The Search for Thor
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.
Historical and genealogical research is often dense, complicated, and frustrating. In order to obtain certain facts, hundreds of searches, emails, and queries have to happen. Sometimes you get nothing. Sometimes you get a small piece of relevant information. Sometimes you hit the jackpot.
After leaving Trondheim (see previous article from March 23, 2018: www.norwegianamerican.com/heritage/the-search-for-thor), I was left with many questions—more than I had hoped.
#1) How did Thor’s body get from Hammerfest to Trondheim?
Thor died October 6 and supposedly was cremated on October 20 in Trondheim. That’s two weeks during wartime to be dead and un-cremated—to be blunt.
The answer to this question is that most likely his body/coffin was transferred to Trondheim via the Hurtigruten, which still traveled up and down the coast of Norway even during the war. I don’t have any idea why he wasn’t cremated in Hammerfest, but I have to assume there weren’t any crematoriums there at the time. I was never able to get any definite answer from the hospital. (A person I spoke with on the phone told me the hospital had no information without even checking. I know the hospital in Hammerfest was burned to the ground in 1945, but I am still convinced there are records somewhere). I recently emailed the Hurtigruten corporate office and their museum in Stokmarknes (northern Norway) to see if I can get any information about the routes during the war. This shipping line was the main mode of transportation up and down the coast during the war, but at least half its fleet was destroyed during WWII. Nine of their ships were sunk during 1940 alone.
#2) Was Thor’s body ever really transported to or cremated in Trondheim?
I received an email from a representative at Den Norske Kirke in Trondheim, but they had more questions than answers:
“The Hurtigruten would have cold storage rooms for keeping the food for passengers and crew fresh. It is possible that the deceased could have been kept there during the trip from Hammerfest to Trondheim. Bodies in general, however, do not transport well, and from Trondheim the most practical way of getting to Oslo would be by train. In that light, it makes sense to perform a cremation in Trondheim, and then bring or send his urn by train to Oslo—assuming that his family would want to bury him there. But if they did not, why would anyone spend so much time, effort, and money on bringing him southwards from Hammerfest in the first place?”
#3) Why is there no record of his cremation, even though it is in the obituary?
I have contacted a person from the crematorium in Trondheim—Tilfredshet Crematorium—who searched some records but could not find any information about Thor being cremated there. Another visit to Trondheim is most likely necessary.
#4) Whose ashes did my grandfather receive and eventually bury in the Oslo cemetery, Vestre Gravlund, in 1941?
Obviously, we will never know this. I did visit the graveyard in Oslo last year, and the Jensen plot was no longer there, although they did have the previous location of it and the record of Thor being buried next to his father (see previous article published Dec. 1, 2017: www.norwegianamerican.com/heritage/search-thor-continues)
I spent the train ride from Trondheim to Drammen going over all the notes I had taken so far. It was becoming an increasingly larger tangled web of information, closed doors, dead ends, emails from people trying to help, and hundreds of photographs of places and documents.
In January 2018, the film Kongens Nei (The King’s Choice)—a film based on the story of the first three days of the occupation on Norway—was finally available to watch on Amazon.com. When the credits started to roll after the film, the writer’s name appeared—Alf R. Jacobsen (the film is based on his book). I was stunned—I had no idea he had written the book. Here comes the jackpot.
A week before I watched the film, a contact through the Hammerfest Historielag Facebook group sent my email address to his friend, a native of Hammerfest, who thought he might be able to help in my quest. This friend had written 30 books on wars in Finnmark and WWII. The man’s name? Alf R. Jacobsen.
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 April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.