DECEMBER 5, 2018

Work sometimes gets in the way of writing. So does trying to obtain information without getting replies. So does procrastination.

I have continued to write on yellow legal pads, although it has been sporadic. I guess part of me wanted more concrete information before really continuing with writing - at least that is what I tell myself. My latest column for the Norwegian American newspaper (see: https://www.norwegianamerican.com/heritage/the-search-for-thor-7/) outlines many, if not all, of the sources I have consulted over the last 2 years. I am sure I have missed something.

I have applied for another grant from the American-Scandinavian Foundation and will be applying for NEA Creative Writing grant as well. Hopefully this might give me the opportunity to travel back to Norway to do actual “creative writing” instead of focusing only on research.

Photos below: Norges Bank (building Thor worked in); View of Drammen; Cafe in Oslo; Book: Norges Bank during the Occupation

August 6, 2018

I am now back home in New York trying to figure out how to organize the information I collected in Norway, and how to connect it to the research I have already done.

On my first afternoon in Oslo, I headed to the National Library, which by sheer luck happened to be around the corner from the Airbnb I rented.  One of the librarians set me up with a computer and I began searching  using "Thor Einar Jensen".  One of the first results that came up was an engagement announcement. I had hoped to find this last summer in the Hammerfest newspaper office but was not able to find one at the time. The one I found was from the Tromsø newspaper. A town he did not live in, nor did his fiancé Ruth Hågensen (she was from Alta). He is listed with his job title of fullmektig (manager) and she was listed with the abbreviated term hjv. (homemaker). The notice was published 16 days after his death (22 Oktober, 1941). 

tromso paper top.jpg

JULY 31, 2018

Today I spent 5 hours perusing materials I had pre-ordered to have pulled for me from the National Archive in Oslo (https://www.arkivverket.no/om-oss/besok-oss/riksarkivet-og-statsarkivet-i-oslo). I took a lot of photographs of pages that might have some interesting information - but I will have to translate both Norwegian and German text when I return to the US. I looked at hundreds of pages of documents stamped with the word "Geheim":  Secret.

At the of the day I went back to the Airbnb to rest, and consolidate papers and notes. (I might add the temperatures here in Oslo are stifling hot/humid and since there is no air-conditioning or fans, the archives were really hot). I decided to treat myself to a foot massage at a wellness center nearby. When I was done and paying, I struck up a conversation with the receptionist. Turns out this was a very interesting conversation.

First of all, her mother's name is Randi. Second, her brother's name is Thor.  Third, her mother is the exact same age as my mother - and both grew up during the occupation of Norway. Her mother and grandparents story is a bit different however from my family's. During the war the Nazi's took over her grandparents home in order to turn it into a hospital. Their family had to flee the town at that point - parents and 7 children. When they returned after the war, they encountered a horrific scene at home. Because it had a been a brutal winter and the home had been used as a hospital, they discovered severed fingers, arms, legs and more in the straw where the wounded had slept. Her grandmother had to clean out all of the gruesome remains before they could move back home. In addition, after standing outside and looking at the sea (it was a coastal town which I leaving nameless for now), her grandmother noticed something odd about the shoreline.  When she went to investigate, she found the shoreline was nothing more than dead bodies all along its edge.

View of Sognsvann area outside of the archives, Oslo

View of Sognsvann area outside of the archives, Oslo

JULY 29, 2018

BACK IN NORWAY

I was very lucky to secure funding to be able to come back to Norway for another week of research (and visiting family in Drammen first). Tomorrow I will head to Oslo to conduct research at the National Library, the National Archives, Norges Bank and the Resistance Museum (not all in one day).  I rented a nice Airbnb in the posh embassy area of Oslo (I didn't realize this at the time) and hopefully the weather will have cooled down a bit. Norway and Europe in general has been in the grips of a heat wave - they haven't had rain in Norway since May and everything is very dry - my cousin's lake at the tourist cabin she manages has gone down 50 centimeters. 

Old Norges Bank (in doorway of the modern Sparebanken building)

Old Norges Bank (in doorway of the modern Sparebanken building)

Also, last night walking back to the hotel from Anchas Bodega, I found this doorway: 

 

View of the fountain in the public square at the train station, from Baker Hansen Cafe, Drammen

View of the fountain in the public square at the train station, from Baker Hansen Cafe, Drammen

Since I have hit several snags along the way in terms of my research, this trip I have several goals. 

  1. Visit Norges Bank and find out who manages the archives (they might all be on vacation)
  2. Go through records I have requested to see at the National Archives - I couldn't see any of the files online as I need to be in the country to access them
  3. Revisit the Resistance Museum to see if I missed any details about the Norwegian resistance movement during WWII
  4. Conduct research at the library  - not sure what I will find here but perhaps I will get lucky

MARCH 04, 2018

It's been several months since I have updated this blog.  I have been conducting research and luckily, have had some extremely timely assistance from Norway, Spain and Germany!

In my last post in October 2017, I started writing a monthly column for the Norwegian American, which is both a bi-monthly newspaper and website (http://www.norwegianamerican.com/ ). I am currenty writing my 7th article for the paper - if you search under my last name, Millman-Brown, you will see all the articles.

Writing these articles has been extremely helpful for me in trying to summarize all the various achievement and subsequent roadblocks. For example, you will recall me discussing Thor's diary of his hiking trip in Finnmark. In the diary he mentions a person named "Director V", who I have since identified - see: http://www.norwegianamerican.com/heritage/search-for-thor/

I also have finally found a photograph of Norges Bank in Hammerfest, which dates to 1911, but I am sure this is what the building looked like when Thor moved to Hammerfest in January of 1941 - and moved into an upstairs apartment (sent me to via the Facebook group Hammerfest Historielags forum).

NorgesBank_Hammerfest1911.jpg

October 17, 2017 - Ithaca, NY

As of the beginning of October I will be contributing a monthly column to the Norwegian-American about my research project and book.  It will be a condensed and more story-like in the telling of my summer's events and discoveries. The column can be found online and in the print version as well. You can find it here (search for my last name or Thor to locate the articles):  http://www.norwegianamerican.com/

Screen grab of the article on the Norwegian American web site

Screen grab of the article on the Norwegian American web site

JULY 29 - Ithaca, New York

Update: I have more emails out and hope to hear back next week from the archivist in Tromsø about possibly finding Hammerfest hospital records (they aren't in Hammerfest according to the records department there) and also how to go about contacting the Domkirken (Cathedral) in Trondheim who might have records of who presided over cremations in the 1940s.

Yesterday I received a very nice gift via email from Erna Svendsen (Andresen) - (who is actually my 2nd cousin 1x removed). My great-grandmother Hilda (Thor's mother) had 3 brothers - Johan, Ludvig and Hans and 3 sisters - Inga, Anna and Dorthea. Erna is Inga's granddaughter. She believes that Hilda gave Anna and her family Thor's painting, and then it ended up at Erna's family home after Anna passed away. Erna grew up with the painting at home and now her brother Knut owns the painting.

Thor painted it when he was 16 in 1920 and it is a painting after Rembrandt, which I referenced below (Rembrandt painted his when he was 25 years old).

Thor Jensen, After Rembrandt, 1931 

Thor Jensen, After Rembrandt, 1931 

Rembrandt, Philosopher Reading (or The Philosopher Anastasius in his Monastery, 1631), Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Rembrandt, Philosopher Reading (or The Philosopher Anastasius in his Monastery, 1631), Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

July 18 - Ithaca, New York

It has now been almost 2 weeks since I returned to the US from my research trip to Norway. I had to spend most of last week sorting through receipts in order to complete my expense reports.

IMG_0964.JPG

 

I have also spent time trying to figure out the last piece of the mystery but the intrigue just seems to deepen. Currently this is where the "investigation" is:

  • Hammerfest Police - NO war records (confirmed by the police department themselves as well as the archives in Tromsø) 
  • Hammerfest Hospital (Finnmark Sykehus) - First email to them indicated no information but now waiting for an email from the actual archivist there (I also do realize this hospital wasn't extent after the war)
  • Hammerfest Parish Church - Here is the email response from the vicar;

The register for the parish of Hammerfest shows that “Thor Jensen, banfullmektig, ugift” (“Thor Jensen, bank representative, not married) born in Oslo 13th of march 1904 died 6th of October 1941 and were buried 20th of October 1941.

It is not written any cause in the column “Cause of death” in this record. The death is reported to the court 13th of February 1942. The field for “remarks” says “Domprosten, Tr.heim” (The Dean of Trondheim cathedral), my guess is that this refers to a notification from the Deans office in Trondheim about the death or a cremation/sermon that was held in Trondheim.

This is as much information that I was able to find in our records.

  • Hammerfest Historielag (History Team) - Waiting for a reply about possible other avenues to find information on Thor's cause of death. Also, there is a possibility I discovered the relatives of the woman Thor was engaged to before his death, Ruth Haagensen (Hågensen). This information was sent to my contact at the Reconstruction Museum in Hammerfest who has been trying to help me. The information is from a book called the "Tverrelvdalen Relatives". I am trying to track down anyone who might be related to Ruth (not sure if this is the right person even but her name and birth/death dates are realistic).

ruth.jpg

Day 24 - July 5 - DRAMMEN

Last day here - time to reflect on the trip - what I found out and what I didn't...yet.

One person who might have a clue as to where to find the "missing" church records in Hammerfest is on vacation until July 17 so I might have to wait until closer to the end of July to get the final piece. Keep watching the site for info.

I thought these photos might be fitting for my last day/night here. They are photos of me from when I was 2 years old on my birthday and waving a Norwegian flag. My mother brought me back for a months long stay - I was here for Norwegian Constitution Day - May 17, and for my 2nd birthday in June. I like to think this is why I can speak Norwegian fairly well, and have an interest in my Viking history.

The other photos show me with my grandmother Aase and my mom; and one with me and my uncle, Onkel Dag. Scroll down to see the larger photos.

Day 23 - July 4 - DRAMMEN

Today was spent meeting with my mother's best friend Bjørg, who came to Drammen to put flowers on her parents grave. I had gone to my grandparents grave (in the same graveyard) the day before.

Sverre Jensen (Thor's brother) and Aase Jensen

Sverre Jensen (Thor's brother) and Aase Jensen

The rest of the afternoon was spent in my uncle's apartment looking through piles of books, papers and photographs he had found for me to look through. I photographed everything I thought was of interest, and took with me a handwritten book of family genealogy that my grandfather wrote to delve into more deeply at home. But these two things were a treasure to see.

A portrait of Thor (from ca. 1930-5?) and his pocket-watch engraved with his initials.

Day 21 - July 2 - DRAMMEN

July 1 was a long travel day on a hot train from Trondheim to Hamar; then a very nice train (cooler and more up-to-date train) from Hamar to Drammen (a town of approx. 60,000 people south-west of Oslo). Drammen is, of course, where it all began.

On July 1, 1959 my mother Berit (from Drammen) married my father David (from Brooklyn) here in Drammen in the Bragernes Kirke. My mother had to adjust quickly to a different life when she moved to Brooklyn. Growing up on Long Island, I was taught to write thank you letters to my grandparents in Norwegian, so I learned the language this way and by being lucky enough to travel to Norway several times as a kid.

Bragernes Church as seen from the bridge

Bragernes Church as seen from the bridge

As a teenager, I began to be interested in my family history and started to ask my Norwegian grandmother Aase and great-aunt Randi (who I am named after) a ton of questions. What was it like to live during the occupation of Norway? How did you manage when my grandfather was taken to German concentration camp in the far north of Norway (Kirkenes)? What did you do for fun? Did you like to cook? (no, she hated it).

This is how I began my love for learning about my family history and what eventually led me to being the person that collected all the family history photos, documents, letters and ephemera. I have many bins and file cabinets full of these important artifacts. 

Several years ago I rediscovered Thor's Finnmark hiking trip journal and asked my mother for her help in translating it. It took a long time - due to the quirky typing skills of my great-uncle - all the words seem to blend together in one long sentence.

I have been very lucky so far to have had so much help from everyone  - family and friends - archive and museum staff - as I search for clues to what really happened to Thor. It is clear he most likely moved to Hammerfest for the increase in salary. However, questions still remain as to his cause of death. I still have a hard time thinking he would commit suicide when he had so many things going for him in his favor; a bank manager position with a good salary, a fiancé, a supportive family in Drammen and Oslo, as well as being a gifted artist and outdoorsman. I would like to final pieces to fall into place with information from the Hammerfest church books, but if not, I will just have to use my imagination as well as impressions from my visits to most of the places he lived during his short life.

Day 19 - June 30 - TRONDHEIM

Today's excursion to the Statsarkivet (State Archives) in Trondheim was certainly interesting. The photo below is the building the archives are in.  The Germans built it during WWII and it is studded with rebar. The allies tried to bomb it but couldn't destroy it so they left it and it is now used for the archives. I love this strange and seemingly random historical fact (the taxi driver told me this by the way).

Statsarkivet in Trondheim

Statsarkivet in Trondheim

I did NOT find the information I had hoped to find (death records) but found other important information. Hopefully the church administration in Hammerfest will find the missing records.

In a type of address book we found his address from when he lived and worked in Trondheim during 1934-35. He lived at Elvegt. 14, which I walked to after the archive visit (almost 2 miles).  He lived on the first floor but unfortunately the view was blocked by this construction bin.

In a type of address book we found his address from when he lived and worked in Trondheim during 1934-35. He lived at Elvegt. 14, which I walked to after the archive visit (almost 2 miles).  He lived on the first floor but unfortunately the view was blocked by this construction bin.

This is the view from the apartment building above...I assume this house wasn't there in 1934, but you can see what a great view he had.

This is the view from the apartment building above...I assume this house wasn't there in 1934, but you can see what a great view he had.

Finally, the last piece of interesting information I found out was that my hotel is on the same street as the bank he worked in  - on Kongens gate - literally a 5 minute walk down the street.

The building still says Norges Bank - although now it is the Vitensenteret- the Trondheim Science Museum

The building still says Norges Bank - although now it is the Vitensenteret- the Trondheim Science Museum

Day 18 - June 29 - TRONDHEIM

Today was another travel day - from Tromsø to Trondheim. I seem to have hit some road blocks the last few days but tomorrow at the Statsarkivet (State Archives) I hope to find what I am looking for.  The church in Hammerfest had said that their records from 1941 had been sent to the archives in Tromsø but it turns out that wasn't the case (the records need to be at least 80 years old and since the last year in the batch is 1950, they aren't there yet). I had hoped to find some notations about his cause of death in either the church books or police files, but that obviously didn't happen.  My last chance is tomorrow searching the archives for the cremation records (I know his body was sent here) which may indicate some manner of death (gunshot wound perhaps).  Wish me luck that there is something to discover tomorrow.

The photo below is of the old wharves which date to the 18th century. Trondheim is Norway's 3rd largest city with just under 200,000 residents, and a university with over 36,000 students (Norwegian University of Science and Technology).

Old wharves (with Norwegian flag in upper right)

Old wharves (with Norwegian flag in upper right)

Day 16 - June 27 - TROMSØ

Yesterday was spent waiting and waiting and finally flying to Tromsø. Arrived late so no blog post.

Today, however, is a different story. I took a city bus up to the University of Tromsø where the State Archives are located. I met Trond, the archivist, who I have corresponded with several times as this project has gotten off the ground. There were several things I was hoping to discover;

  • Police records from 1941 - which might indicate Thor's cause of death:
    • These records are MISSING
  • Church records from Hammerfest - which also might reveal how he died:
    • These records are also MISSING
  • Norges Bank records from Hammerfest during 1941:

The archivist found the bank records and apparently I am the first person to open them. It was like getting a special present. I found all the bank account records of Thor during his time in Hammerfest. This unfortunately also shows his final balance of 0 (most likely after the funds were transferred to his mother, Hilda). What these records also show is that he made a very good salary, almost double of the national average (according to Trond, the archivist, the average annual salary was 3,500 NOK). So one reason he might have taken the bank manager position in Hammerfest was because of the high salary. He had been living with his mother in Oslo, and if you recall from a previous blog post, she earned money by taking in boarders and making men's ties - so extra money from Thor was most likely necessary.

Note: The ledger shows his ending balance but the rest of the ledgers, which I haven't posted but did photograph, show his salary and it being deposited twice per month.

Day 14 - June 25 - HAMMERFEST

This was my last full day in Hammerfest, Thor's hometown for 10 months in 1941. Spent the afternoon writing while sitting at my self-made "office" in the Resistance Museum's cafe. It has helped to keep a hand-written journal in which I have writing reflections at the end of each day. I began transcribing these notes to the computer and it is amazing how many things I have done in 14 days - how many things I have discovered and learned - and how much I still need to figure out. For example, just this morning I thought to ask, "What businesses were here in 1940-41 when Thor was here?". There is a map from that time period - so hopefully I can extract some information from that and from museum/history center sources (I can read there was fish market near the town center for example).

View of Hammerfest harbour (Photo: Randi Millman-Brown)

View of Hammerfest harbour (Photo: Randi Millman-Brown)

Day 13 - June 24 - HAMMERFEST

Today was a day for reflection outside since it was finally sunny. There were many people sitting outside, walking, riding their bicycles, taking a break from the Hurtigruten cruise ship, eating ice cream. I spent the afternoon walking from one end of town to the other. I found benches here and there and sat and tried to take it all in - tried to imagine Thor walking through his newly adopted town in January of 1941 (of course it was dark 24/7, but they had streetlights).

In June of 1941, 76 years ago, was he planning his fottur (hiking trip) like I was planning this trip? Was he having a hard time sleeping also? Was he walking through town meeting new people and still getting to know the place? There are several places for images from Hammerfest (public library, Resistance Museum, local history center) online and I have added a few small ones here from before 1945 for you to see the town as he saw it.

Photographs from Hammerfest: all ca. 1935-1940

These photographs are from the local library and are awaiting copyright - so they are small jpgs temporarily. (From: Finmarksbibliotekets fotobase)

Day 12 - June 23 -HAMMERFEST

SO THE MYSTERY DEEPENS..

The educator I met with yesterday at the museum suggested I contact the newspaper in Oslo (Aftenposten) to see if I could search their archives. Interestingly, they had a chat button on their web site and I chatted with Marcus this morning who found this...

Thor's death notice in the Oslo paper - but how he died is written only that he died "plutselig" or "suddenly" - again no definitive answer as to his cause of death.

Day 11 - June 22 - HAMMERFEST

Met with Julia today for two hours at the Museum of Reconstruction. She just started her job here this week and I was her first "English" tour. She is extremely knowledgable about the time period and had a lot of unique and interesting insights into how people lived and survived the war. I was also able to photograph a map they had on display from ca. 1937 which showed where Norges Bank was located. 

Left: Map of Hammerfest, 1937 (circled where Norges Bank was located, and Right: Modern map

Left: Map of Hammerfest, 1937 (circled where Norges Bank was located, and Right: Modern map

Day 10 - June 21 - HAMMERFEST

Today I started out with a trip to the Polar Bear Center/Hammerfest Visitor Center (http://www.visithammerfest.no/en/). I met a very interesting person there named Helena (from Denmark) who was extremely helpful and knowledgable about Hammerfest and Finnmark. I bought a great map of Finnmark which will be great to be able to mark out Thor's hiking trip route. She and another employee helped me fashion a mailing tube out of multiple random tubes which I promptly mailed home to myself. I then made my way 300 meters away to the The Museum of Reconstruction (http://www.visithammerfest.no/en/facts/231-the-museum-of-reconstruction-for-finnmark-and-northern-troms) where I asked for Doris (Helena recommended I talk to her), and luckily she was there and had time to talk and even helped me with some research. The only building left standing after the war was the church and the church offices are located above the museum. We asked one of the pastors there for the records for 1941 but he told us they were sent to Tromsø, which I where I am headed next.  Some records have been scanned but they have only scanned up to 1939.

Wall display of Hammerfest before WWII, in 1945, and after the war

Wall display of Hammerfest before WWII, in 1945, and after the war

Thinking that perhaps there might be some newspaper records from that year, I made my way to the Finnmark Dagladet office (also next door to the hotel) and an employee there found the newspapers from 1941. We searched for a while through the papers but found they did not print death notices at that time. I was able to photograph the paper from the day Thor died however - October 6, 1941. You can see who made the headlines that day.

Front page of the Vestfinnmark Folkeblad newspaper from October 6, 1941

Front page of the Vestfinnmark Folkeblad newspaper from October 6, 1941

Day 9 - June 20 - OSLO to HAMMERFEST

Today I started the second leg of my adventure: T-bahn to Flytoget (train to the Oslo airport) to Plane to Taxi to Ferry to Hotel. I had so many different emotions seeing the landscape as Thor saw it aboard a very different type ferry in January 1940 (winter and total darkness and war), and today (summer and total sunlight and peaceful). The photo below is the actual ferry he was on. His trip took 12 hours, mine took approx. 2 hours. 


Tomorrow I will visit the Museum of Reconstruction which is dedicated to Hammerfest and its destruction and rebuilding during and after WWII (http://www.kystmuseene.no/the-museum-of-reconstruction.107297.en.html). I hope to find town plans before the Nazis burned the town to the ground during their Scorched Earth campaign at the end of war. I would like to find where Norges Bank was originally located (at least close to)  - as I have come to understand he rented an apartment above the bank itself.

Hammerfest in 1945 and in 2005

Hammerfest in 1945 and in 2005

(Photo sources: left: https://scorchedearthstories.wordpress.com/ and right: wikipedia)