Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cross border route to Sweden


Carl Fredriksen's Transport operated until February, 1942. In its short lifetime, Carl Fredriksen's Transport had transported hundreds of refugees, mostly Jews, to the border. It was the greatest single lifesaving operation during the occupation of Norway.

A few days before Christmas this year of 1942 four Norwegian skiers reached the Swedish border bringing Irene Klein and Anne Rutt. This time Anne Rutt was placed in a sheep–skin sack specially made for her. The main guides were Jon Moan and a neighbour friend Ludvig Kruksve. They had brought mother and child 150 kilometres eastward and had been helped on their way by several friends. 

Two young men joined them across the mountains on the last phase of the journey. They returned when the border was reached. Irene had grown up in Germany and had no skiing experience. The men from Leksvik had given her some basic instructions and practice, but it appeared that she needed help when they reached the steep and tall mountains. 

From there she was towed with a rope round her waist across the mountains to the border– and safety, but not from the highland winter. They still were far away from populated area. Irene was on the point of exhaustion and a few hours later she was unable to walk any more. Jon went on with Anne Rutt, hoping to find help. Ludvig stayed behind with Irene, taking care that she did not fell asleep in the snow.

Jon found a ski track that brought him to a fence wire. On the other side he saw dimly a few houses. It was deep in the night and everybody seemed to be asleep. He managed to cross the fence wire and approached one of the houses. Suddenly he was halted by a soldier who pointed his gun against him. 

“Am I in Norway or in Sweden?” Jon asked, his heart beating. “You are of course in Sweden”. The soldier opened the door into the barrack as it appeared to be. There everybody awoke. The soldiers rubbed the sleep out of their eyes, got out of their hammocks and grouped around the young Norwegian. He carefully lifted the sack off his back and placed it on the floor, then took the child up in his arms. At that moment, tears trickled down the cheeks of the soldiers.

A few hours later Swedish soldiers with Jon in front found Irene Klein and her guide. Irene was brought on a ski sledge to the camp. After that the guides from Norway were allowed to return. They arrived safely in Leksvik when the church bells chimed for Christmas Eve.

When Irene and her daughter Anne Rutt finally came to Stockholm, great news awaited: Irene’s husband who had been in a prison camp near Oslo, had miraculously managed to flee from the camp and had been brought to the Swedish border. He met his family a few days later.

Only a few were saved by these men of Leksvik. But similar more or less accidental help was given several places. In Narvik in Northern Norway a Jewish couple was sent in a plumbed luggage van. They were in fact on a route that was used by an intelligence group exclusively, but an exception had been made this time. At the control points, Norwegian railway men attached to the intelligence group managed to keep them out of sight of the guards. The cargo train from Narvik crossed the border without incident.

A member of a central resistance group in Oslo, Tore Gjelsvik, heard about a Jewish youth on a sanatorium in Lom, far north of Oslo. Gjelsvik on a mission to the north-west coast, fetched the boy in a blizzard and brought him on a bus to Otta. Here a student friend took over, while Gjelsvik continued by train to the coast. The student placed the youth on a ski–sledge and brought him across the mountains – "The roof "of Norway – to Sweden.

In Bergen, at the west coast of Norway, Rannveig Bech and her husband Ludvig the day before Christmas 1942 travelled to an island west of Bergen with two Jewish children. At the rendezvous a small ship from the Norwegian Navy was waiting. These children Mrs. Bech had managed to get out of Austria in 1939. Since then they had been living in Bergen. Bech was among those who was warned. 

By coincidence they got in touch with a friend who after the war appeared to have been a central person in Milorg. Through him it was arranged that the family should be brought to the rendezvous on the coast where this vessel was expected. Next evening, Mrs. and Mr. Bech with the Jewish children were in safety in the Shetland. 

One of the escape routes followed the train from Oslo to a place called Romedal, close to Hamar, north of Oslo. From here the refugees were driven by car to a small schoolhouse and the school–teacher`s apartment on the first floor. The hostess was Kjellaug Herset. On this route the famous violinist Ernst Glaser was sent. Glaser had in September been warned about the persecution to come. 

A musician who was a Nazi–member had told he had been informed from a member of the Norwegian Nazi–government that something was going to happen to the Jews. But his high ranking source didn’t want anything to happen to Ernst Glaser, and offered to bring him safely to Sweden! Glaser didn’t believe much of this, his confidence in the Nazi musician being low. 

His colleague however, insisted that he should meet the Nazi minister who was the propaganda minister, Mr. Gudbrand Lunde (1901 - 1942). The minister could only confirm that the Jews were in danger. He had been very friendly and cultivated and wished Glaser welcome back to Norway “when we again are masters of our house”.

Ernst Glaser left the meeting not convinced at all, and he didn’t tell about it to any in his family, as he would not worry them. On the evening of October 26th he had left a concert where he played a solo part, and for once not very successfully as his mind was concentrated on how to get out. He hurried into hiding with friends. Later on he got in contact with Lise Børsum who finally sent him on the train to Romedal, north east of Oslo. His wife and children were sent on another route.

Some days later there was another group of nine at the school, all Jews, among them a small boy who had been taken from sickbed. The fiancée of Ms. Herset, a farmer called Lars, was next day to bring them to a guide close to the border.

In the evening the refugees were grouped around a radio that now was strictly forbidden, listening to BBC. Lars finally changed to Nazi controlled Oslo, where a voice just issued a declaration that those who helped Jews, risked death penalty. Some of the Jews stiffened in their chairs. One of them looked nervously at Lars.

“Oh, that makes no difference”, he said.

One of the Jews then spoke: “Allow me to say the Jewish Prayer: "Now we the Jews have been God`s chosen people for four thousand years. Dear God, kindly find another people!”

One of the women asked miss Kjellaug: “Don`t you feel afraid when hearing that there is a death penalty for helping a Jew, and we are nine!” Kjellaug answered: ”That makes nine death penalties.” They all laughed a little. 

Many of the Jews were shocked into apathy or great fear, others remained calm and expressed great gratitude for the help they were lucky enough to find. Others couldn’t find words.

The guide, Gunnar Felldal, lifted a lame Jewish man from Oslo from a home into a lorry and drove him and about twenty others to the border district, where guides were ready to bring them by foot through the forest to the border. The lame Jew was to be brought by a sledge. The canvas was lifted off the lorry, so that the refugees could come out. When the turn came to this man, he shouted that he wanted to see the driver. Felldal placed himself at the end of the lorry, ready to lift the man off. The refugee put his arms around Felldals neck, laid his chin against his, unable to say a word.

Transports of small children were sometimes difficult and dangerous. That was experienced by a group on foot to the border south east of Oslo. In this group was Solveig Levin with her three year old daughter Mona. Three persons in the group were Jewish refugees from Germany. They were on the run for a second time. 

One of these were a doctor. An old couple didn’t manage to keep company and at last sat down in the forest. The guide – or pilot – which these men usually were called, Iver Skogstad, discovered it too late. He chose to bring the rest of the group to the border before returning to look for the lost couple. He found them at last. They were sitting in the cold night waiting to sleep into death.

Iver Skogstad - photo private

Little Mona was a cause for great unrest. Her mother had given her a sleeping tablet, to keep her quiet, but it didn’t work and she cried often. This was not unusual with small children brought out into the wilderness by parents fleeing for their life. It seemed as if they cried to heaven for help. The adults knew that these cries might cost them liberty and life. Many guides in the border district had experienced the strain on the escapees in such moments. Some got furious and shouted: “Strangle him – knock his head off!”

One of the refugees in this group at last couldn’t stand this crying of Mona. It was the doctor. He approached Solveig with a strong sleeping pill in his hand. The mother, however, boxed his ears. Shamefully the doctor returned to his place. The guide heard someone shout: “Liquidate the young!” He calmed them: “Liquidate! That is not the way!

Shortly afterwards they had crossed the border and soon after Mona fell asleep. She was sleeping dangerously heavy when they arrived at the border station. The eyes didn’t react on the sharp light from a torch. Then they all understood that she had had more than enough of sleeping pills. But she survived. 

A Jewish couple from Austria, Mr. and Mrs. Adler, turned to a professor in theology, Ole Hallesby. They told him they had done so because he seemed a most unpopular man in the nazi press. He sent for one of his students, Hans Chr. Mamen, whom he knew as a fearless young man. Mamen had been a volunteer in a Red Cross Unit in the Finnish-Russian war three years ago. Mamen promised to help.

Hans Christian Mamen 1919 - 2009

Shortly after he had placed the couple in hiding near his home, and a few days later he had collected another 21 persons that the Adlers knew about. Mamen engaged two student friends, Arthur Berg and Per Faye–Hansen. 

The latter besides had contact to other Jews. They all took part in the work of getting Jews out. Mamen himself guided most of the Jews he had brought in hiding to the border or to other guides on the route.

Per Faye Hansen - photo private

From early in December it seems that all the existing export routes were used by Jewish refugees, but their capacity was much to small for this unique demand. Hundreds of Jews were still in hiding, most of them from Oslo, but many also from other parts of Southern Norway.

At this time the ex–police man Alf Pettersen drove his second group of Jewish refugees to the border. Among them was the rest of the London family, and even Marcus who had been arrested in October. He had later – among several others – been released and had the impression that the crisis was over. (Some of the released were caught again on November 26th).

Back in Oslo Pettersen was asked to organise a transport group with the purpose of mass transporting Jews and members of resistance groups. The request came through Reidar Larsen from the Milorg leader Ole Berg. In spite of his wife`s pregnancy and with her approval, Pettersen and his friends organized the group the following night and day. A vital man in the group was Reidar Larsen who disposed of all they needed of trucks, fuel and drivers. Most of the other members were policemen or students. 

The headquarters was at Pettersen`s home where his wife soon was busy writing false transport permissions for the trucks to the border district. Her task also was to give signals by telephone calls to contacts along the road to be used. These would be signalling to the drivers when passing by, and inform them if enemy patrols were ahead. 

The greenhouse of Rolf Syversen was chosen as assembly point. Taxies and other cars collected the Jews in their hideouts and drove them to the garden. The first transport started the following night at 20.30 p.m. The distance to the border south east of Oslo was 94 km and would normally require 2 hours and 12 minutes. 

Rolf Alexander Syvertsen 1906- 1944 -  photo Wikipedia

The warning system was built upon preciseness at all stages. In order to get quickly operative and ensure maximum of effectiveness, no cover–names were to be used, except one: The name of the group, which was Carl Fredriksens Transport. That was a proper name. Carl was the Christian name of the King of Norway. Fredrik was the name of his father, the late king of Denmark. 

At 20.30pm sharp, most nights except Saturdays and Sundays two trucks started driving in direction of the border with 40 refugees and would arrive two hours later. There was a great danger of being stopped by numerous controls and the load of the trucks discovered. The drivers had to be both smart and impudent to get through. The nerve strain was great. Some drivers could endure only one or two trips.

One of the group members was Doctor Rolf Engebretsen whose job was to give medical care to escapees who were ill or couldn't stand the strain in hiding or on the trip. Dr. Engebretsen also traced through his medical contacts the many Jews who were kept hidden in the hospitals. He was later arrested, received harsh treatment and died suddenly shortly after release.

The group had its most difficult operation when they brought out from a hospital 28 persons who were severely ill. Two of these were invalids. One had shortly before gone through an operation and had to lie in a horizontal position. One was mentally ill. This time they all were driven right up to the border where Swedish contacts were waiting. 

Many methods were used to avoid the sharp controls outside Oslo. One night when the first driver, Alt Pettersen, noticed a German transport convoy coming in on the main road, he gave a signal to the following driver and they both mixed in between the German trucks until the control posts were past. 

The contacts to the hiding places were a tiny army of women and men. They were in charge of supplies and often also for moving refugees from one apartment to another when that was necessary for security reasons. The task of finding substitute flats at short notice was often very difficult. They had to do with persons who suffered under the strain of fear, uncertainty and waiting. Many were despaired by the thoughts of arrested family members. A few used nerve medicine which didn’t always work. Others were in possession of poison in case the enemy should come before the transport people.

A woman with a small child broke down at the assembly point screaming into the dark night. The guide pointed a pistol on her head, begging her to think of her child. She calmed down. Two hours later they were at the border. There she asked for the guide and gave him her hand. Another mother with a daughter lost all hope. When the helpers broke into her room, both were dead by poison. Another helper returned desperately to his group. He had found the man he should fetch hanging in the room.

There was a growing atmosphere of terror and death. Many Jews meant that to come into the hands of the Nazis were worse than death. Others still believed that to escape was wrong. Non–Jewish friends did their utmost to prevent them from reporting to the police. Wives with their husbands arrested wanted to join them, husbands still free, wanted to join wives or children in prison camps.

At this time – late in December – there was a sudden increase of Milorg refugees. One evening when the drivers had filled up their trucks an order came to unload. Young men from Milorg on the southern coast were to take their places. Their organisation was breaking down. Numerous contacts were arrested and in the hands of Gestapo forced to tell what names they knew. The leaders behind the Group dared not take the risk of these men being arrested. The Jews most reluctant followed order, as the drivers promised to fetch them the next evening. That might be too late! But all went well. Next evening the drivers were at the same place and brought them safely to Sweden.

One night Alf Pettersen discovered that one of the refugees he was pushing into the lorry was Ole Berg, the Milorg Leader, who now was forced to leave. 

Ole Berg 1890 - 1968

After some time the assembly point was changed to a safer one. That was arranged by a new contact, Mr. Sverre Lie, the man who earlier this year had opened the Trøgstad route. Mr. Lie was now closely connected to the Civilian resistance movement (Sivorg) and supplied from now on the group with money. Normally every refugee was asked to pay 150 kroner for the trip, which was stipulated to be the average cost. Those who could pay more were welcomed to do so, but those unable to pay, were never turned off.

The drivers were instructed to conceal the route taken, to ensure that no passenger would be able to reconstruct it. They were constantly afraid of informers and of leakage back to Norway from the open Swedish society. These fears were well founded.

 Early in January Alf Pettersen was told that two of the refugees he had stowed into the lorry, were informers. When he later that night delivered the refugees to the Swedes, he told them about his suspicions and asked them not to lose sight of the men. A few days later three other Gestapo agents were reported to have mixed with the refugees. At this time one of the drivers was arrested. It was high time to close down, but the next night Pettersen had to make another trip. Before he left home his wife went into hiding. The next morning Gestapo knocked at his door. Pettersen was warned by Rolf Syversen and got away. Several members of the group were now sought after by the enemy. They left for Sweden on the 15th of January 1943. 

Carl Fredriksens Transport had not quite closed down. It continued to the middle of February, but then was finally broken up. In its short lifetime, Carl Fredriksen's Transport had transported hundreds of refugees, mostly Jews, to the border. It was the greatest single lifesaving operation during the occupation of Norway.

The price for some of the helpers in this and other groups was high. Rolf Syversen, the gardener, was arrested and executed. Many others were caught, among these Lise Børsum, who had been in activity from the beginning. She was sent to a death camp in Germany.

When that happened, nearly thousand Jews from Norway were safely in Sweden. 

Published with permission

Author: Historian Ragnar Ulstein