Hands across the waters, a Christmas story, Part II
By Algie Ray Smith


Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM



Giske is invaded

The three German soldiers who came marching up to Rolf Olson’s cottage one quiet day in September 1941 hardly looked older than teenagers. They certainly didn’t look like the war-hardened Nazis about whom Rolf and his wife Astrid had been warned.

Rolf met them at the gate, giving them a hearty “God morgen (good morning).”

The one in the middle, the one with the slightest shadow of a Hitleresque moustache, replied curtly, “Nien. The weather is of no consequence. I hardly call erbsensuppe (pea soup) gut. We come on business of the Reich.

Rolf had to stifle a laugh when the young German clicked his heels together and gave the Nazi salute. “Surely, I meant only kindness. Won’t you come in, perhaps have some kaffe against the chill?” He unlatched the gate.

The soldier spoke softly to one of the others who immediately assumed a position as outer guard. The third soldier followed Rolf and the leader into the yard. “Who is inside?

Rolf nodded to the house. “My wife Astrid and our daughters Sofiel and Thea. We have two sons, Dag and Ivar. They have taken our boat out to net some cod fish.”

The leader spoke to the other soldier, who immediately, without knocking, entered the house. “Hans will go and see if what you say is true. If it is, then we shall join him.”

“May I ask what this concerns?” Mr. Larsen asked. “We have given your officers our share of food: garden vegetables, flour, sugar and milk from our two cows. We have held back nothing.”

“We have new orders,” the German replied. “We have come to instruct you that each window must be covered in black paper and that you most hand over to us all the wolldeckes (blankets) that you possess.”

Rolf choked back the rage that began to surface within him. “But our dyne? Without our eider down folled quilts the children will be cold.”

The soldier clicked his heels together again. “I have my orders. I must collect all the wolldeckes for our own use, just like the food. We will need them to stay warm this winter.”

Hans returned to the front door, pushing Mrs. Larsen and the girls in front of him. “There is no one else here.”

Gut. You remain here. I will go inside with Herr Larsen to collect the blankets. If any one of the madgen (girls) tries to leave, shoot them!” Soon, with Rolf as a guide, the young soldier had gathered up every warm quilt in the house, even one that his wife had just made and hidden away. The risk of keeping a single quilt was too great. It would be an excuse for the Nazis to execute him.

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Later, as the soldiers were leaving, the one in charge spoke, “You offered me coffee when I came. I shall take it now.”

“Let me call my wife inside. She can put a pot on in a hurry.”

The soldier didn’t crack a smile. “No, not a pot. Give me the sack.”

Rolf had no choice but to comply. It was the last of the coffee. There would be no more. The shop in town was out. The Germans took what they wanted off the supply boat when it arrived each month from the mainland.

Heil, Hitler!” the soldiers reminded Rolf as they left, their arms laden with the blankets meant to keep the family warm in winter.

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“Why are covering the windows with black paper, Papa?” Thea asked. Thea was not only their youngest daughter; she was their youngest child and the darling of the family.

“Don’t worry your pretty blond curls,” Rolf smiles, “about such things. This will be so much fun. We will all pretend we are kraken living in caves beneath the ocean.”

“But, Papa, I don’t want to be a monster.”

Rolf taped another window, turning the glass to pitch. “Oh, my love, you could never be a kraken. You are a princess that the kraken is holding prisoner.”

“And what could I be, Papa? I don’t want to be a monster either,” Sofiel had been sitting quietly, watching and listening.

“Hmmm. Let me think about it. Ahh. You can be a queen. You can be Thea’s mor.

The brothers Dag and Ivar had come in late from their fishing and missed the German soldiers. “I know what Ivar and I will be… what we are… we are jossing, loyal to Norway; we will never submit to the Nazis.”

Ja, Dag, it is how we have agreed,” Ivar answered from near the fire where he had been drying his boots. “We have been talking of joining the resistance.”

“No,” their mother gasped, “you boys are too young. Besides, you must attend to the fishing. Your father is busy.”

Dag laughed. “Father goes out at night and sleeps all morning while we fish. What is his business?”

Rolf was busy taping another window. “If you boys still have so much energy, then come and tape windows. There remain three more that are bright.”

Ivar stood. “The Germans are afraid. There is talk that the Allies may be bombing the islands soon, to free us from the Nazis.”

Father disagreed. “There is nothing here on Giske to bomb. We are poor farmers and fishermen.”

“It’s the lighthouses, Papa,” Dag, the oldest child and already a man at 15, replied. “I listen. I hear. I understand. The Nazis fear an attack from the sea, so they guard the lighthouses.”

“May you let this talk hold for awhile,” Astrid called from the wooden table where she had set places for six. “We should eat now.”

As the family gathered at the table, Papa gave thanks for the meal, even though it was much more meager than before the Germans came. There was pickled herring, boiled potatoes, bread… and milk. Even after the Germans took half their milk each month, the cows provided enough for them… at present. Rolf wondered when they would demand all of it.

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After the children were in bed, Rolf got up from the chair where he sat smoking his pipe. He turned to take his jakke from the peg by the door when Astrid joined him. “Must you go out tonight?”

“I have business, important business, but I shouldn’t be but a bit past midnight.”

She hugged him. “Oh, Rolf, how will it end? There are new directives everywhere, on fence posts and doors. We cannot stand from a seat when German sits in our presence; we can’t even clear our throat when a German comes near.”

“I have seen them,” Rolf nodded as he took his coat and put it on.  “But what if I have to relieve myself or what if I get a bone lodged in my throat? These are stupid laws. Tonight the signs will come down.”

:Oh, no, my husband, you must not! There is a warning that says you face death if caught removing these signs.”

“Hah! We face death each day we’re alive. Do you have the letter for my brother in America? He must be made aware of our plight. He will help us if he can.”

Astrid took a thick letter from the pocket of her dress. “Yes, here it is, but how will we know that it will reach him in America. Ingvild, the teacher’s sister, told me that the Germans throw away our mail now, and keep any mail that we get?”

Rolf’s face grew taint. “And did Ingvild tell you that the teachers are being sent to work camps unless they teach the Nazi way?”

“Yes, I heard. I also heard that there is a fuel shortage and that schools would be the forced to be shut down.”

“Ahh, I’ve heard that myself.” He kissed her. “:Don’t fret. Did you say to my brother everything I asked of you?”

“Yes, but I was afraid to tell too much. If the Nazis think we will give them trouble in any way, they may take it out of the children. I hear that that is their way.”

He took the letter and weighed it in his hand. “What exactly did you pen?”

“I wrote that we had no sugar, very little flour, that we were in need of winter clothes since the Germans banned all dress that indicated a loyalty to Norway... such as the bunad (the colorful top, vest and skirt for women and shirt and knickers for men).”

“Yes. Seems they want to wipe out old ways as well as our new, but they shall not. Oh, and did you put in the letter that now we need kaffe and dynes?”

“Surely. I hadn’t sealed the letter, so I added those in a postscript. But if the Germans see these requests, they’ll destroy the letter… and perhaps punish us, too.”

“Oh,” as he tapped the letter, “they won’t see this.”

“How can you be certain?”

“Because I am the postman…”

“But you’re not the postman. The Germans sent him away and replaced him with one of their own long ago.”

“Still I am the postman., I have ways of getting the mail onto the boat and off the boat when it comes back to us.”

“How?” she asked.

“Best if none of you know, for what you don’t know can’t be forced from you. Now, what would you say to a pair of nylon stockings?”

She laughed. “Button up your jakke and go before I decide to keep you here. Besides, it’s not Juletid.”

Not Christmas? Don’t you have faith?”

She kissed him again and opened the door for him. “Faith is one of the things the Nazis must not take from us.”

As Rolf slipped from the cottage and made his way to the coast, he could see the beacons twirling from the lighthouse. “A beacon of light in a land of darkness,” he thought. It made him feel better.




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