Following the German invasion of Norway in 1940, many Norwegian ships fled to allied ports if they could, despite orders from Germany that they should report to German ports. Ten Norwegian vessels lay at the Swedish port of Gothenburg (waiting in “quiet waters” hence the name of Kvarstad) while the Swedish court system reviewed a case brought by Germany to prohibit the ships from leaving. Britain decided to lease the ten ships and Sweden allowed them to leave Gothenburg to sail to England.
The ships headed into the Skaggerak Strait headed for the North Sea, but the German navy and air force were waiting for them. Two ships made it to England, two returned to Gothenberg, and the others were scuttled on purpose by the crews or sunk due to mines or torpedoes.
This book is the story of six women and little 7-year old Reidun Kongslie as well as their men, all of whom survived the attempted escape and were taken prisoners by the Germans. Reidun and her parents were aboard an old whaling ship, the F/K Skytteren. The ship bore several mines so that it could be destroyed to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. The order was given to set off the explosives and the crew and passengers abandoned the ship. The Kongslie family and many others on the stricken ships were rescued and captured by the Germans.
The Kvarstad prisoners were moved to Fredrikshavn, Denmark, and then to Marlag and Milag Nord, a POW camp in northwest Germany. Although the men and women were separated there, they were treated rather decently and allowed to receive parcels via the Red Cross. The author shows a letter written by Reidun’s father in Milag in English and sent to her where she was held just outside the camp. It does not have postage but was censored.
In November 1942 the Kvarstad women and Reidun were moved to a civil intern camp in Germany, Biberach an der Riss. In February 1943 the Norwegian men were transferred to Rendsburg in Schleswig-Holstein. Some were later convicted of aiding and abetting the enemy and were sent on to Sachsenhausen and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.
Reidun was allowed to attend school along with British children transferred to the camp from the Channel Islands. The Kvarstad women were able to write to their husbands as well as to relatives at home using form postcards. For some unexplained reason, the six Norwegian women plus Reidun were freed and sent back to Oslo via Berlin and Copenhagen after two years of imprisonment. Reidun’s mother wrote many letters to German camps, trying to learn her husband’s whereabouts. Finally she received a letter from Sachsenhausen in February 1945 confirming he was there.
Efforts on behalf of Sweden were successful in seeking the release of Scandinavians from concentration camps. Reidun’s father was moved with many other prisoners on Swedish buses through Germany into Denmark and thence to Sweden. A letter and a postcard that he sent home announcing his pending return are shown in the book. Also seen are his temporary passport to return to Norway and his train ticket to Oslo. He was reunited with his family in the summer of 1945.
In April 1946 Reidun’s brother was born. Reidun’s father became captain of a ship that moved lumber between the west coast of the United States and the Far East. The family came to the United States and accompanied their father on one of his trips to China and back. The family considered staying in America but instead returned to their native Norway. Reidun’s father retired in 1966 and died in 1972. His wife worked for many years for the Association for War Invalids. She died in 2001.
Reidun married in 1952 and has three children. Reidun still lives in Vestfold but travels each year to the Canary Islands. With so many terrible stories about the strife and horrors of World War II, it is heartwarming to read about the good outcome for this Norwegian family. Thanks go to author Erik Lørdahl who tracked down Reidun in 2012 and corresponded with her to develop this fascinating story of survival.