Feb 4, 2007

In the shadow of WWII

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.

10 comments:

PJ said...

What a wonderful post, Keera. I can certainly understand why you'd feel the way you do about certain dates.

As for your photos, they are gorgeous. Makes me yearn to visit the lovely village and take my own photos.

Mark said...

Towards the end, Germany was conscripting boys as young as 14 and sending them to the front lines.

Mere cannon fodder.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Thank you, PJ! If you ever do get this way, look me up, and we'll go together.

Mark, I left out the part about seeing a lot of news reels from the war in our history classes. They conscripted 12-year-olds and I'll never forget one scene where the kid trying to salute Hitler had on a soldier's jacket far too big for him. He looked like he was playing dress-up.

t said...

I've been to Telavåg and have seen some remnants here, as well as other places. Do remember when they were fishing out mines last year around Austevoll? That was rather surreal to me. I often have to remind myself that this was as war-torn as many other places in Europe, even when the evidence isn't near as, well, evident.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Except for some places that deliberately kept a bombed out building unrepaired (England has a few samples, as does Budapest), and some memorials, Europe generally doesn't look like there's been a war. There are some exceptions, like the Channel Islands, whose coastlines are also dotted with Nazi bunkers.

Every so often, the past resurfaces, as a newly found plane wreck or mine or the sunken sub off Fedje threatening to leak mercury. Sometimes my reaction is, will it never end? Other times it's, wow, did that survive? Always I worry about people today getting hurt (again) by the past (like finding mines). That happening would be brutal irony.

(And what's with the t, Tim?)

Tim said...

I goofed - that and I was using something called "GSpace" on my Firefox, so I couldn't have two different Google accounts signed in at once. I meant to sign as Tim, but I was attempting to do 3 things at once. Silly me - I should know better, being a man. ;)

Keera Ann Fox said...

I guess this is where I don't admit that I and another woman have admitted that multi-tasking isn't all it's cracked up to be. :-)

Anonymous said...

my mom grew up in Norway during the occupation, never talked about it. then , a few months beofre she died, she started having flash backs, she started talking about it for the first time. she told of bringing food to the resistance hiding out in the woods(im not sure I believed her, thought that was crazy to send a little girl out in the woods alone, guess she would not be suspect. at one point,while she was sick, over 60 years after the war, she thought that someone knocking on her door, bringing her food, was the gestapo and went into complete shock. I wish she had been able to talk about it before. was glad to hear how involved in the resistance my bestefar was.

Anonymous said...

speaking of cannon fodder, US has not yet resorted to bringing those under 18, well, you can go in at 17 with parent permission, to the military, but they have upped the age limit from 35 to 42, my nieghbour for some reason sees it as a chance for adventure and is leaving his wife and daughter next week for boot camp, he is 42. I rememeber they used to have such strict standards for fitness in the military, not any more, they need the bodies. check out the war protest installation in Orinda,ca. I see it when I drive on the 24, it is growing weekly, quite the impact.

Keera Ann Fox said...

I believe your mother may have helped bring food to the resistance folks and was instilled with a real fear of being arrested by the Gestapo or of having a loved one arrested. I'm happy my grandpa was one of the good guys, too.

It's a shame a 42-year-old seems to glamorize war. We of that age grew up with all those returning-home-from-Nam movies so we know about PTSD and that war is ugly. We should just say no. I'm glad that more and more seem to be doing just that.