The Search for Thor
by Randi Millman-Brown
Thor Einar Jensen (1904-1941), was my great-uncle. He was a Norwegian banker and artist who died under mysterious circumstances during the Nazi occupation of Norway. I am writing a novel about his life, which will focus on his life in Oslo, Hammerfest, and Trondheim, Norway, and delve into life during the early years of the occupation (Finnmark in particular) and the efforts of the resistance by the Norwegian people.
This book’s journey began exactly five years ago on October 6, 2012, when I discovered a travel journal Thor wrote in the summer of 1941 among my family history papers. October 6, 1941, was the day he died. I tried to read the journal, which was typed in a tightly aligned manner and difficult to read. After struggling I finally asked my mother (a native of Drammen, Norway) to translate the 15-page typed journal (see photo at right). After reading it many times, there were several things that stood out to me as red flags. My great-uncle had a good job as an assistant bank manager at Norges Bank in Oslo but took a job as a bank manager 1,900 km north in Hammerfest during the beginning of the Nazi occupation of Norway, leaving behind his mother, his brother Sverre (my grandfather), his wife, and his two-year old niece (my mother) in Drammen. Red flag #1.
Red flag #2: Why did he embark on a three-week solo hiking trip through Finnmark when travel was restricted in general and the area was full of Nazi soldiers and barracks?
Red flag #3: Why can I not find any cause of death for Thor? He was only 37 years old and healthy. He had a new job that paid almost twice the national average at the time (I know this because I was able to obtain his personnel file from Norges Bank, which listed each of his positions, locations, dates, and salaries).
The more I looked into the “story,” the more suspicious I became of why he took this job in Hammerfest and what really happened to him.
This past summer I traveled extensively through Norway, where I searched through archives, museums, and libraries to try to uncover the true story of my great-uncle’s past. At every turn I encountered road blocks. In Hammerfest: “The records aren’t here; they are in Tromsø in the archives.” In Tromsø: “The records aren’t here; they are in Hammerfest.” Or more often, I was told there are no records because Hammerfest was burned to the ground in 1945 during the Nazis’ Scorched Earth campaign as they retreated. (This proved to be not a viable reason, since I was able to find my great-uncle’s bank ledgers in the archives in Tromsø).
Tune in next time to see how I tackled this intriguing and continuing mystery.
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 Oct. 6, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.