Thursday, January 14, 2016


The Germans were under no immediate danger, as we had no ammunition for the rifles. (After the War ended the church underwent repairs and the rifles were discovered hanging in the chimney. Nobody understood how they got there!)

The Germans confiscated our school and our only teacher in the village, Ole Tronstad, transferred the school to his home. The children were dispersed into 2 classes and each group attended school every other day.

On Sundays all of us attended church. The people of Navik were all Protestants and most observed the rituals and reading of the scripts. The Germans fired all the ministers, but continued to conduct services, ending the sermons by blessing our "King and Government abroad, fighting for our freedom!" (In England). 

German soldiers attended occasionally the sermons, but those who understood Norwegian did not seem to object to the blessing. For us and all the people in the village, these sermons were a morale booster. The only complaints by the deeply religious ladies in the village were that I often cursed "Faen i Helvete! (The devil in hell!). The ladies often visited my father in the hospital and read the scriptures with him, ensuring him that the chosen people will prevail the Nazi persecution.

I read a lot, mainly adventure books and detective novels during the War years. My mother complained often about it and went to the local priest for advice. Priest Noto, a practical man, opened the drawer of his desk and showed my mother his collection of detective stories. "See what will happen if you let your son read the novels!"

My father taught us mathematics and English all the War years and we owe him our proficiency in this language to this day.

On the 24 of October 1942 we celebrated my 11th birthday at the hospital's cabin some 20 km up in the mountains. Suddenly several police officers entered and arrested my father on the Gestapo's order. Although Norway had been occupied by the German army since 1940, the arrests of Jews in Norway was delayed until 1942 because the ship carrying the lists of Jews in Norway had been sunk at the entrance to Oslo harbor on April 9, 1940. 

I will never forget my father's blessings when he left, all of us believing we would never see him again. It was my saddest birthday party.

My mother accompanied my father to the Gestapo's headquarters in Hammerfest, Europe's northernmost city. He was to be deported to Southern Norway and from there to the concentration camps. Before transportation, the Germans had my father examined by a young SS doctor, who had to certify my father was fit for deportation. By pure coincidence, this doctor recognized my father from a medical conference before the war. 

My mother asked to speak to him privately and told him frankly that "if he certified that her husband was sick with tuberculosis (he was infected years ago and still had some signs on his chest X- rays), he may save his own life, by saving my father's". "Nobody knows how the War will end" she said. 

The German SS doctor recommended that my father be returned to the lung hospital in Talvik as a patient and my father assured him that his X- rays would provide ample evidence about his condition. My father was then hospitalized until autumn 1944, when we and all the population of Finnmark were transported to South Norway by the retreating German army. 

He “treated” himself by pumping air into his pleura sack, a treatment used to collapse the tuberculosis cavity in the lungs, in the days before antibiotics. He also smeared barium on his chest, to simulate an active TB lesion on X- rays. Every couple of months, the Germans sent a doctor to examine his condition and decide if he was not fit to be deported.

My father continued his medical work at nights, staying in bed during day time. I believe that all patients and the villagers knew that my father was misleading the Germans' but nobody disclosed it to the Germans. 

The Norwegian directors of the hospital, Dr. Erik Fjosne and later Dr. Peer Foss supported us financially (because my father did not receive any salary) and so our family could continue to live on the hospital premises, free of charge. We were cared for by all, regular Norwegian citizens and none of the villagers disclosed our true identity.

In 1941 my sister injured her upper leg. The site was painful and became inflamed. She developed a high temperature and became toxic. My father decided she had to be immediately hospitalized in a general hospital, as her condition became life threatening. 

In the Hammerfest district hospital she underwent surgery and an osteomyelitis abscess was drained by the director of the surgical department, Dr. Borchgrevink. She received several doses of penicillin, which were very hard to come by those times. Our parents stayed next to her bed, nursing her for a couple of months, until her condition improved. She still had discharge of necrotic bones from the lesion several years later.

The German Navy established its main base in Kåfjord, a fjord next to our village. They used this base for the attacks on the British and American ship convoys, supplying the Russian army with war material. The convoys consisted mainly of merchant ships which sailed from Scotland to the harbor of Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula. The German navy attacked these ships from their bases in northern Norway and we could observe the heavy cruisers leave and return to their harbor in Kåfjord

This was also observed by the very active Norwegian underground and messages were sent to England. Soon, the allied forces sent airplanes to raid the harbor in Kåfjord with bombs and torpedoes. The attacking airplanes flew over our village and we were excited to observe the tens and hundreds of planes attacking the Germans. The flagship of the German navy, the heavy cruiser "Tirpitz" was the main concern for the British navy and most of the attacks were directed against it. The Germans camouflaged he ship and protected it beneath a mountain prominence, so it could not be attacked by aerial bombs. 

Tirpitz was the second of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi
Germany's Kriegsmarine (navy) during War II. Named after Grand Admiral
Alfred von Tirpitz

They also established many anti-aircraft gun batteries, one next to our house, in order to seek protection of the Red Cross inscriptions were painted on the roof of the hospital. The allied airplanes nevertheless bombed these positions so that during the raids we took shelter in the cellar of the hospital, which could not be considered secure enough against any bomb. In the end, in 1944, the German ship was attacked by mini-submarines and one of the torpedoes penetrated her hull and the ship started sinking. To our great joy we witnessed the results of this attack. The Germans towed the ship to a more southern port in Tromso, where it was finally sunk during an air attack with heavy British bombs.

On Christmas 1943 the German navy attacked the small island of Spitzbergen in the Northern Sea. The allied forces had installed a primitive radar station on the island, operated by Norwegian Free Forces, based in England. The attack was carried out by the German fleet, stationed near us. The heavy cruiser Scharnhorst led the attack. The Germans shelled the island heavily and sent a landing team in wooden speed boats to destroy the facility and its crew. 

Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. She was the lead ship of her class.

The Norwegian soldiers, however, took shelter in the coal mines and when the shelling stopped, emerged with their machine guns and attacked the German boats, killing most of the sailors. The Germans rescued their damaged boats and brought them ashore in our village, where we could inspect the holes and blood in their hulls. 

The plight of the German task force did not end, however. The British navy got the information of the attack and dispatched the Royal Navy to intercept the German ships. A Norwegian torpedo boat reached the German cruiser and sent a couple of torpedoes which damaged the rudder of the cruiser. The ship could only sail in circles and was soon attacked by the heavy guns of the British battle ship "Duke of York". Scharnhorst was sunk on Christmas day and the German army announced a period of mourning, throwing out all Christmas trees and carrying black arm bands. Our joy was great!

We used to collect German rifle ammunition in the fields where the German troops were exercising. One day we took bullets up into the mountain, lit a fire and threw the bullets into it. The explosions of the ammunition were heard by the German army who believed somebody was shooting a machine gun. We were suddenly surrounded by soldiers who directed their weapons at us and shouted " Hände hoch!" (Hands up!) We were brought to the local headquarters and interrogated regarding the shots. In Norwegian we explained that we were just playing with the bullets and did not shoot any weapon. I, of course, did not show any signs of understanding German. Ultimately we were released.

The Germans established a prison camp for Russian war prisoners near the village. The prisoners were in a pitiful state, emaciated, poorly clad in the winter cold and frequently beaten by their captors. They used to come to a location near our school to carry heavy sacks of coal to the German army's camp. We concealed our lunch sandwiches in the coal mound and in return the prisoners left us some finger rings or ornamented cigarette cases which they produced from aluminum.

In late 1944, the German army started retreating from the Russian front in Finland. Preceding the retreat, orders were given that the whole population of Finnmark, the northern-most province of Norway, was to evacuate to the South, because all houses would be burnt and destroyed. Many of the people in outlaying hamlets and villages refused to leave and preferred to survive the bitter winter in caves and hiding places in the mountains. 

The lung hospital in Talvik with its entire staff was also planned to be evacuated and the director of the hospital, Dr. Foss traveled to the South to hire a ship for the transportation. He did, however, not return in time and the Germans ordered the hospital with all its inmates to be transferred to an abandoned children's home, located in one of the outlaying fjords (Korsfjord). All the inhabitants of the villages had already left their homes and the hospital and its occupants was the only remaining building. 

My father was the only doctor in the hospital caring for the patients and my mother became the administrative manager. One day a junior German officer approached her and told her that the hospital would have to remain in its location until the end of the war, because no ships were available. He also told her that he had an order to demolish the hospital's large power generator, but if she managed to hide it within one hour, he would not look for it. When he left, my mother covered the generator with a hay load standing nearby on a cart. When the officer returned, there was no sign of the generator.

A couple of days later the same German officer told my mother to take her family and evacuate and go to the South, because the German air force would bomb the hospital the next day. My mother told him that we will not abandon the patients and that we will stay with them. Luckily, Nurse Karin from the hospital and my mother hired three small fishing boats in Alta which all of us, including the patients, boarded and sailed to the city of Tromsø

The hospital's director managed in the meantime to arrange the transport of the patients and staff of the hospital on a ship which took them to Trondheim. Later we learned that German airplanes had bombed the village we had just left. The Germans used the children's home for slaughter of the cattle in the village, some days after we were gone.

The travel to the south in the winter of 1944 was extremely difficult. More than 100 patients and staff were crammed into the small ship and the weather was stormy with huge waves tossing the ship. Everybody on board (including us) was sea sick, filled with coughing and retching people. The danger of infection with tuberculosis was immense, but luckily, my father had immunized all of us with BCG vaccination some years previously and so we developed resistance against this disease. Several of the patients died on this trip. 

The hospital was later transferred from Oslo to Mo i Rana and remained there until its repatriation back to Talvik, after the war.

After our arrival in Trondheim, a large city in the central part of Norway, we were approached by members of the Norwegian underground, who informed us that we would be transferred to Oslo by train and sent to a concentration camp. The underground had arranged, however, an escape route for us to Sweden. We did not know the operators but as we had no alternative, we followed their instructions. 

We were told to enter the train as all the other passengers and exit immediately from the backside of the carriage, cross the rails and return to the station, where we were issued new passports and tickets for another northbound train.

We traveled about 150 km. to a small village called Trongfoss, where the local stationmaster was supposed to take care of us. Unexpectedly, a German officer entered our compartment in the train and started a conversation in Norwegian with us. We told him that we were refugees from Finnmark, traveling to our relatives. I believe he became suspicious, as my father and mother refrained from talking (they spoke Norwegian with an accent). 

Anyhow, he helped us carry our luggage to the station platform when we left the train. The good station manager became worried that we were planted to expose the underground ring. He refused to talk to us and it took most of the remaining day to convince him we were genuine refugees. He eventually drove us by car to a family living near the Swedish border in a small village named Staldvik, where we spent a couple of nights in their home during a severe snowstorm, which delayed our travel. The eldest son Gunwald took us a couple of days later to the Swedish border. 


We had to cross the distance of 10 km. to the Swedish border over the Tunnsjøen Lake. After a couple of hours walk we arrived wet and exhausted at the last station before the border. Gunwald carried my sister most of the trip on his broad shoulders, but it became clear that we would not be able to continue our trek in the deep snow. A couple of km before the border crossing, which was guarded by German sentries, we got the choice to continue our walk to the border or travel by a horse drawn sledge which entailed a higher risk of detection. 

Our mother made a bold decision to cross immediately, in spite of German reinforcements at the border crossing. Gunwald brought a horse and sledge into which we all crammed together with a cat (for good luck and warming). The date was 7th of December 1944, shortly before midnight. Luckily, the snow storm was still raging and the German sentries never left their accommodations. We crossed the border and were taken to the Swedish police chief's home. 

We were warned in advance not to disclose anything about our escape, as he was cooperating with the Germans. My mother carried some secret papers for the Norwegian underground which were to be delivered to the Norwegian representatives in Stockholm and not to fall into the hands of anybody else. She hid the documents between the pair of double gloves she was wearing and without any hesitation placed the gloves under the chief's cap near the entrance. 

We were brought into an interrogation room and had to undress for a very thorough body examination, which of course did not reveal anything. When we left the same night for a refugee center in the Western part of Sweden, my mother picked up her gloves and the papers were eventually safely handed over to the proper authorities.

On the way, I stopped the same train by pulling the emergency brake and got some well-earned spanking from my mother. We were brought to a refugee camp in Strangness in southern Sweden and eventually lodged in an apartment in one of Stockholm's suburbs, in Midtsommarkransen. My father was offered a job as a laboratory technician in one of Stockholm's larger hospitals, the St. Goran. My sister attended primary school and I was enrolled into high a school (Vasa realskolen). 

We started learning the language and adapting to the Swedish outlook on life and the political situation. My schoolmates considered themselves not to be involved in the War and the occupation of their Scandinavian neighbors and many sympathized quite openly with the Nazis. Our German teacher stressed that German should be spoken with the intonation of the Nazi leaders. I was paradoxically selected as a model for speaking German! I actually made very few friends in the school. On weekends, I attended a target shooting club. In fact, I continued to practice shooting rifles and eventually became quite proficient.

Our family was supported financially by the Swedish refugee council. Mother tended a baby of a Norwegian embassy employee by name of Terje Larsen (?). I was enrolled into the Jewish community center in Stockholm and started my preparation for Bar Mitzvah. I don't remember excelling in my religious studies but nevertheless was accepted to adulthood at the ceremony held in the Jewish synagogue in May 1945.

After the War my mother went to Oslo in order to make provisions for our return to Norway. She got a telegram from my father who had survived to return immediately to Stockholm as we were all going home to Czechoslovakia. According to our good friend Dr. Katznelson, my father was wanted in Czechoslovakia to take care of the TB survivors from the camps.

The end of the 2nd WW, on May 7th 1945, was a day of joy to all of us. My sister and I went immediately to the king's castle on the central island of Stockholm. We were both decorated with small Norwegian flags. The courtyard of the castle was crammed with celebrating citizens and the Swedish king Gustav V, who was very old and frail. He was sitting on a small seat in the middle of the crowds. 

When the Swedes saw 2 small Norwegian children trying to get a view of the event, they immediately opened a path for us and pushed us to the forefront. We ended up standing on each side of the King and our photographs appeared next day on the front pages of the Swedish press. After the war ended, we approached the Czech repatriation authorities in Sweden and repatriated in autumn 1945 to Czechoslovakia.