The Search for Thor
Help from an unlikely source: Facebook
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.
My search for any information about the manner of my great-uncle Thor’s unfortunate early death (he was only 37) has led me down many paths. I have found many intriguing clues, struggled with difficulties accessing archival materials, and run into dead ends. Last week I posted a query on a new Facebook group “Vi som driver slektsforskning” (We who conduct genealogy) and finally got one piece of evidence for Thor’s sympathies to the Norwegian resistance movement during WWII.
I mentioned in my last article that I had spent two full days in the National Library in Oslo. I tried to do research from home before I left for Norway but was not able to access any books, articles, or newspapers, because I needed to be in Norway. What I learned from the Facebook group was that I could apply for access from abroad. The librarians in Oslo (in both emails and in person), never told me I could do this. I just applied and was granted a six-month access pass. (See: www.nb.no/en/access-to-bokhylla).
The librarians in Oslo did little to help me when I was there. They did set me up on a computer, but did not help with any searching tips or provide any guidance for searching their database records. Several people in the Facebook group helped by doing some searching for me from Norway. One person found a great reference in a book and sent it to me. It was in a book for people who graduated with degrees in economics during the years 1908-1957 (Studentene fra 1922: Biografiske Opplysninger og Statistikk Samlet til 25 års Jubileet 1947, edited by Peter Kleppa, published 1951). Thor graduated from Wangs high school in Oslo. The school’s Wikipedia entry says the school’s motto is “a school for motivated and results-oriented students,” and that it was originally a school for those interested in economics. In this book, someone wrote the following about Thor after listing his employment history:
“Died suddenly in Hammerfest. Special interests: painting, music, foreign literature. He was an accomplished amateur painter, and played the violin. Enthusiastic skier and outdoorsman. With his pronounced sense of justice, he had strong social interests. As a good Norwegian he was strongly concerned with the opposition to the occupation.”
I now have written evidence that someone who knew him understood that he was a “good Norwegian” and it confirms my suspicion that he could easily have been a Norwegian citizen who worked with the resistance in some way. Another person in the Facebook group also suggested that the reason Thor might have gone on that three-week hiking trip through Finnmark was to subvert or help subvert an attack on Hammerfest.
This theory seems a bit more far-fetched, but apparently there was supposed to be an allied attack on Hammerfest on Aug. 2, 1941, but it was called off due to a lack of surprise—a German aerial reconnaissance plane spotted Force K (a British Royal Navy task force). What would Thor’s role have been? To alert authorities in order to protect the town residents of Hammerfest?
As has been the case during this whole investigation, it appears nothing is as it seems.
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 September 21, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.