As an Australian, it is confronting to discover the impact that World War 2 has had on the myriad of communities throughout Norway. Although horrific, the attacks on Australian soil were minor in comparison to the relentless impact on civilians in this area during WW2.
Nearly every town has a memorial or museum recalling the trauma of the war. Each recounts the destruction of homes, businesses and individual lives.
The Borderland Museum in Kirkenes, just one example, recalls the impact of being caught between the Soviets and the Germans. Hitler wanted to cut off sea access to Murmansk, an all weather northern port, which meant that this area of Norway became the scene of heavy fortification and of intense battles. No person and no place was spared. Communities and lives were destroyed, and if not totally destroyed forced into a huge upheaval.
This makes the Russian encroachments on Ukraine all the more puzzling. Haven’t we seen enough mass graves and destroyed towns? Haven’t we learned the lessons of manic ideology and rampant nationalism? For countries like Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Baltic states, current events in Ukraine are not hypothetical. There is a tangible history of what happens when tyrants are allowed to run loose.
Like my own dad, my wife’s step father was also indentured to work in Germany during WW2. I have reflected in the past on the tragedy of these young men having crucial years stolen from them. (Being Content in a WW2 Workgang) Today I simply want to include a few photos that give us a glimpse of that time: the good, the bad and the ugly – and the downright strange.
The striking thing about this photo is both the fact that the young men organised themselves into musical groups but also took pride in their appearance.
This this one of the more bizarre photos. Dutch cowboys in a Nazi hall during an entertainment evening.
This was a time of war. The workers’ barracks were bombed by the allies. The Allies may have heard of the appalling costumes in the earlier photo.
So naturally the workers had to rebuild their own accommodation.
My wife’s stepfather worked in a railway workshop. I am intrigued by the presence of a lady in the middle of this photo.
My dad and fellow workers in WW2. Dad is top left.
I have reflected previously on some of my father’s experiences as a conscripted worker in Germany during WW2. (See here) Dutch workers had more freedom than others as the German authorities simply said, “If you abscond we will pick up your father to take your place.”
My father worked north of Berlin in a place called Hennigsdorf on the Havel river. In 1945 he and his fellow workers were liberated by the advancing Soviet armies. The workers found themselves in the midst of extremely harrowing battles as the German army made its last ditch stand.
One of the few detailed stories my dad told me about this part of his life centred on this liberation. By 1945 his clothes, and in particular shoes, were in a state of extreme deterioration. One of the liberating soldiers motioned (language being a useless option!) to my father that he should find a German soldier’s corpse with the right boot size and “liberate” them for his own use. I gather there were quite a few and they all wore high quality boots. But even after years of war my dad was still squeamish about such matters. The Russian soldier, seeing my dad’s reluctance, took off his own boots gave them to my dad and then went in search for an appropriately sized and equipped corpse.
Yes, it is a strange story, yet I have always seen it as an act of unusual, but real, grace. This was one of only a very few experiences that my father ever shared with me about that time of his life. The grace shown in the midst of horror was a memory he could share.
I have just completed reading Enigma by Hugh Montefiore. It details the history of the attempt by the Allies to decrypt the messages of the German military, just before, and during WW2.
It is a tale of spies, subterfuge, boffins and hours of hard, and often fruitless, work in which the unlocking of a message that could save or cost thousands of lives. This tale of daring do was brought home to me when we lived in Bletchley, UK. One of the first visits I made was to Bletchley Park – the home of decryption in the war.
The unlocking of the Enigma Code played an enormous role in WW2, possibly changing the outcome but certainly shortening its length.
The passion and sacrifice of these men and women to defeat Hitler’s ambitions was staggering. Human lives, especially in the UK and on the high seas, depended on their work.
There is an even greater battle that we face on a daily basis. It is evil and life denying. It is the person and power of Satan. The battle may not seem so obvious but it is even more deadly than that fought in WW2.
Hearts and lives are at stake – the health of our children, families and society. Psalm 1 reminds us that our natural inclination and direction is evil. It challenges us to (in God’s strength) choose wisely and be anchored in the life giving soil and life that comes from God, (in Christ) alone.
The Enigma tale has reminded me that if we understand the dangers we can also find the passion and zeal to withstand and conquer them – through a faithful God.