The Taber Hall Press

The Taber Hall Press
P.O. Box 159
Marion, MA 02738

Reckless Courage: The True Story of a Norwegian Boy Under Nazi Rule



Mor, gi’mig solen. (Mother, give me the sun.)
--Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts

It was still dark that December morning when Mathilda Høines slowly climbed the stairs to the third floor attic to wake the three boys. Jakob, 16, slept in a room of his own, while Ingolf, 12 and Gunnar, 9, shared a room at the other end. On school days she tried to get the boys up and moving as soon as the bathroom on the second floor was free. Marion, 14, and Ivar, the father, were already in the dining room, dressed and having breakfast. Laid out on the white tablecloth was a pitcher of milk, a platter of thick slabs of homemade light brown Norwegian bread, and side dishes of butter, cheese, and sardines. Marion was up early to help her mother with one-year-old Ann, while Ivar had to leave early to catch the bus for downtown Stavanger. He handled all blending in the city’s largest margarine plant, one of many enterprises founded by a great uncle. It was an important job, insuring that the margarine was neither too liquid nor too hard despite changes in seasonal temperatures.

Mathilda switched on the overhead light in the wide hall between two bedrooms before going around to gently shake each boy’s shoulder and telling them it was time to get up. An erect, taller than average woman, she shuffled through the rooms in slippers and an apron tied at the waist that she always wore indoors. She took clean plaid wool shirts out of the large hall dresser for each of the boys before pulling off the down comforters to air out the beds. Gunnar, of slight build and serious manner, was invariably the first one dressed and down to wash. Ingolf and Jakob were still arguing over whose turn it was to feed Rex, the family’s pet Boxer. Ingolf, stocky and well built but a head shorter than his lanky older brother, was a constant tease in trying to get a rise out of Jakob but was generally unsuccessful. Jakob had more serious things on his mind that morning.

Three weeks earlier, the Russians had invaded Finland. A volunteer force from Sweden and Norway was being formed to aid the small neighboring country that was battling giant Russia to a standstill in the winter forests. The day before, while visiting a friend’s house after school, Jakob had overheard an older brother pleading with his parents to let him join. The father was unusually emotional in arguing against it. His main point was Norway’s long tradition of pacifism and neutrality, aside from the fact it was bound to be a losing cause. His friend’s mother said nothing, and his brother listened silently with his head hung. Norwegians did not argue with their parents. Although Jakob was two years too young to enlist, he couldn’t get the idea of joining this noble cause out of his mind.

Gunnar sat down for breakfast dressed in a heavy hand-knit wool sweater, thick corduroy knickers, knee-length black wool stockings, and winter boots. He said good morning to his father, who was about to take a cup of coffee into the study to catch a few minutes of Radio Norway’s seven o’clock news. Ivar wanted to hear the latest developments in Finland before catching the bus. Everyone at the plant was talking about the war. Finland bordered Norway in the far north section of the country, and most Norwegians feared Communism and Bolshevik Russia as much as Nazi Germany and its National Socialism.

Gunnar bolted down his breakfast so he could listen with his father in the study . Ivar, who the children called Far, was lean, clean-shaven, and slightly balding with a placid kindly face. He sat in his favorite easy chair while Gunnar crouched next to him. After the major news items, Ivar looked at his wristwatch and stood up. He had to leave to catch the bus but told Gunnar to stay and listen. There were so many important world events going on the boys should know about. Ivar got his overcoat and bowler hat from the front closet, kissed Mathilda on the cheek and gently touched Marion and Ann. He headed down the front walkway to the main road while Gunnar watched from the study window.

Mathilda sent Gunnar back up to the third floor to hurry Jakob and Ingolf along. She spent the next hour making sure everyone had a full breakfast and was ready for the school day. Ann watched from the high chair as her older brothers and sister told Mor what type of open faced sandwich they wanted for lunch. They had a choice of either sliced egg or sardine, which Mathilda wrapped in waxed paper. She made a last minute check of Gunnar’s and Ingolf’s leather school satchels to make sure each had the right notebooks for that day’s classes. All Norway followed the same schedule.

After seeing the children off, Mathilda put Ann on her lap and had her first cup of coffee and a few minutes rest. Rex, wagging his tail and still not fed, stood expectantly at her knee. She decided that starting tomorrow, she would turn that chore over to Gunnar. Ingolf was always getting sidetracked and had to be constantly reminded, while Jakob should be doing more grown up tasks. It was now nine o’clock, but the sky was just getting bright and the sun still had not risen above the mountains across the fjord. Still, the six hours of sunlight this time of year seemed like a blessing. Mathilda thought of a girlhood friend who had married and moved to the northernmost city of Hammerfest. There, the sun completely disappeared for two months from late November until late January. There was only a glow in the sky for several hours at mid-day.

Mathilda had a full schedule and wanted to finish her Christmas shopping in Stavanger before the children returned from school. She was also expecting a delivery truck around noon with a surprise for Ivar and the family. The entire month of December was taken up with the typical Norwegian preparations for Christmas: every piece of metal polished, all linens and clothes washed and ironed, woodwork and walls scrubbed. Dried cod, thin and as hard as a wooden board, had to be soaked for days in a lye solution and then pounded with a mallet to make lutefisk, the traditional national dish for the occasion. Although the children helped after school and on the weekends, Mathilda still carried the extra workload of caring for Ann and keeping house. Because of the cool climate, like most Norwegians Mathilda did not have an icebox or refrigerator, and so in addition she had to make almost daily trips into the center of Hinna for milk and perishables.

Mathilda did not regret buying the large home in the Hinna suburb, but it required far more work than the rental in Stavanger from which they had moved three years ago. The three-story gray house with brown trim sat on a large plot of land overlooking the Gandsfjord, a narrow spur of the very wide Boknafjord that extended out to the North Sea almost twenty miles away. There was a garden in back and several tall fir trees in front. The house was on the main road to Stavanger, across from a communal dock where the Høineses kept their twenty-foot double-ended skiff. Behind the house, low hills provided some protection from the prevailing and often violent west winds off the North Sea. Like many mid December days, there was just a dusting of snow on the ground when Ingolf and Gunnar made the twenty-minute walk to school. Situated on the west coast in the southern part of Norway, Stavanger was only 280 miles from the Scottish Isles and like them had surprisingly mild weather due to the continuation of the Gulf Stream, called the North Atlantic Drift. Average winter temperatures were just above freezing, but further inland there were arctic conditions and mountains heavily clad with snow.