Where I grew up in Norway, there were some concrete bunkers built by the Germans during World War II. A friend of mine in Hordvik could not stand to go near the things. Some were very small, possibly just a guard’s hut or something and nothing to see inside, but my friend would not approach. At the time, I didn’t understand her. She did explain that she’d heard so many stories from her parents, who were children during the war, that it felt as if she had been a child during the war, too.
My generation was taught all about World War II in school. We were taught about the occupation, the rations, the Gestapo. We commemorated the start of the occupation (April 9 1940) and the end of the occupation (May 10 1945). Even for me, April 9 is a “loaded” date. It’s hard to look at it neutrally on a calendar.
I understand my friend’s reaction better now. It creeps under your skin. Just knowing, just listening to the old folks talk, the unobtrusive bronze plaque at work in our lobby naming employees who gave their lives for their country. I don’t know these people, and yet their stories, their fates, touches me, haunts me, impresses me.
I grew up with a veteran of the war, my grandpa, who sailed for the Norwegian merchant marines in convoys across the Atlantic. For the commemoration in 1975, my class got various assignments and I volunteered to interview a war veteran. Easy, right? Just ask Grandpa some questions at dinner. He never actually talked about the war, but what he did tell me, surprised me.
His worst war experience: The convoy was lying dead in the water, waiting for escort. The crew on his oil tanker was on deck, watching the horizon. They spotted a German submarine coming up to the surface. They held their breath. Would the sub notice the ship? The sub didn’t, but instead gave my grandpa the worst memory of the war: Out of the sub to get a bit of fresh air, came its crew – boys as young as 16 years old.
I was 14 when Grandpa told me this story and to me, a 16-year-old was an adult. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I realized why Grandpa was horrified: A 16-year-old is a child.
I have just finished updating my online photo albums, and have added a series of photos from Telavåg, a small coastal town that was the main port for the illicit North Sea travel during the war. A museum was built just a few years ago, and one of the few male adult survivors of the hell on Earth that struck Telavåg and Telavåg only, sits on a chair in the lobby every Sunday, and gives his first-hand account of what happened.
It creeps under your skin and it stays there.