Book review: Milestone reveals the stress of occupation
Thor A. Larsen
Meeting at the Milestone was written by Sigurd Hoel in 1947, fresh from the author’s experience in occupied Norway. The book utilized Hoel’s insight in psychoanalysis, a subject he studied in depth, and his experience as a member of the Resistance writing articles for their publications.
In order to convey how and why some Norwegians, men and women, chose to serve the Nazis vs. remaining neutral or actually serving in the resistance, Sigurd Hoel wrote Meeting at the Milestone, a fascinating story of espionage as a means to provide meaningful, in-depth examples of Norwegians on both sides. The story is told in first person about a Resistance member, let’s call him “Jan” (no name is ever given), who is asked to go on a dangerous mission to uncover a traitor who has been providing the names of Resistance members in a strategic small town to the local Nazis. Jan is selected because he knows a number of the members and potential traitors from his college days in Oslo 20 years earlier. As a cover, Jan poses as a bank inspector from Oslo to review the books of the local bank. Among the local Resistance members are a prominent banker and doctor. In pursuing the culprit, Jan learns that a former classmate, a doctor, the doctor’s wife, and their son play important roles on the other side.
A very significant portion of the book covers the student days in Oslo and Jan’s interactions with a number of students: examinations of their personalities and background. The author briefly evaluates about seven students who joined the other side. The key participants of the drama above, the doctor and the doctor’s wife, who was Jan’s girlfriend during the college years, are developed in some detail. Perhaps the author missed his young days as a student, since he provided considerable space for his several romances with young ladies during this period of Jan’s life.
Qualities of those who are more vulnerable to switching sides include limited ethics, having had an unhappy and poor upbringing, and being very ambitious. However, generally one could also say those traits fit many of those who chose to stay faithful to Norway.
The book also examines the stress that the Resistance members endured and how such stress sometimes resulted in fatal decisions. The author explores the psychology of the Norwegians after they escaped to Sweden and their sense of emptiness and loneliness despite relative safety.
The five-year occupation of Norway as explored by Sigurd Hoel provides some insight into the psychological toll on most if not all Norwegians during this occupation period. They were living in an “unreal twilight zone,” unable to plan for the future, living only day for day, trying not to fear, and trying to stay safe.
Given those severe circumstances, it is unfair for those who did not experience this period to cast blame on those who could not remain faithful to Norway. Fear, intimidation, daily uncertainty, hunger, as well as ambition and greed could make people turn. According to the author, less than two percent of the population turned Nazi, a notable accomplishment.
This book had special meaning to me as I was a young boy in Stavanger and completed my first grade during the war. Through my mother, I learned about several who chose to go to the other side that our family avoided during the war. Several of those I met after the war after they paid their dues and became very honorable family men. Not too many years ago, a daughter to one who had gone over to the other side learned that her father had become a Nazi and wanted to know how I felt about her father as well as how my mother had felt. I had told her that her father had been long forgiven.
Although the occupation in Norway ended more than 72 years ago, some mental suffering still remains even today. In net, this book is a valued addition to understanding some aspects of the life and times of this dreadful period in Norway’s history.
The original version, entitled Møte med milepelen, was published in 1947 by Gyldendal Norsk Forlag. The English translation by Sverre Lyngstad was republished as a paperback by Green Integer in 2001.
Born in Stavanger, Thor A. Larsen immigrated to New York City with his parents in 1948. Now retired from a 40-year career as physicist and engineer, Thor draws and paints, and writes travel and arts articles for a local publication. He’s been married to Arlene for 49 years, and they have two adult children and three grandsons.
This article originally appeared in the July 28, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.