People are contacting us with their memories of the 1942- 45 teachers protest. We will add these to this page. Please do contact us with your story and memories.
Books and sources. If you would like to find out more about the teachers’ story, these books are very useful.
Motstandskampen i skolene – Sigurd og Brynjulv Aartun
Fars kamp mot nazismen i skolen 1942-1945 – Arne Åmland
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Edvard Brakstad’s Diaries
We are very excited to be able to publish some of Edvard Brakstad’s letters and diaries. Edvard was at Kirkenes and these are an invaluable historic document. We are so grateful to Edvard’s grandson, Erik, for making these available. It is incredible to read how aware the teachers were of the importance of their action.
Translation of the main parts of two letters:
Trondheim, April 30, 1942
Dear all three:
As you have probably heard, we are on our way northward. We don’t know for how long. Things have been much better than one could expect where we come from. I am tanned and strong and have in many ways had experiences that I definitely wouldn’t want to miss. Our spirits are high, and we are part of something big. The trip up the Gudbrandsdalen was in a way a unique experience, although we did not exactly travel first class. Now we are aboard a boat and are comfortable. [There was more room on the second boat.] Take everything calmly, keep your strength and belief, we are probably facing big changes and happier times. Take care of the garden and the house as best you can, and then we’ll all do what we have to do, each in our place. I have had strength and peace of mind up to now, and I hope that will last. My companions are unusually fine people, many good old friends.
I cannot write more under these circumstances, because of regulations. Live well all of you, my thoughts again and again go to you.
Hopefully we’ll meet again before too long. So now I get a chance to see North Norway after all! The weather here is beautiful. Our neighbors ask me to send their greetings. All my love,
Write as wisely as you can to mother about this, Ågot. Now one of the fellows is giving a lecture about North Norway. We are in the big first class dining room. [To pass time and to keep their spirits up they took turns giving lectures on a variety of topics, when the guards were out of ear shot, because this too, naturally, was “verboten”]
Olav, don’t hesitate to ask the neighbors for advice about house and garden.
And do not worry about me, I have never taken part in anything bigger, and you are as much part of this as I am.
Elvenes at Kirkenes, June 7, 1942.
Dear all three,
We arrived here the 11th of May, live in barracks, 14 men in my room. Great guys all of them. We managed the trip well, good weather, interesting to see North-Norway. It has been cold so far. But I have been healthy the whole time and have managed everything quite well. Work outside, usually road work and other outdoor work.
Elvenes is about 9 km. from Kirkenes. Was at the Finnish border one day. Time passes quickly. Things are all right. You need not worry about me. Hope we will be released some time during the summer. What is uppermost in our minds, is the concern for you back home. Be calm, we will meet again before long.
Greet friends. Write clearly and only about things that concern us. With all my love,
[In addition to road work in the area, the prisoners unloaded ammunition at the docks in Kirkenes. The ships and docks were bombed from time to time and this was the most hazardous work they did.
The first entry we find in the diary:]
May 24, 1942.
“Gray weather and slush. 60-70 horses outside our barracks; they came from Finland. Stomping and noise, muddy all around us, not very pleasant here today. Woke up early: Up around 6 AM. One group went out to work at Kirkenes.”
[In the evening a small choir came over from other barracks to sing in their hallway. It was my mother’s birthday that day. He writes:]
“ My thoughts go home. – Her birthday and all the memories from her birthdays. The children and everything that goes with the home. It was not easy to get through this day.”
“Milder weather. The horses have gone. A big drinking party in the German barracks next to us. A quiet day for most of us, but work for some at Kirkenes. The biggest thing that happened was a letter read aloud, from our leaders in Oslo [Illegal letter from the underground leaders, smuggled in]. Main points:
- They are following closely what is happening to us.
- Our families get all the financial help they need.
- 663 clergymen have resigned. 70,000 civil servants have written protests against the samband.
- The schools, for the most part, are in session although the teachers have not signed the loyalty pledge.
- Plans for the Riksting[New Parliament] will be dropped. Youth mobilization also dropped. Teachers’ sambandprobably also dropped.
- There is ‘feverish’ activity to secure our freedom.
- People are praying for our safety.
The letter caused a quiet optimism amongst us. It is a common belief that we might be let free fairly soon. Our action has brought about big results.”
“No big happenings these days. The weather has been good for the most part. This evening a nice and mild wind. People think that we will be free soon – maybe as soon as the first of June. I think we must be prepared for a longer stay here. Yesterday there were air raid alarms and bombing in Kirkenes – today also. I am going to Kirkenes tomorrow to work at 6:30 AM- just about everybody’s going. Nesse tried to steal sausages from the Germans, was caught and beaten up. The Hauptman[commander] gave a speech at roll call about it. It is a shame the way this is handled.”
“Yesterday I did unloading, working for the first time on the ship Hallingdal. Unloaded gasoline and oil for the Wehrmacht. Relatively easy work. I got some fish for dinner, some flatbread and a couple of cups of soup. Last night was a beautiful night. The sun was streaming in on my bed at 2:15 in the morning. Two or three times during the night there was bombing close to where the teachers were in Kirkenes. Yesterday there was a short air raid alarm. We had to stop working for a while – we saw Russian planes up high. Antiaircraft guns were shooting. We took it calmly – one gets used to everything.
Yesterday and today there have been many rumors circulating, particularly about the trip home. Some think that we’re going home tomorrow. Not very likely. I have talked to the others about being prepared for the worst, that we’ll be here most of the summer, but the wish to go home is strong.
A quiet Sunday today, fine weather – spring is here. The leaves are getting ready to come out. Wind from the south, with rain at night and sun during the day.
I have been homesick today. Not much food – a very sparse dinner – a piece of fish and some soup. I have lost 2 kg. since we came here. I always feel hungry and weak.”
[In following entries rumors about the trip home is a recurring theme. Because of the inadequate diet preoccupation with food increases. This in addition to the constant uncertainty and tension, make people a little irritable:]
“There will be minor bickering once in a while. We’re all a little petty, and that is seen sometimes. Grabbing things for yourself is a strong drive in people, just as in animals. Food and concern for food is deep-seated, and it is hard to keep these drives within decent limits.“
[The residents of Kirkenes continue to help them with or without permission from the guards]
“Yesterday evening we were given a salmon, and everyone got a piece. It tasted wonderful”
[Help from local people improves the food situation:]
“Enough marmalade, canned goods, sausage, sugar, and liver paste. There is quite often herring. But in spite of this we seldom feel we’ve had enough.”
[In the middle of June they move into tents. The weather is good for a while, and that helps the spirits.]
“Great weather the past two days. Yesterday morning I got up at 5, sunned myself and washed my entire body, got coffee, and had breakfast. A magnificent morning. It is amazing how fast things can change here in the north. Now it is full summer, and the leaves are almost fully grown. We have stayed around the tents and sunned ourselves. This really is just vacation living! So far, we like it better here than in the barracks; as long as the good weather holds, we are alright. Steady work yesterday, and good food, and good news [doesn’t say what kind of news, probably about the war]. We wish the war would get to an end soon. Last night I woke up people in the tent at 11:30; the sky was clear and the sun was as bright as during the day. Many got up and we climbed up on a hill and stood there, very moved, for a half hour. A wonderful sight. — But just a few kilometers from us people are killing each other.“
June 24. Jonsok[Midsummer Day]
“Bright sunshine. Work has gone well. Road work. Dinner was good. Fish and soup. I felt almost full. Afterwards I sunned myself, long and well – naked. The weather was mild, like southern Norway at this time. The evening meal was good, and I felt as if I almost had enough. One and a half herring, plus herring paste and marmalade. Chewed down some powdered sugar afterwards; that helped fill us up.
At roll call, it was announced that our colleagues at Kirkenes camp are going to move up here. They will work on the airfield, 320 men. In all, 390 men are needed. We will fill in the gaps. Not pleasant to think about. The rest of us will work on the roads. When that became known, many were rather discouraged. But I don’t think this change has anything to do with what time we will be let free. It is Jonsokand High Summer in Norway – memories and feelings come streaming on. Thoughts about those at home, and sadness that summer is passing while we’re here in captivity – the summer we have dreamed about during the long, cold winter. Now the best of it will pass while we are separated from our home and our loved ones. But we pull ourselves together and keep calm. We are fighting for our people and for our freedom, our country and our children. For humanity. And we’re hoping for better times. I hope things are going well back home. So I live with the hope that I will see my family before very long. We can stay up until 10 this evening. We might go out to see the midnight sun tonight.”
“Jonsokevening was outstanding, clear and beautiful. Almost everybody in our tent came out. The sun remained for some time above the hill to the north. A strange atmosphere. An unusually beautiful color tone over the sky and the countryside. The lakes and the fjord were a very strong blue, the leaves and the grass intensely green. A melancholy feeling possessed us. We sang, quietly, a couple of verses of our national anthem, and then we had to go back to our tents and captivity again.
JonsokDay [the next day] was also exceedingly beautiful. Work was not hard, pleasantly warm, around 25 degrees.”[Approx. 75 degrees F]. But all of a sudden cold weather set in, with a north wind and rain, and then it is unpleasant to live in paper houses.”
“Grey and blustery weather. Work on the road was pretty easy. And it was a big day! Three letters today, and one yesterday, from Ågot. They were old, but wonderful to receive. Homesickness really takes hold of me. My thoughts focus on home and freedom. But we do have the strength to hold out. Rumors keep circulating, especially about the trip home, and we wish they would become reality.”
“Weather good. Sunny and warm days. I work on the road, hard work, and a lot of shouting and harassment. Extremely unpleasant atmosphere, but we take it calmly.“
“This day too passed without anything happening as far as the trip home is concerned. It is as uncertain as ever. We had hoped that this would be the day of return. Now we hope that something will happen before the 31st. Some think it is going to be the 20th. It came like a cold shower for many when it was announced at roll call that the sick people would be picked out and sent home soon. But only the sick ones. An application was sent for the rest to be included. As I see it, nothing really has changed as far as our situation is concerned.”
“A gray and cold day. It is strange how quickly the weather changes here. It looks like it is getting a little brighter again, and that is good. People are feeling that the return trip is going to take place soon. I am not so sure that we have much foundation for that belief, but we can hope. Lists have been made with the names of the sick people here and the oldest, and it is said that they are going to return first. But most people feel that we will all be sent at the same time. We have to take it calmly and be patient.
Svare, Goksøyr and I got a pack of cigarettes each from Dr. Punterwald in Kirkenes today. That was the first pack of cigarettes I’ve had since I came north. As far as the food is concerned, it is just barely enough. I often feel weak and listless, but I think that my weight is holding up fairly well. We received some oatmeal today, and we made porridge. Tasted wonderful. We had a free day and rested well. But despite that felt weak this evening.
I should have mentioned before that a piece of shrapnel landed close to the tent a couple of days ago during an air raid, and the same day there was a rather intense bombing of Kirkenes. The house belonging to relatives of Fagerjord’s [a fellow prisoner]was blown away. A lot of damage was done to German storehouses, ammunition depots and workshops. It was said that 60 German soldiers were killed and two civilians injured. So we are up in the front line now. Some of the teachers were inside the storehouse that was bombed, but fortunately none of them were injured.“
[There is a pause of several days in his writing because of illness. The following entry is undated:]
“This is the first real illness I’ve had on this ‘vacation trip’. I got it on Sunday the 19th, suddenly and severely, with very strong pain in my stomach and severe diarrhea. I was lying in the heather twisting and turning like a snake. Monday I was a little better, but didn’t eat. In spite of my better judgement, I ate a little bit Tuesday and for awhile thought I was cured. What I had was a piece of herring, and then it started again. I got a high fever Wednesday and some very uncomfortable days and nights followed. A big bright spot in all of this was a letter from Ågot Monday night. A wonderful little letter with only good news. I really feel how much I love her and the children and my home, and now, here in captivity, I can see how I did not fully value and appreciate the times we could share and be together, working so hard all the time and not really appreciating the good things in life. And I feel now that I will and can be a better human being after this. I feel sympathy with everybody who is suffering, everybody who is a prisoner or a soldier, and there are many of them, who are in the war against their own will. My sympathy for suffering people increases. Their lives are as valuable as ours, and I experience a feeling of rebellion stronger than ever against the insanity of war.
Yesterday Svare brought a telegram from Schjøt- Iversen [chief physician at the hospital in Eidsvoll], good news. There was an interesting little sentence that we interpreted a certain way [private “code”]. He says: “Orvald og Åse til Oslo til høsten”. We interpret that as meaning: In the fall, things are going to normalize. Our children will go to the University of Oslo, and everything will be OK. Well, we will wait and see.”
[Dates are hard to determine for the entries below]:
“On July 26 I was at an anniversary party [birthday] for Svare. Pleasant, and there were speeches. I gave a speech, Goksøyr also, and Svare responded with a speech. Much praise was expressed for Svare. As a present I gave him a slice of bread, one cigarette, and a wooden knife. [ A letter opener. He did some wood carving with his pocket knife].
The doctor told me today that I had an inflammation of the colon, and we will just have to hope that it passes soon. If I only could get home, then everything would be fine.”
“Yesterday was another Sunday. I spent the whole day in my sleeping bag with a fever, didn’t eat anything. Had a strong pain in my stomach during the night, and it all came from the inflammation of the colon. The pills that you sent along with me, Ågot, helped a great deal. [He seems to have his wife in mind here as a future reader of the diary]. Sunday morning the pain was almost gone and the following day also better. Spirits were pretty high in the tent, in spite of the fact that several people had stomach problems. One had the flu, and three patients had been sent up here from the group in Kirkenes. So today only three people from here were out working.”
“We have to remember the great task we are accomplishing by being here, doing something for the cause that we think is right and is the reason why we are here. So we just have to take what comes and hope that this isn’t going to last too long. Many prisoners have suffered more than we do, and soldiers on the fronts, in many ways, are worse off than we. Our lives are not more valuable than theirs. There are so many who have made greater sacrifices in this horrible war.
Well, July is almost over, and if we are going to go home before school starts, it will have to happen soon. There will therefore be a lot of excitement here from now until the end of July and the first days of August. According to rumors, Dr. Palmstrøm has said as his personal opinion, that we are going to leave around the first of August.
I just got back from the doctor. I got a new kind of tablet and was assigned to light work. I still feel pain in my colon, but now only on one side, so there has been improvement. I have to keep my spirits up and think that things are going to get better, but it is not so easy to cure a stomach ailment when all you get to eat is very heavy bread, salted fish, and spekesild[preserved herring].”
“This was an important day. It looks like the trip home might finally become a reality. There has been a lot of stir and upheaval in many ways. But then at roll call, the names of about 100 people were read, and they were supposed to be sent home in the first round. I was among them, but I really don’t trust that this is going to happen and won’t believe it until I’m told to start packing. But overall people take this calmly. Those who are to be sent first, are the ones who are ill and unable to work, and among these, the older ones. How they are going to travel, we don’t know. Everything is still uncertain, but it looks like there will be a resolution soon.”
“New month. Our stay here has lasted longer than most of us had expected. Now summer is on its way out, and we are still sitting here. We haven’t heard much about our return trip. Nothing more about the lists that the doctor has put together.
Improvement slow as far as my illness is concerned. It is two weeks now since I got ill. I’m a little better today, but feel weak, and my stomach is not well. I had some soup yesterday, and that was beneficial. Saved half of it for today, and got another portion through trading. One has to try to make use of all the possible means here when it comes to diet. We’ve been thinking a lot about home today, and for me it probably has something to do with my illness. All this uncertainty here is hard on all of us. Yesterday it was said that schools in Oslo are going to start on September 1st. And most of us take that as a good sign. Otherwise spirits are rather low around here, even among those that were mentioned on the list for early departure.”
[Early part of August]
“Important things have happened the past few days. I am almost well now after this terrible stomach illness, but I feel weak. I have some appetite, sometimes a little too much appetite, and I have been working several days.
Tuesday it was said that we who were going home, had to sign a declaration stating that we would become members of the teachers’ sambandafter recovery from our illness and that we would resume our school work. There was a big discussion about this. It was said that there would be an addition to the paper, stating that if one of the group refused to sign, that would affect all of us. But it turned out that this latter part was not correct. Overall there was an agreement to go along with this demand, but many harsh words were said during the discussion of the matter, and many had a tendency to bring up accusations against their friends: It was out of consideration for the old, sick and feeble that they now would go along with this. But after further discussion almost everybody went along with the demand, and after some more debate all went along. It looks as if it is determined now that we have to sign our names and join this association. But the way the situation is today, it might be the best thing to do. Wednesday we signed this declaration. [As far as I can see from the data I have, whatever the prisoners signed at this point in time, was not binding and did not change anything in their protest against nazification of the schools. The efforts to make the teachers join the sambandhad now been dropped by the government and the Nazi had given up their plans about a new Storting. The battle was over. Was this episode just a face saving device on the part of the local captors? It seems the teachers felt that signing this paper then would have no legal and moral conesquences and did so to expedite the departure. For more detailed information about this, see Kirkenesferdapages 287 ff].
It is being said now that we are going to return around the weekend, supposedly the 8th of August. But now the day has passed, and we’re still here. So we have to be patient. For a while we were quite optimistic, but now we are waiting again. As usual we are left with uncertainty, and it gets on our nerves. The end must be near now. We have sent a telegram to Eidsvoll, so now we think that we will get under way soon.”
“Many things have happened now since the last time I wrote. Risnes [A minister in the Quisling government] has given a speech here. [The teachers ignored him]
Today money was handed out to the ones that will travel in the first group, and I.D. cards were returned. The weather is better, hope that will last. It is hard to believe we are now going to get away from here. Yesterday I was at a “party” in Goksøyr’s tent. It was very pleasant. Fresh pollock, liver, coffee, bread and good butter, and in addition molter! [cloudberries]. Now I manage well. The food is very important under the circumstances in which we live here, and companionship and friendship are strengthened through sharing. A memory that will last for a long time.” [The food was smuggled in by the local residents]
“Monday again. Sunday we worked until 12. The weather looked terrible in the morning – there was a cloudburst during the night. After awhile it got lighter, so we didn’t get soaked through and through. During the afternoon the weather improved. Otherwise the day passed like Sundays do. Sanden had a 30th wedding anniversary, and it so happened that Fagerjord had got waffles, cookies and molteras a gift [from friends in Kirkenes], so we made coffee and had a good time. I gave a little speech for him, and he responded. But today a rather dark mood has been prevailing. Many had expected the travel to start today, but we are still kept in uncertainty. We had a good dinner, fresh pollack, that Jakobsen and I had bought. [He does not explain how they “bought” it. Perhaps the guards were beginning to become more lax, letting the prisoners get by with more interaction with local people.] The food was excellent. In addition, I bought a little bread – those things really help the spirits. I feel healthier and pretty strong. But I am bothered by the uncertainty and by homesickness. Otherwise no real complaints. When we think about how many other people in the world are suffering these days, then our problems become small. As usual a lot of rumors in the air. Fantastic rumors about Hermann.[Camp “slang” for the Germans?] Who knows what is true. There must be something to it. As for our return trip, the mill churns slowly, and it strains our patience.”
August 23. [Last entry]
“Sunday. Fine weather, wind from the south and sunny. No mosquitoes and few flies. We had a good day. I got ill again Friday. I had salted steinbit[a fish] for dinner, and that I couldn’t handle. I still have to be cautious with what I eat.
More “certain” rumors: 143 of us are leaving at the beginning of next week. And that comes from the commandant, the doctor and his assistants. So now I almost believe it. But it is better to take the attitude of a skeptic here, so the disappointment will not be too strong if it does not come about this time either. Otherwise life is going here as usual. From Ågot I got, which I think I’ve mentioned, a telegram-letter and that was a great pleasure. Everything is well at home, and that is a big consolation amidst all this uncertainty and waiting. Yesterday we had a birthday celebration in the tent. A.[a fellow prisoner] was 55. Coffee with canned milk and crackers. Sanden and I gave speeches for him. One feels strange and strong emotions up here, especially on Sundays and holidays – when one has time to collect one’s thoughts. Small things can bring with them such strong associations that one has to pull oneself together not to cry. Especially memories from childhood days, home, and the ones that are dear to you, streaming forth so strongly that it takes strength not to become sentimental. In our present situation we are very receptive to that type of emotions.
I hope that this return trip will become a reality before the cold sets in here, and that all of us will get to leave at the same time, or about the same time.”
This was the last entry in the diary. The first group to be returned left Kirkenes at the end of August. The rest of the teachers were sent home a couple of months later. They were transported back in ships under guard and experienced some air attacks from Russian planes on the way. My father’s ship came close to being hit. According to one of the officers on board, one bomb just missed the ship due to a two second timing error. Most of the teachers were gradually reinstated in their schools, and they did not have to join the N.S. samband. The battle had been won. The attempts by the Germans and their Norwegian collaborators to nazify Norway had suffered a severe set back.
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Jorid Gerd Borgvin Weiss tells her father’s story when in Lofoten Islands
We were really honoured that Jorid Gerd Borgvin Weiss came to the screening at NEU on Friday with her daughter Nina and granddaughter Beatrice. Jorid remembers the protest and has written this invaluable account of her father’s involvement when teaching in the Lofoten Islands.
Norwegian Teachers’ Protest
At the outbreak of the second world war in Norway, I was 10 years old and living in a small town called Svolvær in the Lofoten Islands. The islands are situated in north Norway inside the Arctic Circle. Svolvær, on the island of Østvågøy, was a small town with a population of a few thousand. However, during the cod and herring seasons, the town population increased by thousands and the harbour was packed full of fishing boats. There were fishermen wherever you looked!
My father, Ole Borgvin, was one of the many Norwegian teachers who refused to educate his students in the new Nazi ideology and, as a result, was one of those who was arrested.
The Education Ministry had sent an instruction to the teachers, telling them that they had to work actively and positively with their students to create an understanding of the new order and the beliefs expressed in the programme of the Quisling government. The teachers had to do this not only in school but also in daily life outside school. Many threats were made towards the teachers, one being that if they refused this instruction, they would be dismissed. A great many of the teachers would not sign and were consequently without employment.
When war broke out, the town of Svolvær had two schools. The elementary school (for children from 7 to 14) consisted of several buildings. There was a fairly large old building housing classrooms and a doctor’s room, a handicraft building for girls and another building purely for gymnastics. There was also a new building with modern classrooms and separate rooms for domestic science for the girls and woodwork for the boys. It was soon after the new building was finished that my father took me round and proudly showed me the special rooms: one contained maps and geography-related items; another contained stuffed animals, birds and shells etc; there was a chemistry room; and of course there were rooms for domestic science and woodwork. It seemed so wonderful to have a school with so many modern facilities! The elementary school classes were mainly single-sex and my father, who taught the boys, had a classroom with windows facing onto the school playground.
There was also a small private secondary school teaching up to ‘gymnasium’ standard – the level needed for university entrance. This was attended by both local children and children from neighbouring islands who sometimes lodged in town.
When I started school, I remember my classroom being first in the new school building, later in the old one. One of my most vivid memories is of my beloved class teacher, Miss Huss, being sent to Grini – a concentration camp near Oslo. But this is another story.
However, the unexpected March 1941 English/Norwegian raid on the Lofoten Islands, whilst successful in its mission, had dire consequences for local people. A large number of German troops arrived in Svolvær and the new school building was occupied by German soldiers, so no longer available for the education of the town’s children. After that, due to a shortage of classrooms, teaching took place in any available space such as the church vestry, religious meeting houses, community buildings and teachers’ houses. The school had to fit in with the everyday use of these buildings so some classes were held in the morning and others in the afternoon or evening. Some students found it difficult to find their way home in the dark, particularly in the winter blackout!
In such a small town, it was only natural for the population to know the teachers personally or by sight and, when out walking, my father frequently had to lift his hat in order to make or return greetings from people he met. This was often in freezing weather!
I know that the arrest of teachers from all parts of Norway began in March 1942 but I cannot remember the exact date when my father was arrested. Having refused to collaborate with Nazi instructions to teach their fascist ideology to his students, my father had become unemployed and needed to earn money for his wife and three children. Consequently, on the day he was arrested, he was working at a refrigeration plant making ice to freeze fish and whale-meat. I particularly remember visiting him and speaking to him in this new workplace and, for some reason, I remember a dead whale floating in the sea before being taken to the factory. I don’t know why I remember this meeting so vividly but it was unusual to see my dad working in overalls, rather than in a suit.
I think his arrest must have taken place quietly by local police, collaborating with the occupying Germans, but there were no German soldiers present at his arrest. I recall that he was allowed to return home to collect any belongings he might need in prison and to say goodbye to his wife and children. He did not know for how long this would be, but secret information was being circulated about teachers being sent to prisons around Norway or to Finnmark.
In Svolvær, as everywhere else, most of the population was sympathetic; they believed fully in what the teachers had done – namely saying ‘no’ to Quisling and the Germans. When father was in prison, people came quietly to my mother and offered help, including money.
Svolvær, being a small and fairly new town, had no prison, but there was one in Kabelvåg which was a much older settlement and trading centre. It had a large church with a bishop and many long-established institutions. The distance then from Svolvær to Kabelvåg was, I think, about 10km, with the old road winding uphill and downhill between sea-coast and mountains. There was an infrequent bus connection between the two places.
As far as I know, most prison warders were friendly and some may have been sympathetic with the teachers’ actions. I did not hear of the prisoners having to do heavy work, neither can I remember any talk of starvation or punishments. I don’t know whether prisoners were made to do any kind of labour, whether or not they were allowed to read or play games or to write or receive letters. I was extremely fond of my father and I wonder now whether I was kept in ignorance to avoid upsetting and frightening me.
Although father was, of course, very anxious about the future and what would happen to his wife, his children and himself, he was not idle and must have been allowed to spend some of his time doing woodwork. He was one of those people who could put their hand to most things and make a good job of it, and wood-working was a favourite hobby. While in prison he made two wooden dolls’ cots – one for my sister and the other for me. They were beautifully made and decorated with painted animals and flowers. They have since been passed down through generations of the family and are still intact. Father also made a model fishing boat for my brother which looked just like the boats we so often travelled on between islands. In addition he made two beautifully carved wooden decorative dishes, one looking like a flounder with fins and tail and a protruding eye.
During father’s stay in prison, my mother, Ingrid, and other wives visited their husbands to bring fresh clothes and food although I don’t know whether or not they were allowed conversations with their husbands. The wives packed their bags and skied from Svolvær to Kabelvåg, returning physically and mentally exhausted by the hard-going through the snow and the worry about what the future would bring. Food was, of course, rationed. At that time, before recent climate change, fruit trees did not grow so far north and vegetables were of the very basic root variety. Fish and potatoes were our staple diet. Bread was of a very poor standard, like dark wet dough, often containing pieces of shell and sand. There was very little butter or margarine and we used melted down whale fat which had a terrible smell. We were told that our supplies of fish would compensate for the dreadful bread but we heard that bread in the capital, Oslo, was far superior to ours!
Transport between Svolvær and Kabelvåg was difficult but, on one occasion, my mother took me and my siblings by bus to see our father in the prison. We were allowed to stand outside the prison where it had been arranged for my father to appear at a third-floor barred window some distance away, so we got the chance to see each other and wave. It was good to see each other but also very sad, especially for my father. It must have been quite an upsetting event. We all wondered when father would come home again so we could see him and talk to him although, as children, we didn’t have a full appreciation of why he was there. On reflection, this event could not have taken place without meticulous arrangement between the prison and my mother.
I think perhaps most of the prison warders were sympathetic and considered the teachers’ actions to be commendable and brave. On the whole, as far as I know, the prisoners were treated well, but on one occasion my father was taken to visit a dentist which turned out to be an act of subterfuge as it had been secretly arranged that my mother would visit him while he was there. When the prison guard found out, he was furious, attacked my father and gave him “a good kicking”. Clearly this was one warder who did not share the sympathetic outlook of his colleagues. I am well aware though that the treatment received by my father was nothing in comparison to what happened to so many other teachers.
In Kabelvåg prison, the prisoners waited for a ship with around 500 other teachers from the south of Norway, via Trondheim, to arrive and transport them up to the very north of Norway to a prison camp in Kirkenes in Finnmark. The expected ship was a cargo ship, not the familiar coastal boat run by the Hurtigruten company which plied the coast north and south and regularly stopped at Svolvær.
… And then, one day, the Kabelvåg prisoners were released and sent home. The reason existing in family memory is that a raging storm had made it impossible for boats to enter the harbour, but there are other theories too. Perhaps the Germans did not consider it worth the bother of picking up a few teachers from Kabelvåg on their way north, or perhaps the boat was already overloaded and could not accommodate any more prisoners. I am not sure of the date that father and his colleagues were released and returned to their families but there was great happiness and relief, not just in the families but also on the part of everyone in the population who had wished them well. Father was home and stayed safe for the rest of the war, continuing to teach in Svolvær.
I know that schools in Oslo re-opened on 7 th May, without the signing of the new contract, and Norwegian teachers returned to work. The actions took their toll though and I recall two of my teachers in post-war Oslo (where I moved in 1947) having been physically and mentally damaged by their experiences in the Kirkenes prison camp. This showed in their behaviour in the classroom and in their personal lives too. But who can blame them after their ordeal?
Ten years ago, in 2009, I visited a Svolvær school friend, then living in Kirkenes, who had become a teacher herself. She and her husband were our guides and showed us places where the imprisoned teachers had worked in 1942. At that time, I was still not fully aware of the hardships suffered by those teachers. It was only after my visit and reading a fascinating book, “Kirkenesferda 1942” (“The Journey to Kirkenes 1942”) that I really understood the nightmare that my father had escaped. This book, with contributions by one of my own teachers outlines, in amazing detail and drawings, the cruelty experienced by these brave people who refused to teach a fascist ideology.
My father remained a teacher for the rest of his working life. This particular battle against fascism had been won through the brave actions of educators in Norway. Following in my father’s footsteps, I too became a teacher – teaching in a Primary School in the London Borough of Brent until my retirement.
Jorid Gerd Borgvin Weiss