Inner peace can come in time of war

The Nazi takeover in Bergen, Norway, between 1940 and 1945 illustrates how quickly people's lifestyle can change. It also illustrates how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can find peace within when they endeavor to live the gospel under the most trying of circumstances.

The people of Norway went to bed as usual on the 8th of April 1940, and arose the next day to find foreign troops had invaded Norway during the night.I was not aware of the takeover when I got up, because Dad was at work and Mom was doing her house work. I went outside, and the lady living in the upstairs apartment asked me if I would haul her suitcases down to the harbor with my little two-wheeled box cart. I was almost 8 years old, and saw nothing wrong with hauling her suitcases the mile or two to the harbor. We unloaded the suitcases by the little ship that would take her out of the country to her relatives. She gave me some money for the hauling, and happily I walked home pulling my two-wheeled cart.

On the way, I saw uniformed men with rifles on their shoulders wearing steel helmets on their heads. This was my first view of the Nazi invaders who were introducing a new Norwegian lifestyle, governed by stern military laws, enforced by placing uncooperative people in front of firing squads and in concentration camps. This new lifestyle painted the future dark and grim for everyone in Norway.

Following a brief fight, the Norwegian king, his family and his government people fled to England. The LDS missionaries were called home. The last to leave was the mission president. As he boarded his ship for Zion his parting words to the Bergen branch president, Erling Magnesen, were "Feed my sheep."

Any travel or communication out of Norway was cut off. For the members of the LDS Church, this meant that all communication with the outside world, and the prophet and the Brethren was cut off as well.

In his new capacity as shepherd, Pres. Magnesen was inspired to stand at the pulpit in the branch, where he spoke to the Saints in Bergen, Norway. He felt impressed to make a remarkable promise that in the grim times ahead, the Lord would protect them from any harm if they would live the gospel of Jesus Christ to the best of their ability.

As the war progressed, his flock diligently tried to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, attending Church meetings, and they remained free to be on the Lord's errand. A few branch members even went on missions to other parts of Norway despite strict travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, many of the non-LDS people were busy resisting the new government. Many of them were shot, many were placed in concentration camps, and many were tortured to force them to tell who was in their resistance group.

Years later, during a conversation with Erling Magnesen, I found that the new government had sent him a formal letter disclosing its intention to take over the branch meetinghouse for government use. He said the time of the takeover was to be 2 o' clock, which was underlined three times in red. He said he did not want to be there, but he was in the branch meetinghouse at the specified time, where he waited two hours for the officials to arrive. However, no one came, at that time or at a later time, to take over the building.

As time passed, it was plain even to one as young as I that outside the people in the branch, very few people could be trusted as friends. The anxiety and the tribulation the Saints endured certainly affected their feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood. Following sacrament meeting, I remember watching them stand for hours talking to each other. Here they could talk freely. As they talked they shared descriptions of things that happened to each of them since the last time they met.

In Bergen, the bombing raids were unpredictable, and many times I found myself at home when the bombs began bursting. While I waited for the bomb raids to end, I found that I had no fear for my life while at home, enjoying a safe and calm feeling. During one raid I felt brave, climbing up into the attic for a better view through the window, where I watched the action. As I watched squadrons of bomber planes passing above, and saw the tracers of the anti-aircraft projectiles streaking every which way across the sky, I became frightened. I returned to the apartment, and soon the fear dwindled.

My wife, Berith, who lived with her grandmother on an island west of Bergen toward the North Sea, said that when they heard planes approach from the North Sea, they stopped what they were doing and they stood watching squadrons of bomber planes fly by heading for the city of Bergen. Standing there, they could see the flashes as the bombs hit and the black smoke billowing upwards after the raids.

My brother, Willard, told me of an event he witnessed. An allied plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire during a raid. The pilot was forced to drop the bomb load over downtown Bergen. Shortly, a large apartment complex of concrete construction was in flames, and property and lives of many were lost.

Immediately adjacent to this burning complex stood an LDS member's wooden frame home. It was badly damaged, and as soon as the member got his belongings out, it collapsed.

Another time, Bjorn Saetrum, an LDS engineer at the Bergen shipyard, was on firewatch duty in the yard's fire tower. He shared the tower duty with a fellow employee. Their job was to spot fires in the shipyard during bombing raids so the fires could be put out quickly. During one raid a bomb fell into the tower and exploded. The man across the table from Brother Saetrum was killed. Brother Saetrum was shaken but unharmed.

One of the worst shocks of the war occurred when a Nazi supply ship with a cargo of high explosives caught fire and exploded in the Bergen harbor. I remember waking up and thinking the sound was a hail storm as the blast blew in the glass in our apartment windows.

Minutes prior to the blast, Dad was busy loading 50-liter (20 gallon) milk cans from a coastal liner onto his dairy truck. The coastal liner was docked next to the Nazi supply ship.

Dad had driven from the harbor and was barely entering the tunnel, leading into the dairy yard, when the shock wave hit. It tossed the heavy truck up in the air and dropped it back on its wheels. Dad was shaken but unharmed. About 300 people were killed and 6,000 injured in that explosion.

At home, mother received a cut in her arm from flying glass. People everywhere were in panic wondering what to do. As soon as Dad arrived at home, we had family prayer. As soon as the prayer was over, the uncertainties of what to do left the family. We boarded up the windows, swept up the glass and got a fire going in the stove. Then we helped our neighbors.

Olga Hendriksen, a branch member, lived closer to the explosion center than we did. She arrived at our home covered from head to toe with black, soot-like, dust. She lived in an attic apartment, and she was home when the roof almost lifted off the house and then dropped back down. She, too, was shaken, but unharmed.

I recall how sad it was to pick up the newspaper as the war years progressed and read pages of obituaries of those killed. I wondered at times why we had been spared and why we were still alive.

After five years of adversity and trying times, Norway was liberated.

Years have gone by, but I will never forget how beautiful the Norwegian and the American flag looked waving gently from the flag poles at the branch house on that day of the liberation. I still feel deep emotions when I recall the flags that day.

Shortly after the liberation, travel and communication was restored. The Norwegian king and his family, along with the accepted government, returned to restore proper life and living conditions in the country. Next the missionaries returned with the former mission president, who was ready to again feed his sheep. The Saints in Norway regained contact with the prophet and the Brethren.

I remember Apostle Ezra Taft Benson speaking to Bergan Branch members through an interpreter. He also sang to us the song, "I Am a Mormon Boy." With Elder Benson came food and clothing from the Saints in Zion. How fortunate we felt. Why were we spared when the rest had to suffer? For a long time I took it for granted that we were spared because we were Latter-day Saints, and that all LDS are protected from harm by the Lord. Then a friend reminded me that Saints who live righteously are not always protected from harm.

This statement puzzled me. Then as Willard and I chatted about old times once again, the account of Pres. Magnesen's promise to the Saints came to mind.

Because of this inspired promise and the righteous living of the Saints, the Lord protected the Saints in the Bergen branch from harm during those five war years. To me this is a living testimony of the power of the priesthood, the authority to act for God on earth, and the binding power that righteous living of the gospel gives to the Saints.

To me, the legacy of the account of the LDS members of the Bergen Branch parallels the legacy of the account of Helaman's 2,000 warriors of the Book of Mormon.

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