing’; “Too many errors” was his verdict. After lunch at the Stjørdal Golf Club he drove us to Trondheim: “I remember getting up early in the morning and driving in the horse and cart with my father to the coast where we bought some sawdust, turned round and headed home again. Every time I drive through this tunnel I think about that long, long, day.” Reider is involved in a film project with a new museum and is anxious that all the information is correct – something that is not too easy because of local ‘special interests.’