Saturday, February 21, 2004

The white sweater
He was not yet 20, and his brother was two years younger. They had decided to cross the border between Norway and Sweden. It was the winter 1943/44. The next autumn the German troops would burn the farm they lived on, and their father would spend the winter living in a barrel. But at the time the two young men would be in Sweden, serving their country in the Norwegian police troops.

To cross the border in winter they would have to walk hundred of kilometers on skis. That did not scare them, they were both exellent skiers. They were experienced hunters, both with firearms and with traps. To cross one of the roughest terrains in the world on ski, in the middle of the winter, in darkness and before they were legally adults never bothered them. They were afraid of one thing: discovery. If they were seen by German patrols out there on the white waste, it would be the end. Camouflage was what they needed.

In Nord-Troms or Finnmark in 1943 you couldn't walk to the store and buy a set of white winter wear and then stroll out to put your skis on and set out for the border. They would have to make their own gear. And they knew where to find white. They were surrounded by it, woolen fluffy dots of white... My knowledge does not cover the experiences of the younger brother, but the older decided to knit a white sweater. To do that he had to use raw wool, which he spun into thread. Then he made a deal with two female friends (he was a handsome young man, with daring curls falling down his forehead, and the bluest pair of eyes, like little pieces of summer sky twinkling at you over that wicked grin that would stay with him through danger, sorrow, happiness and pain until cancer robbed him of everything but the colour of his eyes), and they knitted the arms of his sweater, while he knitted the body.

This took months, but that winter he and his younger brother, so alike they claimed to be twins when they registered with the Norwegian police troops, adjusting the age of the younger brother upwards to be accepted, set out to cross the tundra, Finnmarksvidda, with a sami guide. They were sami, although from the coastal settled farmer/fishermen, and language was not a problem. But they never spoke of the treck. Both were men who would spin a tale as easily as they spun white wool into yarn, still none of their many sons and daughters have yet learned the truth of that journey into the white and the borderlands.

What is known is that they arrived. They became part of the Norwegian police troops. They played a million pranks, using the fact that they looked like twins, became known as sharpshooters, but also known for never aiming at a human being, using their weapons to warn, not harm. When they arrived in Oslo as policetroops after may 8th 1945, they would use their authorithy for the protection of all under their responsibility. They were men who lived to protect and care, and the poor unhappy girls who had fallen in love with Germans would be safe for their hair and their dignity, as safe as the German bureuacrats and their hastily captured families.

The white sweater never survived that experience. It exists only as memory, it is the beginning and preparation, the part filled with hope. From the other end there were pictures and stories. But the time when it had to serve, when it was camouflage and protection from cold and danger, when it kept a skinny young body warm through the night of arctic winter, that time was buried and gone, never mentioned. The only proof of a time of trial beyond what could be spoken of was silence, months cut out of a life where everything else was a joke, a story or a grand tale. Still, I could never see my father knit without being reminded of that unspoken memory, and the way he and his younger brother crossed Finnmarksvidda one endless winter night of weeks.

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