Wedding ring returned 70 years after Nazi arrest

The daughter of a Norwegian resistance fighter has had her father’s wedding ring and pocket watch returned 70 years after the Gestapo arrested him and sent him to a concentration camp.

Wedding ring returned 70 years after Nazi arrest
Erling Berg Pedersen managed to avoid the crematorium at the Natzweiler-Struthof concentration camp, where 245 Norwegians perished (Photo: Lybil BER).

Erling Berg Pedersen was arrested by Hitler’s secret police in August 1942 for working as an editor on a newspaper deemed illegal by the Nazi regime. In 1943 he was sent to the Natzweiler concentration camp in eastern France where all his valuables were confiscated.

While he survived the camp and returned to Norway in 1945, he never saw his treasured ring or watch again.

But recently a courier turned up at his daughter Marit Dunseth’s front door with a package containing the items plundered by the Nazis, newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad reports.

“I’m deeply moved and very grateful to the people who made these efforts on our behalf,” she told the newspaper.

Dunseth learned how her father’s name had cropped up on a list of prisoners of war whose valuables had been recovered.

Since Nazi officials kept detailed records of their plunder, the list published on the website of the International Tracing Service (ITS) was able to show that the wedding band and watch had belonged to Dunseth’s dad. ITS stores the valuables but does not have sufficient resources to establish contact with the families of victims, the newspaper said.

A Dutch woman with ties to a World War II memorial centre in the town of Amersfoort found Pedersen’s name on the list and contacted Norwegian genealogists, who were able to track down his family.  

The ring bore the inscription “Your Haldis. 22.8.1938”, a reference to his wife’s name and the date they were engaged. The pocket watch is believed to have been an heirloom from his uncle, grandfather, or great-grandfather.

Erling Berg Pedersen died in 2008, aged 94.

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How Norwegian trees have revealed the story of Germany’s biggest WWII battleship

Tree rings and forest composition provide unlikely evidence of a WWII battle which sought refuge off Norway's northern coast.

How Norwegian trees have revealed the story of Germany's biggest WWII battleship

Throughout most of World War II, Allied bombers tried repeatedly to sink the Tirpitz, Germany's biggest battleship and a bete noir of Britain's wartime leader Winston Churchill, who took to calling it 'the beast'.

On Wednesday, tree experts at the annual meeting of the European Geosciences Union showed why they failed to do so until late 1944. “The story was in the tree rings,” said Claudia Hartl, a researcher at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany.

The unlikely evidence of WWII battles was uncovered during the summer of 2016, when Hartl led students on a routine survey of forests around Kafjord, one of dozens of fjords along the northern coast of Norway.

“We got back to the lab and measured the tree rings, and saw that they were very narrow – in some cases nearly absent – for 1945,” she told AFP.

The forests, in other words, had been hit by an environmental cataclysm.

The first suspect was insect infestation, which can come suddenly and have severe impacts, especially in high-latitude boreal forests.

Driven north of their historic range by climate change, mountain pine beetles, for example, have recently devastated large swathes of forests in Canada, sometimes in a single year.

But there were no known insect in northern Scandinavia that could have delivered that kind of environmental shock in the middle of the 20th century.

“It wasn't until we spoke to a local scientist based in Tromso that we made the connection to the Tirpitz,” said Scott St. George, a geographer at The University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment who took part in the research.

The Tirpitz and its crew of 2500, it turned out, had retreated into northern Norway's watery labyrinth to escape detection. In the pre-satellite era, even a 250-metre (820-foot) behemoth wasn't that easy to spot.

But Allied aerial scouts finally found it, and the attacks began.

The Germans, however, had a counter-plan: producing vast quantities of artificial fog, enough to hide the ship and surrounding area from aerial view.

And that's where the tree rings come in.

“The smoke drifted into the forests surrounding the fjord and damaged nearby pine and birch trees, leaving behind a distinctive and unusual 'fingerprint',” St. George told AFP.

The study of tree rings – called dendrochronology, literally, “timeline of trees” – is used by climate scientists to trace changes in temperature, rainfall or river flows reaching back hundreds, even thousands, of years.

The concentric circles found in temperate zone tree trunks can also date the age of buildings, shipwrecks, musical instruments, painting frames or anything else made from temperate-zone wood.

Because trees in the tropics grow continually, they generally do not produce rings, which show growth spurts during spring and summer.

To investigate further, Hartl returned last summer to the scene of the battle, to see how far the damage had spread.

She established five test sites ranging in distance from a few hundred meters from the fjord where the Tirpitz was berthed, to about ten kilometres.

Near where the ship once lay, more than 60 percent of the trees showed virtually no growth in 1945. All of them were affected to some degree.

Gaps in the forest where young trees sprouted up in the 1950s suggest the chemical fog caused arboreal fatalities too.

As far as four kilometres away, more than half the tree were severely affected, taking eight years on average to fully recover.

Pine trees – which keep their needles for up to seven years – were hit hardest. “Being stripped bare would have been a more difficult challenge for that species,” St. George explained.

The artificial fog that denuded the trees was likely made from chlorosulphuric acid which, when mixed with water, produces a thick, white vapour.

German ships has special teams equipped with gas masks to generate the smoky shroud.

Despite its firepower, the Tirpitz never saw much action.

In October 1944, the German naval command moved it to Tromso, where it served as a moble artillery platform until a squadron of 32 British Lancaster bombers sent it to the bottom of the harbour the following month.