Search for Thor

Three major findings emerge

Photo: Randi Millman-Brown
MYSTERIOUS DEATH: The cause of death in Thor Jensen’s death certificate was not listed.

Writing a book and conducting research can be enlightening, aggravating, fun, and troublesome all at the same time. I had all those things happen last year but in the end made huge progress in 2022 with my research into the life of my great-uncle Thor Einar Jensen. For those new to my story, I have been researching details regarding Thor’s very short life and information about his cause of death. My articles are in previous issues of The Norwegian American about the journey, or you can also read my blog, searchforthor.com.

I was fortunate to be able to spend nine weeks in Europe last summer, first participating in a week-long writing retreat in Paris (pariswritersretreat.com). I then spent seven weeks in Oslo, followed by a 10-day artist residency at the Atelier Austmarka, in eastern Norway (atelier-austmarka.com).

There were three major findings in my 2022 research:

1) Proof of Thor’s participation in resistance efforts—Gulltransporten: I finally had confirmation that Thor participated in the Gullstransporten (the gold transport), moving Norway’s gold reserves out of the hands of the Nazis (see the May 6, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American, norwegianamerican.com/search-for-thor-gold). Note that on Dec. 15, 2022, Viaplay released their film on the gold transport to Norwegian-speaking audiences. Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in the production of this film, but more on this major film will be coming on this in upcoming issues of The Norwegian American. (In the meantime, you can see the film trailer on YouTube (youtube.com) by searching for “Gulltransporten – A Viaplay Film.”)

2) Document regarding loss of his personal items due to bombing of ship: When Thor first left Oslo to take the position of bank manager at the Hammerfest branch of Norges Bank, he had to take a ship to Hammerfest in December 1940. Thor was on one ship, and his belongings (which included 26 pieces of furniture) were on the cargo ship named the Arnfinn Jarl. The Arnfinn Jarl was bombed by British aircraft (an RAF Hudson, a light bomber) on Dec. 27,1940, at the northern entrance to Egersund, Norway, only about 311 miles from Oslo. Egersund, it turns out, was of critical importance to the Germans due to the communications cable that extended from Norway to England, and therefore was one of the first towns to be attacked in Norway on April 9, 1940. German control of the city was achieved right away, and apparently the RAF bombed these cargo ships because they were often used by the Germans as well.

On Jan. 3, 1941, Thor wrote to his brother Sverre (my maternal grandfather):

“…you will get the sad news that all my belongings are at the bottom of the ocean. I learned about this when I was on the boat, and therefore had very little pleasure from the last part of the voyage. By the way, the weather was beautiful, and no sign of seasickness.

“Sure, it was damned tragic losing all those things I loved at the same time, but just as there is no use crying over spilled milk, I am now all set on replacing the loss. Of course, I will get NOK 5,000 from insurance, but perhaps worse is the fact that it is so difficult to buy anything right now.”

3) Discovery of Thor’s death certificate: After several years of searching for answers regarding Thor’s cause of death on Oct. 6, 1941, I finally found a document that, while disappointing, confirms my belief that how he died was covered up. I located the death certificate for five men—all of whom have a cause of death—the only person on the list without one is Thor. His box in the column “Dødsårsak,” which translates to “cause of death,” is empty.

Family lore was that he committed suicide, but I have no evidence that this was case; he was to be married only a few weeks later. There apparently is no other route to take to uncover his cause of death, as the hospital in Hammerfest was burned to the ground in 1945 as part of the German’s scorched-earth project as they retreated. But I am convinced that I will eventually uncover some records that will provide a satisfying resolution.

My goal is to finish the book (memoir) this spring – more on my discoveries in the next issue of The Norwegian American!

See Randi Millman-Brown’s previous post in her Search for Thor column at The Search for Thor October 2022.

This article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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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.