Coincidences trouble me—especially if they occur in thematic clusters. It sometimes makes me concerned someone else is pulling the strings in our lives. “Denmark” has been appearing in my life with troubling frequency lately. But more on that later.
This tale is the story of how sometimes even an anonymous book collection can relate a narrative—even if it is mostly conjecture. Sometimes fantasy can eventually lead you to real places.
In the last week or so at the Wonder Book warehouse, Danish books began appearing here and there on carts that were labeled for my attention. At first it was just a group of foreign language books. They were likely brought to one of our stores amongst the dozen “buys” each of the 3 brick and mortars make every day. Monday through Sunday. 363 days a year. Or perhaps they were picked up from a house call. We, or scouts that act for us, make numerous calls every week. Mostly in the greater DC/Baltimore region. Anyway, they were here in the mix, and it was a lot to give them a final review and try to figure out where they should go.
These books were mostly novels. A lot were translated into Danish from other languages especially English. Pearl Buck and other authors whose readers are preponderantly women were highly represented which made think the collection had likely belonged to a woman.
A day or two later on another cart amongst books and ephemera was a tall thin folio. This was a “Chuck” cart created by Ernest who does most of the secondary sorting here. He gets pallets and carts from the 3-4 primary sorters. They send him books and items they feel require a second, more expert, look. Ernest can make the decisions on most of these. But some of the stuff he feels I should see. Some of it he just feels I would like. Most are things he doesn’t want to make a final decision on. The book was plain black cloth. It wore no dust jacket. Yet for some reason I stopped as I was passing by. It was the only item amongst many other flashy and exotic things that called to me. I picked it up and opened the front cover.
The photo was an official one. On its edges were stamped some governmental markings. Had it been on a passport or some other form of official identification or “papers”?
Beneath it was a crude 1945 publication by the Friends of Denmark. It was on cheap paper and been run off on some 1940s version of a mimeograph machine. A quick read showed it to be the documentation of the last week of the Nazi occupation and the first day of liberation.
Some romantic notion made me hope this woman was somehow involved in the underground. Or perhaps, more likely, she was over here in the States keeping Danes and Americans informed about the Danish situation, the cruelties being inflicted and perhaps seeking support in money and material for the resistance?
I leafed through the book. It was a 1964 Danish publication. It was profusely illustrated and documented the German occupation, Danish resistance, sabotage, underground activities and fighting. It ends with photos and corresponding text about the round up of surrendering German soldiers and collaborators then finally the celebrations and parades. The images of so much destruction the war inflicted on this beautiful little country are shocking. This is Europe. Civilized, modern, educated people. And it wasn’t that long ago.
The title translates Holstebro Under the Occupation.
And that was all. I looked and found no signature, no notes laid in or written in the margins. But that photo—the intense look, the piercing eyes. This was a serious woman on a mission I felt sure.
That was all I had. Some anonymous novels and that one book with a photo and 8 pages stapled together telling the story of Denmark’s last days before freedom. Those 8 pages read like a rapid exciting almost breathless narrative.
A few days later these books appeared as a group on another cart in another part of the sorting area.
A small collection of Danish books about books and literature.
They are quite attractive. Very earthy in appearance.
A coincidence? Definitely a coincidence of some kind. But was there a greater theme to it? There was nothing to tie these Danish books to the woman except the timing of their appearance and the dates on most of the books were in the late 1940s. One nice slipcased title with a vellum spine is about the artist Axel Nygaard who did a lot of book illustrations.
Others include histories of old books—Danish and Western European languages. Another is about “Arabishe” books—going back to the earliest known writing in the Middle East.
That was so odd. I’ve been obsessed with another book story I’m writing. “Treesong.” This was surprisingly coincidental. Just two weeks ago, after a visit to the 2018 Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair, where I may or may not have been given an ancient and quite rare book, the mystery and search for something wondrous that was lost ended with a dream. The dream of my last night in NYC was about Denmark and trees. Beech trees.
Now these newly arrived Danish books may hold some answers or paths to answers. Perhaps that which was lost can be found. Perhaps, at least, I’ll have learned something.
Another coincidence in the last week involved picking up and looking through a book on woodcutting. NORWEGIAN WOOD.
This book was a Christmas gift a couple years ago from a son who knows I enjoy cutting and heating with wood on the Lonely Mountain where I dwell.
Yep, I cut, hauled, split and stacked all that myself.
I had left NORWEGIAN WOOD in the garage below the house since that holiday. It was a nice sentiment, but I really thought I already knew all I need to about cutting, splitting, seasoning and burning wood. When I first started Wonder Book in 1980, I had no money. NO money. The $300 it took then to fill the old heating oil tank was mortifying. Heating with wood then was not a lifestyle choice. It was the only choice to keep the old stone farmhouse a comfortable 50 degrees or so.
“Treesong” begins with an experience with a lone young Beech tree close to my house. One wintry morning a year or so ago, I walked out, and it fairly glowed amongst the thousands of other trees around it. At first I thought it might be a “Ghost Tree.” How had I never noticed it before?! Could it have just magically appeared? It was stunningly beautiful. It was the only tree in the forest surrounding me that still bore its leaves. They were the color of light sand and the trunk and branches were silver.
Anyway, that is a long, long story and is still very much in the works. Something made me pick out Norwegian Wood as I passed through garage and take it to bed. Leafing through the book I read that the Beech is the National Tree of Denmark. Coincidence.
The Danish word “Bog” is book. The Danish word “Bøg” means beech. There is substantial evidence that the modern word “book” has its roots in the early Northern European word for Beech. Coincidence?
Ah, my book muse. Here to guide and chide me I’m sure.
“Is it one or two or more stories yer recoding here? Are ye mixing fact with fiction. Are ye leading yer readers, if any are left by now, down some fantasy tangent of your own imagination?”
“I…I’m not sure. The other story seems quite real to me. It could change my life if I can find some answers. All the wonderful things that happened in the year after I visited Denmark almost three years ago. The trip to Elsinore (Helsingør) Castle shook me to the core. To think that Shakespeare may have performed there during his acting days when his English theatre troupe visited. In the play he seems to have an intimate knowledge of the castle and its architecture, environment and layout. That mystique multiplied the mystique of being in the place where Hamlet and Ophelia and…”
‘Ok…ok. Back to the Danish books and the mystery behind them. Where was I? Oh, yeah…”
The next day I found another cluster of Danish books on a cart in another area here. These were cookbooks and housekeeping books from the 1940s and 50s.
Had she set up housekeeping? Here or in Denmark? Were they even hers?
Then just yesterday I found this!
But the date is all wrong. 1965. Could it be her daughter’s?
Inside I found this photo.
I returned the book in which I found the photo. Holstebro Under Besaettelson (Holstebro Under the Occupation.) It is 221 pages long and was printed in 1964 in the Danish town of Holstebro. I didn’t locate any copies for sale on the Internet at the time I’m writing this. WorldCat—the online database for book holdings at University and Institutional libraries around the world—only shows 9 copies. 5 are in the US. One at the British Library in London and 3 in Danish libraries.
Holstebro is a small city with a population of about 35,000 in northwestern Denmark. Its largest employer is the Jutland Dragoon garrison. I haven’t found much about its history in the Second World War but the book by Bent Torben Holm has a few hundred photos which show a great deal of action took place there.
The 8 page “Danish Listening Post” Vol2 #22. Published May 20, 1945 which was laid in the Holm book along with the photo is quite exciting. It reads like a fast paced adventure story:
April 29…The Danes stand ready to strike when General Eisenhower gives the command. The underground army only awaits… the Swedish Red Cross has been negotiating with the Germans on the repatriation of thousands of Danes and Norwegians in German concentration camps…Mutinees continue among the German troops in Denmark…Approximately 350,000 German civilians and unknown thousands of German wounded have arrived in Denmark.
May 1 Preparations appear to be underway for the departure of the Germans from Copenhagen. Some troops have already left certain Danish towns including…Holstebro…leaving behind SS troops and the “HIPO” (German Auxiliary police) … The Gestapo is continually burning documents and large quantities of papers….
May 2 With the assumption of power in Germany by Admiral Doenitz following the announcement of Hitler’s death the evacuation of German troops is halted. The Germans return to their battle stations including the long range coastal guns…the Germans have started a new terror wave of murder and arrests in Copenhagen…The RAF attacks German airfields in Denmark…
May 3 …the cables are filled with conflicting reports … Capitulation in Denmark has been held up by ….Gestapo chiefs….In their attempted flight … the Germans mustered every available type of ship from barges to cargo ships. Allied air power sank or damaged more than 64 …
May 4 The complete surrender … is announced from … Eisenhower’s headquarters…King Christian has asked… to form a new government…the whole of Denmark was like an anthill of joyous people who cried and laughed and hugged complete strangers on the streets…freedom fighters were marching … with helmets and tommy-guns
May 5 …British troops drove into Copenhagen…however gunfire from Hipomen and fanatic Nazis…street fighting…pockets of resistance…Over two thousand Nazis and collaborators …arrested, but prepared lists demand the arrest of an even greater number…Early in the morning the German cruisers Prinz Eugen and Nuernburg anchored Copenhagen harbor fired on the city, killing and wounding many persons…
May 6 The Danes are searching out Nazis, collaborationists and German sympathizers … 10,000 prisoners. Entire streets were roped off, and every house was systematically combed…
May 8 The Russian forces resumed the bombing of the Germans on the island of Bornholm who refused to capitulate…
May 9 King Christian appeared in public …for the first time in 5 years when he opened Parliament…The Danish Freedom Council held its first meeting “overground.” It was also its last meeting. The Russians landed on Bornholm … told the Danes it would take about two days to remove the 15,000 Germans … and then they themselves would leave.
May 12 Field Marshall Montgomery was received and King Christian bestowed the highest Danish decoration upon him…
The issue ends:
The time of sorrow and suffering is over….Spring has come to our country, and freedom came in its wake….In an unequal struggle we have honestly fought for Denmark and …freedom. Now forces rallied to rebuild and defend our age-old country and the happiness of our people.
The death throes of the Third Reich had ended—at least here just outside of Germany itself.
The dispatches…the prose…
Wow! It is almost like being there.
Books take you places.
Was “she” there? Was she in the underground? Or was she here in the states fighting from afar?
I will never know unless some books show up—with some identification—some personalization.
And, personally, will I find any answers in the Danish books? Is Denmark part of the “Tree Song” story that may lead to…magical things…and perhaps the “Lost Book” and perhaps to “her”?