Sunday, August 23, 2015

Norway: Invasion and Evacuation, the Early War Years

From Otto's autobiography here is an excerpt from 1940.

On the evening of April 8, 1940, we were sitting listening to the radio. Bad weather outside. The news told about a German ship that had been sunk off the south coast with a number of young men and horses from the wreckage. The British had put out mines at several strategic places along the west coast it make it difficult for the German freighters to carry Swedish iron ore from Narvik to Germany. Of course the German invasion had been planned long before that. We really didn't know what was going on. Neither did the politicians and the military.

We awoke early on April 9th. Heard strange noises. As soon as it got light we saw German warships in the fjord. Soon after the airplanes were coming over. There was some shooting. Suddenly the cruiser Kønigsberg opened fire, shooting at both the forts in Bergen, Kvarven and Hellen. It was noisy, the ship laying right outside our house. The clock on the wall stopped. Soon we had Norwegian soldiers around the house, but in a few hours Bergen was taken over by the Germans and the Norwegian collaborators. I went to school. The family ended up in Fyllingen with a cousin of Mother's, not far from home. Everybody was leaving town, and rumors were flying.

The next day we found a car, got gasoline from a ship at the ship yard and they drove us to Garnes where we took the ferry to Haus and the bus to Lonevaag. Stayed with Magne Grønaas and Brita, Mother's aunt. My father stayed back in town. Two more families were at the Grønaas'. We were evacuated.

After a few weeks we went back. I went back to school and Audun took the entrance examination also to the Technical School. I graduated #2 in the chemistry class, out of nine. Audun would start in the Fall. He would go to the Civil Engineering class (Vei, vann og bro)*. Mother and Kaare stayed in Lonevaag. Kaare even started going to school there and became #1 in reading and writing. "Listen to him!", said Mr. Vassenden, the old schoolmaster.*

The War Years 1940-1945

I had just graduated from Technical school. Jobs were hard to get in the chemistry department. So I started working in the Ship Yard at Laksevaag. Worked in the Electrical department and did overtime on the floating dry dock on weekends.. Good money, working straight through from Friday evening to Monday morning just checking the transformers that they didn't get warm. I was also sometimes the interpreter between the Norwegians and the Germans on the dock. Those German sailors were mostly "good guys",  just caught up in a crazy war.

In April of 1941 I got a job at Fleisher's Kjemiske Fabrikker.. The name was changed just after I joined from Norsk Kjemisk & Fargefabrikk. It was mainly a paint factory and products connected with that. My good friend Arne Thorsen who had graduated a year earlier from the Technical School also worked there. We became the best of friends, and I always visited with him and his family after I went to the States. He died suddenly on Christmas day in 1987.

My starting salary was 200 kroner/month, and after 3 months I got a 50 kroner raise. About another 3 months I got another 100 kroner raise, a fairly good salary at that time  (note: about $43.00/ month).

I worked in a laboratory. The chief chemist was Dr. Paul Borinski. He was about 60. Had managed to get out of Germany with nothing. The Nazis had taken all their belongings. In the Fall, Odd Heggelund joined us. He was just out of the Institute in Trondheim.

Having lost the supply of linseed oil on which our plant functioned we got into the "Ersatz" or substitute business. Made a good living out of it, since there was nothing else. We made paint from sulfite waste from the paper mills and we used fish oil instead of linseed oil. The paint looked good, but almost never dried. However, we still had a quota of soybean oil which we used for cooking, some potato starch, and 100 liters of denatured alcohol every month. Most of that we distilled, purified and used it for trading on the black market.

We wanted to get Dr. Borinski to England, but he thought he was too old. Then in the Fall of 1942 he and all the Jews who hadn't managed to escape were sent to Germany and only a few survived.

The factory was making money and I got to work with Odd Waardal who joined us in 1943. I worked with him and we synthesized dyestuffs and textile chemicals wanting to get into that business after the war.

*(Road, water and bridge)
* Otto was born in 1920, Audun in 1922, and Kaare in 1929

More to follow at some point.


  1. Incredible photos, and part history-part autobiography. I can't wait to read more.

  2. The human toll of the Third Reich and World War II was chilling. Dr. Borinski was lucky to escape with his life.

  3. Sioux, Thanks, there will be more.

    Ahab, Dr. Borinsky made it out of Germany, but was taken away in the Fall 1942 when the Nazis continued their atrocities in Norway.

  4. My father was a German Jew. To the end of his days he could not/would not talk about the war or his early life. Thank you for these snippets which help to fill in some of the gaps...

  5. Such a brief snippet, a simple sentence from your father's autobiography, ...he and all the Jews who hadn't managed to escape were sent to Germany and only a few survived... and we can only imagine the horrible story behind this glimpse.

    What a treasure for you to have this!

  6. so important to your family and very interesting to us..thanks.

  7. Elephant's Child, The part of this autobiography that occurs before I was born is the most fascinating. I was around for much of the rest. Otto never spoke much about it either and you will understand why in later installments. My Aunt in England survived the Holocaust and still has her numbers tattooed on her forearm.

    Pixel Peeper, I think those times need to be remembered so that we don't let it happen again. Unfortunately, as a species, we are slow learners.

    JACKIESUE, I do it so I don't forget what life was like for my parents and don't take this life of mine for granted.

  8. This is interesting - human accounts far better than sanitized history.
    the Ol'Buzzard

  9. Jono -- I apologize for my reading error.

    I was struck by something Otto wrote about the German sailors: "Those German sailors were mostly 'good guys', just caught up in a crazy war." Even in the midst of a stressful time, Otto had little rancor toward the German soldiers, whom he recognized as caught up in their country's war machine.

    Do share more from Otto!

  10. My father was a Canadian, and he and my parents were all born here in Canada...Montreal, to be exact, and I have lived in Montreal all my life. In 1939, my father went to England because he wanted to see where his parents were Kent. While he was there, he registered for the army at the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. My father shortly after the war began, became a prisoner of the Nazis. Although he never talked to my mother or I about what he experienced we knew he went through a lot. Thank you so much for sharing this post, and you have a very nice blog.

    I would like to thank you so much for your visit and kind comment on my blog post today, and please know that you are very welcome to visit and comment. In fact, it would be an honour to have you. :)

  11. Thank you for this amazing first hand account and photos. Looking forward to more!

  12. Fascinating personal history, thanks for letting people read his accounts. What a time he lived in, eh?

  13. Amazing to have this. My mother told me many stories about her childhood near London during WWII. I have the letters my grandmother wrote to her when she was evacuated to Scotland for a summer.
    Amazing photos too!

  14. Ol'Buzzard, There's more to the story coming soon. It gets a little grittier.

    Ahab, When my father immigrated he couldn't understand most of the racial/ethnic prejudices that he found here.

    Linda, Me mum was a Brit, also. She, her brother, and mother were in London for most of the war. I heard stories about the constant bombing, but stiff upper lip and all. There was a German soldier here for many years who just died recently. He was captured by the Russians and survived the Gulag. He was a very sweet and generous old man who had gotten caught up in the a war that no one (except the Nazis) wanted. I think most of the stories would bring me to tears.

    Donna, Thanks, my friend.

    Should Fish More, There were so many of "The Greatest Generation" and so many stories. There are few of them left and I don't want to forget those lives. There is always hope that we have learned something, but it is a faint glimmer.

    Knatolee, My grandfather was logging in Scotland before the war, but he and my grandmother divorced. Shocking back then. He died in 1948 so I never knew him. So glad you found Pip!

  15. Exciting, scary, and amazing that you have all this documented, Jono. Are you compiling a book? Thanks for sharing. The photos are eerie, kind of surreal.

  16. What a fascinating story you are telling. I will come back here and read more of it. So important to have this documented. So many war stories were never told, too horrible, to emotional.

  17. I love this! Keep doing it. It's important work. So fascinating.

    It's interesting to me, too, because I went to Norway last summer, and have been to Bergen now, of course.

    I especially liked how he said the German sailers were mostly good guys caught up in a bad war. That's probably true of all wars. My German friend told me once that she didn't think Americans understood, that the Nazis were the bad guys in Germany, too. Everyone was afraid of the Nazis- even Germans.

  18. HOLY COW!! This is fascinating to me.

  19. Fascinating. So many people, in that war and others, endured so much and with such strength. I always wonder if I was in their shoes, could I have done it?

  20. Very interesting post! Looking forward to reading more of the story.

  21. Wow. Fascinating stuff, Jono. Keep it coming!

  22. Such an interesting account. Stories of the war years fascinate and horrify me in equal measures. With so much suffering and so many atrocities committed, it's a miracle anyone came through it with their humanity intact.

  23. Robyn, Otto, my father, wrote this as an autobiography for my brother and I and at this point I have no other desire other than sharing some of it. At the moment a book is beyond what I need to do.

    Shammickite, I would think you might have some stories of those years from your family, too.

    Shoshanah, Thanks! When I was a teen visiting in Norway I played with my cousins on some of the bunkers up the mountain from their house.

    Vapid Vixen, Thanks for following along. There will be more to come.

    Dawn@Lighten Up! Thanks, Dawn, I will.

    Diane, I often wonder how we have survived as a species, especially on my more cynical days.
    jenny_o, I have wondered the same thing.

    masgautsen, It seems to me that it took Norway about twenty years to get through a basic recovery from that war, but you would probably know better that I.