31 August 2012

Poulsbo Vikings at the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, 1909

During the summer and early autumn of 1909, Seattle sponsored Washington State's first World's Fair on the current site of the University of Washington campus.  The fair was called the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYPE), and it celebrated twelve years of local prosperity following the 1897 Alaska Gold Rush.   Many days at the fair had special themes that honored ethnic communities, organizations, or professions.  As a nod to the area's large Norwegian-American population, "Norway Day" was held on August 30.

Poulsbo, Washington was one of the Puget Sound localities most heavily populated by Scandinavians:

On a sunny slope slowly rising from the merry sheet of golden water, stands the town of Poulsbo, in Kitsap County, about 25 miles northwest from Seattle.  Here and there a green nose is pushing itself into the brine as trying to contest with the elements of the deep.  Sweet melodies spring from the laughing ripples, and sail on the wings of lazy zephyrs to cheer the ears of the village.  This muscial bay is a natural abode for Scandinavians who are wont for the songs of happy fjords... [Kitsap County History, Book II--North Kitsap, p.34.]

The town of Poulsbo sent twelve prominent citizens (one for each year of prosperity) to participate in a 500-plus person Norway Day parade representing nine periods of Norwegian history at the Exposition.

Images:  Poulsbo Centennial Book Committee, Poulsbo: Its First Hundred Years, compiled and edited by Rangval Kvelstad (Centennial Book Committee:  Poulsbo, Washington, 1986).

Many years after the AYPE, in preparation for the publication of a local history, a member of the Kitsap County Historical Society sent a worn set of photographs of the twelve 1909 Poulsbo Vikings to a photography studio for refurbishing.  The bill that was returned with the refurbished photographs of the men, who had posed wielding clubs and wearing bear skins and leather sandals,, read:  "Reconditioned:  12 Cave Men." [Kvelstad. Poulsbo, Its First Hundred Years, p.67]

Judging by the appearance of the Viking costumes, it is likely that the twleve men represented the first period of Norwegian history while carrying the Poulsbo banner in the AYPE Norway Day parade.  Their pre-historic appearing costumes were meant to showcase the "warriors of the fifth century, clad in sandals and sporting long hair and beards, representing Norsemen and Visigoths capturing Roman soldiers." [HistoryLink.org]

I became interested in finding out more about these twelve intriguing Poulsbo cave men, er... I mean "Vikings," so I decided to research them for a series of blog articles.  The fearless twelve are:  Stener Thorsen, Peter Iverson, George Teien, Nels Sonju, Carl Breivig, Halvor Holte, Christian Garthe, John Twedt, Chris Lakeness, Tenander Iversen, Ole Hanson, and Ole Ellefson Espelund.  First up will be Viking #4:  Nels Sonju.  Stay tuned!

See also:

Poulsbo AYPE Viking #1:  Stener Thorsen
Poulsbo AYPE Viking #2:  Peter Iverson
Poulsbo AYPE Viking #4:  Nels Sonju
Poulsbo AYPE Viking #6:  Halvor Holte
Poulsbo AYPE Viking #8:  John Twedt


--HistoryLink.org, Essay 8923: "Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Norway Day on August 30, 1909."
--Kitsap County Historical Society.  Kitsap County History.  Seattle:  Kitsap County Historical Society, 1977.
--Kvelstad, Rangvald.  Poulsbo:  Its First Hundred Years.  Silverdate, Washington:  Poulsbo Centennial Book Committee,

Chery Kinnick

29 August 2012

Book Review: “Counterfeiter: How a Norwegian Jew survived the Holocaust”

When this book was first published in English in 2008, I purchased a copy for my personal library. I’ve never been one to read in the genre of "military books." I’m not much for graphic and detailed chronicles of battles, for statistics of heroic maneuvers and strategic moves, or for anecdotal narratives of military wins and losses. It’s just not for me. I’m more of a lover than a hater.

That said, I do enjoy a good book by a skilled narrator. I’ve recently become interested in how Norwegians were affected by this massive and drawn-out gruesome war:  a catastrophe that ravaged hundreds of thousands – an entire generation.
All three of my mother’s brothers, my father, and three of his five brothers served our country in World War II. Their personal stories of "time spent in service" remain unwritten and are passed along only via oral narration. Only one of my uncles, who recently turned 95, is still alive to share a first-person account of what life was like, fighting a battle across an ocean.

But – what about the civilians, the men, women and children who were innocent victims of the whims of a brutal dictator?  How does one survive a genocide? Who are the heroes, the people who came to the aid of the targets of a cruel and inhumane militia that was driven to unthinkable measures of cruelty and punishment? What are their stories?

Moritz Nachtstern (1902-1969) was a Norwegian-Jewish typographer who was deported from Oslo in 1942. He was a survivor, one Norwegian who was not killed by the National Socialist German Workers’ party – the Nazis. He was, however, tortured physically, emotionally and mentally. After his release in 1945, he married and ultimately narrated his experiences to his new wife, who wrote them down. This personal memoir was then edited by journalist Ragnar Arntzen, and published in Norwegian in 1949 with the title Falskmynter I blokk 19.

The book chronicles three horrific years. It begins with vivid stories of what it was like to be a civilian in a country that had been invaded and occupied by the Nazi regime. As the story unfolds, Moritz shares with the reader a first-person account of arrest and transportation to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. It was here that he was "plucked out of the gas chamber line" and driven to Sachsehausen, where he became a member of a secret Nazi project: Operation Bernhard.

This scheme’s goal was to destabilize the British government by creating millions of counterfeit banknotes and putting them into circulation. Moritz was one of over 170 prisoners who were pressed into creating exquisite forgeries of the British pound note. These forced laborers worked as slowly as possible, both to frustrate the Nazi plan and to ensure that they never became expendable. Moritz Nachtstern was the only Norwegian among the operation’s many Czech, Polish, German, Slovakian, and Austrian workers.

Mr. Nachtstern does an amazing job, allowing the reader into an insider’s view of his personal journey. It’s well told and easy to follow. As a follow-up, one might also read Krueger’s Men: The Secret Nazi Counterfeit Plot and the Prisoners of Block 19, written by Lawrence Malkin and published in 2006. The latter is also quite scholarly and presents details of the entire operation, with supporting documentation.


Luci Baker Johnson

14 August 2012

Coffee Table Norwegian

The universe has aligned itself such that I'm considering taking Norwegian language classes this fall at the Scandinavian Language Institute in Ballard (Seattle), Washington. The Institute, which was begun 30 years ago by Ed Egerdahl, has been attended by hundreds throughout the Puget Sound and beyond. Below is a piece that I wrote in 2004 when I first encountered Ed and his talent for making the language come alive. - Luci 

Coffee Table Norwegian

An airline flight attendant from Mesa, Arizona makes a weekly junket to Seattle. Her harried schedule involves flying to SeaTac Airport every Tuesday, then taking a city bus to the Scandinavian neighborhood known as Ballard in order to take a two-hour Norwegian language class. That same evening she returns to SeaTac in time for the last flight back home to Mesa. She’s made this junket for past six months in order to learn from the best, Ed Egerdahl, Director of the Scandinavian Language Institute.

Ed, a 45-year old first generation Norwegian-American, who comes to class dressed comfortably in blue jeans and tennis shoes, has slightly graying hair. He’s a 1978 graduate of the University of Washington’s College of Education with a degree in Norwegian. He remarks, with a glimmer in his eye, that he is the first and only student to have ever graduated with this degree from the UW.  He began his career by teaching Norwegian at Seattle’s Ballard and Lincoln high schools, then went on to establish the Scandinavian Language Institute in 1981. Over the past 22 years, his journey has touched the lives of over 2000 people.

“What’s interesting to me is that students that I’ve met along the way, I’ve met them where they are, not on their way to something else. In all the years that I’ve been doing this, I have several dozen students who have been with me the entire 20 years. We’ve simply grown old together.” Ed reminisces. “I’ve been with students as they’ve gotten married, had their babies, buried their spouses, and married off their children. I’m now into second and third generations with the same families.” He continues, “Together, many of us have buried those who have been students – it’s simply part of real life."

Ed teaches 170 students each quarter in 14 classes, taking each class on, what he calls a ‘wildly interesting ride.’ The ride is his unique style of teaching – different from the traditional classroom instruction at most colleges and universities. “Its been a long time ago now, that I decided the only way I could keep doing this was if I could be learning something at the same time that I’m teaching.”

His week begins with the advanced class ‘talking about what Norwegians are talking about.’ For example this fall his students discussed the Norwegian Women’s Soccer team who won the Gold at the 2000 Olympics and the talk of the Norwegian Crown Prince who is contemplating marriage to a woman who has a child from a previous marriage. As the week progresses Ed continues this dialog with the other 13 classes. This helps his students to build their vocabulary and develop their understanding of Norway and Norwegians – today, not just a snap shot in history.

“That’s where you end up with your best kind of conversational thing. It’s not standing at the ticket window asking directions. It’s sitting around the coffee table, where second cousins get to know each other,” says Ed. “It’s the most practical things that can be used in all kinds of situations.”

Ed starts his beginners class with a simple question – why are you here? The responses are as varied as his students. One woman responds, “I’m taking a trip to Norway and want to learn a few words.” A 20-year-old man says, “I just landed a job with a fishing company in Ballard and all of the correspondence is in Norwegian – I need help!” An older gentleman says, “My grandfather came from Norway, but I don’t know from where – I want to be able to read the Norwegian census records.” A shy young woman says with a twinkle in her eye, “I just got engaged to a gorgeous Norwegian guy—we’re taking our honeymoon to Olso to meet his parents.”

And so it goes around the room, each one answering Ed’s question. The last student, a mature woman in her early fifties, shares. “My immigrant father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.” Her eyes brim with tears as she continues. “His doctor recommended that I take a language class to help him when he begins to revert to his native tongue, Norwegian.” Every student has their own reason for coming each week to learn Norwegian from this fun loving expert.

In addition to his rigorous teaching schedule, beginning on Monday with the advanced class and ends on Saturday morning with the kids’ class, Ed also accepts translating assignments. For the past two and a half years he has worked with a Seattle-based architectural firm who won the bid for a very large reconstruction job in Oslo, Norway. He has been translating all of their bylaws, articles of incorporation, job specifications and other business items into Norwegian for them.

One of his most memorable experiences was 10 years ago when he received a phone call from a casting company that wanted to know if he did Norwegian translations. He said yes. And when he went to Pioneer Square to meet the caller he learned that they were looking for a Norwegian interpreter for a role in a movie directed by David Lynch. He interviewed with Mr. Lynch, who cast him as the Norwegian interpreter in the pilot show for “Twin Peaks.” It was two days worth of shooting, the pilot for the TV series. “So I’m in the video stores – I’ve been typed cast as a Norwegian Interpreter,” Ed laughs.

As Ed reflects on his life to this point, he says, “It both amazes me and amuses me that I’ve been able to sustain the momentum for so long. After 22 years I can say that I’m still teaching my thing – my way. I can’t think of anyone I’d rather work for.” When asked where things go from here, Ed says, “I’ll keep doing it as long as I keep having fun doing it.”

As for the woman whose father has Alzheimer’s? Ed recalled that she was in class later in the quarter asking, “Ed, how do I say swallow? I can’t get my dad to swallow his food.” Ed smiles as he remarks, “That’s what it’s all about. If I teach no anything else, if I can teach her how to tell her dad to swallow, then I’ve made a difference in that one person’s life.”


Luci Baker Johnson

13 August 2012

Book Review: "The Mountains Wait"

Out-of-Norway via
Summer, for me, is a time to read, and read, and then to do some more reading. I have a long list of Norwegian and Norwegian-American historical fiction and non-fiction on this summer’s book list.

The Mountains Wait, published by Webb Book Publishing Co. in 1942, is an authentic first person account of life in a northern Norway just prior to and during World War II. It’s an eyewitness account of actual events that took place in Narvik on the fateful morning of April 9, 1940 and the months that followed.

The author, Theodor Broch, was a 36-year-old lawyer and the newly elected Mayor of Narvik. He had been educated in Oslo, and in 1930 he and his wife had moved to Narvik, a community inland (east) of the Lofoten Islands, three hours south of Tromso. Narvik, a city of about 10,000 people at that time, is located on the shores of the Ofotijorden (Narvik Fjord), an inlet of the Norwegian Sea located 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

In the first 100 pages or so, the author vividly describes how he and his wife came to live in Narvik, what the people were like, how the city was structured, what kinds of legal issues were brought before the courts, and how he established himself as a qualified young lawyer and community leader. Chapter eight, titled The Ninth of April, begins with “The ninth of April [1939] was a Tuesday. That day lightning struck and our world broke in pieces.” He goes on to say “Afterwards we often talked of the day before the catastrophe.…Perhaps we recalled the day only because it was the last in a normal world.” The remaining 207 pages provide a glimpse into what it was like to have your life, and the life of those you love, invaded and occupied by the Germans. He outlines a life under the cold and watchful eyes of occupation troops, of sea fighting and land fighting, and of vigorous sabotage and resistance.

The book is easily read in a couple of days, but leaves a lasting image of what it is like to have your life completely disrupted by war. It’s not your typical ‘war’ novel, in that it doesn’t go into the minute details of guns, machinery, and battles won and lost. Instead, it paints a vivid first-person account of the civilian lives impacted by the invasion. The book actually ends in about 1942, prior to the end of the war, and leaves the reader with a sense of anxiety over whether (and if so, how) the people will ever return to a life of normalcy.

I highly recommend this book. You might have to check it out from your local library, as it is out of print; however, a few used copies may be available online or at a used bookstore.   _________________________

Luci Baker Johnson