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Brevene på norsk

(Letter to his sister who is going to Morocco on vacation in 1976)
Translated by Siri Lawson.

Stavanger, Aug. 1-1976

Well, I guess you're going to Morocco in the near future. That's a country I used to know better than good old Norway, which has to do with the fact that I vacationed there at a time when a few scuffles were taking place between various nations, and then most things depend on coincidences, which is also more or less the case for most individuals all through life. The reason I'm writing you now is to get rid of some paper I got a hold of last fall in The Persian Gulf, more specifically the Sheikdom Dubai, where by the way a church has now been established, with the main goal of taking care of solid heathens like me. (I just spoke to a priest, and he told me it's never too late to become a better person, so therefore I have decided to postpone that matter for the time being). The second reason why I'm writing is that I want to say a few words about Morocco. At the time Jesus was born, the Romans were the rulers of that country. In those days it was called Mauritania. (There's a country called Mauritania today too, but that's further south, and will probably be the cause of a war between the two countries Morocco and Algeria). In 1912, I think it was, the country was divided between Spain and France, plus an international zone, Tangier. (In dad's death announcement it stated that I was there, but as you remember we just had a secret address there. Tangier and Casablanca were two of the largest spy nests during WW II). In 1956 the country was liberated and is today ruled by King Hassan 2; he was only a baby when I spent time there. There are about 15 million people living in the country. The name Morocco is a peculiar invention, the country is in reality called Moghreb-el-Aksa. The real name for the city of Casablanca escapes me right now. It's been almost forty years since I operated in that area.

I can't remember if you were going by rail from the border of what was the French and Spanish zone in the old days. Well, before you pass the king's residence, Rabat there's a railway going to the left and Eastwards towards Algeria. Not many miles from Rabat we were in two camps. One was called Fes, and the other Taza, and further on by the border to Algeria is the border town of Oujda (the home town of the fellow whom the Israelis killed in Lillehammer a few years ago). In Oujda we were also in a camp. It was the intention of the Germans to send us via Marseilles to Norway, but with the help of the American consul in Casablanca we were able to avoid that (they suspected they would have to go into German sea service if they went back to Norway). America was at that point not involved in the war. On the carriages that were used to transport us it said "40 men or 8 horses"*. We were then sent on to the headquarters for the Foreign Legion in Algeria called Sidi-Bel-Abbes, and later to a camp in the desert called Berguent. While there we marched from 6 in the morning (this was in order to get them used to walking long distances in the desert heat, which the Norwegians were not used to) as we were supposed to go to the notorious camp which was the base for the efforts to build the Trans Sahara railroad. The camp's name was Colomb-Bechar. (After the allied invasion of North Aftica in November 1942 the prisoners in that camp took matters into their own hands and moved the shirt collar down a notch on all the prison guards and other servants of the thousand year German Reich).

*I've received an E-mail from a Paul A. Nelson, who told me the following:
"In reading your text, I see mentioned the French rail cars in North Africa that were marked '40 men or 8 horses. These have a tie to the First World War, as well. The American Legion, which was formed just after WW I in Paris, has an adjunct organization called the "40 and 8" after just such rail cars. The 40 and 8 (maybe it still exists, I don't know) was more of a charitable organization than the Legion itself. (Sort of like the Shriners are to the Masonic orders, I think)".

Algeria map | Morocco map (both are external links).

After these marches in the desert we were again moved (the trip to Colomb-Bechar was cancelled), and now we headed back to Morocco. Via Casablanca we ended up in a town which you will pass on your way to Marrakech, namely Settat. A pitch black night three of us escaped from that camp. We went by train, but got off before it arrived Casablanca, as the railway station was guarded by people who would very much like to have a chat with people like us. We went on foot into town and stayed there for two weeks in order to prepare our escape out of the country and across to Gibraltar. It was kind of funny because quite often we saw about thirty police men on their bikes looking for us. As soon as they had searched one area, we went there because we reckoned that would be a fairly safe place. On one occasion we lived with an old lady who probably knew what we were up to but who was on our side. One day the police paid a visit. They had found us. The other two guys were out. This lady gave me a sign to duck when she saw the police on the outside. I ran out the back way through the garden and ran and notified the others who were playing billiards a few blocks away. So then we had to find a new place to stay.

In a part of town called Medina we bought a tanned goat skin which held 45 liters of water. We planned to use it on our trip over to Gibraltar. Water is very important. Three men who escaped before us and who tried to get to Tangier on foot had a bottle of water each. They drank out of the bottle, then filled it again with piss. They kept that up for a few days but eventually they had to give up. They ended up in dark cells for a few months after that. We continued on to Rabat with our goat skin and then to the seaport town of Port Lyautey (I believe it's called Kenitra today), and again to Rabat. I looked like an Arab and joined the locals at a water hole where I filled the goat skin with water. When I say water hole, it was like this: The Arabs fetched water in their jars from a public place. The water was clean but rock hard because the wells that were used were sometimes ca. 100 m deep through limestone. While I was filling water the other two swam over to the other side of the river to steal a boat for us to use on our crossing to Gibraltar. Well, it was a good try, but because of the heavy sea we couldn't get out through the surf outside Rabat. So we had to empty the goat skin and look for other possibilities.

We then returned to the last stop before Casablanca, a little oil port called Fedala. We planned to steal a boat there too, but a devil of a woman discovered us and reported us to the police, and they came fully armed and arrested us. We were kept in Fedala for a while before we were transported to Casablanca. Eventually we were transferred to the criminal jail in Casablanca. There were 42 men in one prison cell. Among these 42 there were 23 different nationalities. We were given something which resembled bread, but it was not edible. The Foreign Legionaries made chess pieces out of the bread, and we spent our time playing chess. During the night time hours various prisoners were taken out for questioning and a good beating. The three of us must have been considered dangerous because 15 armed police men came one day and marched us to the railway station. They cleared a whole carriage of people and ushered us in, whereupon they stood guard by the doors and windows. Back to the camp near Settat we went. The camp itself was 3 kilometers from the Settat railway station. We walked under guard to the camp late at night. The gendarmes turned us over to the commandant, whereupon they were invited for refreshments. While they were thus occupied we ran away again, and now the goat skin turns up once again. I still had the goat skin so we sneaked back to Settat and sold it for 50 francs. For the money we bought ribs and wine and got ourselves drunk. On the way back to the camp we met the gendarmes, but we were hiding so they didn't discover us. They thought of course we were still at the camp.

While we were at the camp outside Settat I became ill with Diphtheria and was put in an isolation ward for a long time, not out of consideration to me, but because of the danger of me passing it on. We were picking rocks for the building of roads and were also digging holes in the limestone to make it possible to plant trees in this God forsaken area, so the time in isolation was actually a vacation for me. The Malaria was rampant. I went down to 45 kg in that camp. There were lots of snakes and scorpions in the camp. I remember a Foreign Legionary next to me who was stung by a scorpion and died that night; there were no doctors in the camp apart from some Jews, but they had no serum to help them. A peculiar incident from this isolation ward was that one of my ship mates from Kristiansand died and was thrown into a hole there. After I came back to the camp this dead fellow was given a three week's dark cell term every single day during the "head count" at six in the morning. I knew the guy was buried already, but never mentioned this to the commandant, just to see how long he would be punished after death. We calculated that he owed seven months worth of punishment in the dark cell after his burial.

From this camp we were moved to another camp called Sidi-El-Ayachi. There was a considerable amount of Jews with us there. They disappeared little by little. We didn't understand why at the time, but now we know. Hitler killed close to 6 million of them. In Sidi-El-Ayachi something funny happened. The wine barrels that the French use can hold up to 500 liters. One night one of those wine barrels was left outside the commandant's house inside the camp area. Four of us decided to have a party. We drilled a hole in the barrel and filled lots of wine into buckets we had brought with us, went back and forth several times. I stayed by the barrel to block the hole, and took a swig every now and again while the others carried buckets. The next morning the commandant discovered that strangers had been into his wine. I happened to be nearby and helped him roll the barrel into a building that looked like a garage. The commandant was ever so grateful for my helpfulness. And then the investigations started. I was dead sober; I had hidden my wine in bottles, but the others were raving drunk. As if that wasn't enough, they had gotten some other people drunk too. The whole lot ended up in the camp's dark cell. Some of my wine I drank and some I sold on the black market. I had already been named "The Gypsy" so I carried my name well, but the commandant and I became good friends after I had shown such readiness to help.

It was in this camp that we managed to buy live chickens from the Arabs on the outside. These chickens we cooked in tin cans. On one occasion we discovered a chicken "grassing" inside the camp area. We tied the chickens by one leg and let them walk around like that until it was time to eat them. Well, a guy from Trondheim and I stole this chicken and pulled its head off it, prepared it and invited a pal to dinner. During the meal our pal let on that he too had a chicken walking around, and he would let us have a taste when the time came. The rest of the meal was eaten in silence. It was of course HIS chicken we had finished off. We never mentioned it again with one word, nor did our friend; I bet he had figured out what the truth was. I remember his name was Brandstrøm and he was from Harstad, whether he survived the war or not I have no idea.

Again, we were moved to another camp. This time we had to go on a long journey by train all the way to Qued Zem , not far from the Atlas mountains. There we were even more strictly guarded, with frequent line-ups and "head counts". Another ship mate of mine died there. I watched over him before he died. He was very bitter, and his last conscious words were a series of curses. Well, we buried him there. He was from Tromsø and his family didn't get the news of his death until 1943.

In this camp there were three of us who had made a deal with the commandant to go fishing for him. We went in the direction of the Atlas mountains and fished. On our return to the camp we got maybe a piece of fish each from the commandant. We walked all night and fished during the day with grasshoppers as bait. Those we had to catch in among the reeds before daylight. What the commandant didn't know was that we had a frying pan with us and ate most of the fish before we returned to the camp.

Eventually we were moved again, this time back to Algeria and Sahara. We ended up in a camp in the desert ca. 150 miles south of Oran (Mecheria), which is where we were when the Americans invaded Northwest Africa in November of 1942 (see The Invasion of North Africa under Links related to my father's story).We got through to the Americans and helped unload bombs and ammunition from the invasion fleet in Oran, and felt we were in Paradise. We stayed in some warehouses on the wharf there. Strange as it may seem, this is where we received the first Red Cross package. These were packages which were meant for the prisoners earlier, but which had been held back by those crooks who had the power before the Americans took over. We got more than enough food from the Americans, so we sold the Red Cross packages with a clear conscience.

Finally we were moved to a large airport outside Rabat (see "Note" below), where we worked on loading bombs and ammunition onto the flying fortresses. During the invasion many Norwegian ships had been sunk. We raised one of them (he's talking about the M/S Nyhorn) equipped it and went to England with it.

Well, this was briefly a few words on Morocco. I could tell you a lot more about my stay in 9 different labor camps, but I'll leave it. I survived, which 4 of my ship mates did not.

As mentioned earlier I'm planning on going to school which starts around Aug. 18 (to become a Mate). It lasts for about a year. I might even stay through the whole year, and I might even pass. It's been 35 years since I last sat at a school desk, so it probably wont be easy. One becomes forgetful as one grows older. The other day I was looking for my glasses for half an hour, and when I finally found them I had totally forgotten what I needed them for. So getting involved in mathematics and star observations may be a bit much.

Well, I'm doing ok, best wishes, Odd.

P.S. For picking rocks in Afrika I was paid 1 kr. 48 øre.


I have received the following E-mail from the son of an American soldier (Air Force):
"On November 8, 1942 he and his shipmates landed at Port Lyautey. On Wednesday, November 25,1942 he writes to his diary...
Supplement to Wednesday
I must tell you about the 75 Norwegians that came in here last night. They had been kept in a concentration camp by the Vichy French for 15 months. Most of them were seamen ranging from 19 to 60 years in age. They were working for a Norwegian steamship company with offices in Port Lyautey and carried supplies back and forth between here and Norway. Boats and personnel were siezed by the French and Germans and they were thrown into camps. They claim that 4 Americans who were employed as seamen were shot instead of being taken prisoners or released. The Norwegian government supposedly made a deal where part of their money was to go to their families and the rest given them by the French, but only 50% of what they were to get did they ever receive and this had to be automatically expended for provisions and maintenance which were scant. They could get no medical attention and all were treated very badly. They are now guests of our Navy which is feeding and housing them and they are again to ply their ships along the routes of supply. They hate the French as intensely as they hate the Hun and consider us as their friends and liberators. Several of them speak good English and have spent some time in our country."

I found this picture of the airfield at Port Lyautey with the Sebou river around it (this is linked to the page US Army Campaigns of WW II). I think this must have been where my father worked for a while; it fits in with what he says in Letter No. 4: "We were placed close to a large airport near the city of Port Lyautey. During the allied invasion of Morocco the M/S Nyhorn of Haugesund had been sunk in the river below Port Lyautey. A full crew was picked out for this ship and I was one of them. The ship was raised and repaired by the crew so that we could go to Casablanca and load cargo for Newcastle in England." Nyhorn had probably been sunk (scuttled) in Sebou River during the allied invasion.

List of Odd's letters

For background history, go to
Odd Conrad Holm and the links below. (Rudzin's Diary and Messel's Diary have more from the prison camps).

Shipmates I have found

D/S Ringulv | Evacuation | Labor Camps | Rudzin's Diary | Messel's Diary
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