Tag Archives: Norway

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.

Country & Northern

From PJ Media, via Dave Lull: This New Yorker Grew to Love Country Music — in the Last Place You’d Ever Think.

And, yes, they adore country music. It speaks to them. Because it’s the real America, if you like, speaking to the real Norway. And guess what? Listening to that music here, I’ve undergone a long-delayed conversion. I’ve finally realized that of all the popular music produced today, it’s country songs, by far, that are most likely to have real melodies and real lyrics, to speak honestly and movingly about love and friendship, to exhibit courage and humor in the face of adversity, and to show appreciation for everyday comforts and pleasures. All in all, they’re the closest thing around today to the standards by Kern, Berlin, Rodgers, and company that I grew up on.

This story may surprise you. But to one who, like me, has spent time at the Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota, it’s just part of life. Like trains, dogs, pickup trucks… and lutefisk.

‘The Viking Battalion’

Viking Battalion

Last week I was contacted on Facebook by a fellow who’s involved in a Viking commemoration a tad different from the kind I’m used to. But I was honored to be asked to assist him, and I want to publicize his effort. He’s the president of a group devoted to memorializing a remarkable World War II US Army unit.

The 99th Infantry Battalion (Separate), also known as the Viking Battalion, was organized in 1942 at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. Its purpose was (originally) a specific, specialized one (that’s what the word “Separate” means). It was intended for the invasion of Norway – an option for the European invasion that remained under consideration long into the war. The bulk of its manpower came from Norwegian merchant sailors who’d been stranded overseas by the German invasion in 1940, plus Norwegian-American young men, many of whom had grown up speaking Norwegian. They trained for mountain warfare in Colorado, and later as commandos in Scotland.

As it worked out, of course, the invasion happened in Normandy. The 99th participated in that action and its aftermath, and fought with distinction in the Battle of the Bulge. Finally they were sent to Norway after the surrender, in order to help establish order and evacuate the German occupation troops in an orderly manner.

There’s going to be a special commemoration event on Saturday, August 12, at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota. I’ve been asked to be there in Viking costume (just to confuse the visitors, I imagine) and I may bring some other Vikings along. If you’re interested in the event, let me know in comments, or just watch this space. I’ll be keeping you posted.

Breaking up is hard to do

Once again I turn to the invaluable blog Mirabilis.ca. Today’s story is of interest to me for several reasons. Annoyance being only one of them.

An article from thelocal.no, an English-language Norwegian news site, explains how the Norwegian state church (Lutheran) will be disestablished at the end of 2016. Sort of.

A typically Norwegian non-solution solution.

The bill that passed parliament resulted in extensive changes to the Constitution. Out went the phrase “The Evangelical-Lutheran religion will remain the state’s public religion”. In its place came the words “the Church of Norway, an Evangelical-Lutheran Church, will remain Norway’s national church and will be supported as such by the state”.

Do you understand what that means? I’m not sure I do either. Continue reading Breaking up is hard to do

Atlas Obscura, Good for What Bores You

Your guide to “the world’s wondrous and curious places” now has everything on one map, “the definitive map of the world’s extraordinary sights.” Atlas Obscura invites you to at least consider planning a trip to the Royal and Ancient Polar Society in Hammerfest, Norway, not too far from the Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel, which is made of ice. If you like cute animals, perhaps you’ll like Japan’s Cat Island or Zao Fox Village, both near Sendai. But if obscurity is really what pops your doldrums, check out the Paul A. Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum of Logan, Ohio or the Spam Museum of Austin, Minnesota.

Norway May Give Mountain to Finland

Hyvää syntymäpäivää!

Finland is looking forward to its one hundredth birthday next year and it’s Scandinavian neighbor Norway is considering a modest gift to help celebrate. They are discussing adjusting the Norwegian border so that part of Mount Halti will be Finnish territory.

“Geophysically speaking, Mount Halti has two peaks, one Finnish and one Norwegian,” NRK, which is Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, explained back in March. “What is proposed is that Norway gives the Finnish peak to Finland, because it is currently in Norway.”

The proposal has apparently been supported by many citizens, but the prime minister must work out the implications before wrapping the gift. Norway’s constitution may be an obstacle, due to a clause vaguely stating mountains cannot be given as birthday gifts.

Finland declared its independence from Russia on December 6, 1917. Tensions between political parties swelled over the next few weeks until igniting a brief civil war. Once stabilized, Finland became its own republic with its own president in 1919.

So yes, it’s a time to party up, and there’s plenty of fun to be had. But if hiking that particular part of Halti was all you had wanted to do when you visited Norway in a couple years, consider this list of 99 amazing things to do in Norway, such as visit a super big halibut farm, lick a glacier, and milk a goat! Sure, you could do all that on a PlayStation, but this is for real, dude.

Film review: ‘The Last King’

I posted the trailer for the Norwegian film The Last King a little while back. You might be able to see it in a theater (I did) but if not, it’s available (I believe) on Netflix. Or will be soon.

In the 13th Century, Norway is torn by civil wars. The opposing forces are the Birkebeiners (birchlegs), devoted to the current dynasty, and the Baglers (crosiers), loyal to the church, which has placed Norway under papal ban.

The young king, Haakon Sverreson, is poisoned to death by his wicked stepmother, the queen mother. When the news gets out, loyal Birkebeiners, Skjervald and Torstein, receive Haakon’s infant son, Haakon Haakonsson, from his mother in order to carry him by ski from Lillehammer to Trondheim, to keep him out of the hands of the Baglers. Their journey becomes a perilous one, as ruthless Bagler warriors pursue them over the mountains. Meanwhile intrigue in the palace in Trondheim leads to betrayal, false imprisonment, and murder.

The Last King is a competent historical action movie. It’s not as great as it wants to be, but the fight scenes and the music are pretty good (especially the music).

Historically, the film is about at the level of Braveheart, which is to say any resemblance to actual events is mostly coincidental. The Baglers (as is the practice in most historical epics) are painted as evil incarnate, capable of any atrocity in their ruthless devotion to the pope. The actual ski journey (assuming it actually happened; historians aren’t sure) was strenuous but not nearly this dangerous. The Game of Thrones-style intrigue and betrayal at the palace is almost entirely fictional. The evil Duke Gisli of this film actually never existed – he’s a place holder for a real Duke Haakon (that name might have confused the audience), who wasn’t particularly evil at all.

Worth seeing. Netflix stuff; probably not worth driving to a theater for. Subtitled.

Netflix review: ‘The Heavy Water War’


Photo credit: Robert Holand Dreier

In 1965 a film was made in Britain about the WWII Norwegian Resistance sabotage of the German heavy water project at Rjukan, Norway. It was called Heroes of Telemark, it starred Kirk Douglas, and it was essentially an upbeat and rather frivolous production. Norwegians complained that, in the movie, Kirk personally achieved in about two weeks what it took a whole unit of real saboteurs two years to do.

The 2015 Norwegian/Danish/English production, The Heavy Water War, available for streaming on Netflix, hews closer to the facts. It is artistically superior and far darker.

We follow the main character, Leif Tronstad (Espen Klouman Høiner; in this production, unlike the Douglas movie, the characters go under their real names, except for several fictionalized characters), a Norwegian scientist who escapes to England and joins the British-trained saboteur company there. Leif becomes their leader and gets emotionally involved with British intelligence officer Julie Smith (Anna Freil; a fictional character), but not so far as to actually commit adultery (they’re both married). We follow Leif and his company through the disastrous initial glider operation meant to destroy the Rjukan plant. Then follows the famous raid, where they succeed in blowing up the equipment, housed in the cellar of the factory. And after that, the hard decision to blow up the passenger ferry carrying the remaining heavy water out of the country, at the cost of civilian lives.

But there are actually three main threads in the narrative. We follow the manager of the heavy water plant (another fictionalized character) as he self-justifies his collaboration, and his troubled wife, who diverts her fears by mothering the daughter of her house maid. We also follow scientist Werner Heisenberg in Germany, singlemindedly focused on the scientific aspects of the atomic bomb project, refusing to think in moral categories. Each of these characters is treated as a full, complex human being. The viewer is left to make judgments.

My complaints are few. I wish the actors had looked more like the people they portray. The producers made the decision to suggest strongly that the explosion of the ferry was probably unnecessary (this, I believe, is a matter of dispute among historians).

The Heavy Water War is challenging, and sometimes tragic, but definitely worth watching. Recommended, for grownups.