The Search for Thor

Search for Thor

Photo courtesy of Randi Millman-Brown

Randi Millman-Brown
Ithaca, N.Y.

Will I ever figure out what happened to my great-uncle Thor Einar Jensen in 1941? I certainly hope so—even though the pandemic has put all travel to Norway on hold for the foreseeable future. In October I wrote about “spycraft,” and the possible spy gadgets that Thor might have used working with the Norwegian resistance during World War II. The vast array of devices and techniques used to pass secret messages during the war contributes to the picture of Thor being able to pass important information to resistance leaders, while working as bank manager for Norges Bank in Hammerfest. The one thing I keep forgetting in all of this is how far the Nazis had penetrated into the everyday lives of Norwegians. There was one Nazi for every 10 Norwegians during the occupation (400,000 troops).

Search for Thor

Photo courtesy of Randi Millman-Brown
A list of food items for German troops.

When I began researching the details of what really happened to my great-uncle Thor, I knew I would have to spend time conducting research in archives throughout Norway and perhaps Germany as well. What I didn’t realize was how difficult it would be to locate relevant documents. I planned to revisit the archives this summer and continue working on writing, but obviously that did not happen. Life kind of came to a standstill, including being able to focus on conducting any research from home.

One thing I was able to do, however, is to look back at photographs I took during my visits to the archives in Oslo, Tromsø, and Trondheim, and one thing stands out above all else. Finding actual Nazi documents stamped with word “Geheim” (German for “secret”). There was a strong visceral reaction to seeing, holding, and reading these varied documents. It was as if I was complicit in their legitimacy as I sat in the archive trying to translate and photograph them. I kept glancing around, looking at other patrons to see if they were looking at me—knowing I was reading something foul and dangerous.

Some of these were just lists of food items needed for the German troops but equally disturbing especially after translation (verpflegungskosten = catering costs):

  • Fleisch und Fleischwaren (meat and meat products)138,000 kg. (equals 304,000 lbs.)
  • Kartoffeln (potatoes) 150,000 kg. (equals 330,000 lbs.)
  • Fische (fish) (21,000 kg. (equals 46,000 lbs.)

Photo courtesy of Randi Millman-Brown
A Hitler-era stamp found at a flea market.

In a previous article, I wrote about how immediately after Thor’s death, German authorities in Hammerfest (where he lived and worked as the Norges Bank manager) seized his apartment, which was above the bank. Documents discovered in the archives in Oslo stated, “I informed Director Sattler that there had just been a telegram from Hammerfest that the remaining German authorities had seized the apartment. I advised him to delay the release of the apartment, and he promised to take care of the matter.” It is not clear who is writing this and/or why they wanted to delay the transfer of Thor’s apartment, but it is clear the Nazis wanted the apartment for themselves. Again, so disturbing and close to Thor, but without any clear reasons why.

Recently, my daughter, who currently lives in Berlin, went to a flea market and purchased a bag full of unique and interesting stamps. She uses them in collages and various artwork. She brought the bag home and found something she didn’t expect to see. Horrified, she sent me this photo before throwing the stamp into the trash:

This has been an extremely interesting journey, trying to piece together this mystery of Thor’s death and how these small details all seem interrelated in an informative but discomforting way.

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This article originally appeared in the Dec. 25, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Randi Millman-Brown

Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at rmillmanbrown@gmail.com.

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