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Thor joins Norway’s gold transport
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.
On April 9, 1940—82 years ago—the Nazis invaded Norway.
While the first major offensive was taking place in the Oslofjord (Operation Weserübung, when German battleships entered the fjord but brave soldiers at Oscarsborg Fortress fired and sank the heavy cruiser Blücher), another major operation was taking place at Norges Bank in downtown Oslo—the moving of 50 tons of gold from the bank vault ahead of the Germans hoping to take the bullion for themselves.
Norway was, in a sense, taken by surprise, but the director of Norges Bank, Nicolai Rygg, already had a plan in place to safekeep the gold in the main Oslo branch vault. The plan was extensive. On the morning of April 9, he put his plan into place.
In the early hours, Rygg called as many bank employees as he could and had them rush to the bank. They were all armed with guns and tasked with moving all the gold bars and coins out of the vault and into storage containers. They counted, labeled, and moved the gold into 1,503 crates and 39 barrels (valued at $1.8 billion in 2015 dollars). These were then loaded onto 26 trucks, some of which had to be requisitioned from men and their vehicles they could find on the street at this early hour, many from the Christiana Coal and Firewood Company. (They had no idea what they were carrying or where they were headed.)
The first trucks left around 8:15 a.m., just a little over an hour after Rygg had contacted the manager of the Lillehammer branch of Norges Bank, Andreas Lund, to let him know the trucks were en route and to prepare the vault. The last of the loaded trucks were only a half hour ahead of German troops, who were now marching down Karl Johans Gate. The bank was only a few blocks away from where the troops had landed. When the Nazi officials arrived at the Oslo branch and demanded the gold, there was no one at the bank. The gold was saved from Nazi hands, although they pursued it all the way to Norway’s west coast.
After the arrival of the gold in Lillehammer, the gold was unloaded into the state-of-the-art vault until eventually the gold bars were taken by train to Åndalsnes (arrived April 20), then Molde (April 26), by ship to Tromsø (May 9), London (May 23), and finally to the United States (New York) and Canada (Ottawa) (June).
So, this story is actually about my great-uncle, Thor Jensen. He began working for Norges Bank in 1923 when he was just 19 years old. From 1928 to 1929, he worked in Hamburg, Germany, because he was fluent in German and English. He was a valuable employee because he could speak, read, and write multiple languages. He worked in Oslo until January 1941, when he became the manager of the Norges Bank Hammerfest branch (1,200 miles north).
began investigating his cause of death several years ago. He died in October 1941 under mysterious circumstances, and to date, I still haven’t uncovered the actual cause of death. I have always believed he was in the Norwegian Resistance movement (and that this has something to do with his death) but had no clear evidence of his involvement.
This past February, I wrote to Norges Bank and asked specifically if they had any record or list of bank employees who participated in the transport. On March 14, I received an email with the information I had hoped for: receipts for expenses he submitted to Norges Bank that show he participated in the gold transport.
He submitted expenses of NOK 17.50 (I believe that was worth about $50 in 1940), and the receipt translates to “disbursements according to appendices in the finance department.”
• Dinner at Lillehammer 3.75
• Hotel with breakfast 7.15
• Dinner in Gjøvik 2.00
• Train from Jaren to Oslo 4.60
With this receipt, I have proof that Thor participated in resistance operations in April 1940, and it’s why I believe he continued that work by applying for and taking the bank manager position so far away from his home and family. He must have felt the need to help his country by using his banking and language skills to work the resistance from within.
The book Gold Run – The Rescue of Norway’s Gold Bullion from the Nazis, April 1940 by Robert Pearson has been especially helpful. A new film about the gold transport is also in production: deadline.com/2021/11/viaplay-first-norwegian-original-movie-gold-run-true-story-1234871314.
This article originally appeared in the May 6, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American.