The Search for Thor
Fottur i Finnmark
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.
In my last article (Dec. 26, 2017), I left you wondering about Thor Jensen’s 700-mile hiking trip through Finnmark.
Thor left Hammerfest to begin his trip on Saturday, July 26. He wrote a 16-page typed journal about the trip when it was over and he starts out his account with this sentence: “One and a half hours after I was finished at the bank, I had eaten dinner and drunk my coffee, I finished packing and went aboard the ferry named Brynilen that went the local route between Hammerfest and Alta.”
Thor titled his journal or diary “Fottur i Finnmark—Sommer 1941,” and I am lucky to have it in my possession. After I had translated the journal into English and re-read it, I realized that, while I was fascinated with all the small details he wrote about, such as how much his backpack weighed (20.5 kg / 45 pounds) and what kinds of canned goods he had with him (meatballs), the larger details of the trip didn’t make much sense.
The journal provides a lot of details but not a lot of answers to some larger questions. During his trip, he had to stop at several police stations along the route to get Grenzonen bescheinigung, border zone certificates. Since he was able to complete his hiking trip, I have to assume there were no problems securing these certificates. Was he able to travel because he was essentially a bank manager, which therefore allowed him more travel freedom? He needed these permissions in order to travel throughout Finnmark by ferry (Hammerfest to Alta), by boat, by bus, by hitchhiking, and of course by walking. He also writes that Finnmark was “desolate and inhospitable,” so why take a long hiking trip through it? Why not travel back to Oslo to see his mother and family?
Throughout the journal, he goes into great detail about specifics of the trip, like how to get to certain mountain cabins, hoping they had beds and food available, how to combat mosquitos, and how to find fresh water during the drought of the summer of 1941. On Aug. 5, he arrives in Karasjok at a “mountain cabin that was a nice, cozy place although food was harder to come by at this time.” Karasjok is a town quite close to the border with Finland (about 13 miles). He writes that the next day he met “two women who came from Alta on a bicycle trip and I had nice company over the following days.”
The two women were sisters, Tina and Ruth Haagensen, and it is Ruth (the younger sister) he planned to marry in October 1941. He wrote this about her: “The youngest was, by the way, especially charming, but I only just discovered that little by little.” Somehow in between Aug. 6 and 16, he makes the decision to ask her to marry him. This is such a curious and intriguing fact—who was she? What was it about it that made him fall in love with her so quickly? An interesting fact was that Thor was 37 and Ruth was 22 at the time.
It is here in Karasjok that Thor also describes meeting with a man named Director V. from Hammerfest and writes: “We had a coffee thermos in my room where he confided in a few secret things from May-June 1940.” Earlier, Thor mentioned this Director V. and that he worked at the county shipping company in Hammerfest, but he seems to be a mysterious character (with no full last name) and it appears they had several encounters during the hiking trip. He is mentioned several times in the journal. On one occasion, Director V. was so drunk he ran his car off the road and the police had to help right the car and they found Director V. sleeping it off in the grass next to the overturned car. I have not been able to find out any information about this mysterious Director V. (Yet.)
So here are some of the questions this journal raised:
#1) How was he able to spend three weeks wandering around Finnmark while there were travel restrictions in place?
#2) Who was Ruth Haagensen and why did Thor ask her to marry him after knowing her for essentially only a few days?
#3) Who was Director V. and what secrets was he hiding?
#4) How was Thor able to take a three-week vacation when he had just started his job in January?
On Saturday, Aug. 16, he returned home to Hammerfest. By Oct. 6, he would be dead. There would be no wedding.
The next step? Travel to Tromsø to conduct research in the National Archives. And that is a whole other story.
Note: I learned through online research and Facebook assistance via Hammerfest that Ruth Haagensen passed away from cancer in 1956 and that any hope of finding out more information (old letters or photos) was not possible since her daughter’s home was destroyed in a fire in the 1960s. The daughter had never heard of Thor Jensen. It was another dead end. Literally.
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 Jan. 26, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.