We are not forgotten: a WWII memoir
Excerpts from Ola Ljødal’s unpublished memoirs with connecting passages by Barbara Rostad
Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho
Imagine you’re 13 years old and trudging toward the police station to turn something in. But at the police station the officers speak another language and wear uniforms unlike those you’ve learned to associate with the law.
It is September, 1941, and Ola Ljødal is delivering the family radio to the Nazis, now in control of Norway for 18 months. Failure to do so could result in severe sanctions, possibly death. And yet Ola’s father would keep one hidden at the power plant where he works, secretly listening throughout the war.
Ljødal, now 88, is a retired elementary school teacher and principal. He lives in Moelv, Norway, on the shores of Lake Mjøsa near the mouth of the Moelva River with his wife, Nancy, and has written several single-spaced pages about the days of the Occupation. These memoirs, as he calls them, were prompted by a visit from several U.S. relatives who asked him to share his recollections about that era. “I answered that there would be so many things that I promised to write a little about it.”
Anyone 13 or older in 1940 is now at least 88; men old enough to serve in the Norwegian military then are now at least 94. As these hardy Norwegians from the World War II era become fewer and fewer, those remaining who can remember and recount it are ever rarer. In a few short years the only ones living with firsthand memories of April 9, 1940, will be individuals who were 10 or under at the time.
Ljødal is happy to have excerpts from his memoirs printed in the Norwegian American Weekly. Everything in quote marks is from his writing. When he sat down to keep his promise, he wondered where to start. “Yes, of course: on the day the Germans came.”
“April 9, 1940. I was 12 years old. I was at the shop for my mother in the morning and I remember the shopkeeper said there was German aircraft over Oslo. Then during the day more and more was told and we realized that the country was to be occupied by the Germans.
“In the morning of April 9 our king (Haakon) and his family were heading north, first to Hamar, then to Elverum and after that further and further north. The Germans tried to catch them—or to kill them by bombing places where they thought the king and the crown prince probably were. Elverum was bombed into ruins.”
Elverum actually served briefly as the nation’s capital. On April 9 Norwegian troops prevented German parachute troops from capturing King Haakon, the Crown Prince, and Parliament. The Parliament met in Elverum to authorize a government-in-exile. When they refused to submit to German demands on April 11, the center of Elverum was reduced to ashes.
King Haakon and Olav left Norway June 7, 1940, going to England aboard an English warship. The crown princess and her three children escaped to Sweden, later sailing to the U.S. where they stayed as guests of President Roosevelt until the war ended.
Many familiar possessions and activities acquired the German stamp of “Verboten,” things now forbidden. Guns topped the list—no surprise there. Ditto for dances and big assemblies. But American and English movies were forbidden too. “How we missed Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, and Charlie Chaplin!”
“To hoist the Norwegian flag on a pole was forbidden and of course, all kinds of celebrations of our Independence Day, May 17. All the windows in the house had to be darkened by black paper sheets. Lights outside were forbidden as well.” And as for riding a bike at night, to be acceptable, the headlight had to have black paper glued over the glass with just a small strip for light.
Anyone 15 and over had to wear a photo ID at all times, and travel more than 20 miles from home required special permission. And if all these restrictions seemed more than just tiresome, escape to Sweden or England was not a legal option.
Rationing was another form of restriction. Coffee, sugar, flour, tobacco, liquor, meat, milk, clothes, shoes, bicycle tires, soap, margarine, chocolate, and cocoa all required ration cards. “In the last year of the war it didn’t help how many valid clippings you had on your ration card—the shops had only very little or nothing to offer.”
“Only a few persons were allowed to own and use a car. My father’s and other people’s cars were confiscated by the Germans one of the first years of the war.”
Not many cars were permitted to use gas. Most of the vehicles were fueled by a so-called gas generator fastened to the back of the car. As Ljødal explains, “It was fueled with wood cut in small pieces. This kit was quite an effective substitution for the usual fuel but sometimes the car got problems if the hills were too steep. Sometimes we, the young passengers, had to go out of the bus and help it up steep hills by pushing behind.”
“Tobacco was a scarcity so if you were an addict, you had to grow the tobacco yourself. I did! The quality was, of course, poor, but good enough.
“In the community house near Langseth Church was a café and the manager was one of our good friends, Lisa. The café was often full of German soldiers and Lisa picked up all the cigarette leftovers and gave to her friends that smoked.”
In the last year of the war the Germans still in Norway were short on food too, so sometimes exchanges could be made such as cigarettes for food. “One day one of my friends and I had some clippings from the ration card for cakes that we gave to the German soldiers for cigarettes. They went over the bridge to the café to buy cakes and we continued our ride on our bikes. When coming back the same way one hour later or so, the three Germans stood waiting for us and were very angry with us. The clippings we had given then were too old; they hadn’t gotten any cakes.”
They wanted their cigarettes back and threatened to take Ola and his friend to their commander for trying to dupe them. “But one said, ‘Let them go.’ And we gave them the cigarettes we had left and went home, luck for the happy end.”
“My mother usually had nine persons to nourish every day and to this day I have never understood how she was able to manage. We were never hungry. We were lucky to live on our little farm.
“The housewives were very inventive. My mother made soap, potato flour, syrup from beets. She mixed mashed potatoes with the margarine in order to let the margarine last longer. The worst dish I can remember, served in our home only a couple times, was herring cakes fried in cod liver oil. The evil smell of this course sat in the house’s walls for days!”
Resistance to the Nazis cropped up in a variety of ways. Most of Norway’s ships were abroad when the Occupation began. They were all ordered to report back to Norway or to German harbors. “Not a single ship followed this order!”
Most of the Norwegian ships sailed for the Allies, often on dangerous routes such as England or America to Murmansk, Russia, bringing all kinds of military supplies and food to the Russians. After the war Winston Churchill said that “Norwegian ships could be valued as one million soldiers.”
Defying the threat of punishment, thousands of Norwegians escaped to Sweden, England, or Scotland, where they were trained in sabotage actions, then sent back to Norway to foil the Germans however they could. For example, they damaged rails to disrupt trains and destroyed archives with names of young men ordered to perform as service workers.
Resistance also came from many citizens who secretly listened to radio news. “London radio had many Norwegian journalists in the staff. In BBC there was a special department that sent programs in Norwegian.”
News from the outside bolstered people’s hopes. “I had a great experience one day in the autumn of 1943 when I found a pamphlet on the ground. It was a greeting from King Haakon VII with a picture of him and words with encouragement, ending with the hope that he soon would be back in a free and independent Norway.”
Dropped by Allied aircraft, such pamphlets were one more thing on the “Verboten” list. But information brought by radio or by airlift helped strengthen Norwegian resolve. Ola remembers that on his confirmation day October 5, 1941, he “looked up into the sky and saw several small lumps of smoke that popped up high, high up in the clear October sky.
“We found out that it must be German anti-aircraft guns that were shooting at Allied aircraft which flew too high to be seen. I remember thinking, ‘We are not forgotten.’”
But what happened to Ola after the war? What is he doing now? How did the rest of his family fare? These are answered in a second installment in which Ola recalls the end of the war and the king’s return. Watch for it in a May issue.
This article originally appeared in the April 15, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.