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.
I’ve taken a little detour from my search for Thor’s banking scholarship in Hamburg (see last month), to revisit another one of the unsolved mysteries of Thor’s life.
We believe that Thor Einar Jensen, my great-uncle on my mother’s side, died on Oct. 6, 1941, at the age of 37 ½, of unknown causes in Hammerfest, Norway, where he was the bank manager for Norges Bank. I am still searching for official documentation of his cause of death but since I have been looking for the last two years, I am not hopeful at this point that I’ll find it. In Norway, archival documents will finally be available in 2021, 80 years after Thor’s death, which will hopefully provide information.
If you have been following my story, in April 2018, I published an article in this paper where I discussed some of the questions I had about his body being transported to Trondheim from Hammerfest.
I have a newspaper announcement of his cremation, which supposedly took place on Oct. 20, 1941, in Trondheim (800 nautical miles from Hammerfest). Until the 1940s, most ports north of Trondheim could not be reached by road from Oslo, so the sea was the only means of access. This information didn’t seem significant at first, but then I realized his body would need to be transported by sea, as there were no trains this far north and there were roadblocks on major roads (roads were generally terrible at this time and used primarily for the military).
In 1940, the trip between Hammerfest and Trondheim would have taken somewhere around 60 hours by sea. There was indeed a closer crematorium, in Vestvågøy in the Lofoten Islands, but it is possible that this location was too dangerous, despite being only 30 hours away by sea.
So, while Trondheim was the closest major city that had an available crematorium, according to a member of the church common council in Trondheim, their database has no record of Thor from the Tilfredshet Crematorium where the cremation would have taken place.
The other complication with this story is that the Hurtigrute, the main means of transport up and down the Norwegian coast since 1893, had been grounded since September 1941. On Sept. 13, the ship SS Richard With was sunk by the British submarine HMS Tigris, and 99 passengers were killed. The British torpeoded the Richard With because many of these ships were used by the Germans to transport troops. Thor’s remains would normally have been on one of the Hurtigrute transport ships heading to Trondheim, since these ships had refrigeration. After the suspension of this line, additional ships had to be used to transport goods in the Hurtigrute’s place—these were called “replacement-Hurtigrute” ships and were in service between 1941 and 1944. The transportation of his body, then, seems fraught with so many problems, and the fact that no records have been found (so far), make me question whether he was even cremated at all.
Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time amateur genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, NY. She can be contacted at: email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the November 29, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.