Theater of Cruelty

The Witnesses write

A writing course for the elderly offers constant surprises, a fearless clarity and concise, precise wording. Ny Tid reproduces here several texts from some of the most recent witnesses from World War II.



Ramsdal-Hanne PhotoSome years ago I got a job. I was going to teach writing for the elderly, and took myself into notions that they were anything other than me, came from somewhere else, and were slow, perhaps with bad breath. Just the words writing lessons for the elderly aroused associations to other words in the same genre: cozy, care, permanent liquid, waffles, walking chair, cane.
We met ten times in the fall and ten in the spring. Once a week. One and a half hours each time. And it soon became apparent that the ancients were more than "some people" with dandruff on their suits and beeping hearing aids. They became Per who ran without the label for forty years, Eva who wrote about women's liberation, the pill and the personal responsibility one has as a human being, and Walentin who in text after text drew up maps of an Oslo I had never heard of.

I still have this job, fall and spring, along with other writers. We come to the writing courses with a theme, an entry to write: The car. Heart. Bread. A letter. Change. Water. Choice. Heritage. To see. Electricity. Sleep. Impact. Self-portrait. Childhood Home. An image that was not taken. America. Morality. Wrinkles. Bible. Birth and death. Roles. Role models. Afterwards, the texts are read aloud and everyone is given feedback. If they cannot write themselves due to paralysis, for example, we will pen them.

Failing memory can lead to texts other than those created by logical thinking and predetermined dramaturgy.

Surrealists took in
Use automatic writing to get away from the power and self-censorship of the habit, and author Marcel Proust often wrote in the state of sleep and wakefulness to access a substance other than the middle of the day. Those with poor memory or dementia experience often have surprisingly unclear clarity and textual access to essential images across time and space as they write about a topic, or we write for them. Failing memory
Creation can lead to texts other than those created by logical thinking and predetermined dramaturgy. Fumbling against a blurry image can turn into scarce, precise wording or dizzying textbooks with peculiar rhythm, like here: “Once I swam beyond, where it was illegal because it was dangerous, but I blew it in even though it was dangerous. I don't remember how old I was. I do not know. I do not remember. I was an adult. I was an adult. ”
Most of the participants belong to the generation with the latest witnesses of the Second World War, and over the years have written on the course several times on the topic from different points of view in their texts. Some of them are reproduced here. And a text about coming to Norway as a refugee from Hungary. All the texts are taken from the book It's me who wrote it, published by the Church City Mission in 2015.

Screen Shot at 2016 08-17-11.28.09

Life, out and in

I came here forty-three years ago. I felt on my body that I was a foreigner, that I wasn't
spoke the language, that I did not behave like the other ladies. That I made cloth diapers from old clothes, and that I hung the sink out. The others did not like that the laundry was out. It wasn't nice to hang out. I thought semolina porridge was flour, bought 24 packs and wanted to bake bread. I took in yeast, but no bread swelled. I had to throw everything, our chickens got it.

© photo: Cecilie Semec

I went to the store with Norwegian-Hungarian dictionary, but did not find the words for what I should find. Had it still been Hungarian-Norwegian dictionary, I would at least understand a little. From school I was told not to speak Hungarian with the children, but I couldn't speak Norwegian. All three children joined the school corps. Every fortnight we had to bake cake, but no one tasted my cake, not once.

I often think about the refugees today, how they feel, whether they make friends. I still have contact with those who became my friends in Henningsvær, a married couple. Otherwise, I had no Norwegian friends.

I can still feel alien. Sometimes when I do not pronounce myself correctly and someone corrects me, or I am not understood.

Anny Solheim,
Sofienberg home, born 1941.

9. April 1940

Then Dad had built a big house on the plot. We stood on the porch and watched the fire and German airplanes. Many of the families evacuated to us living in the "Bekkelagshøgda" country. There was room for everyone, my brother and I moved upstairs, it was fun, that side of the war.

Another case that wasn't so much fun. Father was in the home force, head of Nordstrand Gangen. In the fall of 1944, we were gathering someone in the family. Uncle was sitting in the "boss's chair" and we others around, then suddenly the Germans stormed in with weapons, they shot Uncle who they thought was father, father had placed a bicycle outside the living room window, he threw himself out the window, threw himself on the bike and disappeared in a rainbow from the Germans.

A few days later I was contacted by one of Dad's friends, and then we came to a "cover apartment", here was Dad. He asked if I wanted to join Sweden, I would. It was a tough trip, but we arrived. Then there was a time in camp, but that's a different story. (Might add that Uncle wasn't really hurt, and he lived for many more years.)

Arne Iversen,

Bekkelagshemmet, born 1931.

© photo: Ellen Ugelstad


Think of the war, the tram, everything you couldn't say. Couldn't talk about Nazis and Germans on the tram. I was twelve, twelve to seventeen. But I've had a lot of trouble with my husband, who was an opponent and idealist. Seven years older than me. He spent four years in Germany, he. Sachsenhausen. He was twenty when he was taken. And then they were more Norwegian. Both the father and the brother and he were taken. Only he came to Germany. It was only him who was wearing something. The others came to Grini. I asked, I would like to know. And he told me he had screws on his legs so he would talk, say what he had been with, it was a resistance movement. He was plagued by it, yes. They called him noble Germans. Think of those who spotted this here, then. That the Germans who were a cultural nation could do it.

The white buses picked them up in 1945.

Signe Leonie Kristiansen,
St. Halvardshjemmet, born 1928.


When the war came, there were no telephones. So people were constantly borrowing. As a service to these, Mom acquired a writing pad, she wrote down all the messages that flowed in. The neighbor knew about it, so they kept coming to see if there were messages for them there. That we were privileged in this way was so.

If people were to call nationally, it had to be ordered at a central office, and then we were allowed to talk for three minutes. It was hardly "good day, how are you?" Then three minutes had passed. In a hurry, I had to fly to the neighbors with messages. Later, I thought we were running the pure telephone exchange. We became very popular that way. It was now the most incredible thing we ever heard. This lasted long after the war.

Remember we had a gay standing there, people paid for the ring by spending money. I think they put on enough too, I never heard anything else. The first phone was a huge monster hanging on the wall. Later they became smaller and nicer to look at.

Once I had to go and tell someone to visit his grandfather because he was sick of death. But I couldn't say it so I called and said: You have to go and visit your grandfather because he is unwell.

Ann Kirksæther,
Sofienberghjemmet, born 1929. 

Quisling's wife

She lived in an old building on Erling Skjalgssons gate on Frogner.

She was in there, there were three locks on the door. She was terribly nervous. But dear friend, what she has experienced. We were there with the job. But when we went there with medicine or did something, she asked if we could talk a little. It was part of our job in home nursing. We had to sit and watch as they took their tablets. And there was a large desk and a large sculpture of Quisling.

And there was a large desk and a large sculpture of Quisling.

There was a living room in the apartment that was locked. And in that room there were paintings on paintings. Quisling's wife was Russian after all. And she brought with her Russian dining. And there was a large desk and a large sculpture of Quisling.

Sigrunn seer,
St. Halvards home,
born 1938. 


I got married during the war in -43. The priest was deprived of authority to dedicate. I got married at twelve. Quisling looked at me from the wall in the city bailiff's office. And I got married the same day at five in the church. We should have weddings. Everything was bought on the stock exchange. My husband bought meat at the liquor store, but then there was a Nazi devil there and saw it. And then he took the meat and we had to pay three hundred kroner in fine. But then the Nazi boy seemed a little sorry, so he asked: What are you going to do now? My husband said he couldn't pay the fine, but he couldn't sit in it either because it was so full in prison. The manager at the pole said: Tell the Nazi kiss me in the ass! What did you say? he said. No, I said nothing, she said.

I got married at twelve. Quisling looked at me from the wall in the city bailiff's office.

We got fresh meat from the mother in the countryside. We hid the meat in a box under the porch. Everything we bought, sugar and flour, everything.

And I got married twice, and it lasted for almost sixty years.

Inger heap,
Bekkelagsveien home, born 1915. 

For the movie from here, see  with password: I write

Hanne Ramsdal
Hanne Ramsdal
Ramsdal is a writer.

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