NEW RELEASE: Reluctant Courage – Rica Newbery
A Family’s Fight for Survival
in Nazi Occupied Oslo
It is 1942, two years into the German occupation of World War II. Maria and her three daughters are used to coping with the hardships of war, but when Maria’s husband leaves her for another woman and a German officer is billeted to their home, their troubles are only just beginning. Maria and her daughters must stop fighting with each other and find a way to survive through grief, dread and fear.
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War entered Norway by stealth on April 9th, 1940. Norwegians were taken unawares and apart from the explosion of the Blucher on Oslo Fjord, they were taken without a fight. The people of Oslo just stared as German troops marched in and took over.
Soon everywhere you looked there were red flags with swastikas, soldiers with rifles, motorbikes, women in long queues for food, and posters full of Nazi propaganda. Maria faced each day with resignation and resentment, not wanting to think too far ahead, and not wanting to know too much. She had problems of her own and three daughters to feed.
She heard rumours of men and women dragged out of their beds in the middle of the night by the Gestapo, people shot in the streets, boys running off to join the resistance, and bombing raids up north. The last two years of life under the Nazi occupation had been one long cycle of survival, with dull routine punctuated by brief interludes of terror.
On the day that this story starts, September 25th, 1942, she had no idea how much worse things were yet to become.
* * *
‘Frau Halversen?’ said the older man.
Maria nodded. ‘Officer Wolff?’
He bowed slightly, clipped his heels and straightened up immediately. He held out his hand, but Maria kept her arms folded and stared stonily at him. ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’ Maria remained silent. ‘Do you speak English?’
‘A little. Do you speak Norwegian?’
‘No, but I learn and soon can speak it,’ he said in Norwegian, ‘Snakke Norsk, Ja? And in fluent English: ‘Here is my permit. I am here by order of the Fuhrer.’ He handed her the blue document, which she simply stared at. ‘You were ordered to leave the house.’
‘I live here. I not go,’ she said slowly in English.
‘It is the law of the Nasjonal Samling government. I am an officer of the Wehrmacht and am here on duty.’ He folded the permit and put it in his pocket.
Maria folded her arms and took a step toward him and repeated, ‘I live here. I not go. Jeg vill ikke ga. You have to arrest me before I go. I not go.’ She glared at him.
Herr Wolff turned to the officers who accompanied him and spoke to them in German.
‘I need to be near the palace and near my office. Are there any other flats near here I can use?’
‘No. The only ones left are too small. This is the only flat which fits your requirements, sir.’
‘I’ll check it over.’
Herr Wolff turned to Maria. ‘I need to see the rooms.’
Herr Wolff indicated that he wanted to come in and pointed to his eyes and the rooms.
‘No,’ said Maria, blocking the doorway.
Herr Wolff nodded to his soldiers, who then walked in and pushed Maria aside.
‘Carefully,’ said Herr Wolff as he nodded to Maria and followed the soldiers in.
‘I am sorry, Frau Halversen.’
Maria backed away and said to herself in Norwegian, ‘That’s all anyone ever says to me these days.’ She pointed to the rooms, nodded, then went into the kitchen to join Else and her daughters who were huddled together next to their aunt, their faces pale and eyes dilated with fear.
‘It’s all right,’ said Maria. ‘They are just having a look around. They’ll be gone in a minute.’ She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and went back out.
As the soldiers came toward her along the corridor, she pointed to the bedrooms on her left. ‘These bedrooms are my daughters’’—and pointing to her bedroom on the right—‘that is my bedroom. Not room for anyone else.’ Herr Wolff looked into the girls’ bedrooms and nodded.
‘You must leave this flat in one week. While you are looking for somewhere to stay, you will have to share these bedrooms. I will be in the large bedroom,’ he said in a gentle but authoritative voice. You must move your things out now and I will return at ten.’
‘Nei!’ shouted Maria. ‘Du kan ikke gjore det.’
‘Again, I am sorry, Mrs. Halversen, but I must have proper lodgings. You must do as I order or my men will arrest you now.’
Maria pulled herself up to her full height and, ignoring the tears on her cheek, narrowed her eyes. ‘Take my room then. I not forget this.’
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Rica Newbery is a retired psychiatrist, living with her husband in Bristol.
After completing an Open University course in creative writing, she wrote her first novel Reluctant Courage. Although her novel is fictional, it is based on much research and inspired by haunting stories from her mother’s childhood in Nazi occupied Oslo.