from The Storks came Back, (chapter 44) Feathers and Tar
Morten walked on through the main street toward the village square with the BP gas station, closed long ago. There was a noisy gathering of people at the gas station. Morten heard rowdy laughter, jeering and cat calls. He pushed his bike through the crowd till he could see the old derelict gas pumps. By accident he bumped with his bike against a tall burly man. The man turned around with a frown, changing to a grin when he caught sight of Morten. “Here, sonny,” he said, stepping aside. “You’ve got to see this, something to tell your grandchildren one day.”
With a mounting sense of dread Morton looked at the scene by the gas pump. Four men dragged a disheveled young woman to the rusty bar connecting the two defunct pumps. They raised her arms over her head and tied her hands to the bar. The pump owner came out of the house with a pair of scissors. He held them up to the crowd for all to see, and set to work snipping off the woman’s long dark hair. Morten caught a glimpse of her face, and his heart missed a beat. The woman was Maya, Niels’s sister, who had cleaned offices and apartments for the Germans.
The bystanders roared.
“Take off her clothes and her shoes and whip her out of town,” a woman suggested. “Chase her right out to the border and across, to her boyfriends in Germany,” yelled another.
Two men carrying a bucket between them made their way through the crowd.
“Make way for us, make way,” warned one of them, a big red-haired fellow. “Mind yourselves now! Don’t get too close to the bucket. We’ve got hot tar in here, and we don’t want to splash anyone.”
They set the tar bucket down near the pump, out of reach for the woman’s kicking feet.
“Anyone has an old feather pillow to donate?” asked the red-haired lad.
“Go get it now! Hurry up! Bring on the feathers and let’s start the show!”
Morten jumped on his bike and sped away, back to the checkpoint at the station. “Uncle Holger,” he cried. “Come quick! They’ve tied up Maya Kristoffelsen and they’re going to hurt her!”
He took a deep breath.
“She’s Niels’ sister! That’s no way to thank Niels for helping the Resistance!”
Uncle Holger jumped behind the wheel of the truck.
“Come along, Joern!”
The unwieldy vehicle, with Morten biking behind, forced its way down the main street through throngs of people, bikes and assorted vehicles.
They arrived at the BP station almost unnoticed. All faces were turned to the entertainment at the pump. Suddenly a machine gun blast from the truck sent ripples of panic through the crowd. Many were screaming and others threw themselves on the ground, arms folded over their heads as if seeking protection from strafing. Joern fired another volley high over the roof of the gas station, prompting the last remaining onlookers to hurry away from the pumps.
Uncle Holger released the terrified young woman from the bar. There were splashes of tar on her face, arms and legs. He helped her into the truck. “We’ll get you to a doctor right away to have those splashes taken care of,” he said quietly. “Afterwards we’ll drive you home. I don’t think people will bother you again. But you had better stay home and indoors for a few days. And don’t show up for a while in the village.”
I based the scene in chapter 44 of The Storks came Back, on my husband’s written notes below:
Five years of war and occupation leave a lot of unfinished business
The resistance movement that emerged in Denmark during the occupation years, 1940-1945, developed its own system of justice. Years after the war when I had a summer-job with a fruit growing farm, I became more fully aware of this. One day, instead of going as usual to work in the orchards and berry fields, we were told to clear out a large barn in preparation for the hundreds of guests expected to attend the grand anniversary of Christian (my employer’s father). Christian had been a ‘lay-judge’ for the Resistance during the war. During those years he had been a highly respected member of an underground court that gathered periodically to judge Resistance members charged with minor to serious forms of misconduct, including the occasional mistreatment of people believed – rightly or wrongly – to be Nazi-collaborators.
Although most people tried to keep a low profile under the Nazi occupation, this changed toward the end of the war. After the first week of May 1945, there was an upsurge of people walking the streets sporting homemade Resistance badges and color-coded armbands. Not all of them could claim any notable history as members of the underground movement. Some self-recruited patriots went out of their way to pursue alleged collaborators, especially women said to have had close relations with the occupation forces.
On the day the German surrender was announced in the village we lived in at the time, a sizeable mob of people had collected in the evening around the old BP gasoline station, defunct since the war began (all gas supplies were discontinued at the start of the war). Elsewhere in the village near the telephone exchange the Resistance had put up a roadblock. The man in charge asked some older kids who had bicycles (myself included) to keep an eye out for trouble. About eight o’clock in the evening I heard wild cheers from the mob assembled at the gas station. I biked down to investigate and found a young woman, often hired by village residents to clean house – including some that housed German Army officers – who was clearly in big trouble. The woman, pregnant with her third child, had been hoisted up strapped to the metal bar connecting the two ancient fuel pumps. Her clothes had been cut away and they were shaving off the hair on her head and elsewhere on her body to prepare for the coating of red metal (notoriously toxic) lead-paint they intended to give her.
I raced off on my bike to the road block for help, and was soon headed back to the gas station riding on the hood of our tank – and old truck secretly armored by the local blacksmith with sheet metal plates. We reached the cheering mob just as they started to cover the helpless woman with lead-paint. Our truck driver sounded the claxon. The gunner beside him fired a machine gun volley in the air, causing the mob to scatter. The victim was released and rushed to the doctor’s office for a thorough paint-removal job. Though she felt pretty sick for a while afterwards, she suffered no lasting effects from the paint. She continued to live in the village, supporting herself and her children with the aid of social assistance and cleaning jobs for a number of households that were willing to hire her.
This sort of thing didn’t occur only in Denmark of course. Similar, or worse, treatment of collaborators – real or perceived – took place in other European countries liberated from German occupation.
The following summer I traveled with a group of other young people to Norway. The trip was organized by my uncle and his Norwegian wife. During our stay in Norway our group was hosted on a farm in Telemark, which belonged to my aunt’s sister.
This sister’s husband, unemployed during the time of German occupation in Norway, had volunteered for a factory job in Germany (to avoid being rounded up forcibly with other unemployed and shipped off to Germany as forced laborer). He survived the hardships and bombings of his workplace in Germany and returned home to Norway after the war had ended – only to find that his home village refused to accept him.
A local committee appointed to evaluate his case and a few others, decided that this man, although he couldn’t be rated a war criminal, had been a willing collaborator with the enemy. Many wanted to chase him away from the village and out of the region altogether. In the end they compromised by allowing him to remain in the area, though not in the actual village. He was free to live in solitude up on the mountain in a hut that belonged to the farm. There he was expected to make himself useful by cutting lumber and firewood on behalf of the farm and taking care of the farm’s cattle brought up to the high pastures for summer grazing. He was entitled to receive food and other needed essentials from the farm in return. These would be left at a certain gate halfway up the mountain. He wasn’t allowed to have any face to face contact with other people, and later we heard that he only lasted up there a few more years.
The horrors of war go far beyond the direct impact of battle and bombardments.
Hans K. Larsen