No Surrender

Book review

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

No Surrender is a new translation into English of Vi ga oss ikke (literally “We didn’t surrender), a first hand story told in 1945 by Hans Cappelen (1903-1979), a Norwegian resistance leader who survived horrific internment and torture by the occupying Germans during World War II. 

The framework of the story is chillingly delineated in a preamble comprising two documents. The first is the Schutzhaftbefehl (literally “detention order), an arrest warrant. The second is a judgment and sentencing document committing Cappelen to Nacht und Nebel, an idiom meaning “Night and Fog, the directive issued Dec. 7, 1941, by Adof Hitler directing that prisoners were to be disposed of leaving no traces, supported by a law enacted for it, the Nacht-und-Nebel-Erlass.

The law was intended to ease suppressing the resistance movements that had sprung up in Norway as well as in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. The adverse publicity engendered by executing apprehended members of the resistance was to be avoided by deporting them to Germany for incarceration in extermination camps, where they would perish out of sight of the citizenry of the occupied countries.

Cappelen and his wife were arrested by the Gestapo in November 1941. His wife was subsequently released, but Cappelen went on to suffer imprisonment and torture, in Oslo and then in five concentration camps in Germany. The first camp was at Natzweiler, southwest of Strasbourg. The second was Dachau, north of Munich. The third was in the town of Aurich in Lower Saxony. The fourth was in the infamous Gross-Rosen network of concentration camps near the Polish border. The fifth and last was Dora, a subcamp of Buchenwald in Thuringia. In the spring of 1945, he and the remaining 30 of the 61 Norwegians who had met and suffered in the camps were rescued by Count Bernadotte’s White Buses.

The ordeal of life under the rule of Nacht und Nebel reported by Cappelen in Vi ga oss ikke is a damning incrimination of the barbarism of Hitler’s Third Reich, It deserves to be more widely known, which is why it was translated into No Surrender. Translator J. Basil Cowlishaw met Hans Cappelen in the spring of 1949, when Cappelen approved his application for a job with a company in Oslo. The two were to meet often in the subsequent three decades, until Cappelen passed away in 1979. That may well be a record length of time that a translator knows the writer of the work translated. The result is a translation that’s faithful to the original, yet as readable as if originally written in English. Moreover, the image on the jacket of the book replicates that on the cover of the Norwegian original, underscoring the fidelity.

Like an offstage voice in a play, there are three subtle hints, not in the original Norwegian Vi ga oss ikke, that elevate the setting of the story. Up front, on page 7, there’s a portrait photo of a thoughtful, young Hans Cappelen. The watermark on the photo is Sjøwall, the photography studio (1920-2015) on Drammensveien, across from the palace grounds, famed for its portraits of royalty, including the one of Queen Maud that went round the world. Clearly, then, Cappelen was a man of standing.

On page 232, there’s a photo of Cappelen’s return to Norway in April 1945, to Oslo’s east rail station, to be greeted by his 7-year-old daughter Anne Benedicte, who he barely manages to lift. No finale could be more fitting. On the following page 233, there’s a photo of Hans Cappelen in later life, showing him comfortably sitting at a desk, proof that Nacht und Nebel was not as completely effective as intended.

The book: No surrender, by Hans Cappelen, translation by J. Basil Cowlishaw, Oslo, 2019, Yuniku Publishing, 236 page paperback, ISBN 978-8293-522126, stocked by ($12.69 online price).

This article originally appeared in the October 18, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.