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.
During the past two years, I have written almost two dozen articles about my search for what happened to my great-uncle Thor Einar Jensen (1904-1941). He died in Hammerfest, the most northern town in Norway, under mysterious circumstances. It has been my quest over the last few years to find out the real manner of his death (family lore is that he committed suicide).
I traveled to Norway in 2017 and 2018 and conducted on-site research in Oslo at the National Archives and the Resistance Museum (Hjemmefrontmuseet). I also traveled to Hammerfest, Tromsø and Trondheim to search for records (in churches, archives, crematoriums, and museums).
In my last article (Nov. 27, 2019) I wrote about the confusion surrounding Thor’s cremation in Trondheim (supposedly Oct. 20, 1941) after his death in Hammerfest; did it occur? Did it not occur? What were the circumstances? What really happened to him? There appears to be little documentation, and I have had a difficult time finding any answers.
I have continued my search for any type of records and have been scouring the internet, as well as conducting research within the National Library database (www.nb.no/en/the-national-library-of-norway) and online tools through the national archives. The results so far? Not much. But a little. I believe the information is there somewhere and I just haven’t been able to access it (yet). There are missing records, difficulty in accessing information, and some items will not be available until 2021 (I have to wait until 70 years after Thor’s death).
Recently, this marriage notice appeared in a search on the National Library site – this search result had not come up before. Thor died on Oct. 6, 1941, (supposedly) cremated Oct. 20, 1941, but on Nov. 3, 1941, the Lofotposten printed this notice of Thor and Ruth Haagensen’s upcoming marriage. This was almost a month after his death. Does it mean anything? Maybe, maybe not—but it is curious. I realize the dissemination of information wasn’t easy during the war but a month after his death may indicate someone was intent on spreading misinformation (his fiancée perhaps)? Neither of them lived in the Lofoten Islands either. Thor lived in Hammerfest, 400 miles to the north, and Ruth was from Alta, 300 miles to the northeast.
This summer I will be able to do additional primary research, as I will be heading to Norway in June. I am very fortunate to have received a three-week artist residency in southeast Norway. My residency will be at the Atelier Austmarka (www.atelier-austmarka.com) located approximately 75 miles northeast of Oslo (and only a 15-minute drive to Sweden). I will now have the time and space to concentrate on writing the novel while in Norway (well, at least try to write the bulk of it while IN Norway).
And just a fun side note: my son lives in Brooklyn, and when I visited a few weeks ago, he gave me this: Oslo Coffee Roasters THOR coffee from Brooklyn. (To recap: He lives in Brooklyn, I was born in Brooklyn, and am working on a novel about Thor who was from Oslo). I highly recommend the coffee for its flavor and aroma—in addition to its perfect name! Visit www.oslocoffee.com and check it out.
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 March 20, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.