A Prison Camp in Germany

Once the prisoners had disembarked they were driven through a big city. It was only a short journey, and soon the gates of their new ‘home’  opened. It was a huge camp with a large watch  tower in the middle. It turned out to be Kiel they had been brought to. Most of them were placed in single cells which lined a long corridor, on the fourth floor. My father inspected his cell as soon as it was light enough to see. It was tiny, the walls were white-washed and the room measured ca 2 x 3.5 metres. A toilet bucket stood in the corner and he saw a wash basin and a soap dish plus a narrow bed. They were left in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, but were let out for short periods. No communication was allowed and they had to walk around in circles, one metre apart, until they became dizzy. One of the mindless jobs the guards told them to perform was to rub two bricks together and collect the dust in a bowl. They were all very lonely and sad, but somehow managed to talk to each other after the lights had been turned off.

My father kept these photos of mother and me during the hard times, and he said it kept him going.

That first Christmas in the camp was dreadful for all the men. On Christmas Eve (which is the main day for Norwegians) Alf Seljenes, a poet amongst the men, recited a poem he had composed. They stood by the windows facing the corridor and listened until tears ran freely. This is what he said (translated, but impossible to rhyme) by me.

“What have you done for Norway, for Norway the sacred ground?

What have you done for Norway, where your mother and father were born?

Unfortunately I did very little, because prison camp was my fate, but maybe that is the hardest and most difficult of all to come to terms with?

To sit here with bars across the windows, totally alone, is real torture. Oh, how I wish to be back in Norway and to be free.

Celebrating Christmas behind the prison walls in a foreign land can make one question and wonder, and also makes a poor man feel miserable and sad.

Try to be steadfast and strong, and remember the bough that bends is better than the bough that breaks.

This should teach us all, even though it is hard to do, to love your fellow-man, and forgive the enemy too.

And so, we wish all our loved ones a happy and joyful Christmas, and hope your stomachs are not as empty and hollow as ours are.

Accept our very best greetings, and we know we have yours too – Every beating heart at home will wish us peace for Christmas.

So, forget all your sorrows, both physical and mental anguish. We shall all meet again in Norway when the world is free.”

Seljenes survived the war and some of his many poems have been written down and kept. It was forbidden to have pen and paper which made it more difficult of course, but a good memory helped.

Alf Seljenes wrote this prologue in memory of their friends and fellow countrymen who had been condemned to death or already been shot, on New Year’s Eve in 1942.

After all the lights had been turned off, and the windows were tightly shut and dark, Seljenes recited by memory, and everyone could hear him:

Prologue in honour of our condemned friends. 

Friends! On this, the last day of the year, I think you will all agree it is a day we will never forget.

Please my friends, stay with me and fulfil my wish – let us honour those who have been killed. So, I will say, as we stand all alone by our windows, in exactly two minutes, remember the fallen. Straighten your backs and keep still when you hear my voice:

Rasmussen, Gjertsen and Offerdal – we remember you in our hearts. All of those, who never faltered, but were taken away: Iversen, Johnsen and Svanevik. We remember Garbo and Skjold. Many more have fallen and suffered and gave their lives. We remember Duesund and Vang and many more.

 I don’t believe anyone, from pole to pole, has been honoured like this. We stand here by our prison window and ‘give them our soul’.

Friends! Stand at attention – let the torches of honour shine.

We wish to say Rest in Peace.

The days and months passed slowly. The long, light spring evenings came and the cherry tree in the prison yard was in full bloom. Kristian Stein, the leader of the organisation, plus five others were condemned to death and executed. My father contracted typhoid fever and spent many weeks in a prison hospital. Cod liver oil, given by a kind guard, saved his life, he reckons, and he was eventually returned to his lonely cell. For a while he was plumper than the others, but the weight soon dropped off once he was back on meagre rations!

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