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A different perspective on World War II from one who was there

By Staff | Feb 9, 2011

Inni-Carine Holm with her book about growing up in Oslo during World War II. Taken in the sunny living room of Kimball Lodge at her beloved Island Inn on Sanibel.

Then came the war… Family destinies — the way I remember them

— from the diary of a little girl

April 9, 1940 — The screaming of sirens woke her. Oslo was being bombed. The family had to find shelter from the bombing and the German troops invading the country.

“In the space of a few hours, everyone’s existence changed. Priorities were turned upside down. Suddenly, the comforts of a privileged family life became unimportant, overshadowed by the uncertainties of a war being fought just outside our door. German troops were filling the roads; the sky seemed black with planes.” Inni-Carine Holm was nine years old.

Inni was accustomed to writing fairy tales. Now, she wanted to record what she was seeing and feeling on this most shocking day in her life and, that night, after the family had arrived safely at her grandparents’ house in the city of Drammen (which was still free), she wrote the first words of what would become three diaries that she filled with her impressions of the war — the anxiety, the fear, a record of daily events.

“I needed to explain our hopes… how our thinking changed. What mattered now was protecting our lives and the lives of our countrymen. Our sense of values changed. The usual basic needs faded compared to our need for feeling safe. The sirens had been our wake-up call. All political differences dissolved into one goal — to get rid of the Germans and recapture our freedom.

“Instead of planning next season’s wardrobe or trips to Paris or Nizza, only one question stood out: Will the people we love manage to stay out of the hands of Gestapo? And, every day: Will we get enough to eat?

“Our eagerness to jump at new challenges was rewarding. As commodities disappeared and money could no longer provide us with vital consumer goods, we had to invent substitutes or adapt to doing without. I started We Work for our Country, a group for the young people so we could do something for Norway. The club was organized with rules for acquiring competence (!) – first aid, simple cooking, physical tests. We had a newspaper, a legal one. Our task was to transport illegal newspapers in our shoes. A friend of mine created a sister club in Paris.

Hilarious situations arose because of the shortages. We thrived in our inventiveness. We became artists, developing musical and writing skills — we acted, made plays, created our own newspapers… we were kids, we had lots of fun, we were always busy.

“Early on, we learned the importance of keeping a secret. Even from our own families. Anybody could be tortured into revealing secrets that could get people shot. Having an illegal radio… duplicating illegal news from England… transporting illegal news, as my friends and I did in our shoes… hiding someone from the Germans — a Jew or a good Norwegian could be shot. My aunt saved a lot of Jews by finding hiding places during the fatal night when they were captured and was responsible for getting them transported out of Oslo to the East coast of the Oslofjord onto small fishing boats which brought them safely to neutral Sweden. She filled my Grandmother’s apartment with Jews for almost two weeks.

“Whatever talents we had we put to good use and, triggered by the need, they nurtured our self-confidence in problem solving. We became stronger, both our physical and mental stamina increasing. Being a child (or a grown up, for that matter) during the war was rewardingly time consuming. The reward, I guess, was the satisfaction of successfully eliminating a problem, finding new ways to adapt, or simply do without — whatever. Just to get from one place to another, for example, could require hours of walking, bicycling, skiing, waiting. No private civilian could have a car, there were few buses and even fewer trains.

“Then, all at once, it was over! No more anxiety, no more looking over your shoulder or making sure no one could hear you talking to a friend like when my family had to go into hiding the last months of the war. I was the only person who could leave the hiding place to go to school but I always had to check if I was being followed and to take different routes and detours. Now the The Germans had lost and had to leave. Finally, we could move back into our own house which they had taken..

“It’s hard to describe the joy! It was like an eruption, an earthquake, an explosion! Strangers held hands, hugged, sang and danced in the streets until dawn. Day after day. No one ordered you inside. One miracle after another appeared. Our people being released from prison in Norway, the concentration camps being liberated, allied troops arriving, GI’s playing boogie-woogie on pianos in our friend’s houses and in ours, and teaching us to jitterbug, the return of our Crown Prince from England.

“Being 14 and experiencing these ecstatically happy events made us wonder if we’d ever be able to go back to school and serious studying.

The biggest treat came four years later, right after graduation from high school. Inni-Carine, who had just turned 18, boarded a cargo ship headed for New York and the future… Friends from the ship helped her bring her extensive luggage (wardroobe trunks, skis, etc.) to the Barbizon Hotel for Women in mid-town Manhattan, and from there they went straight to 52nd street in search of jazz! She got to see Ella Fitzgerald standing on a table singing “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” and hear Count Basie playing between movies at the theater. Then her new friends took her to Grand Central Station where she hopped on a train to Connecticut.

“I was pretty independent. And I couldn’t understand why the young women in America were so very dependent and helpless. When I first came to a friend of my mother’s in Old Lyme, Conn., old lady friends of my host seemed to think I needed a chaperone… What on earth for?” Her next stop was the Wellesley Institute for Foreign Students in Massachusetts, a preparatory course before actually starting Wellesley.

Why would someone all the way from Norway journey to Sanibel every year for a three-week visit? “It’s paradise! The location, the view is overwhelmingly beautiful! I discover something new every year, every day… The magnificent changing light [she’s an artist as well as an author], the shells, the birds, the tides. We seldom leave the premises of the Island Inn, it’s so peaceful and gorgeous. On Sanibel I realize again and again what war and freedom mean. I feel the endlessness of time here, the power and aliveness of nature…I needed that to ‘collect the threads’ to finish my book. Parts of it were written here.

For seven years Inni and her husband Gunnar vacationed on Fisher Island in a condo friends had offered them. “Our first visit to Florida!.Seven years addicted us to the sunshine state. When the time came to move, we traveled all the way down the east coast to the Keys and all the way up the west coast to Longboat Key looking for the perfect spot. We found it on Sanibel. We’ve been coming to Florida for 20 years now.”

She and Gunnar find the term ‘Ugly American’… They feel that Americans are the kindest, most thoughtful and considerate people they can think of. “Americans are known internationally and historically for reaching out their hands to help with no thought of being rewarded. I’ve never seen people go out of their way to help others as much, and we’ve traveled extensively. In the face of catastrophe — the war, Hurricane Charley, Hurricane Wilma the next year — the same qualities in people come forth time after time… Helping each other, finding solutions — Americans are always helping.”

Inni was a restaurant writer for years. “I was a free-lance writer.’ My idol was culinary writer and humorous restaurant critic, the inimitable Jay Jacobs. I had dinner with him once and he told me he would never write any thing devastatingly critical about a restaurant, preferring to not mention it at all. People enjoy reading about a truly high quality restaurant or, an excellently prepared dish!”

Inni has also written several books on culinary topics, but she only wrote about restaurants outside of Norway since she and Gunnar, a hotelier diplomé from Lausanne, ran several different establishments in Oslo and Bergen. Their very first restaurant was in a hotel where they converted a dreary café into the well-known Neptune Jazz Club in Bergen, Norway. “We are so impressed with Joe McCormick who plays and sings here at the Inn in Traditions on the Beach; he’s a terrific entertainer and musician with a genuine jazz feeling.” Inni has always loved to dance, especially jitterbug which was taught her by the GI’s who liberated Oslo all those many years ago. “But, all his life Gunnar never liked to dance… until here at Island Inn,” she said. “That is due to the music, the ambiance, the atmosphere, a whole set of good factors put together.

“The Island Inn feels like home to us — everything is so relaxed, happy and friendly now. And the restaurant has so much heart and soul — what we Europeans think of as the Italian spirit, since Andrea took it over. One of the waiters said the other day, ‘I enjoy seeing people smiling. People smile because they are happy — with the food, with the Inn, with my serving them. I love the positive attitude of Americans!’

Reflecting back, Inni thinks her book — which has received good reviews in Europe –is in many ways more relevant today than ever because of its emphasis on the emotions and character-building that crisis and catastrophe create in a person. “We had to create our own solutions to problems, figure out a way around the lack of this or that, invent a tool or whatever it was we needed…

Readers report it is a very different book about World War II — entertaining and captivating in a pleasant way. It was her eight grandchildren, who first gave her the idea when they urged her, “Grandma, please tell us about the war.”

(All unattributed quotes are the words of Inni-Carine Holm. This fascinating book is published in Norwegian. The author is very interested in finding a publisher or agent who might want to have the book translated into English. She can be reached by e-mail at inni.carine.holm@c2i.net‘>inni.carine.holm@c2i.net or through the Islander.)