The Search for Thor

The things he carried

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.

Search for Thor

Photo courtesy of Randi Millman-Brown
Thor’s brother, Sverre, hiking in 1929.

Right now I am working full time at my regular job at a private college in upstate New York, and teaching an intro to art history course at night at the local community college. And writing these articles for The Norwegian American. And applying for grants to travel to Norway for follow-up research and writing. And writing to various institutions and archives and individuals in Norway for either information or assistance or both.

The one constant throughout the last 10 years of thinking and working on Thor’s story is the typed diary of his hiking trip through Finnmark in the summer of 1941. As I have discussed in earlier articles, the idea of having a leisurely stress-free trip in the summer of 1941 seems unlikely given the circumstances of the time: WWII, food-ration cards, travel restrictions, Nazi checkpoints, and lack of transportation and other resources. However, Thor was quite descriptive about many things in the diary; the routes he took, people and conversations he had, and descriptions about his gear that I think add to the immediacy of his account. I thought it might be interesting to look at what he took with him (or didn’t take).

1. No tent or sleeping bag (to reduce weight of the pack). He received advice that he would most likely be able to sleep in government mountain cabins all along the route.

2. Borrowed topographic maps (none were available to buy due to the war).

3. Compass (he never used it).

4. Rucksack (on day two of the trip he had his bag weighed and it was 20.5 kg. [45 lbs.])

5. Pipe

6. Clothes (rain gear and one extra pair of pants)

7. Cane (probably a hiking or trekking pole)—he lost this early into the trip

8. Toiletries

9. Mosquito net and lotion, insect repellent

10. NOK 500 in cash (worth approx. $1,400 today)

11. Food for one week

a. Two containers of meatballs (half of which he had to throw into a river—he describes seeing them on the bottom of river, “sort of white, swollen, and melancholy”)

b. Two loaves of bread

c. Sandwich fixings (cheese, butter, etc.—“pålegg”)

d. One can of coffee

e. Can of preserved pears

f. Tea

g. Sugar

h. Two chocolate bars

He also purchased some things.

1. A new pipe (he lost his leaning over the edge of a ferry railing)

2. Milk at various mountain cabins along the way

3. Cloudberries from Sámi villagers

4. “Sennegrass” for his boots from a local Sámi family in Biggeluobbel (near Kautokeino, Norway, a large Sámi community in Finnmark). Sennegrass is used to line boots and shoes for insulation in arctic regions. He paid 1 Norwegian krone for it. Today that would be $0.12

Unfortunately, he didn’t take any selfies on his hike, so we can’t see his gear. However, I do have a photograph of my grandfather, his brother, on a hike in 1929, and I believe this is probably a good representation of what Thor looked like hiking in “desolate and inhospitable Finnmark.”

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Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at rmillmanbrown@gmail.com.

This article originally appeared in the December 28, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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