By Janette Turner
“We fled forty-one times,” said Hanna Aasvik Helmersen, today’s speaker at EPIC Group Writers in the Edmonds Library. Helmerson’s talk touched on her Norwegian childhood as a refugee under Nazi occupation, which she documented in her nonfiction book, “War and Innocence: A Young Girl’s Life in Occupied Norway (1940-1945).”
Helmersen’s book chronicles the Nazi arrival into her family’s town of Narvik in Northern Norway, beyond the Arctic Circle. Narvik was a strategic choice because high-grade iron ore could be exported easily to serve the Nazi war machine. Once Nazis were on Norwegian soil, Helmersen and several siblings fled with their mother, not knowing if they would see the family patriarch or eldest daughter again. At one point, Kirsten, the youngest girl, was lost, but neighbors looked out for one another, sharing shelter and food, until the family was reunited.
Those same neighbors made up part of the resistance movement, which destroyed lists of young Norwegian males so they could not be conscripted, and also sabotaged fuel sources and ridiculed Germans via the newspaper’s hidden jokes. Throughout the war, young Helmersen suffered food shortages and the imposition of Germans living under the family roof, while still managing to attend school and thrive as a student, even winning a poetry competition.
Today Helmersen said she has a limited number of books left for sale, and she hopes to educate more Americans about the price Norwegians paid in World War II. For more information on Helmersen’s book, see here, and to learn more about EPIC’s speakers and writing group, see the EPIC website.