Norway Invaded: A Fish(y) Tale

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King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olaf, Molde, Norway

When we last left Norway in 1940 (here), it was reeling from an invasion by German forces which began on April 9, 1940.

The Germans had achieved complete surprise, and quickly seized key ports and airports.  Practically the only thing that went well for the defenders was the sinking of the German heavy cruiser Blücher, which was steaming up the Oslo Fjord on the morning of April 9 when well-placed artillery and torpedo fire from Oscarsborg Fortress sank her.  The mission of the Blücher had been to seize the capital, Oslo, and the ship’s destruction gave the King, government officials, the Parliament (Storting) and, crucially, Norway’s gold supply (23 tons worth), enough time to flee Oslo by train.

Initially German officials, led by envoy Curt Bräuer, tried to negotiate with King Haakon VII, to convince him that resistance was futile, and that it was in Norway’s interest to capitulate—much like what had occurred in Denmark, where the king and government capitulated without almost a shot being fired.  By April 10, however, the 67 year-old King, with the support of his government, rejected any surrender, and elected to fight on:

“In this most difficult time that my people and my country find themselves in . . . I ask all Norwegian women and men to do all they can to save freedom and independence for our dear fatherland.  God preserve Norway.”

King Haakon VII

From then on, the mission of German forces was to capture or kill Haakon, and he was hunted through the interior of Norway, always staying one step ahead of his pursuers.

By late April, the King elected to move to Molde, Norway, a small seaport town, but with a large and busy harbor, to set up his government until Trondheim was recaptured.  [By this time, British, French and Polish forces had landed in Norway to help drive the invaders out. The King—and almost all Norwegians—were confident they would succeed.  Instead, the outgunned and outmanned Allies failed miserably and eventually withdrew.]  The King arrived in Molde on April 23—seventy-eight years ago tonight.

I have previously written about my friend, Siri Svae Fenson (here), whose uncle, Hjalmar Svae, attempted to escape to England during the war, was captured and sentenced to death, only to make a daring escape from prison, and ultimately to freedom in Sweden, and later England and Canada.

Well, the Svae saga is not quite over yet.

While in Molde, King Haakon stayed at a villa on the outskirts of town called Glomstuen.  Glomstuen was the home of Jacob Preuthun (the regional forest director), and his wife, Mathilde Petersen.  Mathilde Petersen, it turns out, was Siri Fenson’s great-aunt.

Glomstuen

By April 25th, German intelligence was aware of Haakon’s presence in Molde, and began an unrelenting bombing campaign targeting the city.  As Tim Greve, the King’s biographer, notes in Haakon VII of Norway: “Undoubtedly the object was to kill the King, the Crown Prince and as many of the [government] ministers as possible.” [Incidentally, Tim Greve was Odd Nansen’s son-in-law, and the late husband of my dear friend, Marit (Nansen) Greve.]

The idea of the royal party dashing from Glomstuen into the adjacent snow-covered forest to escape the near constant German raids wreaking destruction on Molde is more than a bit ironic, inasmuch as Kaiser Wilhelm himself had visited Molde each summer prior to World War I, where he was a guest at none other than Glomstuen!

The picture shown at the top of this blog, of the King consulting with his son beside a large birch tree—one of the most iconic pictures of Norway during the invasion—was taken at Glomstuen.  There is a plaque nearby commemorating this famous scene.

Although Glomstuen itself was never hit, by April 28 Molde was practically in ruins, and it was clear that Haakon would have to leave. The following day the British cruiser HMS Glasgow, with an escort of two destroyers, arrived in port to transport the King, Crown Prince, cabinet members, and gold supply to Tromsø, 600 miles farther north.  “By nightfall Molde was a roaring bonfire,” writes historians Hans Christian Adamson and Per Klem in Blood on the Midnight Sun.  The royal party and the government made good their escape.  But by then Molde, a quaint, idyllic town whose lush gardens and parks had earned it the nickname The Town of Roses, was almost 70% destroyed.

Siri Fenson’s mother relates one particularly comic episode in what was an otherwise bleak time in Norway’s history.  One day, the air raid sirens sounded just as a fish gratin had been placed in the oven at Glomstuen.  The cook, named Kristine, was out of action, having broken her leg in an earlier sprint to the woods.  So, Mathilde, fearing for the fate of the untended fish gratin, left her hiding place, dodged the attacks, dashed back into the house and rescued the savory dish.

After the war, Mathilde was invited to an audience at the royal castle in Oslo.  There, King Haakon, after having just lived five years in exile in England, posed a question which apparently had haunted him all that time: “Tell me, Mrs. Preuthun—how did you manage to save the fish gratin?”

April 15, 1945: Roosevelt Buried

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

On this date in 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the longest serving president in U.S history, was buried at Springwood, his family home in Hyde Park, New York.  Roosevelt died in Warm Springs, GA at 3:35 pm. on April 12 of a massive cerebral hemorrhage.  He was 63.

Roosevelt, who shook off a debilitating illness which left him at age 39 totally and permanently paralyzed from the waist down, had the burden of guiding the country through two of the most cataclysmic events in its history: the Great Depression and World War II.  Through it all the U.S. emerged stronger, more prosperous, and freer, than at any time in its history.

Like Lincoln, Roosevelt died within weeks of realizing the final fruits of the war he had led, with “the unbounded determination of [its] people” since its inception.  Like Churchill, his contemporary (whom I have written about here), he was a complex man, whose complexities, accomplishments and contradictions have fascinated and challenged historians and biographers ever since.   In all events, historians and political scientists consistently rank Roosevelt, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln as the country’s three greatest presidents.

On the centennial of FDR’s birth, George Will wrote:

“Anyone who contemplates this century without shivering probably does not understand what is going on. But Franklin Roosevelt was, an aide said, like the fairy-tale prince who did not know how to shiver. Something was missing in FDR. . . .   But what FDR lacked made him great. He lacked the capacity even to imagine that things might end up badly. He had a Christian’s faith that the universe is well constituted and an American’s faith that history is a rising road. . . .  Radiating an infectious zest, he did the most important thing a President can do: he gave the nation a hopeful, and hence creative, stance toward the future.”

Roosevelt almost never had a chance to fulfill his historic role.  On February 15, 1933, between his first election to the presidency and his inauguration, Roosevelt gave an impromptu speech in Miami, Florida.  In the crowd was Giuseppe Zangara, who fired off five shots at the president-elect.  FDR was not hit, but Mayor Anton Cermak of Chicago, who was standing next to him, was fatally shot, and four other bystanders injured.

Winston Churchill almost met a similar fate as well, when, on December 13, 1931, while visiting New York City, he exited a cab in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and looking left, saw no traffic.  He forgot that in America, unlike England, cars drive on the right.  He proceeded to step in front of an oncoming car approaching from the right and was hit and dragged several yards. [Churchill later wrote: “I do not understand why I was not broken like an eggshell or squashed like a gooseberry.”]  He escaped with a serious scalp wound and two cracked ribs.

The great historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., was fully mindful of these two events when he later observed:

“One might invite those who believe that individuals make no difference to history to tell us what would have happened to the world a decade later had the automobile killed Winston Churchill on Fifth Avenue and the bullet killed Franklin Roosevelt in Miami.  Fortunately, the two men survived to find each other and to save us all.”

Recently I described the German invasion of Norway, beginning with a famous speech from FDR (here).  Norway was immensely grateful for both the inspiration Roosevelt gave to resistance fighters in Norway with his remarks, and for the hospitality the Roosevelt family extended to Crown Princess Märtha (the King’s daughter-in-law) and her family.   She and her children (including the current King of Norway, Harald V) initially stayed in the White House upon arriving in the country, and lived out much of the war in nearby Maryland, and where she was a frequent guest at the White House.

After the war, the Norwegian government dedicated a statue to Roosevelt, prominently displayed in Oslo harbor, adjacent to City Hall, close to Akershus Castle and other important landmarks of World War II.  Eleanor Roosevelt attended the dedication.

Statue of FDR in Oslo

April 9, 1940: Norway Invaded

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“If there is anyone who still wonders why this war is being fought, let him look to Norway.  If there is anyone who has any delusions that this war could have been averted, let him look to Norway; and if there is anyone who doubts the democratic will to win, again I say, let him look to Norway.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, September 16, 1942*

In the pre-dawn hours of April 9, 1940, German naval, air and airborne forces invaded Norway.  In a well-coordinated attack, the Germans seized airports (including Fornebu, outside Oslo, where Odd Nansen had been designing air terminals) and attacked all major seaports along Norway’s coast.

Norway was woefully unprepared.  Neutral during World War I, Norway expected to maintain its neutrality during World War II as well, a neutrality which obviated, in its eyes, the need for significant armed forces.  Moreover, what little navy, army and air force Norway possessed had suffered through years of austerity and neglect brought on by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Hitler, anxious to deny Norway’s ports to the British (whom Hitler suspected might be planning their own invasion) and determined to assure access to Sweden’s iron ore (which could only reach Germany through the Norwegian port of Narvik in the winter, when all Swedish harbors were ice-bound), Hitler authorized preliminary planning for Operation Weserübung in December 1939.

Luckily, the Royal Family and members of Norway’s parliament (the Storting) fled Oslo ahead of advancing German forces, but this left a leadership vacuum just when the surprised, shocked and confused populace needed guidance the most.  Vidkun Quisling, a traitor, attempted to seize the reins of power, and in a radio broadcast attempted to cancel all mobilization orders, and observed that resistance was futile.

German soldiers marching into Oslo

Nevertheless, within a few days the Norwegian Army—really a militia of citizen-soldiers—rallied and put up stiff resistance as German forces moved inland.  Though a country of less than three million, Norway ultimately held out longer than France, Poland, Holland, Belgium, and Denmark before capitulating on June 10, 1940.

Thereafter, as in most occupied countries, some people chose to collaborate, joining the fascist Nasjonal Samling (National Unity) party in hopes of preferment or better jobs.  Many joined in, or stood by, when the Norwegian police rounded up the country’s Jews in the fall of 1942.  [It should be said that at this early stage of the war, the designs of the Nazis were not as apparent as they would become by 1943 and 1944.  As Odd Nansen’s friend, Sigrid Helliesen Lund—herself recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations—related: “[P]eople forget that many others were also in danger then, for whom transport to safety seemed even more urgent.  It would have been critical for members of the resistance, if they had been captured.  Many Jews were seized only because they were Jews, not because they had been involved in the opposition movement.  At that time, we didn’t realize what was likely to happen to the Jews after they were taken.  The pretty word was ‘internment.’”]

Many, on the other hand, fought back.  Thousands of young men tried to escape to England (a crime punishable by death) to join the armed forces.  Many manned the fishing smacks and small boats used to ferry men out of Norway, and resistance forces and equipment into Norway—a link that was to be immortalized thereafter as “the Shetland  Bus.”  Many created underground newspapers dedicated to bringing outside news from the BBC to the country’s inhabitants.  Many joined resistance networks.

Shetland Bus Memorial, Scalloway, Shetland Islands

 I have previously described the incredible sacrifice of Norway’s merchant sailors (here).  I have written (here) about Hjalmar Svae, who stole a German boat to escape to Britain, only to have the engine quit within miles England’s coast. When the current carried him back to occupied Denmark he was seized and condemned to death (which he avoided by escaping from jail).  I have also written about Jens Christian Beck (here), who similarly escaped the clutches of the Gestapo, later trained with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), only to drown on his first parachute jump when, weighed down with equipment, he was mistakenly dropped over a deep lake in the mountains of Norway on October 10, 1943.  In From Day to Day I describe the British raid on the Lofoten Islands in March 1941, and quote “a contemporary who wrote that the decision of three hundred young people to follow the British ‘after only a few minutes in which to make their decision tell[s] more about the fighting spirit of the Norwegian youth than any words can do.’”

Perhaps the final word on the Norway’s contribution to World War II can be attributed to someone who saw and trained many young men from many different Allied nations.  Major George T. Rheam, described as “the founder of industrial sabotage,” ran Brickendonbury Manor, in Herfordshire, England, also known as SOE Station XVII, where the SOE taught its sabotage techniques to operatives and resistance fighters from every Allied nation.  [It was Rheam who trained Joachim Rønnenberg’s team for their mission to destroy the heavy water plant at Vemork, but that is another story for another time.]

Brickendonbury Manor

M.R.D. Foot, the official historian of the SOE, described Rheam as “a large man with a large mind,” who did not suffer fools gladly. While his students might think him dour, behind his “stiffish manner” lay a keen sense of humor and an intense sympathy for the European exiles with whom he often worked.

“Of these,” Foot writes, “he once said in retrospect, he thought on the whole the Norwegians impressed him the most, for bravery, for readiness to run risks, and for steadiness in facing the dangers of sabotage.”

Not a bad tribute to the 40,000 Norwegians who, like Odd Nansen, were imprisoned during the war, to the 28,000 who escaped Norway and enlisted in the Allied military services, to the over 10,000 who died, either in the conflict, the resistance, or in prison, and to the countless others who suffered or risked their lives during the occupation.

[*Remarks delivered at the handover ceremony of the HNoMS King Haakon VII, gifted by the U.S. to Norway at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16, 1942. During her war service King Haakon VII sailed 85,000 nautical miles and escorted 79 convoys without mishap. On June 26, 1945 King Haakon VII successfully berthed in home waters in Kristiansand for the first time.   In 2005, His Majesty King Harald V of Norway visited the Washington Navy Yard to view events including a reenactment of President Roosevelt’s “Look to Norway” speech, honoring the United States and Norway’s long-term alliance. The ceremony marked the centenary of diplomatic relations between Norway and the United States since Norway’s independence in 1905.]

HNoMS King Haakon VII

M/T Sydhav Postscript: The Fate of U-505

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Recently I wrote (here) about the role of Norway’s merchant marine during World War II, and the ill-fated M/T Sydhav, sunk on March 6, 1942, killing 12 of its crew, including Third Mate Magnus Iversen.  Iversen was the son of Ole Berner Iversen, a fellow prisoner with Odd Nansen in Grini and Veidal camps.  I wrote of the particularly painful way Iversen learned of his son’s death—six months earlier—via an old newspaper circulating in Veidal.

The German submarine which torpedoed the Sydhav, U-505, was also ill-starred in many ways.  She experienced casualties as well—both self-inflicted and from enemy fire, and suffered an ignominious end.

After an initial shakedown cruise, U-505 engaged in 11 combat patrols.  During her career she sank eight ships totaling 44,962 tons.  Her most productive patrol was her first, where she sank four ships (including the Sydhav).  On her second patrol she sank three, which included a three-masted schooner, and on her third, only one ship, for 7,173 tons.

That same third patrol was cut short when U-505 was surprised on the surface by a patrol aircraft of the Royal Air Force near Trinidad, and severely damaged in a low-level attack—so low that the resulting explosion also destroyed the plane, killing all of its crew.  U-505 barely survived the attack and somehow made it back to its home base in Lorient, France.

After six months of repairs, U-505 was again ready for action, but she would never sink another ship in her fighting career. This failure had several causes: sabotage by increasingly restive French workers in Lorient, and improved anti-submarine methods—both tactical (better convoying) and material (more and better ships, planes and technology).

The net result was that U-505 was hunted almost as soon as she left port, and often had to return to Lorient to fix enemy bomb damage or sabotage.  This latter included faulty welds, pencil-sized holes drilled in her diesel tanks (which would leave a telltale oil slick in her wake), and other equipment failures.

On her ninth combat patrol, a British destroyer spotted U-505 east of the Azores and initiated a depth-charge attack. During the height of the attack, the sub’s skipper, Captain Peter Zschech, killed himself by a shot to the head in front of his crew.  This is the only known instance of a commanding officer committing suicide while in battle.

Her next, and final, patrol began March 6, 1944, exactly two years to the day since the Sydhav had been sunk; perhaps the ghosts of the Sydhav were dogging her path as she set forth.  By 1944 the tables had been almost completely turned in the battle for control of the seas.  By now, Allied “hunter-killer” task groups prowled the oceans using high-frequency direction finding, and aerial and surface reconnaissance, to locate and destroy U-boats.

One such group, Task Group 22.3, sailed from Norfolk, VA on May 15, 1944.  It consisted of an escort carrier (USS Guadalcanal) and five destroyer escorts (Chatelain, Flaherty, Jenks, Pillsbury and Pope), under the overall command of Captain Daniel V. Gallery.  It is a measure of the Allies’ complete naval dominance by this time that on June 4, 1944, when TG 22.3 and U-505 collided, the U.S. Navy could devote all of these vessels to search and destroy missions in the Atlantic when the greatest amphibious assault ever attempted—the Normandy landings—was scheduled to occur the same week.  [D-Day involved 6,939 ships: 1,213 warships, 4,126 landing craft, 1,736 ancillary craft, and 864 merchant vessels.]

Captain Daniel Gallery

Capt. Gallery’s task group had already sunk two U-boats on a previous deployment, one of which, U-515, was forced to the surface and destroyed with gunfire.  The significant effort needed to eventually sink the sub gave Capt. Gallery the idea that it might be possible to board, and capture, a German submarine before she was scuttled or destroyed, and he drew up plans and began training accordingly.

When TG 22.3 picked up U-505 on sonar, the task group immediately went into action with depth charges and hedgehogs.  Within minutes the sub was forced to the surface, heavily damaged, and her skipper ordered all to abandon ship.  However, her crew failed to take all the measures necessary to quickly scuttle her, and a boarding party from the Pillsbury, led by Lieutenant (j.g.) Albert David, entered the slowly sinking deserted ship, and secured her.

Lieutenant Albert David

The sub was towed to Bermuda, to be intensively studied by U.S. Navy intelligence and engineering officers.  It was the first capture by the Navy of an enemy vessel on the high seas since the War of 1812.  The entire capture was filmed, and can be found on YouTube (here).

U-505 captured (note U.S. flag)

This feat, however, was not considered an unalloyed success at the time.

One of the most closely guarded secrets of the war was the Allies’ ability to crack the Enigma code, and thereby read Germany’s most important communications.  The capture of U-505 included of course its code books, with the latest Enigma settings.  If the Germans learned of U-505’s capture, they would be able to deduce that the Allies now had the means of deciphering Enigma, which the Germans had hitherto felt was impregnable.  This in turn might lead to the use of an entirely new code.  The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ernest King, even contemplated court-martialing Capt. Gallery for not sinking U-505 instead.

To protect the secret regarding Enigma, the capture of the sub was never publicized, U-505’s crew was interned in a separate camp, their existence was never acknowledged, and they were denied access to the Red Cross.  To further confuse the enemy, U-505 was painted to look like a U.S. submarine, and christened USS Nemo.  The German Navy ultimately concluded that U-505 had been lost at sea, and the crew’s families were notified that they were dead.

With the secret of Enigma still safe, Capt. Gallery, rather than facing a court-martial, was instead awarded the Navy Distinguished Service Medal.  Lt. David, who had led the boarding party, received the Medal of Honor—the only Atlantic sailor to receive such a distinction during World War II.  Unfortunately, Lt. David did not live long enough for the medal to be presented to him.  He suffered a heart attack fifteen months after his heroic action, and died on September 17, 1945, age 43.   TG 22.3 received a Presidential Unit Citation.

But the saga of U-505 was not yet over.

After the war, with no further use for the sub, the Navy decided to use U-505 for target practice.  Daniel Gallery, now a rear admiral, suggested instead that Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) might be interested in it.  Established by Chicago businessman Julius Rosenwald (an early co-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company), MSI was indeed interested.  Private subscriptions paid for towing and installation of the boat.  On September 25, 1954, she was officially donated to the City of Chicago and dedicated as a permanent exhibit.

In 1989 U-505 was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Even enemy submarines sometimes have second acts.

U-505 on display at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry

 

ADRESSAT UNBEKANNT [ADDRESSEE UNKNOWN]

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It amazes me that, after years of immersion in the field of World War II and the Holocaust, I can still discover works of which I was totally unaware.  I had one such experience recently.  While reading The Borrowed Years 19381941: America on the Way to War by Richard Ketchum (an excellent book, by the way) I learned of a short story titled “Address Unknown.”  Written by Katherine Kressmann Taylor in September 1938, the story first appeared (appropriately enough) in the magazine Story.  It created a literary sensation; never in the magazine’s seven-year history had any story generated so much comment.  It was reprinted in the January 1939 issue of Reader’s Digest, and then reprinted in book form the same year, where it sold 50,000 copies.  Soon it was on the Reichskommissar’s list of banned books.

The story is told entirely through the exchange of 19 letters between close friends and business partners Max Eisenstein and Martin Schulse, and covers 16 tumultuous months, from late 1932 to early 1934.  You can read it in less than an hour. Its very brevity adds to its impact.

In the first letter (dated November 12, 1932), Max, who is Jewish, writes to Martin, who is not.  Martin has just relocated to Munich, Germany, the country of origin for both men.  Once an impecunious artist, Martin has become sufficiently successful through their jointly owned art gallery in San Francisco that he can return to his homeland with his wife and three boys, leaving Max behind to run the Schulse-Eisenstein Galleries.

Writing the day after the 14th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I, Max rejoices about the  “long way we have travelled, as peoples, from that bitterness,” as well as the fact that the “democratic Germany” to which Martin returns has been purged of “Prussian arrogance and militarism.”

On a personal note, Max reveals he has just heard from his younger sister, Griselle (living in nearby Vienna), an aspiring actress who, we learn, once had a torrid love affair with Martin.  Does Max have Martin’s permission to notify Griselle that Martin is back in Germany?

Martin’s reply (December 10, 1932) depicts a poor and downtrodden Germany—so poor that Martin is able to purchase a 30-room house on 10 acres and employ 10 servants.  Martin comments on the political turmoil prevailing in the country, even under the presidency of Paul von Hindenburg, a fine liberal that Martin much admires.

As for Griselle, by all means give her Martin’s address, so she can know a home for her is close at hand.  After all, “for Griselle I keep a tenderness that will last long.”

By January 21, 1933, Max waxes lovingly about his deep friendship with Martin, but inquires, with concern, about “this Adolf Hitler” who is rising toward power.

Over the course of the next few months, Max expresses growing concern about conditions in Germany, while Martin, who initially expressed ambivalence toward Hitler, becomes increasingly dogmatic in his replies.  At first, he expresses distaste for the Jew-baiting he sees, but calls it the “little surface scum when a big movement boils up.”  By July, Martin is explaining that scapegoating Jews “does not happen without a reason,” and further asks Martin to stop writing to his home address.  Under the strict censorship rules, correspondence with a Jew is anathema to a Nazi official, which Martin has become.  Better to write, if at all, in care of the bank where Martin works.

By September 1933, Max, “of necessity” sends a brief message to Martin at work.  It concerns Griselle.  She has joined a theater company in Berlin, oblivious to the danger, and Max is worried about her safety—will Martin watch out for her?  No response.

When Griselle subsequently disappears, Max becomes desperate and writes again—can Martin try to find and help his old lover?

Martin finally responds—prefacing his reply with a “Heil Hitler.”  He informs Max that Griselle is dead.  She came to Martin’s home with stormtroopers at her heels, and Martin turned her away.  He simply could not “risk being arrested for harboring a Jew and . . . los[ing] all I have built up here.”

Hearing the news, what can Max do now?  He is thousands of miles away, a Jew, and his erstwhile best friend will never face justice in a Germany awash in anti-Semitism and besotted with a fanatical leader.  (Martin has since had a fourth child, a boy naturally named Adolf).

But Max does have one way to exact revenge and achieve justice.  Less than a month after Martin’s startling revelation of the depths of his heartlessness, Max begins to pepper Martin with letters—now written to his home address.  These letters are sprinkled with overt references to “the Fleishmans,” “Uncle Solomon,” and “Aunt Rheba,” implications that they share a Jewish grandmother, as well as cryptic instructions to prepare “the following reproductions: Van Gogh 15 by 103, red; Poussin 20 by 90, blue and yellow; Vermeer 11 by 33, red and blue.”

Martin responds—once—in desperation, in a letter smuggled out of Germany with an American acquaintance, begging Max to stop.  The authorities want to know what “the code” means.  Martin is losing his job, his son is no longer welcome in the boys’ corps, his wife is snubbed on the street.  Won’t Max have pity, and stop?

Yet Max persists, and his final letter (March 3, 1934), which ends with the injunction that the “God of Moses be at your right hand,” is soon returned by the German postal authorities with a simple stamp, in bold Gothic letters: Adressat Unbekannt [Addressee Unknown].

Katherine Kressmann Taylor

The back story to Address Unknown is almost as interesting as the book.  Katherine Kressmann was born in 1903 in Portland, Oregon.  She later married Elliott Taylor, worked as an advertising copywriter and wrote for literary journals in her spare time.  The inspiration for Address Unknown came from two sources, according to her son.  Shortly before the war some “cultivated, intellectual, warmhearted German friends” of Taylor’s returned to Germany after living in the U.S.  Within a short time, they became devoted Nazis, “refused to listen to the slightest criticism of Hitler,” and during a return visit to the U.S. turned their backs on an old, dear friend of theirs who happened to be Jewish.

More importantly, around the same time Elliott noticed a small news article about some American students studying in Germany.  Their fraternity brothers thought it would be funny to write them letters poking fun at Hitler.  They wrote back: “’Stop it.  We’re in danger.  These people don’t fool around.  You could murder one of the Nazis by writing letters to him.’”  Katherine took the idea of a letter as a weapon, and wrote Address Unknown.  Interestingly, the editor at Story magazine thought the tale was “’too strong to appear under the name of a woman,’” and shortened her byline to the more neutral sounding “Kressmann Taylor,” the pen name she used for the rest of her life.

In 1944 Columbia Pictures turned Address Unknown into a movie directed by William Menzies (of Gone With the Wind fame), which received two Academy Award nominations (Art Direction and Music Score).    But, much like From Day to Day, her story fell into obscurity following World War II.

After the war Taylor continued to write, and taught journalism and creative writing at Gettysburg College for almost 20 years (where she was the first woman to earn tenure).  To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, Story Press reissued the book once again in 1995.  Address Unknown has since been translated into 20 languages and has been a bestseller in Israel and France (where it sold 600,000 copies).  A BBC radio dramatization is available on YouTube (here).

Katherine Kressmann Taylor died in July 1996, age 93, almost sixty years after the publication of her short story; long enough to see it recognized the world over as a classic.

[For reasons that I have been unable to uncover, the title of the story and the book was Address Unknown, rather than Addressee Unknown, which is the correct translation of Adressat Unbekannt.]

 

FLASH: Nansen Diary Excerpted in MHQ

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I am pleased to announce that the Spring 2018 issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History features excerpts from Odd Nansen’s diary, From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps.  A copy of the excerpt can be found here.

Cover of Spring 2018 issue of MHQ

The excerpts cover a short window in time, from October 6, 1943, the day Nansen arrived in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, until November 11, 1943, barely a month later.  Even with only these seven diary entries, which have been edited for length, one soon learns of “the casual brutality and random terror that was the way of life—and death—in the camps.”  Also included are photos of Nansen, Sachsenhausen, and several of Nansen’s prison sketches.

MHQ has been publishing articles, excerpts, reviews and other items of interest dealing with all facets of military history since 1988 (I know, I was an inaugural subscriber).  Over the years the magazine has featured such notable authors as: William Manchester, Paul Fussell, John Keegan, Antony Beevor, Stephen Ambrose, Rick Atkinson, Andrew Roberts (who wrote a blurb for From Day to Day) and Roger Moorhouse (whom I used as a source for my diary annotations), among others.

It is certainly fitting that Nansen’s work should receive such attention and recognition as well.  As one reviewer wrote when the diary first appeared in English in 1949: “[T]here is little in Day After Day [the English title] that cannot be found in a hundred other books.  The one difference is that it is a masterpiece.”

A Young Odd Nansen

Hopefully someday Odd Nansen’s diary will be as well known, and revered, as Anne Frank diary, Primo Levi’s memoirs and Ellie Wiesel’s trilogy.  With this spread in MHQ, Nansen is one step closer to that goal.

The Sinking of the Sydhav

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Do you know what happened seventy-six years ago today (March 6, 1942)?

I didn’t think so.

After all, it was not one of those iconic dates associated with World War II: December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor); June 6, 1944 (D-Day); February 23, 1945 (Flag raising on Iwo Jima); August 6 and 9, 1945 (Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki); May 8, 1945 (V-E Day); August 15, 1945 (V-J Day).

No, March 6, 1942 was just another typical day in the war.  Which is to say it was intense, bloody, and widespread.  Germany and Russia were locked in mortal combat on the Eastern Front.  The Battle of Java Sea had just concluded (on March 1, 1942), a major U.S. naval defeat.  The first deportation train from Paris to Auschwitz was being readied for departure (March 11, 1942).  The Japanese were days away from capturing Rangoon, Burma (March 8).  On March 6 alone, twenty-three ships of all nations were sunk, scuttled, mined, bombed, or collided.  Several ships were torpedoed by enemy submarines, off the coasts of Bermuda, Iceland, and Delaware.

One such ship was the M/T (Motor Tanker) Sydhav.  It had departed Curaçao on February 17, and was heading to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a major port city on Africa’s west coast, with 11,400 tons of oil, where it expected to meet up with a convoy for the journey north.

Motor Tanker Sydhav

The Sydhav had been part of Norway’s merchant marine fleet.  Comprising 1,300 vessels totaling more than 4.4 million gross tons and manned by 30,000 seamen, Norway’s merchant fleet was the world’s fourth largest, and most modern, at the start of the war.  Like most of that fleet, the Sydhav was at sea when Germany invaded Norway on April 9, 1940.  Also, like most of the fleet, it ignored German calls to head for Norway, or other German-occupied ports, and instead placed itself at the service of the Allies.  At one point the Norwegian fleet was transporting nearly 60% of Britain’s oil and half of its foodstuffs.  One British official observed, with perhaps only slight exaggeration, that the fleet was worth more to England “than an army of a million men.”

The Sydhav never reached Freetown.  On the morning of March 6, it was spotted by U-505, a recently commissioned German submarine operating as a lone wolf on its first combat patrol off Africa’s west coast.

U-505

Struck by two torpedoes, Sydhav exploded and sank within three minutes.  A crewmember aboard U-505, Hans Goebeler, who emigrated to the U.S. after the war, later published a memoir of his wartime experiences in Steel Boat, Iron Hearts: A U-Boat Crewman’s Life Aboard U-505.  Here is how he described the attack:

“A sharp explosion was followed immediately by a deafening roar.  A moment later, a gigantic shock wave hit us, knocking us off our feet and rocking the boat like a baby’s cradle.  Huge waves blocked the periscope’s vision for almost two minutes.

“When the periscope view finally cleared, all that could be seen was an enormous plume of white smoke.  The tanker, which had evidently been loaded with gasoline, had exploded like a bomb when the torpedoes hit.  Inside the sub we could still hear low, rumbling explosions several minutes after the first detonation.”

The Sydhav’s crew had no chance to lower any lifeboats, and jumped into the water to save themselves, where they were pulled under by the ship’s suction.  Twenty crewmembers surfaced; eleven did not, including Captain Nils Helgesen, First Mate Hans Hansen, and Third Mate Magnus Iversen.

News of the sinking of a small oil tanker traveled slowly in wartime Europe.  A maritime hearing was held a month later in London, but such events were not highly publicized, both for reasons of morale and wartime security.  Nonetheless, the sinking was eventually reported in Norwegian newspapers.  Not surprisingly, those held in Nazi custody were even slower to receive any such information.  But eventually even they did, too.

Here is part of Odd Nansen’s diary entry for Saturday, September 19, 1942, over six months after the event:

“Newspapers arrived [in camp] as well.  Old indeed, but with one or two things of interest in them.  When the food was consumed and the hut cleaned up for the evening, the chaps sat on, full, lazy, and contented, reading the newspapers round the tables.  As we’re sitting like that, [Andreas] Onstad shoves his paper across to [Ole] Iver[sen], our waiter, and asks him: Isn’t that somebody you know?

“And he points to an item about seamen from Haugesund who have lost their lives while sailing for the Allies.  That was how Iver learned that his son was dead.  Among the lost was his name, Magnus Iversen, mate, aged twenty-five.  Poor Iver.  And he took it fearfully hard.  He just went and lay down on his bed, lay and shook with sobs.”

Before the war ended, 706 Norwegian ships would be lost, representing almost half the nation’s total tonnage at the beginning of 1940.

“Forty thousand sailing Norsemen,
One and all they chose the battle,
Homelessness and lonely ocean,
Chose to die from horrid gangrene
Or in flames on burning tankers,
Chose to drift on slender raft boards
Thousands of miles from help and care—
Deathless honor shall be theirs.”
Nordahl Grieg

Two Milestones Achieved

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I was pleasantly surprised recently when I learned from my publisher, Vanderbilt University Press, that they had ordered a second printing of From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps.  Vanderbilt originally expected the initial printing would take up to three years (or until May 2019) to sell out, so Odd Nansen’s diary is performing well ahead of forecast.  With over twenty-five presentations  in nine states already scheduled for 2018, sales should remain robust for some time yet.

Many thanks to everyone who has already purchased a copy of From Day to Day.  Tell your friends that the coveted (and increasingly valuable) first edition will soon be sold out!

My website has a nifty “app” which allows me to see how many visitors the site receives.  Somehow, this app can recognize the URL address of each visitor, and report how many new, unique, visits are made, and how many are from parties who have previously visited.  (In other words, I can’t have five of my best friends visit the site ten times a day, and claim I am getting “lots of traffic.”)

Well, as of last week, my website has received over 5,000 unique visitors since I launched it.  I thank you all for your interest and support, and will continue to add new content (blogs, reviews, photos, testimonials, calendar updates), to keep you all coming back, and attracting new visitors interested in learning the remarkable story of Odd Nansen.  As Nikolaus Wachsmann, author of the groundbreaking KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, writes of the diary: “Rarely has the inhumanity of the camps been captured with such humanity.”

The “Channel Dash”

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Those of you who have read From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps know that on page 433 is an illustration drawn by Odd Nansen, a birthday card for his close friend, Erik Magelssen.

As Nansen explained in the diary, in order to stay in the same work squad (kommando) with Odd Nansen and their mutual friend, Frode Rinnan, Magelssen passed himself off as having expertise as a “wood-gas generator” although he had absolutely no experience in the field.

Magelssen, one of Nansen’s five friends who helped him to smuggle his diary out of Sachsenhausen in their breadboards, is depicted in the sketch with over-sized gloves.  Nansen’s caption reads in part: “Director Erik Magelssen in full canonicals—wood-gas generator expert and ‘director’ of fuel production…. Those gloves of his we called the pocket-battleships ‘Gneisenau’ and ‘Scharnhorst.’”

Both Nansen and Magelssen, indeed all the of the Norwegians, were well aware of both German battleships, as both the Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst participated in Operation Weserůbung, the German invasion of Norway in April 1940.  Thereafter, they engaged in successful commerce raiding, destroying or capturing 22 ships (January—March 1941), before returning to port in Brest, France.

Seventy-six years ago today (February 11, 1942), both ships, along with the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen, participated in the “Channel Dash.” More formally known as Operation Cerberus (after the three-headed dog of ancient mythology), the two battleships and the cruiser boldly sortied from Brest and sailed up through the English Channel to German ports—all under the noses of the British Navy, which was tasked with keeping a close eye on their activity.

The Gneisenau and the Scharnhorst had been ordered back to German waters by Adolf Hitler, to counter a possible British invasion of Norway, which, as I explain in From Day to Day, haunted Hitler’s fevered dreams for the entirety of the war.  Arriving in Kiel on February 13, to the intense embarrassment of the British Navy, both ships had nevertheless suffered serious damage along the way from British mines (the Scharnhorst was put out of action for a year)

As there was no invasion of Norway in 1942, or for the duration of the war, the move was later described as a “tactical success and a strategic failure,” inasmuch as the ships exchanged a successful role threatening trans-Atlantic Allied shipping in return for an invasion that never materialized.

The British soon exacted a measure of revenge for the embarrassment of the Channel Dash.  The Gneisenau was attacked in drydock during a bombing raid on the night of February 26-27, 1942, and so badly damaged when a bomb penetrated its forward ammunition magazine that it never sailed again for the remainder of the war.  The Scharnhorst returned to action in 1943, but was sunk by the British Navy in the Battle of the North Cape (December 26, 1943).

A photo of Magelssen’s bread board, still in the possession of the Nansen family, can be found in the photo gallery on page 559 of From Day to Day.

The Holocaust and Historical Truth

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Today, one day following International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Washington Post published a news story about the Polish government’s passage of a law “making it a criminal offense to mention Polish complicity in crimes committed during the Holocaust.”  According to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, the law is intended, not to “whitewash history, but to safeguard it and safeguard the truth about the Holocaust and prevent its distortion.”  Poles particularly object to the use of the term “Polish death camps,” which are Polish only insofar as the Nazis established the so-called Reinhard camps (Treblinka, Sobibór and Bełźec), and Auschwitz-Birkenau, on Polish soil.  The full text of the article is here.

The law still needs final approval from Poland’s Senate and president to become effective, which is expected.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center, said the law was “liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.”

History, unfortunately, is never completely black and white.  Poland, as the epicenter of the Holocaust in many ways, has the largest number of individuals (6,706) recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations.”  This honor is bestowed only on those who, after rigorous investigation, are proven to have taken “great risks to save Jews during the Holocaust.”

These 6,706 represent fully over 25% of all individuals recognized by Yad Vashem.  By comparison, the second highest is the Netherlands, with 5,595 (including Jan and Miep Gies—mentioned here and here—who helped Anne Frank).  Norway has 67, including Sigrid Hellisen-Lund, a friend of Odd Nansen’s who worked closely with him in Nansenhjelpen, the organization he established to help refugees during the interwar period.  The United States has 5.

On the other hand, as Laurence Rees points out in his latest work, The Holocaust: A New History (PublicAffairs 2017):

“Poland, Hungary and Romania all enacted anti-Semitic legislation during the 1930s. . . .   In August 1936, for example, all Polish shops were required to display the name of the owner on their signs.  As a consequence it was obvious which shops belonged to Jews.  The following year Jews were forbidden from entering the medical profession, and restrictions were placed on their ability to practise [sic] law. . ..

The Polish government was also contemplating removing Jews from Poland altogether.  In early 1937 the Poles opened discussions with the French about the possibility of sending large numbers of Polish Jews to the island of Madagascar off the south-east coast of Africa . . ..

The Polish Madagascar initiative acted as a powerful reminder . . . that anti-Semitic initiatives were not just the preserve of the government of the Third Reich.  The desire of other European countries in the 1930s to persecute and even remove their Jews has largely been forgotten in the public consciousness today—dwarfed by the scale and ferocity of the subsequent Nazi Holocaust.”

The final word goes to my old Georgetown professor, Jan Karski (mentioned here), who is described in the article as a “famed resistance fighter” and who nevertheless acknowledged that the Poles’ attitude toward fellow Polish Jews was “ruthless, often without pity.”

While references to “Polish death camps” should more accurately refer instead to “death camps located by the Nazis in Poland,” to outlaw any mention of Polish complicity in the Holocaust is indeed to “whitewash history.”

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Upcoming Events

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Book Signings

  • April 18, 2018: Lifelong Learning Roundtable, Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC
  • April 19, 2018: Caldwell Public Library, Caldwell, NJ (6:30 pm)
  • April 20, 2018: Sons of Norway, Saddle River, NJ (7:30 pm)
  • April 24, 2018: Bernards Township Public Library, Bernards Twp., NJ (7:00 pm)
  • April 25, 2018: Old Guard of Princeton, Princeton, NJ (10:15 am)
  • April 26, 2018: Summit Public Library, Summit, NJ (7:00 pm)
  • May 24, 2018: Clemson University/Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (1:00 pm)
  • June 1-2, 2018: Georgetown University Bookstore, Washington, DC
  • June 4, 2018: The Kenney, Seattle, WA (1:00 pm)
  • June 4, 2018: Sons of Norway, Conway, WA (5:00 pm)
  • June 5, 2018: Horizon House, Seattle, WA (7:30 pm)
  • June 6, 2018: University Unitarian Church, Seattle, WA (11:00 am)
  • June 6, 2018: Emerald Heights Retirement Community, Redmond, WA (1:30 pm)
  • June 7, 2018: Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, WA (6:00 pm)
  • June 8, 2018: Sons of Norway, Stanwood, WA (6:00 pm)
  • June 9, 2018: Sons of Norway, Santa Rosa, CA
  • June 10, 2018: Sons of Norway Sixth District Convention, Rohnert Park, CA
  • June 12, 2018: Atria Senior Living Tamalpais Creek, Novato, CA (4:00 pm)
  • June 13, 2018: Congregation Beth Shalom, Napa, CA (7:00 pm)
  • June 14, 2018: Sun City Lincoln Hills, Lincoln Hills, CA (2:00 pm)
  • June 14, 2018: Norwegian Men’s and Women’s Club of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA (6:00 pm)
  • June 15, 2018: Rossmoor, Walnut Creek, CA (1:00 pm)
  • June 18, 2018: Mary’s Woods, Portland, OR (2:00 pm)
  • June 20, 2018: Pacifica Senior Living Calaroga Terrace, Portland, OR (1:00 pm)
  • June 21, 2018: Woodburn Estates, Woodburn, OR (10:00 am)
  • June 21, 2018: Nordic Northwest, Portland, OR (6:30 pm)
  • August 30, 2018: Charleston Library Society, Charleston, SC (6:00 pm)
  • October 11, 2018: Willow Valley Communities, Willow Street, PA (1:30 pm)
  • October 26, 2018: Furman University/Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (1:00 pm)

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On This Date

< 2018 >
April
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  • Odd Nansen evacuated from Neuengamme on White Buses to Denmark, then Sweden.
2930     
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history

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< 2018 >
April
SMTWHFS
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
  • Odd Nansen evacuated from Neuengamme on White Buses to Denmark, then Sweden.
2930     
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history

Upcoming Events

Share

Book Signings

  • April 18, 2018: Lifelong Learning Roundtable, Wofford College, Spartanburg, SC
  • April 19, 2018: Caldwell Public Library, Caldwell, NJ (6:30 pm)
  • April 20, 2018: Sons of Norway, Saddle River, NJ (7:30 pm)
  • April 24, 2018: Bernards Township Public Library, Bernards Twp., NJ (7:00 pm)
  • April 25, 2018: Old Guard of Princeton, Princeton, NJ (10:15 am)
  • April 26, 2018: Summit Public Library, Summit, NJ (7:00 pm)
  • May 24, 2018: Clemson University/Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (1:00 pm)
  • June 1-2, 2018: Georgetown University Bookstore, Washington, DC
  • June 4, 2018: The Kenney, Seattle, WA (1:00 pm)
  • June 4, 2018: Sons of Norway, Conway, WA (5:00 pm)
  • June 5, 2018: Horizon House, Seattle, WA (7:30 pm)
  • June 6, 2018: University Unitarian Church, Seattle, WA (11:00 am)
  • June 6, 2018: Emerald Heights Retirement Community, Redmond, WA (1:30 pm)
  • June 7, 2018: Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, WA (6:00 pm)
  • June 8, 2018: Sons of Norway, Stanwood, WA (6:00 pm)
  • June 9, 2018: Sons of Norway, Santa Rosa, CA
  • June 10, 2018: Sons of Norway Sixth District Convention, Rohnert Park, CA
  • June 12, 2018: Atria Senior Living Tamalpais Creek, Novato, CA (4:00 pm)
  • June 13, 2018: Congregation Beth Shalom, Napa, CA (7:00 pm)
  • June 14, 2018: Sun City Lincoln Hills, Lincoln Hills, CA (2:00 pm)
  • June 14, 2018: Norwegian Men’s and Women’s Club of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA (6:00 pm)
  • June 15, 2018: Rossmoor, Walnut Creek, CA (1:00 pm)
  • June 18, 2018: Mary’s Woods, Portland, OR (2:00 pm)
  • June 20, 2018: Pacifica Senior Living Calaroga Terrace, Portland, OR (1:00 pm)
  • June 21, 2018: Woodburn Estates, Woodburn, OR (10:00 am)
  • June 21, 2018: Nordic Northwest, Portland, OR (6:30 pm)
  • August 30, 2018: Charleston Library Society, Charleston, SC (6:00 pm)
  • October 11, 2018: Willow Valley Communities, Willow Street, PA (1:30 pm)
  • October 26, 2018: Furman University/Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (1:00 pm)
< 2018 >
April
SMTWHFS
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
  • Odd Nansen evacuated from Neuengamme on White Buses to Denmark, then Sweden.
2930     
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history