Remembering May 8 and May 17 in the year 1945
The Norwegian American
May 8, 1945, known as V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day) is celebrated throughout Europe as the day the German Third Reich surrendered, ending World War II in Europe.
But the day holds a special significance in Norway. Most often referred to as frigjøringsdagen, or “liberation day,” it is also the day that marked the end of German occupation of Norway, which began on April 9, 1940.
It is a historical accident that frigjøringsdagen falls so closely to Norway’s national day, celebrated on May 17. But the closeness of these two momentous holidays is in part what has made the celebration of Syttende Mai so special for Norwegians in the latter half of the 20th century: After so many years under the governance of other powers, whether Denmark, Sweden, or Germany, Norway could finally reclaim its national identity after the Nazis capitulated.
We asked our readers—many of whom had firsthand experiences of frigjøringsdagen—to share their memories of May 8 and May 17 in the year 1945. We are honored to pass these remembrances on to you.
Memories of Ålesund from Arne Ivar Solbak
Today, May 7, 2021, 76 years have passed since Ivar Flem Devold, my younger brother, John Kjell, and I came down from the hills at Husafjell. I was 13 years old.
It was a nice evening, and we would have been looking for primroses and other spring flowers. On the way home, we walked by Nio Garden Supply. We saw German soldiers loading things into trucks outside the bunkers by Møre Ungdomskole.
We knew that peace was close, but it was said the Germans had fortified Norway so well that they would hang on a bit longer. Ivar and I decided to find out what the soldiers were doing. The truck stood unattended for long periods of time. It turned out they were loading provisions that might be taken to Tueneset or other forts along the coast. We saw loose cartons of canned fruit and packages of hard candy that we put in our pockets before we turned toward home.
We came out on Borgund Road just outside Nøvesund Bridge, and we saw two German soldiers at guard on one side of the bridge and two Norwegians in civilian clothes on the other side. We did not want to get caught with the stolen goods. So, we threw them in the sea and started to cross the bridge. The German soldiers said nothing and on the other side Lars Bryne and Karsten Hoff, had a stengun (a cheap weapon made in England and smuggled into Norway during the war) and wore armbands with the Norwegian flag. Lars told us to go home and sleep, which we did. We went home, but we were not able to get much sleep. My room had a window pointed down to the Borgund Bank, where the local police office was also located, where there was a lot of activity. I was lying halfway out the window when hjemmefronten (home front) came to arrest our neighbor who was a known Nazi in Ålesund. Yes, it has been 75 years, and I have nothing written down, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday.
Memories of Haugesund from Lise Whannel
On May 7 at about 1 p.m., I was asked by my teacher to take my free time and head downtown, to the Handverkeren Cinema to buy a ticket for a movie to be shown in the evening. I paid 1.50 kroner.
I came down to the cinema a half hour later and got in the line. But after a short time, things started to happen. Rødeseike, who ran a business next to the Handverkeren Cinema, raised a Norwegian flag. This was surprising. Then he leaned out of the window and shouted that there was peace. GERMANY HAD SURRENDERED!!!
This was historic, and I had to be a part of it! I disappeared out of the line and lined up at Fiskerene, on Kaibakken. Rødeseike also raised the British and American flags. People cheered, and soon we sang “Ja, vi elsker.”
Among us were German soldiers with guns, and they made no objections. On the contrary, they seemed to be just as happy as we were. Flags went up everywhere and more people poured in. It was astonishing to experience this moment.
Eventually, there was more information, and we were told that the war would stop at midnight on May 8. For us, it was impossible to stop the celebration. I thought of our flag at home, so I ran back there. Dad and I raised the flag with Mom and Anne Mie as spectators. It was a great moment, and there were tears in our eyes. Then, I headed up to see mormor to tell her what had happened. She thanked God, who had allowed her and her family to experience this.
Then it was downtown again. It was absolutely fantastic. Suddenly, the people let loose, pent up humiliation and suppressed feelings of longing were expressed by both old and young. We hugged and kissed each other, for we knew everyone. I am still happy today that I got to experience this and the following days. The party lasted past the 17th of May.
On May 8, the city’s former leaders had taken over the city’s board. Sigurd Lie had been deposed in 1940, but now he was in the parade and became the subject of an enormous tribute. The first free newspaper came out, Haugesundsressen. Here were guidelines on how to transition to a free Norway. We were told to all show tranquility and dignity and follow the counsel of the elected trustees.
Well, it was probably said in calmness, but there was too much to be celebrated. There was a very happy atmosphere! Suddenly, everyone was familiar with each other. All the German troops quietly disappeared from the city and were placed in their settlements outside the city center. They showed fantastic discipline. Throughout the day of May 8, the first men from the Norwegian home front appeared.
Then came a lot of surprises. They started by arresting members of the Nasjonalsamling (NS, the Nazi party in Norway), along with the loyal, old police. German women were also arrested, and a number of these had their heads shaved. In hindsight, this was not so good. But their hair grew out again.
In the evening, all the blackout blinds were to be burned. A huge ball of debris was placed on Rådhusplassen. Here was a good opportunity to have some extra fun. Tor Bodvar Tormodsen and I got hold of some Very-lights [signal flares fired from a kind of pistol] on board in their tugboat, Tor. These were tucked into a blackout curtain, which was then carefully placed inside the bonfire in a vertical position.
But here it went wrong. The blinds fell over before they had caught fire, and horizontally, the flare fired in the area around Rådhusplassen—to the enormous horror of those present. There were two boys who quietly disappeared from the site. But it was fun. No one was apparently harmed by my first meeting with ammunition. I stayed away from such escapades in the future.
Then followed many days of one big party. We nearly lived in the center of town, for we didn’t want to miss anything. Airplanes flew over and dropped flyers with greetings from King Haakon VII, the Norwegian government, and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. They encouraged calm and dignity.
One of the first things that happened was the return of the radios that had been stored in the Festiviteten concert hall for four years. Then we could listen unhindered to news from a free Norwegian broadcast again. It was a great day.
On May 10, the first Allied soldiers arrived in the city, a company of paratroopers from the Red Devils. These were impressive guys, and of course they became the subject of much admiration, not least from us youngsters. Then came the surface troops and other visitors. The newly established National Police took over, and the home-front infantrymen were eventually relieved.
So far, no significant supplies had come to town. But that didn’t mean much then. We were free, that was the main thing. Then we had to sing “When a boat comes with bananas” [“Når det kommer en båt med bananer” was Arve Opsahl’s debut recording in 1945, which came out when food-rationing meant that fruits from tropical climates were longed for] until the boat finally came. But it took quite a while.
The people of Haugesund experienced a preparation for the May 17, 1945, celebration as never before. The traditional parades, the children’s parade in the morning, and the citizen parade in the afternoon, had support that was outstanding. I think literally the whole city marched in a parade that day. And it was a mood of cheer without equal.
Those of us who got to experience these days are forever influenced by them. For five years, we had all been burdened with struggles and longings, great and small. Now it was over, and it had to be celebrated. Now we could and should spread our wings. The whole time the weather was beautiful.
Eventually, political prisoners and prisoners of war also returned home. It was a hint that the freedom we were cheering for also had a price.
The worst was for those who were informed that one of their closest relatives—a husband, a father, a son—had lost their lives at sea or in captivity. For them, the celebrations were almost painful. The city’s commercial fleet lost a total of 47 ships, and 321 people perished. In addition, those who died were taken captive and in the service of the Armed Forces. The bereaved family rightly felt that they were subject to injustice.
Memories of Sandnes from Egil Oftedal
I remember May 8, 1945. I had heard that the German occupation of Norway was over, and I remember I ran to downtown Sandnes, Norway, and saw German soldiers boarding a small boat in Gandsfjord. In the middle of town, Norwegian guerillas had already taken charge of the downtown area.
On May 17, 1945, there was only one marching band in town, and I was lucky to have a dad who was the conductor of that band. He asked me to play the cymbal, and I remember how proud I was be the only kid to play in the adult Sverre Sigurdsson Musikk Korps.
Later during the celebration, American and British Soldiers celebrated. The British sang “It’s a long way to Tipperary,” and the Americans had records of Glenn Miller’s Orchestra. This the most wonderful music I had ever heard.
The next couple of nights I dreamed about immigrating to the United States to meet the fabulous Glenn Miller. I didn’t know it then that Glenn Miller had been lost at sea.
Later, when I learned that thousands of American soldiers had lost their lives liberating Norway, I decided to volunteer for the American Army. I did so in Seattle, on May 11, 1955, and then celebrated the 17th of May at basic training in Fort Carson, Colo., the first of many Norwegian-American Syttende Mai celebrations throughout the years.
Do you have a special memory of a landmark day in Norwegian history? Email your story to Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall or send your manuscript to her at:
The Norwegian American
P.O. Box 30863
Seattle, WA 98113
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.