by Mary Rhudy
This is an excerpt from a novel I am writing. PLEASE give me feedback.
Professor Nansen scanned the photos on his wall as he tied his tie. There were hundreds of them, all photos of his students over the years. He had been teaching music and conducting orchestras and choirs ever since he came back from the Great War. Against his parents’ wishes he had gone to fight with the British Royal air Force. He couldn’t let everybody else have all the fun. He had learned some serious lessons about reality in those years. He finished tying his tie and stood and studied the pictures for a moment. Lars Nansen had remained single until after the last war. Somehow he just hadn’t been able to get outside of his own head long enough to comprehend that there might just be one other person out there who understood how he needed help to get out of his head and be in the world, again.
He found that woman in Maria Cherkasov, the mother of one of his students. She had been in the Resistance movement in Russia when the war had ended. She had made her way back to Norway to escape the Stalinist regime and to be reunited with her son, Jakob. He gently and reverently touched the pictures. Maria had put gold borders with ribbon on the ones of students who had died during the war. There were black ribbons around those who had fought with the Germans. There were red ribbons on the ones who had gone over to the Communists. There were white ribbons on those who had been trapped behind the Iron Curtain when the Soviets invaded Eastern Europe. No one had given up on secreting them back to the West. It was simply a matter of how and when.
He looked at himself in the mirror and was pleased with what he saw. Even with two wars and everything else that went with them, the years had been good to him. Not as kind as they had been to Maria. She was fifty-eight and had the face and body of a thirty-year old. She had long thick curly black-brown hair and eyes the colour of dark Russian chocolate. Lars was sixty-six and his hair had started turning grey during the first war. It was now as white as snow and his eyes were pale grey. After he had met Maria, again, after the war, those eyes had learned to smile again. He looked at one particular group of pictures next to a cross on his war. He gently touched the pictures and said a prayer of thanksgiving. He turned and left the room. He was now prepared to conduct the most important concert of his life.
Professor Lars Nansen
The early months of 1940 were colder than usual even for a land on the North side of the Arctic Circle. True, in Sonjaheim, Norway, we can throw a rock and have it land pretty close to the North magnetic pole. But even given that it was not the cold of an Arctic Winter nearly devoid of sunlight. This was the cold of evil, and evil so palpable it could choke you. Vidkun Quisling was already courting Hitler and selling his people out to what turned out to be the lowest bidder. People in Norway, seeing what was going on in the rest of Europe were already making plans to refugee to Sweden or England against the possibility of Germany invading us. By March there were members of the Royal cabinet were already forming contingency plans for removing the government to England. There was nothing in writing, of course, and nothing openly discussed. But it was understood that whatever Hitler might do, the descendants of the Viking warriors were not going down without a proper fight.
But there was no controlling free will, and there were those even in Norway who were preparing to welcome Hitler with open arms. Like bacteria or parasites that take advantage of a weakened immune system to sicken a host, men like Quisling were always ready to step in and fatten themselves at the expense of their fellows. And he had been courting Hitler with promises that he couldn’t hope to keep. When Quisling ran for public office he won with a paltry few votes.
By the first week of April it was obvious that something was going to happen to end Norway’s precious neutrality. Sweden had declared that they were neutral and that there would be no question of anyone violating that status. That was all there would be to that. They were, however, prepared to welcome refugees from Norway should the need arise.
My students were bitterly torn over what to do should the Nazis invade. Not all of them were native Norwegians. Sonja Helberg, who played flute, clarinet and piccolo, was born in Iceland. Jakob Cherkasov, who played violin and viola and sang counter tenor had immigrated with his mother, Maria, to escape the Stalinist regime.. Stellan Bjornson who sings basso profundo, is from Sweden. Maria Chamounix who sings contralto is from Belgium. John Anderton who plays low brass, is the son of parents in the American diplomatic corps.
Some had only been in Norway for a few months. Some had been here for years. Some of my students had been born here, and this is their home by God. I tried to keep my students’ daily routine as normal as possible. It was not easy to do as the tension in the air was so thick it would choke a horse.. every morning we did calisthenics. I have always believed that your body and you instrument are inextricably linked and you must take equally good care of both for each to function properly. As part of their music eduction all of my students learn composition conducting and work with younger students on the side. It was believed that students can often learn as much from each other as they do from their teachers. They also take part in ensembles that would sometimes form on the spur of the moment and would perform at the drop of a hat.
Thus it was that on the evening of 8 April 1940 twelve of my students were giving a concert of music by Bach, Grieg, Holst, and some chamber music the kids themselves had composed. It was a lovely evening and the music was so comforting that no one wanted to go home. The congregation had given hymnals to the musicians and had requested that they play hymns to help ease nerves. There was a sense of foreboding in the air that no one could quite define. All anyone could say was that even at midnight mobody wanted to leave the calm atmosphere of the sanctuary. It was as if they were afraid to go outside for fear of what they might find.
Some folks fell asleep in their pews while the ensemble went on playing. In the early morning hours the doors of the church opened and the fathers of several of the musicians went to the stage and whispered to their children. You could hear people thinking in the silence. Then, as if on command, the musicians stood and announced what they had just been told. The German Army had just invaded Norway. War had well and truly come to our own front yards. The Royal family steadfastly refused to abdicate and hand their people over to Hitler and his thugs. Foreign Minister Halvdan Koht had said that the Nazis could expect Norway to put up a hell of a fight and that the struggle had already begun.
The speed with which the Norwegian Resistance movement kicked into action was phenomenal. There was already guerilla warfare being waged all up and down the country and plans were already underway to secret the King and his government over to England. In an emergency session the Storting had granted His Majesty and his ministers full government powers for the duration of the war. His Majesty, King Haakon VII had the full faith and trust of his loyal subjects, and they were many.
But out of fear or self-interest or lunacy or a combination of the three there were those who saw in Adolf Hitler a sort of stability or change or reverting to something from the past or they weren’t quite sure what . There were those who had listened to Hitler’s speeches and had seen all the pageantry and the parades and the handsome muscular blonde-haired boys and the pretty girls in their folk costumes and were impressed. Most didn’t understand a word he had said in any real sense. They just knew that there was something oddly comforting in his talk of going back to old fashioned ways and of doing away with the nameless, faceless “enemy” that he kept ranting about. What they didn’t understand was that this nameless, faceless, enemy the Nazis ranted and raved about was someone they knew and spoke to and lived near and who otherwise might have been a friend.
And then there was Vidkun Quisling. Quisling had been for some time a proud apologist for the Nazi Party and its takeover of most of Europe. Now that the Germans had taken over his own country, he was proud to hand it to them on a silver platter, provided of course that they handed him the governance of the country. They Nazis will do wonderful things for the people of Norway he said. We will fulfill our destiny in the history of the Nordic-Aryans, he said.
When the Nazis established the first concentration camps starting with Grini and when they saw loyal Norwegians being sent to these camps opinions started to change. By this time it was too late. Norwegians were being killed by the Army who was supposed to be there to protect their neutrality from those awful British who sought to bring them into the war. It was not long before the general public started to see Quisling for the case study in treachery that he was.
The youth of Norway were among the first to decide that they were not about to give up the fight to free their country. Many of them stayed behind to fight a guerilla war of their own making. Some left to go to England where they were trained as professionals and given all the tools and weapons to carry out full-scale sabotage missions as well as espionage and insurgency actions. Some went to one of the “police training camps” just inside Sweden where they were also trained in espionage and sabotage. This high-powered training was provided to both the men and women who went there. Less than a week after the invasion with the whole nation under martial law and the new German local officials making it difficult for me to meet with my students it became obvious that Norway would never be the same.
I managed to get word to my students to meet at my house for tea one Sunday afternoon. We had much to discuss about our activities and how to keep in contact.
“I have known some of you children your whole lives, and have known some of you only a few months. Let me first make absolutely sure that you understand that I am a loyal Norwegian and a true subject of our King. I was born here in Sonjaheim and I hope to be buried here, but not for a very long time. For the safety of us all, I suggest that we none of us state our plans for the immediate future even amongst ourselves. I have learned that when dealing with this particular situation it is best to keep your thoughts inside your own head.
“Now, having said that, I will keep giving lessons as long as the occupation forces will allow me to. I don’t know what they will do about our scheduled performances. They might allow us to stick with our schedule and just change the programmes or they might cancel everything. So far I have been told nothing. As soon as I am told what my limits are I will get the word to everyone. Does anyone have any questions?
Klaus von Birger stood up and proudly declared his joy and excitement at all the changes. He was from Berlin and was staying with his maternal grandparents. His mother’s people had come from Trondheim. And they had wanted him to have access to the best music lessons possible. His mother had been frantic with worry about sending from Germany, but she had wanted him away from the influence of the Nazi party and the Hitler Youth and had thought that Norway would be safe as they were neutral in the last war.
Klaus was asking if we could schedule an all-German evening to welcome their ‘protectors’ to Norway. “I don’t know, Klaus, it is very doubtful that they will let us have such a large public gathering. We will have to wait and see and see which way the wind blows.” I felt a shudder of terror and revulsion go through me. So, Klaus was a good little Nazi was he? The thought that I had at least one spy in my family of students made my blood run cold. These kids had always known that in this house they were all respected and safe and could speak their minds. Norway has always been a country where you are free to speak your mind openly and are free to write or compose or craft your thoughts in whatever way you choose as long as you were mindful of the lives and sensibilities of others.
I thought of Jakob Cherkasov and his mother. What would become of them? They were Russian Jews who had had to escape the Stalinists in Russia only to find themselves in the middle of Nazis in Norway. Where could they run to, now, especially with a good line-toeing little Nazi right in their backyard?
I came back to myself when I heard the students trying to get my attention. “Herr Professor, may we still meet as ensembles to practice at each other’s homes? We have each of us been composing pieces for our ensembles to perform and need to work together,” said Maud Engstrom from Sweden. Maud sang soprano and played piano. She was working on some arrangements of mediaeval Norwegian hymn tunes to perform at Christmas. The King, himself, had even invited the group to come caroling at the Royal Palace. That would simply have to wait until after the war.
“Well for now we shall have to wait and see. I will go to see Pastor Martin at St. Michael’s and see what he has found out. For the time being I suggest that you all go straight home and try to stay calm. If we obey the laws and stay calm, we should be safe. Good night.”
“Herr Professor, please, may we pray before we leave?” asked Stellan Bjornson, the grounding element of my family of talented saints.
“Certainly. Please let’s join hands. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the Evil One, for Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”
The kids filed quietly out of the house and went there several ways, and as I watched, I found myself crying. I was already beginning to grieve, because I knew that when the war was over, if they all did get back together they would not be the same kids I was seeing now. They would be men and women who had had to kill and had possible starved and had lost their innocence. I felt some one touch my shoulder. Only Klaus had stopped to comment. “Herr Professor, It will be fine, you will see. German is going to protect us and will win over the British imperialists and everything will be fine. You will see.”
I looked into the boy’s eyes and somehow knew that he was already lost to the Nazis. I went to my desk and took out pen and paper and started to work on this, my journal. As long as the war lasts and until I know how each and every one of students has fared, I will write daily to keep a record of everything I learn of their fates.
"Herr Professor, by the time you receive this, I will be with the King. I cannot tell you where, for obvious reasons. But he is my king, and my first duty is to him and to my country. We are not giving up on Norway. We are just taking His Majesty to safety until we can give him back his country. Please pray for me. Pray for Norway, King Haakon, and St. Olav.
I am your obedient servant, Stellan."
My name is Stellan, and I am nineteen years old. I am born in Tromso and started studying music there when I was seven. I play cello and viola and string bass. When I was fifteen we moved to Sonjaheim and I began to study under Professor Lars Nansen. I believe that he is somehow related to the great diplomat, Herr Fridtjof Nansen, but he doesn't talk about that much. Herr Professor is not one to make much of himself. I know he has several books sign by the Nobel prize laureate. I had already had plans to join the Navy for my National Service, but when the Germans invaded I changed my mind and joined the Army so that i could be one of the ones kicking the Germans the hell out of my country.
I sent my instrument to my aunt Alice Westling who lives near the border with Sweden. She can put them in her attic where they will be safe. i have kept some sheets of music paper with me since I can keep them in my kit with no trouble. I have decided that i am going to write a piece of music and work on it a little each day until we are all free. We are on our way to England where the King will be safe. He is taking his cabinet with him, and the Storting have granted him full government powers until he comes back to his throne. If the Nazis think they will have an easy time of it, they are dead wrong.
June 21, 1940
I am in England, and they have taken us to some old manor house where we are being trained to go back and send the Nazis back to hell where they came from. We are getting reports here of how they have setup concentration camps at Grini and Grimstadt and Flastadt. They are taking innocent Norwegians prisoner and are torturing them and killing them outright. We are even told that they have been raping girls in Norway to get them pregnant to make more little Aryan babies. I think of my sisters and my friends who are girls and it makes me want to run back there, now, to kill as many Nazis as we can.
But our English trainers are telling us to sit tight, learn everything we can now, and then we will have everything we need to take back our country. We are part of what is called Milorg, which is the armed wing of the Norwegian Resistance. We are being trained by Special Operations Executive. I am being trained in how to blow up cars and tanks with plastic explosives, how to sink ships, how to jump from planes, how to fire all manner of different weapons. We have been issued British Army uniforms to wear when we go on our missions. Evidently, the Germans wont shoot innocent Norwegians if they know that members of the British Army are responsible for acts against the Germans.
The British are treating us well, and we are fed like lords. I guess they want to make sure that we are well nourished when we go back to Norway. God, I miss my family, and I miss my friends. I can’t write to them, because it might get them in trouble with the Nazis, and they can’t write to me, because they don’t know where I am. I so long to hear mama’s voice, again. I want to sit in church with my family and I want to play card games with my sisters. I want to go fishing with my papa. I wish I could walk over to Professor Nansen’s home and show him what I have written so far on my music. He would be relieved to know that I am still working. I wish I could go home.
August 14, 1940
We now know what our next mission is going to be. We, that is seven of my comrades and myself, are going back to Norway armed to the teeth with all the fixings. We are going to try to sink some German ships working with members of our own Merchant Navy. It seems that Norway has the largest Merchant Navy in the world and this has been put at the disposal of the British in order to help launch attacks on German Naval vessels and make sure that food and other relief supplies are able to get to the allied nations. When possible we will go ashore in order to do reconnaissance missions and get the lay of the land for possible British bomber missions. For a country as sure as they were of complicity in this takeover of our homeland, the Germans have certainly devoted plenty of troops to keeping an eye on us. I still don’t know exactly when we will be leaving here for this duty, but it won’t be long.
We have been hearing reports that Knut Hamsun is a collaborator with the Germans. His wife, Marie, goes all over Germany and other places reading from his books and giving speeches in his name talking about how Norwegian men have no business going out and getting themselves killed fighting for the British. Hamsun writes little pieces for the AFTENPOSTEN about how wonderful the Germans are. How can they be so wonderful if they are risking the lives of Norwegian girls getting them pregnant and killing innocent men, women, and even children who speak out against Terboven and Quisling and the invasion? I think the world has truly gone crazy.
I know I have gone crazy. Here I am about to take part in a mission that is sure to get my sorry Norwegian ass killed, and I woke up this morning with the realization that I am in love. Truly, foolishly, hopelessly, deliriously in love with a girl from Lincolnshire. Her name is Violet Marsden, and she is quite the prettiest flower I have ever seen. She has strawberry blonde hair, green eyes, and freckles on her nose and she is a four-time All England Archery Champion. In fact the bow she favours is almost as long as she is, and I am not strong enough, yet, to fire it. She says that with daily practice and good eating I’ll soon be as good as they boys who whipped the frenchies at Agincourt.
I love to hear her talk about that Battle. She says she reckons most Englishmen have a relative who fought upon St. Crispin’s Day. She has given me a Bible blessed by the Bishop of Lincoln Cathedral as well as a copy of Henry V by William Shakespeare. She tells me that if Norway can just bear in mind what those few thousand men accomplished on that day five hundred and twenty five years ago, and can channel that resolve, then we can kick the Germans all the way back to Berlin and have the world in the palm of our hand.
I have been thinking about the music I have been writing. Back after the invasion our group of students had met at Professor Nansen’s home one last time before we went our separate ways in the Resistance. All of us excepting Klaus von Birger who had already joined the German Army and was part of the occupying forces, now. The rest of us had conceived of the notion of writing compositions which would celebrate the victory of peace after we win the war. But I got to thinking as I was writing. Would it not be a more fitting anthem to our victory as a free nation if we work on one grand opus wherein we each write our part to tell our part of the story? So I have scrapped what I started and have begun anew. I sing basso profundo as well as playing low strings, so I am working on my part as a line for basso. Nice deep notes forming a foundation upon which the others can build. It will be an unusual combination – four voices and eight instruments, but I think it will be grand. I have already written the dedication ‘For Norway, King Haakon, and St. Olav”.
August 27, 1940
Just a short note, today. God help us, we leave at 03:00 for Norway. The British have gone all out on our supplies, weapons, and all the trimmings. There will be eight of us going across. I have left a note for Violet with a local priest as well as a Last Will and testament. I have asked Violet that if I survive the war and still have my wits about me when I come back, will she do me the very great honour of being my wife. We ere all granted an audience with the His Majesty. He gave us his blessing and wished us Godspeed. He promised us that we will all celebrate victory over tyranny and hatred in our own country, soon. We promised to let him know when we had mopped up the Germans and reopened his palace.
Professor Lars Nansen
It is the start of a new year, but God what a year the last one was. I wish I could at least report that we have managed to settle into some kind of routine. But even that is impossible. A friend who will remain nameless in case this falls into the wrong hands has gotten a message through to me from the outside. This friend is in contact with people in the German resistance. He tells me that Hitler’s people are not at all happy with the way Josef Terboven has been treating Hitler’s little Aryan children here in Norway. Of course everyone was expecting us to welcome our German protectors with open arms since we are all supposed to be good Aryans and Hitler himself said that Norway is more Aryan than anybody. And Quisling spent months telling Hitler’s buddies just that and kissing as many German backsides as he could to make sure he was the head of any pro-nazi government. The end result of all that courting and flirting is that Vidkun Quisling marches around in his fancy dress uniform pretending to be Hitler’s darling while terboven actually runs the show.
I won’t say where I saw this one cartoon or who it was who drew it, but there is a rather good one circulating which show terboven dressed as a toymaker winding a key on Quisling’s back. Then you see Quisling marching and giving the Nazi salute as terboven turns him this way and that. It is possible, I suppose, that Quisling is the only one who doesn’t know that he has little he has little or no real authority.
I have received word from another friend to say that she is doing well, all things considered. She is being trained at one of the “police academies” that a friendly nation has set up to train right-minded people in how to “fight dirty”, she says. They’re not being taught to fight dirty to cause murder and mayhem, but, she maintains, it is possible to fight dirty for the right reasons.
I am worried about another of my friends who is Jewish. The Germans have been rounding up Jews and sending them out of the country to God knows where. But no one ever hears from any of them, again. I pray for him and his mother, daily. They are the only family each of them has. I miss all of my kids, so much. Sometimes I would get slightly annoyed when one of them would call me in the middle of the night or early in the morning to ask me to listen to something. Then they would put the phone downon the table and start playing or singing. Since so many of our phones are on a party line system, sometimes they would have whole ensembles playing over the phone. As I said, it used to annoy me sometimes. Now I would give my teeth to have them call me and play anything – even “Ah, vous dirai-je, ma’man”.
I saw Klaus von Birger the other day. He is not looking well at all. He seems to be afflicted be nerves as he seemed to keep looking around him as if he felt someone was after him. I heard something through the omnipresent war-time grapevine that may explain all the nerves and angst. It seems that his grandparents were furious that he had gone and joined the German Army. His mother had sent him here hoping to keep him from the Nazi influence. Without any thought of the consequences of his actions, he turned his grandparents in as members of the Resistance. Nothing could have been more absurd. Neither of then anything good to say about the occupying forces, but neither were they in any sort of condition to do anything about it. When the Secret Police came to their house, his grandmother suffered a stroke and died without ever regaining consciousness. Her husband hung himself the same night. So, in a very real sense, Klaus killed the only family he had here. God have mercy on him.
Pastor Martin and I have started a little ministry of sorts with the most unlikely of schemes. Pastor Martin is allowed to visit the concentration camps to visit prisoners to make sure they are being treated properly. Of course that is a joke, as he only gets to see the ones the Germans allow him to see. He has received a shipment of Bibles from the American bible Society in New York. How he manages these things I am afraid to ask. At any rate, he brings Bibles to the prisoners he is allowed to visit and is able to smuggle messages in by writing them on the pages in a sort of code. My role in all this is to visit the families of men and women we suspect to be prisoners. I get any messages I am given to Martin through a ‘mailbox’ at his church. Then he carries them into the camps.
He has been able to get word to the outside about conditions here through a mutual friend here who makes occasional visits to a neutral country. She takes messages and other intelligence out and brings food, weapons, and medical supplies back in with her. She is terribly brave and risks capture every day. I am so proud of her and of all my friends. They have put God and country first when they all could very easily have gone elsewhere and been safe. They make me ashamed for being such a coward and not doing as much as could. God please show me how I can truly serve the least of these my brethren and yours. Amen.
It is Christmas Eve in our little home away from our real homes. We have been here for – let’s see – I am trying to count on my fingers, but I have been outside getting firewood, and my hands are cold. It has been eight days that we have been here scouting out the area and gathering intelligence for our bosses in England. Our next raid is to be a little fireworks display on a train moving tanks and munitions about a week and a half past Christmas. I guess even the Nazis like to observe the holy days.
They plan to use a train carrying passengers to and from work, I guess thinking that we won’t dare blow up a train carrying civilians. We are trying to get the word out to the workers to avoid that train if at all possible, but if we have to we will blow it up people and all as we have to destroy that train and the bridge carrying it. It is hard. These people need to be able to work to try to keep food on their tables. Getting decent food is getting harder and harder, even this far into the fighting, the folk here are starting to show signs of wear and tear. And even as small as our little efforts are, they have had an amazing effect. Hitler is having to keep far more men and materiel here in Norway than he should have to because of all of our little mosquito stings, and if we can keep them busy enough that means more men stuck here in Norway and not on the fronts in Russia or France. Sometimes it seems like that’s the best I can accomplish here is just to annoy the Germans. I want to kick their butts all the way back to Berlin and up against a wall for all the things I have seen them do. We hear from the few who are collaborators who try to make nice with the Germans, and they don’t believe all the things that go on. One of my friends was arrested and sent to Grimstadt. They found out that he played piano. They broke both his hands and denied him medical care. He will never play, again.
We have almost run out of the food that was air-dropped for us when we parachuted in. two cases of food went missing, and we think they have fallen into a crevasse on one of the nearby mountains. Oh well, some hunter may be able to make use of it sometime in the future. Luckily some hunter who used this cabin in the past has left us a couple of bows and some arrows, and we have been using them to hunt reindeer. We could use our guns, but bullets are precious, and guns make more noise than bow and arrow. We are given the mixed blessing of bitter cold. On the one hand, it keeps the meet from going bad so soon, but on the other it is so bloody cold that even with all of our protective gear, our hands and feet near freeze when we go out to hunt for food or firewood. It is so cold that when you breathe out, the mist freezes into snowflakes instantly. One day, Hjalmar melted some snow in his mess cup and went outside and threw the water into the air. It froze instantly and fell to the ground as ice.
We have put up a little Christmas tree in our cabin and have decorated it with some spent shell casing we found and the lids and bottoms from tin cans on which we scratched designs. God, I miss home right now. I hope my family is celebrating. Right about now mama and papa and my brothers will be dancing around the tree and singing Christmas songs. In years past we have had candles glowing in all the windows and all over the living room and all manner of bright coloured ornaments on our tree. Ours is an old house with a tall ceiling in the central room, so my papa and my brothers and me always bring in a very big tree. We have spiced wine and cookies and it is warm and we are happy and I always feel loved and safe, because I am with the people I love and who love me.
I love Christmas services at church, too. I love all the hymns and the Christmas Story. I think my favourite part of this story is when the angels fill the skies with light and music, and the thought of being out on the fields that night and experiencing that glory makes me want to cry. Before I die, I want to know that kind of happiness. I have received a package from a pastor who lives over the mountain. He, too, is in the resistance. He got the package from another pastor who lives not far from Sonjaheim, where I am from. It is a piece of music that all of us are working on. That is all of us who are friends and students under Professor Lars Nansen.
I have gone through what is here in my head. I play French horn, which is hard to tote around in this line of work. I left my horn with Professor Nansen, but I kept a mouth piece with me to practice with so I don’t lose my muscle tone. It annoys my comrades, but that’s okay. One of them, Jon Christiansen, has started singing “Silent night.” He has a fine baritone voice. Now Hjalmar Floberg has joined him. He is a bass. Oscar Hansen with his counter-tenor adds the perfect floating head noted to round out the chords. Bjorn Bjaalandsen is sitting on his sleeping bag. He has tears rolling down his cheeks. Jon asks him why he is crying. Bjorn is crying because he says he can’t sing. He says he sounds awful because he can’t hold a tune. We all tell him that he must sing with us, because the angel chorus won’t be complete unless he joins in. he wipes the tears from his eyes and sings with us, and he sounds wonderful. I have decided how I will write my part.
My mother has some lovely ornaments that are angles singing and playing horns and flutes and violins and harps – en entire angelic choir and orchestra. I am going to write my part for the angels who play the horns. I will write it so that whatever may happens to us here in this cabin, when this music is played, people will know that there are five Norwegian angels singing and playing for them for all eternity.
We sing and tell jokes and laugh until we are exhausted. Bjorn has a pocket Bible with him. He reads the Christmas Story to us, and we all try to hide the tears streaming down our faces. Then we each tell a story from our childhood about favourite Christmases. I look down at my watch. It is just past midnight. “Merry Christmas and May God bless us richly in all things,” I say to my friends, and we all shake hands and embrace each other and wish each other a very Merry Christmas.
We are all truly exhausted, and even though it is Christmas, we still have to be up scouting and hunting for firewood in the morning. We go to sleep with our hearts full of joy and feeling like kings to have each other as friends. Whatever the enemy might do to us, they cannot kill the love of God and the joy of good friends and the blessing of simply being alive.
25 December 1941
A real Christmas angel came to us during the night! Hjalmar woke up first and went to go get some firewood and ran back in waking us up and telling us we had to see what he had found. We threw on some clothes and wrapped our sleeping bags around ourselves and went outside. We were speechless. There before us was a trio of the fattest chickens plucked and ready to be cooked. There was a box with canned food and meat. There was a tin of cocoa and some dry milk, precious sugar and even some coffee. There some nuts and some chocolate. There was firewood and to spare. Finally, there were two reindeer. But what was most amazing was that there were no prints leading to the cabin or away from it. There was no indication of how this wealth of a Christmas feast got to us. None of us heard anything during the night, and there was no card in the box. There was a bag that held five crosses, one for each of us. Bjorn started to cry, again, but he said that he was crying this time because his heart was full of joy. It seemed that he had had a dream last night. In fact, it seemed that we had all had the same dream. We each had dreamed that we were at home and that during the night while we slept in our homes with our families around us that an angel had stood watch over us and kept us safe. And we could hear the most beautiful hymns being sung, and we knew that we were loved and cherished.
3 January 1942
We made our raid on the train that was carrying the German tanks and ammunitions. On the whole I guess you could say it was successful. We were able to get the explosives installed on the cars carrying the tanks and munitions. Another team place explosives on the bridge over which it would be traveling. The object was to blow up not only the tanks and make sure they were well and truly out of commission but also to eliminate the bridge. They will rebuild the bridge, of course, but we can always blow up bridges. The main object is to keep them so busy over here that they have to keep men stationed here to keep an eye on us. We really do seem to be doing a good job of that. As word has it that more men are being transferred up here to babysit their “Aryans” brothers to the North.
Everything went off without a hitch until poor Hjalmar fell and rolled down an embankment and broke his leg. We had to carry him to a farm house that had been recommended to us. We weren’t sure whether they were friend or foe, but we couldn’t take any chances. Hjalmar was bleeding badly and in a hell of a lot of pain. We couldn’t risk him losing the leg. We were able to get his leg set and he was stabilized, and it seems that God has really been watching over us. The farmer’s brother in law is a doctor who lives just over the border in Sweden. He came across and dressed the leg up soundly, and then we got him on a wagon that looked to be carrying hay. We covered up with bags and such so that he could breathe at least. It can’t have been too comfortable, but as drugged up as he was, I doubt if cared much. We all promised to try to meet back in Sonjaheim when this is over.
Now we have to make our separate ways back to England to get our next assignment. God I wish there was some way to get word to my family that I am okay. But I am afraid that I will put them in danger. I know I can’t let them know where I am in case they were ever arrested. It’s so hard to believe that only a week or so ago we were celebrating Christmas and now we are back fighting. I wonder did Christ know what He was dying for. I wonder if His mother already knew that her son was going to die. Has my mother already begun to prepare herself that I might not come back?
Lord Jesus, if you can hear me and really do know my thoughts, please spare my mama that heartbreak. Please, God, don’t let her have to bury me. Please keep my family in the palm of your hand, Lord Christ. Comfort my mother and don’t let her be frightened for me. Please let her know that I love her more than anything and that I miss her. Amen.
I have finished my line in this music have set it on the path to Marie Chamounix. God knows when it will get to her. She is up here in the North, I think, or she was the last time I got news of her. But there is no knowing where she is, now. I just try to get in touch with someone who might be able to get word through to here and then pray mightily that the angels in charge of package delivery in wartime aren’t busy elsewhere. I miss Marie. She can be a bit of a know-everything, but I love to hear her sing. Give me a mezzo or a contralto over a soprano any day. In fact, she is the one who taught me my favourite soprano joke. One fellow says, “How can you tell the difference between a soprano who is warming up and a cat in severe gastric distress?” The other fellow says, “I give up. How?” The first fellow says, “You can’t. You have to ask.”
1 May 1942
It has been a rainy, rotten day but I still made it to my “post” here at the coffee shop here is Flekkefjord. I have been sort of floating up and down the lngth of Norway never getting too far from Sweden or from a coast to allow for quick get awy if needed. My main talent seems to be ablt to sit for hours in one spot appearing to be knitting or whatever and be listening to everyword that is said around me and remember what is important. It is truly amazing how short a time it takes to become invisible. You begin to sort of blend into the wall paper. Sometimes I do try to dress in the colour scheme of my chosen listening post so that I really do blend in.
Then in the evenings I hole up in the basement of various buildings transmitting any important information in code. I had never operated a redio before the war, but it wasn’t nearly as hard to learn as I had feared it would be. And I have been told by some of the men whom I communicate with that they like to “talk” with ladies because we have a lighter fist – whatever that means. I received a package the week before last. The music we have been working on has gotten to me finally. It is really becoming something truly beautiful. I am hoping and praying that this means that everyone so far is doing alright. We really don’t get to communicate with each other but only very rarely. We can’t put too much information in these packages , and it is really by the Grace of God that they get to where they’re intended to be. You wrap something up and say the last place she may or may not have been was such and such a place and she may or may not still be in contact with this or that person who may or may not be able to deliver it to her provided that she is still in the place where she might be, but you can never be completely sure since we are always on the move due to the damned Germans.
Even normal everyday citizens whom no one would think had the guts to give someone a mean look are getting involved in letting the Germans know how unpopular they are. Ladies who have always been the very models of good manners and decorum have taken to refusing to sit next to Germans on buses and trains. They will refuse to eat in restaurants where Germans are eating even getting up and leaving in the middle of a meal to let their feelings be known. It really is making them angry to learn that we do not want them here in our country and don’t like them and that very few Norwegians agree with their philosophy of hatred and violence and murder of innocent people because of their race or beliefs.
We have been shocked, however, to see that even the Germans can on rare occasions be caught being chivalrous after a fashion. Two days ago, there was a situation where in an elderly woman whose grandson had been killed by the Germans refused to sit next to a German soldier, and when got mad at her, she simply walked toward the door to get off the bus and walk. He used his foot to push her off the bus, and she fell onto the pavement hurting herself badly and requiring many stitches to close her wounds. His comrades seemed horribly embarrassed at what he had done, and the next time I saw him, he looked as if he had been run over by several tanks. I daresay he didn’t rough up any more elderly Norwegian ladies, anymore.
Mayday. May first. Legend has it that if you give your loved one muguet-de-bois or lily of the valley on this day, he or she has to give you kisses in return. I wish Karl was here. I would swim to France to get arms full of this lovely little flower and crawl on my hands and knees to give it to him just to know that he is okay and is happy. Oh to hear him play, again. The last news I had of him is that they were having to help smuggle two physicists out of Norway to America to keep them out of German hands. The Germans want to take them back to Berlin to work on their atom bomb project. These men have enough information in their heads to help the Allies do some serious damage to the German program. They have agreed to be taken to a place called Oak Ridge in Tennessee in America. Lord knows where that is, but at least they will be safe and treated well and won’t have to worry about their families, because we are working on getting them over to Sweden to wait out the war.
I am having tea in my my little shop and have been sitting here listening to the German talking about us to each other. I always pretend that I don’t speak German so they will leave me alone. That has become another of our weapons in our non-violent resistance efforts. Most Norwegians speak German as well as we do our own language, but we pretend we don’t understand a word they are saying and then turn and walk away from them.
Most Germans seem to understand perfectly well that we hate them and that they are not welcome. But there are those who genuinely seem confused at our distrust and intense dislike if not open hatred of them. One day I was sitting at a table knitting and listening. An officer – a lieutenant I think came by and asked if he could sit with me. On the one hand, I really didn’t want him with me because I didn’t want him occupying my person space. One the other hand, I was really paying close attention to a conversation about Terboven and some possible changes in the occupation hierarchy. I just ignored the office and pretended not to understand him. Had I been less of a lady I would have listed in alphabetical order all of my issues with him beginning with the fact that his people were murdering my people. And that we – the loyal Norwegian citizens and not that gutter rat Quisling – had not invited them here and that if the Germans had a problem with the way they were treated here, they were more than welcome to go home. Growing up in Belgium I was always taught to be warm and welcoming to strangers, but not when they mow down your hopes and dreams with tanks and fighter planes.
I have more reason than most, I’d say, to hate the Germans. I learned yesterday from a contact in france that me father was arrested in Brussels and shot as a spy. It was true. He was a spy for the English, but he was fighting for his people’s freedom from the Germans. The Germans had no right to kill him for fighting for his country. My contact says he doesn’t know where my mother is, but he is fairly sure that she is still alive. She was going to try to make her way to Hastings on the South coast of England to work with SOE there. She has an amazing way with numbers and is a wizard with codes. She will be very welcome in England.
Thinking of my mother reminds me of her onion soup. I so love her onion soup. And her tomato soup with Swiss cheese in it. Sometimes she will put basil and thyme and oregano in her tomato soup and make croutons to toss in. It reminds me of when I was little girl. On cold winter days she would makes us sandwiches and big pots of soup and we would read stories to each other and play games and stuff ourselves on all that soup. When we would come down sick, mama would make pots of chicken broth with lots of onion and garlic and we would down mug after mug of the magic elixir. It would warm us and make us sleep, and in no time at all we would be up and playing, again. Our papa would take us fishing and hunting with him. He was a wonderful cook, too, and whenever someone in our parish was sick he would make big pots of stew and loaves of bread for them. I loved my papa. I cannot believe that he will not be there waiting for me when I get to go home. Growing up I had dreamed of the day when I would marry and my papa would give me to my husband. I have to close or I will die of dehydration from crying, and papa wouldn’t have wanted that.
11 May 1942
I have to leave here in a huge hurry. I have been dealt what I think the Americans call a double whammy. I was singing in a nightclub, again, doing some listening and observing. When the evening was over I was making my way back to my rooms when I realized that I was being followed. I tried to get shot of my pursuer and when I saw that I couldn’t lose him I worked my way to a secluded spot which I hoped would allow me to put the shoe on the other foot, so to speak. The upshot of all this is that I ended up having to defend my honour, and my honour won the fight! To my horror and astonishment when I check to see if my attacker was dead, my first reaction was to be really pissed that my one and only good full length gown was totally ruined. And I made that dress look good.
The other half of the whammy was that when I finally got back to my rooms I found Jakob Cherkasov hiding there. He has to get the hell out of Norway and fast, It seems he is entirely too good at what he does, and the Germans have only just identified him. Now they have a decent description of him and if they capture him they won’t bother sending him a concentration camp. They will have their fun with him here and murder him. I have a radio contact named Gunvald who I will try to reach in the morning to try to get help from the English or the Swedes. Surely one side or the other can help me get Jakob to safety. I am worried about him. He won’t take any food but will only stare into the middle distance and he keeps working his fingers as if he is counting something. The number of Germans and collaborators he has killed, maybe? I think he has very simply snapped. Jakob is only twenty years old, and he has seen and done more and worse things than any of us could even have nightmares about. When I look into his eyes it is as if he has gone elsewhere where he can deal with whatever it is he is dealing with. God, please don’t let him die like this.