The Search for Thor
Twenty down; 4,837 to go
by Randi Millman-Brown
Thor Jensen, 36, moves from Oslo to Hammerfest. He is promoted to bank manager, becomes engaged, and takes a one-month hiking trip through occupied Finnmark in 1941. By the end of the year, he is dead, leaving behind a mystery, a diary, and many questions. This column chronicles his great niece’s attempt to solve that mystery.
This is the ninth installment of my “search” for Thor postings. If you have been following along, then you know how I started out—hopeful, trying to figure out Thor’s cause of death, only to be met by roadblock after roadblock. This is where I desperately needed help to dig through archives, in both Norway and possibly in Germany (I don’t really read German). As described in last month’s article, Alf R. Jacobsen was the jackpot, or rather the person, who provided me with valuable research assistance.
One of the most interesting things I learned from Jacobsen was that in 1940, Hammerfest was a small fishing village of only about 3,000 people. However, that year 2,300 German troops from the 702 infantry division were housed in barracks and civilian houses in the town. The German troops were tasked with coastal defense and air-raid protection, because Hammerfest was considered a major point along the almost 1,900-mile supply route along the Norwegian coast, and the Germans wanted to secure the area in case of an assault by the British.
One of my contacts in Hammerfest colorfully described Hammerfest during WWII as a “…one road cowboy town with Nazis in every window.”
In addition, the Germans set up what was called a “Feldkasse” (a cashier’s office) within Norges Bank, to exploit connections between several Norges Bank offices in Finnmark. This would have given Thor the perfect opportunity to spy on German banking transactions.
I recently received a flash drive from Jacobsen packed with scanned documents from the German archives in Freiburg from the 702 infantry division. There are 4,857 pages to go through, and I have perused maybe 20. However, one page is notable. In the “General Business and Experience Report” for October 1941 in Hammerfest, the report’s author, SS Oberscharfuhrer Dr. Hermann Dahkle, writes that Hammerfest “…incurred 33 criminal cases, 8 legal aid matters, 3 matters of the general list, 1 matter of the voluntary jurisdiction, 3 death investigation matters…”
Since Thor supposedly died on October 6, this might be the first real evidence of his death, even though it doesn’t name any of the people. Perhaps Thor’s name will appear in another document within the 4,837 pages I have to translate.
One other interesting fact that confounds things even more has to do with how Thor’s body was transferred to Trondheim to be cremated. Last time I discussed how it seemed odd to me that his body would be transported so far from Hammerfest. But in my research, I discovered that there weren’t any crematoriums in Hammerfest during WWII, and I thought perhaps his body was transported aboard the Hurtigruten. However, Jacobsen mentioned that after September 1941, Hurtigruten was canceled south of Tromsø due to rising fears of possible attacks. Trondheim is over 700 miles south of Tromsø; so now I really have no idea how his body was transported to Trondheim or anywhere else for that matter.
Obviously, more research is necessary on several fronts—what other secrets will be revealed in the German documents, and how on earth did Thor’s body get to Trondheim?
Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the May 18, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.