Fragments of Memories

Flight from Germany to Norway and Sweden: Three Little Episodes of the War Years

Margrit  Rosenberg Stenge

My parents and I had come to Norway from Germany in 1939, hoping to find a safe haven from the Nazi terror. However, on April 9, 1940 the Germans attacked Norway. I was 11 years old at the time. My father immediately recognized the danger we would be in as German Jews, because we were registered at the German Consulate in Oslo and could be located immediately. As a matter of fact, we heard much later that the very first day the Germans had occupied Oslo, two SS men came to our apartment. When they did not find us, they asked our neighbor if she knew where we had gone. She did not.

That day, on April 9, 1940 a colleague of my father's drove us to an inn in the countryside, where he had to leave us in order to take care of his own family. As my father did not want us to be mistaken as Germans because of his and my mother's accent, he divulged that we were Jews and that we needed a place to hide. Someone knew of an electrician called Nils Granlie, who lived in the remote village of Rogne in the Valdres region. He thought that Nils might give us shelter in exchange for money. The following day we set out toward Rogne. We traveled with milk trucks, horse-and-wagons and on the back of open trucks, until we eventually reached our destination. As predicted, Nils Granlie was willing to rent us a room, although my parents told him who and what we were.

The Granlis, Nils, Alma and their 1.1/2 year old little girl lived in a house overlooking the main country road. News was slow to reach villages of this nature. Nils did know, however, that it might soon become dangerous to hide Jews, as someone in the village might report him to the occupation forces. However, he told us immediately that he would advise the only policeman in the village, who lived nearby, of our existence, and assured us that we would have nothing to fear. The lensmann (policeman) would not give us away, he would not cooperate with the Germans, and of this he was sure. How right he was. The lensmann kept his word, and although he subsequently joined the Nazi party (to make sure that no real Nazi would become the policeman of the village) he never betrayed us.

Were the Granlis unusual people? Perhaps. Alma had been a governess in France and spoke fluent French, and she was thrilled when she realized that my father spoke French too. Nils was unfortunately an alcoholic, which we realized before long. We also knew that could be dangerous, since when drunk he might give us away. That never did happen, but a few months before we fled to Sweden we actually moved to another house that we had rented. The previous summer my parents had heard through the grapevine that this house was for rent, and the owner had not asked any questions.

The Jeep

The German occupation was soon a fact. On a quiet peaceful day, with the sun melting the snow on the country road, I was playing on the road with some village kids. Suddenly a jeep with four German officers approached. Imagine my horror when they stopped and asked me in German for the direction to the Police in the village. German was my mother tongue, which I spoke with my parents every day! But now it was spoken by the enemy, and I knew that if I answered in German, the officers would immediately become suspicious. How was it possible that a little girl in a remote country village could speak German so well? With my heart almost jumping out of my chest I pretended that I did not understand, and they drove off. I had succeeded in keeping my composure, and for now the danger was over.

A Trip to the Bank

On April 8th my father had asked my mother to go to our bank in Oslo to withdraw some money, just in case we would have to leave suddenly. My mother thought it could wait a day. How wrong she was. Now we were in hiding and had practically no money. One of us would have to return to Oslo and go to the bank. Both my parents spoke Norwegian, albeit with a rather heavy German accent. It would be simply too dangerous, because the Norwegians they would meet along the way might think they were German spies. Should they fall into the hands of the Germans, one can easily imagine the consequences. In all probability they would have been deported to a death camp. So it was all up to me. A trucker was found going to the capital on one of his runs, and I became the passenger in the cabin of the flatbed. Equipped with a Power of Attorney and accompanied by a former neighbor, I managed to withdraw the funds we needed. I returned to the village and my parents with the same trucker as before. Was I afraid? Of course I was. As young as I was, I was completely aware of the danger. Had the truck been stopped by the occupation forces, I would surely have been in trouble. I had no identification papers, and I certainly did not look like any of the blond, blue-eyed Norwegian children. My hair was dark, my eyes were brown and I was small for my age. Yes, I knew well how dangerous this trip was.

The Escape

By January 1943 the 1000 Norwegian Jews had been either deported or had escaped to Sweden. (Appr. 600 were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, 36 returned at the end of the war, the rest died either from starvation and exhaustion or ended their days in the gas chambers. About 400 managed to flee to Sweden.) Our hiding place in Rogne was no longer safe, a fact we had been aware of for quite some time. However, an escape could only be organized by members of the underground movement, and we had not found anyone in the Rogne area who had connections to the clandestine organization. In the beginning of January 1943 my parents and I were finally rescued by two young men from Oslo, who had underground connections.

We traveled back to Oslo by truck and by train. My father hid behind a newspaper. The three of us were completely silent. Our two rescuers kept an eye on us from a different compartment of the train, since traveling with us would have been too risky. Had we been caught, the Germans would surely have questioned our fellow passengers and more than likely have arrested them too.

We had been instructed to get off at a railroad station at the outskirts of Oslo. A minister wearing a black collar, who had also been described to us before, met us as agreed. He brought us to his home, and in the evening took us to a barn not far from where he lived. A number of people were sitting in the hay, waiting for the truck that would take us close to the Swedish border. When it finally arrived, my parents and I were told to get in first, close to the driver's cabin. By the time everyone was onboard and a tarpaulin had been stretched across the flatbed and covered with hay, my father, who was seriously claustrophobic whispered to us that he would have to go to the back of the truck where he could see some light. And he disappeared from sight. I began calling "Vati, Vati" (Daddy, Daddy) until I was told to be quiet, as I would otherwise endanger the escape. I was frantic. Was my father still on the truck? Despite the danger I knew we were in, I thought of nothing else. I trembled uncontrollably. When eventually the truck stopped and we were reunited with my father, I put my hand in his and nothing else mattered. Silently we made our way through the dark, snowy woods until a Swedish border guard welcomed us. Once again we had escaped and our lives were spared.

Edited by Karin Doerr