Thursday, June 23, 2016

Run For Your Life - A Story of Strength from World War II

Many of our ancestors faced situations that required every bit of strength and courage they could muster.  But few of those situations could compare with running for your very life from the Nazis.

My grandmother, Lisa Hammer, had a life that repeatedly required strength, from the time she was a toddler pining away for the home and mother that she'd never return to, to teaching and ministering to the poorest children in Norway, and much more in between.  But the astounding story of her fortitude during World War II shows what she was made of.   At the time of this story, she was a teacher in Kjøllefjord, Finnmark in northern Norway. I can't tell the story like Lisa could, so I will let her do it.  Keep in mind as you read the story that she got terribly seasick on boats, and that the Nazis had mined the waters.  Also please keep in mind that English was not her first language.

With that, may I introduce my guest host for this posting, Lisa Hammer.


In 1940 the World War II broke out and lasted five years.  There was very little food around.  We fed the kids oatmeal soup and cod liver oil in the school and when the weather was bad, the fishermen stole the fish they had sold the day before.  The kids were not fed the way they should be and many times it was a lot better to give them a bath and teach them history and something else.  After the war I got a year off and went to a garden school.

The country was neutral but in big trouble because the Germans took the food for the soldiers.  For three weeks at the school we ate sour rhubarb jam with no butter on the bread.  The people were often put in camps because they didn't join the Nazis and they were starving to death.  The farmers in the south smuggled food in in empty garbage cans.  We could not write to our mothers because all mail was opened up and every telephone call taped.  All radios were taken away and nobody knew for sure who the next man was so we never dared to talk freely.  I stayed with one of the teachers at the school and had a very good year with them.  We made a lot of potato flour to take home and we bought a lot of caraway seed for tea.

Kjollefjord, 1928.  Original source of photo unknown.

In 1945 the Germans lost the war but before they left they burned the country and they evacuated us to the southern part.

We heard the news about the burning but did not know how serious the situation was before we saw the smoke come rolling over the mountain from Kjøllefjord.  We came together for a meeting and decided that all the men should go home and pack and all the women should bake bread so we could take it with us the next day.  It was in November and still no snow on the ground.  I lived alone but neighbors helped and we all worked together.  I went to bed and slept to 5 A.M.  Somebody knocked on the door and asked if I would go with my friends who had an old mother and were leaving.  I said no because I was sad and there were many who needed help.  I slept again until 7:30 A.M. and had another knock on the door.  This time the Germans were on the harbour, shooting down the pier and coast light.  I took the bike and my valuables up in the mountains to a small lake where we had water.  The Germans threw hand grenades in all the houses and that evening, not one house was left.  We had bought coal for heating for winter and all was burned up.  They put us in a fishing boat and said go to the south.  They were sure we would be bombed on the way but the first night the weather was so bad we couldn't go to the boat.  We made a big fireplace outside and fried sheep meat and drank beer.  We roasted the sheep and ate them.  The cows were running wild around; we milked them before we left and took as many pails with us as we could.  Of course we were to have food for three days.

Lisa's home in Kjollefjord

It was early Sunday morning the Germans come and they threw the grenades in the houses and we were all up to and before evening came, there wasn't one house left from all the places where we had the winter coal saved for the next year.  And we went down there and tried to find ourself but we couldn't find it because it was too dark and I was wondering where my map was at and all my papers and I couldn't find it and one of the neighbors who was born there, she came with a lantern and she said you follow me and I will find it, and she found it up in the rocks that night.  We had big bowls of sweet stuff, the cranberries, the blueberries and the snowberries we had saved for the winter, we dug them under the sod in the fence of the graveyard.  When we saw we couldn't take it with us we sat and ate out of the crocks.

It was very bad weather that night so we couldn't enter the boat - it wasn't possible to come to the boat so we were a mess.  We roasted some sheep, fried them on the fire and we drank some beer.  Milked some cows, packed silver in the shoes and boots so we could take as much as possible and next morning we went to the boat.  It was a fishing boat - we were laying in the bottom of the boat.  One man got crazy but we had a basket that was made up ready to go to the hospital if somebody should be sick.  Of course it was far away to the hospital.  So we tied him up in that basket, it was the only thing to do.  And every place we went by that day there was burning and burning and burning.  We tore apart sheets and bedspreads and washed the kids and one woman got her pants filled up screaming what should we do and throw it in the ocean, no, no, no we can't afford to do that, but there was nothing else to do.

So, for three days we went south and the Germans were sure we would all be bombed and died.  But later the weather got beautiful, we didn't see a plane.  We came to a city Phlocea.  They backed us into some cattle wagons with no windows, just one door, no lights and the rest room outside.

So we came down to a city called Mansus.  That is a side road going down to my home country and I took two families and we ran away in the dark.  The rest came south and I come home to my mother and my father with my two families.


Lisa eventually went back to Finnmark and continued on to build up a fine school district from virtually nothing, and 30 years later she left it all behind for a new life in the United States with my grandfather.

Many thanks to Elizabeth O'Neal for hosting the Blog Party


  1. What a terrible thing to have to endure. Lisa did a wonderful job telling her story - I could picture it all in my mind.

  2. What a terrible time to live through, for your grandmother and everyone else who loved freedom and had to try to preserve themselves from the Nazis. She had a lot of courage and must have been very strong-willed to keep going.

    I just finished reading a book (Secrets of a Charmed Life) about two girls who were removed from London to the country during the London Blitz of WWII. There was an interview with the author at the end and she commented that those of younger generations don't understand what our parents and grandparents lived through and how they managed. I think we get an overview but perhaps not enough detail. And I think those who have lived through war and other terrible situations often don't want to relive them by telling or writing them down. It was wonderful of your grandmother to record those terrible times, Karen. I think when we learn the details we come to know and understand people better and why they think, act, and behave as they do.

    Thanks for sharing. Blessings to your grandmother.

  3. What a wonderful gift from your grandmother. To have the very words she wrote and be able to 'see' the story in your mind. I can't imagine how difficult it must have been to leave everything behind and not even know where you are going to end up! Thanks for sharing her story with us!

  4. To have an account written by your grandmother is very precious. Thank you for reminding us what so many of our ancestors had to endure in times of war.

    Family History Fun

  5. Wow - what a tale! Your grandmother was an amazingly strong woman to have survived all of that. Thanks for sharing her story.

  6. What an amazing story. I'm glad you have it in your grandmother's words. It will be a treasure to your family for generations to come.