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|"Tusen Norske Skip" ("A Thousand Norwegian Ships") by Lise Lindbk was published in New York in Nov. 1943, as the first documentation of the experiences of Norwegian sailors during WW II. What is found below is partly from her book and partly from the English version published in 1969, translated by Nora O. Solum under the title "Norway's New Saga of the Sea", which has some chapters that are not found in the earlier Norwegian version. Rudzin's daughter contacted me last year, and I have her permission to include her father's diary here.
Towards the end of Lise Lindbk's introduction to the book she says: "Only a few Norwegian seamen are mentioned here. Some have been decorated. It's not important who they are, all the rest of them are of equal quality. We have lost many ships. They can perhaps be replaced. We have lost many men. They cannot be replaced. But there's hardly a Norwegian who doubts the fundamental fact: We had a thousand Norwegian ships. Before long we will have a thousand again."
At the end of the chapter on the concentration camps which I have translated here my father had written the following lines on a piece of paper that he had glued to the page: "After Rudzin had left us we were sent via Algiers to a place deep in the Sahara where we took part in the building of the Trans Sahara Railroad. Things became much worse for us of course. In November, after the invasion, we got through the American lines southeast of the city Oran, and took part in the unloading of ammunition from the invasion vessels, and later worked at an airport which had been occupied by the Americans until we were able to raise a Norwegian ship which had been sunk during the invasion. I continued on board that ship for a whole year, until I signed off in England. IF I COULD CHANGE ANYTHING NOW IN MY OLD AGE, I THINK I WOULD HAVE CHOSEN TO HAVE MY HAIR PARTED IN THE MIDDLE!"
The green italic text in parenthesis indicates my own explanatory comments.
"LE HAVRE" AND "THROUGH NINE CONCENTRATION CAMPS IN NORTH AFRICA"
See also all the links at the bottom of this page for related information.
Compare Rudzin's details with the voyages listed on this original document received from the National Archives of Norway.
Le Havre (Nora O. Solum's translation, "Norway's New Saga of the Sea"):
We arrived at Swansea, an English port west in the Bristol Channel. We took on a cargo of coal for Norway and as before we travelled alone up the east coast of England to Kirkwall, north of Scotland, where we joined a convoy for Norway (my page about Convoy ON 25 has more information on this voyage). Early in the morning of April 9 we saw the coast of Norway. It was sunny, and we were all happy and excited, especially the Norwegians who had not been home for a long time and were now returning with many gifts from foreign countries for girlfriends and sisters and brothers. Everyone was in high spirits. Then something happened. The flag of the war ship went up and commanded the whole convoy to turn around. What had happened no one knew just then. But we turned around. We started guessing: Is there something wrong in Norway, or what can it be? But nobody knew that the poor Norwegian boys had already lost their country, lost everybody and everything they held the most dear. We heard once we got back to England. Now the ship was no longer "neutral", but every man on board was Nazism's worst enemy. But once again we had been lucky not to fall into the hands of the Nazis, had missed it by only a few hours, and were still free to fight against the worst enemies the world had ever had.
After that we went into the port of Newcastle on the east coast of Scotland (this is, of course, incorrect), where we repainted our ship and put an anti-magnetic cable around her for protection against magnetic mines (degaussing). Then we sailed in convoy along the east coast of England. There I got my first real taste of war. The weather was nice, the sun shining, and everything was quiet. Then suddenly - bang! a couple of feet from our ship a column of water spouted high, water rushed in, and it was terribly shaken. More bombs! And then we saw black planes high up in the blue skies. The Germans were experts. We put on life belts and stood by the lifeboats, but you can imagine staying on an open deck with no place to escape, and seeing nothing but water all around and bombs dropping from above. I think I will never forget that. No bomb hit the convoy, and it wasn't more than a couple of minutes before English planes flew in and a terrible air battle began high over our heads. Two Nazi planes were shot down while others managed to escape, but we learned later they too were caught and brought down. Some Nazi pilots parachuted out of their planes and were picked up by warships. After that everything was calm. It seemed the Germans didn't take more risks. They had gotten what they asked for! So we went to Le Havre with the coal that we had intended for Norway. We circled England, up the west coast and down the east (this doesn't make sense to me). As we passed Dover on our way to France, we heard a terrible booming in the direction of Holland. This was the time when Holland was being invaded by the Germans (this is also referred to in one of my father's letters - Letter No. 4).
There was never again a nice, quiet time in Le Havre. The Germans pressed in on the city from the east and north. Every night they started bombing at ten o'clock and kept it up until four in the morning. And such bombing! As many as a hundred planes came at a time and bombed everything - houses, civilians, docks, stations, ships. That was the toughest time of my life. One day in June a rumour came that the Germans planned to wipe out the town. At the same time we were ordered to be on board ship at ten o'clock that night. I came aboard at ten and had scarcely arrived when hell broke loose. How many planes were overhead we didn't know, but there were many hundreds of them. A terrible racket started; all kinds of anti aircraft went into action. There were bomb explosions, burning ships and gasoline tanks. It was getting light as day. Planes came down on fire and many German planes exploded in midair when they hit the baloon traps. We all stood in our rooms holding each other's hands. Some started to cry, some prayed. And then another bomb would whistle right over our heads and, feeling it would hit us we put our hands over our faces. Then more terrible explosions came, one after the other in split seconds. The air pressure threw everyone down. Water rushed in over the ship, wreckage fell, powder smoke was everywhere, and the ship listed. "Now we got it! Now we got it!" we cried bewildered and grabbed life belts. We thought the ship would go down. But when we went on deck - wonder of wonders! the ship stayed as before, only there was a big mess of wreckage around us - big stones, deck cargo, debris all over. As we learned later, two bombs were intended for our ship, but both of them missed us by inches: one fell into the water alongside us and the other blew up a whole freight house on the dock and made a great hole in the ground. We escaped death by a miracle! It was a terrible night, this night when the Germans had woved to wipe out Le Havre. They had already begun surrounding the city and our ship was ordered to take all silver, silks, and anything that was valuable out of Le Havre (according to my father's Letter No. 4 they also carried gold to the value of 60 million kr.).
Gloomy days began in what had always been a merry city. Homes were burned, shops were closed, people packed their belongings, women and children wept, many innocent people were killed. The deadly Nazi hand reached the town and all French peoples. Sunday morning. Another sleepless night after a terrible bombing. I came on deck. Strange that it was day, yet dark as night. Then we learned why - Le Havre had been evacuated. People had been ordered to leave town under cover of the smoke screen from the blowing up of gasoline tanks. The Germans had closed practically all the roads leading out of town, but they had left some ships, among them ours. We got orders to leave at once. People were panick stricken; everyone rushed to the ships that were left. All day long half crazed civilians came aboard our ship - crying women, children, old men, without baggage, without a bite of food, just to save their lives from the Nazis. Our ship was an old tramp with no comforts. People filled the cargo rooms, the bunkers, and all our rooms. We had no room for any more, and thousands still waited on shore. By nightfall we had 1500 refugees from Le Havre.
We left in darkness and horror, without protection. The English Channel was full of enemy submarines and mines. There were hundreds of women and children on board and we had no life belts for them, only a couple of lifeboats which could at best save a hundred if anything happened. But what of the rest of the 1500? We didn't even dare to think about it. We staked everything on chance, prayed to God to be with us this time when we were trying to save so many lives. Most of the people got nothing to eat and they slept on deck or inside wherever they got a place. We seamen gave our bunks to sick women and children and our meals to everyone. Of course, that was not enough for so many people, but we did what we could. We slept where we worked - stokers in the coal bunkers, sailors beside the wheel. But we were happy because we were saving the lives of many innocent people. We were doing a great work and we were proud of that. Some went crazy on board, crazy for the awfulness of what they had seen in the evacuated town. Some mothers had lost their children and children had lost their mothers. My pen cannot describe all the horros I saw.
But we were lucky. We reached Cherbourg, and our refugees were saved. They left Cherbourg and went into the interior of France where they were safe from Nazis (I believe Ringulv had to continue to Brest, and landed the refugees there). Before they left the ship, they couldn't find words with which to thank us, they were so glad. They took up a collection of fifty thousand francs to pay us for the favour, but we gave the money to the French Red Cross in further aid to the poor people. Then we went to Bordeaux (still without convoy) for more cargo, since we hadn't gotten a full cargo at Le Havre. There we didn't get in because the town was already surrounded by Germans. We lay at anchor outside and waited for orders. Our first order was to load full up in Bordeaux and then go to New York. We didn't know what to do. The place where we lay was also bombarded by the Germans. At night they dropped magnetic mines by parachute; in the daytime, bombs. We didn't fear the magnetic mines because we had anti-magnetic cables around the ship, but we did fear the bombs. Our ship was really a lucky ship! We suffered no harm, though British ships went down right and left. After a few days we got orders to go away to Casablanca, because the Germans had already come to Bordeaux; so again we escaped the Nazis by the skin of our teeth.
More details on my page Evacuation.
Ringulv was interned, first in Casablanca, later in Safi, until June 17, 1941.
Through Nine Concentration Camps in North Africa:
After a short time in Morocco the Vichy controlled authorities removed parts of Ringulv's machinery, and Rudzin says, "We laughed a little and said: All this time luck has been with us. We were never hit by U-boats or bombs, but we were outwitted by Nazi Frenchmen".
Rudzin's diary continues:
"In the morning of June 17 armed forces came on board our ship and said we had to pack our things and leave the ship; but before we left we stood in the motor boat next to her, took our hats off and sang "Ja Vi Elsker" (The Norwegian National Anthem) while the free, Norwegian flag was lowered; many of the Norwegian boys had tears in their eyes when we said goodbye to our ship whom lady luck had protected many times before. This was our home where we had earned our living, and which we had hoped would help win the war. This was the first Norwegian ship to be taken. They let us stay in hotels in the same town for a few weeks. But then it happened one morning. The police called us down to the police station, and we were to bring luggage. The chief of police told us very politely that the other Norwegian ships would now also be taken over and there wasn't enough room for all of us at the hotels in the little town. We were to live further north in another town which would be much more pleasant. But we didn't know the fate that awaited us. Police in civilian clothes escorted us to the busses and off we went. We arrived Casablanca very hungry but nobody gave us anything to eat. We continued by evening train to our destination, a little town named Taza. All of us from the ship were together. The whole time armed detectives guarded us. On arrival a surprise awaited us: The police there just wondered who we were and why we were there, they knew nothing. (See also Captain Messel's Diary).
After a few phone calls and telegrams we were sent to the police station. It was now 24 hrs. since we'd had anything to eat or drink. We asked for something; we were tired and hungry. They asked for money so that they could buy food for us. Then our captain (Messel) stepped up and said, "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves! We risk our lives to save French people and help France", and he showed them a thank you note he had received from the highest free French authorities in Havre, "and after all that, we are treated like criminals and are not even fed. Not long ago we were considered to be your best friends!" The police then talked for a while amongst themselves, and after half an hour they brought food. We got half a sack of dry bread and a bucket of water. Well, it was better than nothing. But we realized we were no longer friends, we were enemies. There were no blankets, no beds, just ankle deep mud. We were all down in the dumps, and didn't know what was to happen in the future. Nobody outside the camp knew where we were, because we were not allowed to send mail or phone or send telegrams; and negro soldiers kept guard over us. That's what our camp no. 1 was like. (See Labor Camps).
The next day around supper time we were put on a train and sent north, closer to the Nazis. Late at night we arrived at the border station to Algeria, Oujda. Here some high ranking military persons awaited us and said we were to spend the night there, to be sent to Marseilles via Algiers the next day. We knew what would happen then. The captain refused, and was able to get in touch with the American Consul and explained to him what the authorities planned on doing (America was not yet involved in the war). The consulate protested, and we were placed in Oujda, in camp no. 2. This camp wasn't as bad as the first. We got some food and beds to sleep in, and we could now communicate with the outside world. Another American and I could not prove our nationality because we had lost our documents, but we wrote the consulate and later received the reply that they were doing everything they could to help and support us and to get us out of the camp. But freedom was a long way away yet. One thing we did achieve: After a strong protest from the American Consulate in Casablanca and the Norwegian representatives there, to the government in Vichy, we avoided being sent to Germany.
After waiting for about a week we were again put on a train and sent towards the inland of Africa . On the same train were as prisoners some Polish soldiers who had fought with the free French as our allies (The Free French Army consisted of soldiers under the command of General De Gaulle who had managed to flee to England). The next day we came to an Arab village out in the desert (Berguent). It was some kind of an oasis with unbearably humid and hot air. We got a message from there that there was no water and no tents; the tents had been sent to the German Military. We went to the little oasis under the palm trees and wondered what would happen next? A few hundred Jews came back from further inland of Sahara where they were building the notorious Trans Sahara Railroad. They looked awful; starved, sick, with only a few dirty rags as clothes. They told us horrible stories about how they had been treated in the camp. But there was no need to tell us; seeing them was enough to know what they must have gone through. In the evening we were given a blanket, and went to sleep under the open sky.
The next day they told us that we were to march 75 miles further into the desert, where we had to build a camp ourselves and later a road. Those of us who were sick and some old people were sent across on a truck; that was about half of us. The other half was supposed to walk there a couple of days later, but it never came to pass, because letters of vehement protest came from Washington to Vichy; and later the order came from Morocco's capital Rabat to not put us to work. But by then half of the men were already working out in the desert. There was no shade to be found, nothing but sand all around; water was transported up from cisterns and was luke warm from the heat of the sun when it arrived and was only handed out in small rations; there was very little and bad food, and on the hottest days they were only given a couple of potatoes per person, but had to work hard from sunrise to sunset. Those of us who were left behind awaiting further orders did not work. We still slept under the open sky, and there were lots of scorpions, snakes and other creatures around us.
After about a fortnight the workers - half of our crew - came back, and we were sent to a new camp, no. 4. We received our "salary" as members of a "compulsory work force". We got 1.25 franc per day, in other words 18.75 francs for 15 days; or about one Norwegian krone (in those days the rate was a little over 5 kr. to a dollar). Then we travelled the same way back to Casablanca. We arrived there in the morning with our "convoy". We looked dreadful, unwashed, unshaven, sick and tired. A Norwegian representative met us there. He bought us coffee and sandwiches, and after a couple of hours' rest we were again sent further inland. They said it would be a camp for civilians and not a labor camp.
This place was about 200 miles inland, a little town named Settat. We arrived late at night and walked about two miles to the camp outside of town. It was located in the woods; we saw tents and some mud huts, without doors or windows. We saw right away that it was no camp for civilians but again one of the several hundred labor camps that had been established for former members of the Foreign Legion who had volunteered to fight for France, and who were forced to do labor. That was the punishment for sympathizing with the Allies.
Everything was under strict military discipline and armed French soldiers marched around us and brutally forced us to work. At first we were to build a road from the main road through the woods and to the camp; it was terribly hot and really hard work; the guards begrudged us even five minutes of rest. We were now slaves in the proper meaning of the word, under Nazi rule. The alarm went at 5 in the morning; at 5:30 we got a cup of coffee, a little piece of bread and a sardine, and on that breakfast we had to work till supper time. We were always hungry, ever since we were interned. We only got dry bed, and water was a delicacy! We slept right on sand and mud, in mud huts without doors and windows. When the rain came it went right through the roof and we had no way of protecting ourselves against the dampness. During the day it was hot and during the night it was cold. A lot of us came down with Malaria, one of us died during the stay in the camp. (17 seamen died in French captivity).
Later we were separated; some ended up working on plantations and others were building roads. Some built houses of white rock and some of us had to transport the rocks to the buildings. But what a transport! We dug the rocks out of the quarry with big pickaxes and carried them over half a mile on our backs. It was uphill and we toiled constantly without stop. Several military posts kept watch and timed us; when we passed by, the ones who didn't have large enough rocks on their backs were sent back, and so were the ones who fell out of the line because they walked too slowly. The punishment was that you didn't get paid for several days, or sometimes you were sent to a punishment camp in Sahara. A Swedish guy from our ship was sentenced to go to a punishment camp but escaped from the train and was saved with the help of the Swedish consulate in Casablanca.
Later I was put to work on a plantation. We had to walk three miles to our work place every morning and had to carry all our tools, pickaxes, spades, axes etc. back and forth ourselves. We also had to carry water with us. We dug holes in the ground for trees to be planted; they were to be 4 ft. deep and 4 ft. square, and each man was supposed to dig a certain amount of holes per day. If not we were punished. It was blistering hot and we had to continue hour after hour, day after day, month after month. Many of us became sick because of the bad food and unhealthy climate. Dysentery and Malaria were spreading.
We suffered terribly; we thought we'd never get out of the camp alive. I myself came down with Malaria. The medical soldier in the camp did not send me to a hospital but treated me on the spot where we slept in sand and mud. I was given six injections in my hip. It hurt terribly, and afterwards I had to lie there on the ground without as much as a bed. I got completely stiff after the injections and could barely walk, but they forced me to work. I pushed heavy wheelbarrows full of sand and tried to take a breather every now and again, but the guard brutally kicked me and said if I tried that again I would be sent to a concentration camp. I clenched my fists and teeth; we had heard that those camps were the same as a death sentence.
In the meantime, the American Consulate in Casablanca and the Norwegian offices did everything they could to get us out of this hell and at least get us to a better camp. A lot of telegrams were exchanged between Washington and Vichy, but to no avail, that's how strong the Nazis already were in Morocco. Finally, towards autumn the first bit of good news came; we were to be sent to a real civilian camp out by the coast where all the other interned Norwegian sailors were kept. This was the end of our worst camp, nr. 5. But still not the end of the camps.
The next day we were sent by an ancient bus with a gas generator down to our new camp by Sidi-el-Ayachi, about 60 miles south of Casablanca. This was the best camp we had been in; we did not work, and there were houses to sleep in. At first there were no beds, but then a delegate from The American Consulate came to inspect, and after a protest from him to the French authorities they gave us beds. There were people of various nationalities interned, also women and children, most of them Jews. The Nazis don't like Jews. There were also many Spaniards, mostly the wives of men who worked in the labor camps in Sahara, and also other Spanish refugees, those who were cripples after the Spanish Civil War or unable to work for other reasons. Thousands of Spanish refugees worked on the railroad through the Sahara for a salary of 2 cents a day.
All of the interned Norwegian sailors were now together, and they stayed there until May of 1942. Every month they were called in and asked if they wanted to go home and be "free". They all replied NO! (They suspected they would be forced into German sea service if they returned to Norway. Less than 10% out of a total of ca. 670 sailors chose to accept this offer and go home). They were not able to break the morale and the attitude in the concentration camps. The only thing they achieved was to get us to hate the Nazis even more.
Many Norwegians had gotten away, most of them in small boats from Port Lyautey which is 80 miles from Gibraltar, but also from other harbours (in fact, as much as 54% of the Norwegian seamen managed to escape, the majority of them to British Gibraltar where the authorities helped them get to England). Finally, word came from the French authorities that all interned sailors were to be given a visa and permission to go to Lisbon. Everything was arranged through the Norwegian offices in Casablanca; the passports were issued and paid for. A passenger ship was chartered and arrived Casablanca; the tickets were paid for. They told us to be ready to leave the next morning. But an hour later that same night the message came: STOP! Nobody is allowed to leave. The order, of course, came from the German headquarters in Casablanca, and again we were disappointed and very depressed. The royal Norwegian government lost a couple of million francs on that bluff.
In May of 1942 all the sailors were sent to a new camp 150 miles inland (Qued Zem). There were also a few English prisoners there. Every fortnight a German commission came "to inspect". They came from Casablanca, in full Nazi uniform. They asked us if we had any questions, but we didn't ask a thing. The whole summer passed like that. Towards the end of the summer ten Greek sailors managed to escape somehow. After that the guards were reinforced, they were armed with rifles and pistols. There was barbed wire across doors and windows, and surveillance was very strict. On September 6 word came for all the sailors to be sent to Algeria, out of Morocco, as "reprisals" for the escape of the others. So we started on a new camp. In Casablanca we were waiting for further transportation, in a military camp. There, the American Consul arrived with the best news I have ever heard: My American papers had arrived from Washington and I could go and get them at the consulate on Monday. Saturday night the Norwegians continued under strict guard, and I was separated from them. Later I heard that they went through hard times in Algeria. They were placed somewhere in the mountains, far away from civilization; there was very little food and no tobacco, everything was miserable. Every day the boys were asked if they wanted to go home to Norway, but nobody gave up. Not until the Americans came and they were free!"
Lise Lindbæk says Rudzin went through 3 more camps, but the English version of the book has a little more of his diary, at the end of which he says that when he went to the American office that following Monday to get his papers as agreed he was arrested by the local police, and though he told them he was an American who had just been released from a camp they wouldn't believe him, so he was thrown in a cell where he slept on the cement floor. No-one was notified of his whereabouts, and after 2 days he was returned, under guard, to Sidi-el-Ayachi. He was able to send a telegram to the American consulate, but another month passed before it succeeded in freeing him, though he was still not free in the real sense of the word. Eventually, the French authorities agreed to issue visas to American citizens, provided they passed a medical examination which could prove they were NOT fit for military service. Of course, the doctor who examined him, a Nazi, found him fit so again he had to wait, but by this time it would have been well into Oct.-1942 so he didn't have to wait long before the Americans arrived on Nov. 8, and then he really was free, finally.
Imagine my astonishment when I was contacted by John Rudzin's daughter! And imagine her astonishment when she landed on her father's diary on my website when running a search on the name Rudzin for genealogy purposes! After he had managed to get out of Africa he joined the U.S. Navy, then served in the South Pacific and as a Naval Reserve in Korea. He had a twin brother who was also a sailor, but he didn't make it through the war. John Rudolf married another Latvian-American and had several children. He died in Florida in 1990, at the age of 77, but his wife is still living. His daughter is now looking for information on the relatives he left behind in Riga, Latvia, so if anyone can help, please contact me.
Captain Messel succeeded in escaping from Port Lyautey in Morocco to Gibraltar on May 10-1942 along with 5 others, namely Ringulv's 2nd Mate Ingolf Valvatne, M/S Nyhorn's Able Seaman Hans Johansen, Ordinary Seaman Lars Aursland and oiler Karl Linnerud, as well as Ida Knudsen's Egil Strømmen. The boat was made out of canvas, with sheets for sails, and was constructed in the hold of M/S Nyhorn so that the French authorities would not get suspicious. They arrived Gibraltar safely and were congratulated by the British maritime authorities after their daring voyage. The canvas boat was named Norge (picture), and it's now on display at the Maritime Museum in Oslo*. Captain Messel and Ingolf Valvatne later joined D/S Astrid
My father served on Nyhorn after he was freed from the camps, see letter No. 4 in Odd's Letters and also Odd's Ships.
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