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An Artist’s Impression of Nazi-occupied Norway

by John Cobley

Sunday Mar 27th, 2022


Of the many books on the Nazi occupation of Norway from 1940-1945, Albert Jaern’s 1945 book of woodcuts, And Then Came the Liberators, does as well as any in conveying the experience. The 102 woodcuts depict Jaern’s everyday experiences as an Oslo native from April 8, 1940, when all the lights went out except those in the German consulate, to May 7 five years later, when peace was announced. Each woodcut is accompanied by a short prose comment. Sixty-six years later Borderland Books published a superb new version.


Albert Jaern (1893-1949) was working as a busy illustrator when the Germans arrived in Oslo. He managed to survive the five-year occupation, despite being arrested in 1941. Suspected of anti-Nazi sympathies, he was interned and interrogated, only to be released a few days later. Throughout the war, despite the danger, he regularly made woodcuts of everyday life in Oslo. He hid his works in a secret cabinet so successfully that they were never found despite many searches and a ransacking of his home.


Jaern’s book provides details about life under occupation that are not usually found in history books. One Nazi strategy was to starve the Norwegian population. They burnt many farms and made everyone dependent on food provided by the Nazis. Of course there was some black-market food, but not nearly enough. Jaern in fact said he would have starved without food from the black market. Another powerful method of control was the implementation of requisitions. Not only were cars and radios requisitioned, but so were backpacks, woolen blankets and a lot of clothing. Naern mentions a factory supervisor who, near the end of the occupation, no longer changed his only shirt because it would not have survived another washing. Coins were also taken for their metal, but lack of coins also made buying much more difficult. Another effective method in cities was the use of blackouts. This made night-time activities difficult as well as being a psychological weapon.


While not quite as brilliant an artist as Frans Masereel, though perhaps influenced by him, Jaern is nevertheless a first-class woodcutter. He leaves lots of space in his work, clearly striving for simplicity and impact. He is a master of composition and his more than 30 years of professional work is evident throughout this book. Many examples of his peace-time work can be easily found on the Internet.


Here are five examples of his work.



When I came down to Storting Street, the Germans were confiscating automobiles. I went around the corner and got away.  





In Haugsbyda 48 farms were burned. The livestock that were saved stood in snow up to their bellies. 





Today the German police again surrounded a city block and picked up some men. I hope that they don’t receive the same fate as the students, and be sent as forced laborers to Germany to work on fortifications.





Civilian Nazis and the hird [armed guard of the Norwegian Nazis] have for a long time assaulted people on the streets and removed the national pins and flags from their lapels. Now they have started to take clothes from the children, mainly the red nisseluene [knitted stocking caps].





Today a prisoner fled from the Gestapo and jumped from the Victoria Terrasse down on the Russelok Road. Several shots were fired at him. Did the Gestapo think that the man would continue to flee after falling from a height of 20 meters?





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