The Search for Thor
Another archive dive begins
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.
I left for Norway on July 26, for my second research trip in a year, hoping to gather new information from a variety of sources in Oslo. First, I had a stop over in Drammen to visit with family for a few days, and then headed to Oslo for the remainder of the week. One tip I have for other researchers planning a trip to Norway is to make sure businesses, archives and/or people aren’t closed or on vacation. I had planned to visit the Oslo Byarkiv (www.oslo.kommune.no), but it was closed for the week I was there (and had been closed for the week prior, as well). In addition, several individuals I wanted to meet with were not available due to being on vacation at this time. I was only able to travel to Norway during a very short window this summer, so I had to compromise.
My Airbnb was located around the corner from the National Library (Norwegian: Nasjonalbiblioteket), and I spent most of the first day there searching through its catalog. What I found there was totally confusing.
I found nine references to newspaper articles or notices; two were for Thor’s obituary in Aftenposten, Oslo’s main newspaper (which I had already seen). There were several for Thor passing the translator’s exam (for German), which I also already knew about. However, there was one notice that has left me searching for more answers. This notice was in the Tromsø newspaper and listed engagement notices. We know Thor died on Oct. 6, 1941. This notice was dated Oct. 22, 1941. Neither Thor nor Ruth lived in Tromsø. I have, so far, not found their engagement notice in the Hammerfest, Alta, or regional Finnmark newspapers. Why was this printed 16 days after his death, and in town they didn’t live in? I have contacted the library and newspaper offices in Hammerfest and Alta, and they cannot find any engagement notices in their papers (yet).
The next day I headed to the National Archives in Oslo at Sognsvann, at the end of line 5 on the T-bane. I had already perused their online catalog while in the U.S. and had requested five boxes of documents from Norges Bank from 1941 to be pulled for me to look at on July 31. I wasn’t quite sure I had done this correctly, but happily, the boxes were waiting for me when I arrived. I mentioned in my previous article that I was trying to locate probate records, but they have proved difficult to find. Unfortunately, it is very hard to communicate with archivists directly, and over the last year I’ve often felt as if I was getting the runaround between archivists. I will keep trying, however, to locate these records, as I believe they might hold some clues as to Thor’s cause of death.
The documents in the Norges Bank files were dense and difficult to go through. I was allowed to bring my laptop and the archive had Wi-Fi, so I was able to keep Google Translate open as I maneuvered through the files trying to figure out which may or may not be important (I photographed most everything I thought would be of interest).
Many of these documents were stamped with “Geheim” (Secret), and also stamped with the Nazi eagle emblem for “Der Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei,” the Commander of the Security Police (the intelligence agency of the SS). It was overwhelming, to say the least, knowing that these war documents passed through the hands of Nazi leaders in both Germany and Norway.
I still have to download and translate all the documents I photographed, so more information will be coming in future posts.
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 August 24, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.