Tag Archives: Norway

‘The 12th Man,’ by Scott and Haug

A multitude of stories of courage and endurance come out of World War II. Surely one of the most remarkable is that of Jan Baalsrud (pronounced “Yon Bowls-rood”), the subject of the book, The 12th Man by Astrid Karlsen Scott and Tore Haug. (If you see a book called Defiant Courage, it’s the same book. They changed the title to go with the release of a 12th Man movie a couple years back.)

Jan Baalsrud was one of a team of 12 saboteurs who sailed to Norway from Scotland in a fishing boat as part of a “Shetland Bus” operation in 1943. They were to deliver arms, munitions and supplies to the Resistance, and to attack some air bases. Tragically, a missed connection led to their betrayal, and a German patrol ship attacked them. They managed to blow their boat up, but the whole team except for Baalsrud were either killed on the spot or captured, tortured, and executed. Baalsrud himself escaped into the mountains with one foot bare and wounded.

Then followed months of working his way eastward toward the Swedish border through some of the roughest terrain in the world. He endured an avalanche, starvation, frostbite, gangrene (he amputated his own toes) and snow blindness. He received help and supplies from scattered farms along the way, but when he finally came to the great mountains around Manndalen he was unable to go further under his own power. He then became dependent on a team of Resistance sympathizers in the area who – in spite of killing weather and repeated missed appointments – refused to let this brave man die.

It’s a harrowing, almost unbelievable story. It was first publicized (I believe) by David Howarth in his book The Shetland Bus. Later he devoted a whole book, We Die Alone, to the tale.

Unfortunately (the authors report) Howarth didn’t get the whole story. Apparently, the Norwegians he interviewed were suspicious of him, and did not tell him everything they knew. Authors Scott and Haug spent five years interviewing surviving participants and combing the records, in order to provide what they believe to be an accurate account.

Sadly, their book isn’t very well written. Ms. Scott and Dr. Haug describe themselves as co-authors, but to me The 12th Man reads exactly like a bad translation (and I know bad translations). The phrasing is consistently Norwegian (hence awkward in English), the word choice poor. I wish I could say otherwise, but the book needed a good editor badly. I’m not quite satisfied with a few passages in Viking Legacy, but I felt better after reading this.

But if you can deal with the clumsy writing, it’s one heck of a story. Cautions for intense situations.

‘Occupied,’ by Kurt Blorstad

There are books you finish because you’re interested in the subject, not because of the writing. That was my response to Occupied by Kurt Blorstad, a novelization (apparently) of the author’s father’s reminiscences from his boyhood in Norway during World War II.

The family is divided in 1936, when the story begins. Young Trygve and his brother Thoralf, along with their baby brother Odd and their mother, are in Norway, separated from “Pappa,” who is working in the United States, saving to bring them over. They move from living with father’s family to living with their maternal grandparents, and we learn about village life in Norway as a little sister is born and the boys start to grow up. In 1940, just when they finally have enough money saved to make the move, the Germans invade and travel becomes impossible.

The German occupiers, arrogant and acquisitive, confiscate whatever they want. They issue ration coupons for food and other goods which are useless because they themselves consume almost everything. The hardships are great, the rules many, the penalties for breaking the rules draconian. Eventually Trygve gets involved in the Resistance in a minor way, keeping it secret from his family.

The story was interesting if you’re interested in the subject and the period – which I am. But it’s low on drama, and written in a very amateur style. Exposition gets delivered like a history class lecture, and nobody uses any contractions in the dialogue.

Some of my readers are interested in the Norwegian Occupation period, and you’re likely to find Occupied interesting, as I did. Strictly as a work of fiction, I can’t recommend it. No cautions for offensive language or subject matter.

Norwegian stuff

Today is Syttende Mai, Constitution Day, Norway’s foremost national celebration. I have my Norwegian flag flying at my house, as is my wont when the weather permits on this date. There are rumors of rain, but so far so good.

If you’re in the Twin Cities area, and longing for a chance to look on my kindly visage (now that Grumpy Cat has left us), there are a couple opportunities coming up.

This Sunday I’ll be at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis for the Vikings Family Day. It was supposed to be outside, but it’s looking like weather will drive us indoors. I’ll have books to sell, if you can find me. 12:00 to 5:00 p.m.

And on Saturday, May 25, I’ll be at Fort Snelling Cemetery for the dedication of the new memorial to the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate). The time will be 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

A little tour of Avaldsnes

From time to time I talk to you about the parish of Avaldsnes in Norway, where my great-grandfather was born, and where one of the most dramatic events in Erling Skjalgsson’s career occurred.

They’re very aware of their Viking heritage at Avaldsnes, as you can see by viewing the short video below. This is the Viking farm they’ve built on the nearby island of Bukkoy. I’m not sure why they identify the naust (boathouse) as a great hall — except that that’s how it’s used in the TV series Northmen, which is filmed there. But still, this video will give you some idea of the place.

“Jeg Er Saa Glad Hver Julekveld”

Here’s Sissel singing the most famous Norwegian Christmas carol — Jeg Er Saa Glad Hver Julekveld. Generations of Norwegian-American kids have learned it by rote and sung it for church programs. As did I.

The art here is not really appropriate. It’s not a Santa song. It uses the lighting of the Christmas tree to meditate on the wonder of the Incarnation of Christ. The child sings that he/she loves Christmas because of Jesus.

Here’s the words in English

April 9, 1940

Invasion Oslo
German troops march into Oslo, April 9, 1940

Today is a grim anniversary. It was on April 9, 1940, that Operation Weserübung (the Weser Exercise) was implemented by the German army against Norway and Denmark. There was resistance, some of it heroic, but it was no contest in the long run. For the rest of the war, Norway and Denmark would be occupied territory.

If you see the movie The King’s Choice, which I reviewed a few days back, you’ll get the gist of the story of how the government and the royal family fled Oslo and eventually went into exile. One element of the movie that hasn’t aroused much notice is the general fecklessness of the parliamentary leaders in response to the attack. There’s no surprise there; we don’t often look to politicians for valor and sacrifice. But there’s another element, not suggested in the film.

The parliamentary leaders weren’t entirely sure Hitler was the enemy.

The Norwegian government in the spring of 1940 was led by the Labor (Arbeider) Party. The Labor Party was by and large a wholly owned subsidiary of Josef Stalin’s Kremlin, which had been bankrolling it for years. Labor leaders in those days didn’t go to the loo without checking with their Russian handlers first.

During spring of 1940, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was in force, making Hitler and Stalin allies. So when the Germans marched in, the Labor leaders were inclined to greet them as friends. The only thing that prevented them from enthusiastically joining in the “Heil!” salutes was the Germans’ incredibly ham-handed conduct.

It wouldn’t be until June 1941 that Hitler would break the pact by launching Operation Barbarossa against Russian possessions. At that point Labor became solidly anti-Nazi, going carefully into denial about their earlier collaborationist sentiments. And so it remains, even unto this day.

It’s pronounced “nee-norsk.”

Ivar Aasen
Ivar Aasen, creator of Nynorsk

From Literary Hub, via Dave Lull: An article on why Norway has two official languages.

Still, no one is talking about getting rid of Nynorsk entirely; and if you live in Western Norway, it’s the majority style. While the idea of teaching just one writing standard circulates in the media every few years, it’s always kicked back because it would probably be the nail in the coffin for Nynorsk. So students reluctantly continue sitting double exams every year, and the Norwegian Language Council requires 25 percent of all government documents to be in Nynorsk, although diversity compliance is poor. The idea of Samnorsk—a common Norwegian—is intriguing: that we could merge these two styles together and create something that represents everyone. It’s a nice notion, but at the rate that Nynorsk is dwindling from use, the problem may well solve itself soon enough.

The last time I visited family in Norway, my cousins gifted me with a book of Nynorsk word endings.

You Think You’re Unpublished Now?

A thousand trees have been planted in the Nordmarka forest, near Oslo, Norway, as a work of art, literature, and hope in dystopian days. It’s being called a work of art, framtidsbiblioteket  or The Future Library; and I don’t doubt it’s beautiful even now. Trees have a way about them.

The trees are to meant grow for 100 years (starting in 2014) and then be cut for the paper to publish anthologies with manuscripts that will be written over that hundred-year period. Participating writers will surrender their original work to the project and allow it to go unpublished until 2114, preventing anyone from knowing how pretentious and unreadable it is until after their death. The writers who submit something in 2100 will be the ones under pressure, because they will have living readers to engage at the next virtual book signing. If their work flops, it will only be another weight to drag the whole project under water.

Who’s going to care to read back fifty years to see whether one of these works will hold their interest? Other writers possibly. More likely it will be publishers who read through these anthologies to find a gem they can exploit for themselves. “Frizzik Notweilder’s Ghosts at Noon Know the Heimlich, written seventy years ago and published in the framtidsbiblioteket anthologies, is the novel of the century, now available through Simon & Zondervan publishers.”

And Notweilder won’t know a thing about it.

‘The Winter Fortress,’ by Neal Bascomb

The Winter Fortress

I think I first heard of the World War II Norwegian Resistance sabotage at Vemork and Rjukan when the Kirk Douglas movie, The Heroes of Telemark, came out in 1965. I didn’t see the movie then, but I read reviews and articles in the paper. I finally saw the movie in college. I think I realized even then that it probably bore as much resemblance to real events as a Lego figure bears to a real person.

Later I read accounts in books, and saw a TV documentary (which stated, somewhat snarkily, at the end that recently discovered documents proved that it was all unnecessary, as the Germans never intended to build an atom bomb at all. This was a premature and exaggerated claim). Then there was the Norwegian/British miniseries, “The Heavy Water War,” which was more authentic than the movie, but also highly fictionalized.

I think I’ve got the genuine story, within reasonable tolerances, now that I’ve read Neal Bascomb’s The Winter Fortress.

The Norsk Hydro hydroelectric plant at Vemork, Telemark had a small, profitable, almost exclusive sideline manufacturing deuterium – “heavy water” – an ingredient in fertilizers. That operation became the focus of international intrigue when German scientists chose deuterium as a moderating agent in their atomic experiments – which did indeed have the goal of producing a super-bomb, though of course not every Nazi in the government supported the project. When the Norwegian Resistance, after the Occupation, discovered the Germans’ intentions for the stuff, they alerted British Intelligence, and halting heavy water production became a prime war objective.

The story of how a small group of Norwegian commandos, supplemented by an ill-starred company of British Army saboteurs, endured police searches, betrayals, horrific winter weather, separation from their families, and plain bad luck to carry out two highly successful sabotage operations forms the story of The Winter Fortress. The characters (particularly commander Leif Trondstad, Joaquin Rønneberg, and Knut Haukelid) come to life, and the times and circumstances are vividly painted. A lot of painstaking research went into this book, and it was not wasted. The story is exciting, and poignant, and often tragic.

Highly recommended. Not for the faint of heart.

Mark your calendars

99th Infantry Battalion (Separate) patch

On August 12, the Vikings and I will be attending the 75th Anniversary of the Activation of the 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), also known as the Viking Battalion, at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota. The address is 15000 Highway 115, Little Falls 56345.

I’ve told you about the 99th before. They were a “foreign legion” brigade recruited mostly from stranded Norwegian merchant sailors and Norwegian-Americans, after the Occupation of Norway. They served with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge, and participated in the “Monuments Men” operation. At the end of the war they were in charge of the transition back to civilian rule in Norway. A few of them were siphoned off for special duty, and became part of the original core of the OSS (later the CIA).

The event will be open to the public from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The organization’s web site is here. There’s also a Facebook group.

17 May 2017

Today is Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day (not, as I’m sure you remember from previous years, its Independence Day).

As happened last year (I’m pretty sure) it rained today, so I couldn’t display my Norwegian flag once again. I did wear my Norwegian flag tie, plus a Norwegian flag button, to work, however.

In celebration, I’ll post this video, the most memorable Norwegian thing I’ve seen recently.

It’s not memorable, I think you’ll agree, for its beauty or its music. It’s memorable for featuring an idiot in a man-bun who does things on mountains that no sane person should even think about.

I suppose it’s meant as a reminder of one thing Norwegians all have in common — a death wish.

After all, we’re the country that gave the world the lemming.

Happy Friday

For anyone interested, I will be giving my lecture on the Icelandic Sagas on Monday, May 1 for Fjellsyn Lodge, Sons of Norway. They meet 7:00 p.m. (program about 7:30) at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church, 8211 Red Oak Dr., Moundsview, Minnesota.

Dave Lull sent me this link to a video about something I was unaware of — the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein kept a hut on the Sognefjord in Norway, and lived there off and on between World War I and his death. The video follows a group of people making a pilgrimage to what’s left of it.

The video is a little over 20 minutes long, which is more time than I’m usually willing to give Wittgenstein. But the Norwegian scenery is lovely. Among the peculiarities of this video, besides the perfervid intonations of the narrator at the beginning, is a reading from Wittgenstein given by a woman wearing what appears to be 17th Century breeches. I haven’t a guess why.

Also another woman on the hike (a fairly rugged one) is wearing flip-flops. The Norwegians have a saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” They might have added, “There are no painful hikes, only painful footwear.”

Have a good weekend.