”You know I’m not superstitious, but I’ve never been able to find a logical explanation to something strange that happened to me back in 1943, when I was a young man.”
“What happened grandpa? Wasn’t it war in Norway at that time?“
“You’re right, Christopher. Norway had been occupied by the Germans since 1940, and everyone wanted the war to come to an end. We wanted our country back!”
“ What was the strange and mysterious thing that happened to you? Had it anything to do with the Germans somehow?”
“I’ll come to that point soon enough. Don’t be in such a hurry. You’ll be needing some background information.”
Christopher listens to his grandfather telling one of his many war stories. He has never heard this one before, so he is very anxious.
“Come on! I’m dying to know what happened!”
“All right. Here we go…
As I said, it happened in 1943. No, wait a minute! It must have been –44, because I had just turned eighteen.
Quisling said he wanted young Norwegians for work service. That meant he wanted them for German war service or work that the German military would benefit from. Milorg, the Norwegian resistance movement, had several successful acts of sabotage against offices which had lists of names of youths in question. One of those names was mine. The Germans wanted me to help them, to be on their side and fight for them. They wanted me to turn against my country! Luckily for me, the list which contained my name, was damaged.
We were strongly requested by the civilian leadership not to meet for registration. I remember something I read in an illegal paper:
“No one meets for registration. Not even those who are being lured by promises to temporarily escape a summons for service. Our day will soon come! If you’re already in a German camp, you have no chances of being a part of the liberation. Be loyal to your country, your king and your people. Refuse registration, at all costs.”
Thousands of youths refrained from meeting. It was especially here in the Eastern Norway that the number was fairly high. To avoid mobilization, we escaped into the woods, and that is why we were called “the lads in the woods”.
The most suitable boys were soon accepted as members of Milorg, and a few got various tasks around the country. Some of the boys were sent to Sweden to join the police forces there. It was arranged that about 25 boys were sent by train to Oslo, with a few days interval. Later, they were sent to Tønsberg, Sandefjord and Larvik. Then they established their own route from the Langesundsfjord to Sweden.
“What happened to you? I’m sure you were a part of Milorg. Am I right?”
“Yes, Christopher. I stayed in the camp that was created by Milorg.
We learned how to handle weapons. We learned military discipline, and were a part of Milorg’s united forces in consideration an effort in a liberation face. “
“What was it like out there in the woods? Did you sleep on the forest floor?”
“The living conditions varied from primitive sheds to well built shacks or cabins. In some camps, like mine, we had everything from barber’s services to extraction of teeth.
It wasn’t much to do in the camp. Besides from the necessary work in the camp, we trained, waited and once more waited. We also received a few drops with weapon and equipment , and if we were really lucky, they would contain some chocolate and tobacco. Chocolate has never tasted as good as that time. We would only get a little piece each, but the taste could last for hours!”
“Wow! I didn’t know that chocolate could make such an impression on someone, but you didn’t get all your food from the drops, did you?”
“When we ran into the forest, there was an acute problem. We didn’t know how to get enough food for all of us. As I said, many boys left the camps, but we still had a problem. We tried to live of what nature could give us, but other supplies were provided through the home front’s supply service. During the war we had rationing cards, it meant that everybody got the same amount of a merchandise, independent of how much money they had. Our food problem was further aggravated when the Germans came with a regulation, which said: “Wer nicht arbeitet, soll auch nicht essen”- those who don’t work, shall not eat. That meant that rationing cards were only distributed to those who were registered.
At that time we had to do something drastic, and we had to do it before the little food we had left was gone. I wasn’t a part of the planning group, but I know they worked very hard. It was eight men who sat together in one of the cabins for a whole day, while discussing what to do. The discussed both intensely and loudly. Anyone who walked past their cabin could hear them. In the evening they had come to a solution. They gathered all the people in the camp to inform about their plan. Well, not everybody, someone had to be on guard. German raids happened, but we were normally gone by the time they got there. Of course accidents happened, and then there would be a struggle. Sometimes our men would get killed in surprise attacks like that.”
“Hey, you’ve got lost! You were supposed to tell me what you were going to do with your food problem.”
“I’m sorry, Christopher, I get carried away so quickly.
So, we were gathered there around the planning group, and it was our leader, Thorleif Bommen, who started to speak. We were going to rob a German truck, which transported rationing cards.
Before an attack like that we had to prepare ourselves thoroughly. First of all we would draw a map of the location the coup was supposed to take place. Then we would divide the duties between us. This was often done by a group, consisting of men who had been on several missions before. While they were doing that, the rest of us would go into training, both physical and mental. We had to be really focused before an attack. Not all of us would be elected to participate, so we were always excited about the decision.”
“This is really cool! I wish I had gotten a chance to be a part of something like that. You were really lucky to be a teenager at that time.”
“Don’t say that, Christopher. It was war, and I was a member of an illegal group. I could have gotten arrested and sent to a concentration camp at any time. We were living a risky life, and every move could put our lives in danger. When we ran into the woods, we left our families. I never saw my father again, he died in a concentration camp in Germany. Because of safety reasons, my mother thought I was in Sweden. She didn’t know anything about neither my father nor me, and on top of that she had the responsibility for our house and home together with my two younger sisters. The eldest, who was about your age, smuggled rationing cards in her socks and underwear so that the prisoners of war that the Germans took, would get food. My mother did get financial help from the home front, so that they would manage, but the risk and the horror she and my sisters went trough, they had to struggle with alone.
Sometimes explosions would go wrong, and Norwegians were unfortunately killed. There were actions with guns, like the one I’m telling you about, actions where resistance groups had to kill Germans. There were elderly people who held people hidden in their homes. All of these people were risking their lives, and they all had the same thought: “We have to get the occupants away, we want our country back!”
“I had no idea, grandpa. I’m really sorry for not understanding the seriousness in this.”
“You couldn’t have known, I’m sorry for my outbreak. It’s just that the war is a big and important part of my life, but it’s also something I have bad memories of. I was really scared, Christopher. Luckily, I never doubted that I was doing the right thing.”
“You said that you in some actions had to kill Germans. Have you ever killed anyone?”
“No, luckily for me I never had to. Even though killing is wrong, I want you to remember that those who killed Germans did it to save their own and maybe many others lives.
Now, shall we go back to the story I started on?”
“Yes, I really think we should. It’s getting quite late also.”
"As you probably have figured out, I was elected to take part in the attack. Altogether, we were twelve men. Early one Wednesday morning we had found our places, and we were as ready as we could get. My job, together with at least nine other men, was to carry away the bags with rationing cards. After ten minutes, the truck came driving up the road. We had parked a car blocking the road, so that the German truck had to stop. A soldier stepped out to see what had happened. “Hey, you!” he shouted to our man who was pretending to look for faults on the car. “Move your car out of the way. Now!” The German was very impatient. Our man answered, just like we had practised: “I’m sorry, sir. The car won’t start.” The German started walking towards our “broken” vehicle. At the exact same time, the soldier and the driver were shot. They died momentarily. We rushed against the truck. We were glad that nothing had complicated the situation, but at the same time we were a little upset about the Germans being killed. We loaded our car with the bags, because it was too risky to drive around in a German truck. We had gotten hold of 75 000 rationing cards, and we were thrilled. We only had one car, so the ten of us that couldn’t fit in the car had to walk to a place nearby where we could hide. We split and walked different ways, so that we wouldn’t attract too much attention. I had a long way to walk, but it was ok with me. Unfortunately, the worst thing happened on my way to the hiding place. In a clearing I was surprised by two Germans who were apparently looking for someone. I totally froze, and I had no idea what to do. They were walking right next to each other, but I would never manage to kill both of them before one of them killed me. They pulled their guns, and I was prepared to die. That’s when the most unbelievable thing happened. Suddenly a lightning came from out of the blue, and the two Germans were struck. I only stood there, horrified of what I had seen. Around me the thunderstorm was raging, and it was very frightening. Then I heard a voice inside me that kept on saying: “Run, run for your life, son!” I listened to it, and I ran at lightning speed, away from the clearing, I ran like I had never run before and I was the first to reach our hiding place.
When I told the others later, no one would believe me. They thought I had been hallucinating as it appeared that there had been no thunderstorm where they were.
After the war I found out that my father had died the night before the attack had taken place, and I remembered the voice inside me that had said: Run, run for your life, son!”
I don’t know if there is any connection, but I like to believe that it was my father who was looking after me, and helped me that day.”
“It’s a really nice story grandpa. I like the idea of having someone watching over you like that, just like a guardian angel! It must have been great grandfather who helped you.”
“Yes, I think we’ll just stick to that thought.”