KNUT EINARSEN turned 101-years-old October 22, 2015! Please see photos after “Heroes In Our Backyard.”
This biography of Knut and Haldis Einarsen was written by Diana Einarsen and published under the pseudonym of C.E. Chambers in the Journal Newspapers in August 2000 (print edition). It was circulated throughout much of Seattle and other cities. It has been featured in numerous other publications since then. Photos, both old and new — including from Knut’s 100th-birthday party in October 2014 and special events in 2015 — have been posted at the end of the biography.
The Updates below include news about Knut’s recent introduction to Norway’s King Harald V (for the second time), his attendance at a private luncheon for His Majesty, an article about Knut published in a major newspaper, a special tribute to Knut by a special delegate from the Norwegian Armed Forces Veterans Center, highlights from his 100th birthday party, etc. (See photos after his biography.)
Please scroll down to the paragraph in purple text if you’d like to read the biography without the updates.
UPDATE May 23, 2015 (Saturday): Knut attended a private luncheon for Norway’s King Harald V along with his son and daughter-in-law (and 200+ other guests) at the Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Complimentary champagne and fine wines by Gård Vintners (Royal City, WA) were served along with an appetizer of Dungeness Crab with Apricot, Radish and Crème Fraîche; a main course of Seared Halibut with Brown Butter Cauliflower, Spring Vegetables (baby asparagus, peas, and lavender flower buds), and Meyer Lemon Purée. Dessert was Coconut Pearls with Liliko’i Curd and Basil Seeds.
UPDATE May 22, 2015 (Friday): Knut was introduced to King Harald V by Seattle’s Norwegian Consul, Kim Nesselquist, during a barbecue luncheon at the Pacific Fishermen’s Shipyard in Seattle. Knut had met the King for the first time in 1995 at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Seattle. (A Norwegian-language article about the King’s appearance at the Shipyard can be read at Karmøy Nytt, http://karmoynytt.no/2015/05/23/hjertelig-gjensyn-med-kong-harald/)
UPDATE May 15, 2015: The Seattle Times, Washington’s largest daily newspaper, published reporter Jack Broom’s interview with Knut. http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/norwegian-american-100-on-daring-nazi-escape-beloved-ballard/
UPDATE January 24, 2015 (Saturday): A documentary film with footage of Knut Einarsen that will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Norway from Nazi Germany (May 2015) will be shown on Norwegian TV. It may also become available for viewing on the internet. Please read below for more details.
UPDATE January 22, 2015 (Thursday): Two hundred sixty people (260) watched enthusiastically as Knut Einarsen was recognized on January 22, 2015 at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle for his work as a Resistance fighter against the Nazis. The Commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces Veterans Center had delegated combat veteran Åge Johnny Nabben Olsen to present Knut with a specially designed double-sided coin, lapel ribbon, wristband, and letter (see photos after the biography). A Norwegian documentary filmmaker, Martin Høgberget, who received funding for his travel expenses from the American Embassy in Oslo (as did Åge Johnny Nabben Olsen), recorded the ceremony. He also recorded the very well-received dramatized reading of a new play by professional actors (including Seattle’s Gene Thorkildsen) that occurred afterwards. “The Epiphany” was written by Dr. Bruce Solheim and was inspired by his parents’ very challenging experiences while living in Nazi-occupied Norway.
Dr. Solheim’s trip to Norway in 2013 for “preliminary readings and research” for “The Epiphany” play was funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C. (Dr. Solheim is a distinguished history teacher who has published four books; his first play, “Bronze Star,” was produced in Los Angeles and has won two national awards.) Note: Combat veteran Åge Johnny Nabben Olsen was also part of the very fine cast of “The Epiphany.”
October 2014 HIGHLIGHTS REGARDING KNUT EINARSEN’S 100th BIRTHDAY: The Norwegian Consul from Seattle, Mr. Kim Nesselquist, sent Knut a letter of congratulations on behalf of His Majesty King Harald V, and President Obama also sent him a letter of congratulations (photos will be posted soon). On the morning of Oct. 23, Scott Willard from the Today Show (a well-known national American television program) congratulated Knut and showed a recent photo of him taken by Jennifer Einarsen Locke on a jar of Smucker’s Strawberry Jam (an Americana tradition at the Today Show). On Oct. 27, the Mayor of Kenmore, David Baker, honored Knut by issuing an official proclamation at the Kenmore City Hall.
UPDATE October 22, 2014 (Wednesday): It’s Knut’s 100th birthday!! He spoke via Skype to his great-nephew, Brian Einarsen, who lives in Sweden, and rec’d a congratulatory phone call from his nephew, Einar Einarsen, a part-time chef for the Swedish royal family, as well as calls (and flowers) from other relatives and friends in Norway and Canada, etc. He celebrated his birthday during lunch with friends at the Leif Erikson Lodge’s Kaffestua (coffee house) which included another marzipan cake. In the evening, he dined with family members at his favorite Indian restaurant where he ordered his favorite entree: Kasturi Chicken (which is made with a rare spice from the Himalayas).
UPDATE October 12, 2014 (Sunday)…see photos after the biography: Approximately 200 peo0ple celebrated Knut’s 100th birthday in advance at a buffet dinner (Pork Loin Roast and Crab-Stuffed Cod) held at the Sons of Norway (SON) Leif Erikson Lodge in Seattle including seven relatives who flew in from Norway, a Rear Admiral Coast Guard, and a well-known radio talk show host. (Knut has been a member of the SON for 50 years.) Gene Thorkildsen, the Master of Ceremonies, is a long-time family friend and a professional actor who decided to “roast” Knut rather than toast him. Dessert: Cookies had been expertly made with Knut’s face imprinted on them, and there were two large Marzipan Cakes with Raspberry/Bavarian Cream Filling, and also a countless number of homemade Norwegian desserts such as lefse, krumkake, tornkake, mor monsen, kringle, etc., that had been cooked by the warm-hearted women, all friends, from the Lodge.
UPDATE September 2014: Knut is doing fantastic. He’s in excellent health, good spirits, is an adventurous eater, and socializes at least twice a week with his friends at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Seattle, WA. He lives with family members at his 40-year-old residence.
UPDATE March 2013: Sadly, Haldis Einarsen passed away this month. She died peacefully in her home. She was 90-years-old and her loving but indomitable spirit is greatly missed. She and Knut had been married for 71 years
UPDATE April 2011: Marit-Ann Kind Jackson from the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle videotaped an interview with Knut and Haldis Einarsen.
UPDATE May 2011: On May 17, 2011, Knut Einarsen served as an Honorary Marshal at the annual Sons of Norway Independence Day Parade (Syttende Mai) in Seattle, Washington. (See photos at the end of Knut’s biography.) The Grand Marshal was the Private Secretary to King Harald V of Norway; Knut and Haldis sat on a dais with him at a special luncheon held at the Leif Eriksen Lodge in Seattle, WA.
The lead-in to “Heroes In Our Backyard” by C.E. Chambers as originally published by the Journal Newspapers in August 2000:
“In the riveting full-length feature film, The Perfect Storm, a sword fisherman is snagged by a hook and catapulted over the side of a boat into the North Atlantic Ocean. This harrowing movie — based on real-life characters — reminded free-lance journalist and movie critic, C.E. Chambers, of another drama. Its principal characters, however, survived to tell their epic story. Knut and Haldis Einarsen are long-time Seattle residents whose life-and-death adventures take place against the forbidding backdrops of the Bering Sea and Nazi-occupied Norway.”
Photo 1: Knut Andreas Einarsen proudly standing on the Norwegian battleship Norge in 1935. The ship was sunk by the Germans during their invasion of Norway in April 1940. (Photo belongs to Knut and Haldis Einarsen. See more photos below.)
“Don’t mess with Knut Einarsen. At 85-years-old, his well-muscled arms and chest put longtime weight lifters to shame, and his daily activities rival the average teenager’s. He’s a former halibut fisherman and proud Norwegian-American who resides in Seattle. A combination of rugged, land-of-the-midnight-sun upbringing and death-defying work environments.
In the early ‘60s, Knut was fishing in the Bering Sea (located between Alaska and Russia) when a hook-leader suddenly swung out-of-control and whipped a razor-sharp, four-inch halibut hook into his nose. Similar to a scene from the gripping, real-life film, The Perfect Storm, the wench wasn’t stopped and the incoming fishing line pulled the 5’6½”, 165-pound dynamo toward the railing. Luckily for Knut, the rotten leader, which was made out of twine, broke. The gargantuan hook, though, was still caught in the right side of his nose.
The crew, at first unaware of the incident, now stood open-mouthed. There were seven of them, all seasoned fishermen of Norwegian descent. They were six hours from the closest shore, but it was too risky to head back without removing the germ-infested hook first, and, besides, there was a full catch of halibut to take care of. An additional dilemma: there was no wire-cutter on board.
Knut, a former resistance fighter during the Nazi occupation of Norway, did what he had to do: He reached inside his right nostril to the lethally barbed hook and slowly pulled it down toward the end of his nose. He kept pulling it down and around, working the arced portion through — then yanked as hard as he could to force the square-shaped eye through his outer nose and down his nostril.
The hardy cook, who was watching, confessed later that he almost fainted.
The intrepid fisherman then mixed iodine with Lysol and sterilized the gaping hole in his nose with toothpicks soaked in the antiseptic. Fifteen minutes later, he returned to the rigors of commercial fishing for another ten hours.
Knut Einarsen retired from halibut fishing in 1985. His days are now filled with volunteer work and social activities at various Norwegian organizations, entertaining, traveling, and overseeing his house and extensive property. Wrestling with and cleaning huge halibut during 20-hour work-days was a fraught-filled occupation, but it had provided a good living for a former refugee -– someone who had escaped on foot in winter to Sweden.
On April 9, 1940, Hitler’s forces invaded Norway. Knut, 26-years-old, born and raised in the northwestern community of Skarstad, had recently been called back into the Norwegian Navy. He was on leave in Narvik, a hub of Swedish-exported ore, fifty miles northeast of his hometown.
He was asleep in his family-owned freighter, the Vandringen (The Wanderer), when the sound of shouting and gunfire roused him. It was 4:00 a.m.
“Some of those darn Nazis were hiding in a German whaling ship in the Narvik Harbor,” he complains, as indignant as if it had happened yesterday.
It was the largest sea-borne operation in history: A German armada –- 42 war-ships and 65 other German vessels -– had attacked Norway’s main seaports all at once. The Norwegian government, which had been determined to preserve neutrality during the escalating World War II, was now a fly thrashing about in Germany’s web.
Knut and his crew abandoned the ship to flee by crowded bus to Ballangen — Knut and one other passenger, holding hands, perched precariously on the outside fenders — and then by boat to the fjord-bound Skarstad.
Within a few weeks, the German occupiers gave the Einarsen family permission to continue transporting cement up and down the Norwegian coast with the Vandringen. However, Knut, the youngest of seven boys (he also had two sisters), joined other family members and friends in working behind the scenes to undermine the invaders. His older brother, Marelius, a member of the secret Norwegian resistance army, was killed while assisting British allies in northern Norway during the first few weeks of the occupation. A large monument dedicated to his memory overlooks the small fishing community of Skarstad.
On June 10, two months after the invasion, Norway officially surrendered to Germany.
The green-uniformed, goose-stepping Nazis (who had installed a Norwegian traitor as premier after King Haakon VII and his cabinet fled to London) began enforcing draconian measures to subdue resistance efforts. Possession of radios, as well as firearms, was now punishable by death. It wasn’t difficult to locate the offenders: radio owners incur an annual tax in socialistic Norway. The disheartened Scandinavians, who knew they would be imprisoned if they were overheard complaining about the German occupiers, trekked to their local law enforcement headquarters with their receivers.
Knut owned two radios, one for the house and one for the Vandringen – but there was no way he was going to let the Nazis have both. He fashioned identical boxes from wood, put a radio inside one of them and a wooden block of similar weight in the other. The Norwegian sheriff, who never opened the boxes, gave him receipts for both.
Knut hid the forbidden radio in a shack one mile from his parents’ Skarstad home. His oldest brother, Egil, listened in one night to the war news and made the mistake of telling his wife, Anna. She was earning good money by washing the German soldiers’ clothes and betrayed Knut to a high-ranking enemy officer stationed at a submarine listening station.
“Go home and take care of your own family!” he inexplicably retorted.
The defiant Knut had also refused to give up his rifle. He was in the barn one day, oiling it heavily before hiding it under a bridge, when Endre, Anna’s seven-year-0ld son, unexpectedly walked in. Knut grabbed him by his shirt, lifted him off the ground and shook him.
“If you tell your mother, I’ll knock you in the head!” he warned, sky-blue eyes glaring and sinewy arms bulging under his shirt.
Endre, now in his 60s, still lives in northern Norway. During family reunions he and Knut reminisce about the war-torn years. They both chuckle when Endre reminds him that he never told his mother about the hidden rifle because “Jeg var så redd.” (“I was so scared.”)
Knut wasn’t the only Norseman who resisted giving up his rifle. One day in 1942, he and Haldis, a blond-haired, rosy-cheeked Kjøpsvik girl from a fjord directly south of Skarstad, were picking lingonberries in the Kjøpsvik woods. They froze in their tracks when they crossed paths with their Lutheran minister, Kolbjørn Varmann. He had a rifle nonchalantly slung over his shoulder.
“Do you dare to do this?” Knut sputtered, not sure if Varmann was hunting game to supplement the near-starvation food rations or Nazis.
“Den som ingenting våger, ingenting vinner,” he responded. (“Those who don’t take chances, don’t win anything.”)
Kolbjørn Varmann, who had married Knut and Haldis Rist a few months earlier, had fought in the resistance army in the mountains around Narvik before Norway officially surrendered. He openly spoke against “den forbannende Hitler” (“that damned Hitler!”) — even while preaching in the pulpit — but collaborated secretly with Haldis’s father, a member of the underground, to transport Jews and other targets of Nazi wrath to the safety of Sweden.
The irascible Norwegian minister repeatedly ripped the propaganda-filled Nazi banners from his church’s walls and publicly denounced the three German sympathizers who attended his church. German soldiers arrived after one church service to arrest him but he had disappeared. A doctor had hidden him in a coffin. He survived and later became a highly respected member of the Norwegian Parliament. (See Wikipedia.)
Knut and Haldis, meanwhile, were living under a death sentence of their own. It was early 1943 when the Nazis stationed in Narvik informed Knut that they were confiscating the well-built, 67-foot Vandringen for their personal mail route. Knut, however remembered his brother, Marelius, who had been killed by the Germans -– and lied to the Nazis about its condition.
“The bow is full of dry rot,” he said, fearlessly matching their hardened hawk-like eyes with his own stony expression.
A shipyard supervisor in Narvik, a friend of the Einarsen family, filed a false report stating that the Vandringen was in need of repair. The Nazis gave Knut one month to make the ship serviceable.
Just a few days later, however, on a blustery, snow-filled Saturday in March, a Nazi officer telephoned Knut and ordered him to report to Narvik the next Monday. An unknown German sympathizer had betrayed him. Knut, who was cutting grass at his mother’s house in Skarstad, used a pay-phone to warn Haldis , who was in Kjøpsvik. He didn’t want to take any chances in case his parents’ phone was tapped.
“I’m going to pick you up; have your skis with you,” was his terse message.
A few hours later, the very sea-worthy Vandringen sailed into the Kjøpsvik fjord and Haldis climbed on. Knut piloted it back to Skarstad where they were to rendezvous with a man from the Norwegian underground who had agreed to guide them by foot over the mountains into Sweden. They were shocked to learn that the Nazis had arrested him.
Knut and Haldis were beginning to panic. Fortuitously, one of Knut’s cousins, the captain of the cement freighter, Nordstjernen (Northstar), happened to be in Skarstad at the time and agreed to help them. Twenty-four people, including the Einarsens and two crew members from the Vandringen, were soon hidden on board. During the wee hours of that Sunday morning, the Nordstjernen’s brave pilot navigated without lights through the long, hazardous Tysfjord, desperately avoiding the Nazi patrols that regularly circuited an island in the fjord. Six hours later, the fugitives were dropped off on the shore of a steep mountain.
Wearing white sheets over their woolen clothes, they carved icy steps on the side of the treacherous mountain as they climbed up, carrying skis, extra clothes, food (buttered bread and coffee in insulated containers), five rifles and 800 rounds of ammunition. Four hours later they reached the summit. They were able to make good speed by skiing -– but sometimes had to throw themselves face down on the frozen tundra when German surveillance planes flew close by.
Using a stolen, detailed German map of the area, they skied, walked -– and tried to suck on the now-frozen bread -– for the next 36 hours. Clothes, rifles and ammunition -– everything but their skis and the clothes on their backs -– were discarded as the exhausting journey began to take its toll. Haldis, who had begun to hallucinate about her church in Kjøpsvik, sat down on the hard snow and refused to continue.
“Vi har til go over den neste hel, den er vi der,” (We have to go over the next hill, then we are there”) coaxed Knut, again and again.
They knew they were in Swedish territory when they discovered a Laplander’s teepee-shaped grass hut beyond one of the hills; it had a stove and a supply of dry wood. Half of the party spent the night there, the other half slept in another hut a few minutes away. [Note: Laplanders are known today as Sami.]
It was the first time they had rested in two days.
They united again the next morning and were skiing across a lake when they spotted four adults and two children lying on the ice. Haldis recognized them: They were neighbors from Kjøpsvik who were also on the run from the Nazis. They had severe frostbite and had given up.
The Norwegian refugees now numbered 31. The Einarsens’ group assisted the others; it took six more hours before the exhausted skiers found help -– and were assured of safety -– at an electrical power station outpost.
The Einarsens (and 64,000 other Norwegian refugees) lived and worked in Sweden for more than two years. They returned to Norway soon after May 8, 1945, when Germany fell and the 350,000 German troops occupying their home country had surrendered. Ten thousand Norwegians had died and half of its merchant fleet -– approximately 400 ships -– had been sunk. In addition, the land had been stripped of its food and few natural resources.
The Vandringen, however, still lay on the harbor in Skarstad…untouched and unmanned by the Nazis. Before escaping the Nazis’ clutches, Knut had hidden parts from the motor in an elderly man’s kitchen cupboard in a remote area of Skarstad.
Knut and Haldis Einarsen, who emigrated to the U.S. in December 1948, are proud great-grandparents. They celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary August 16, 2000.”
(“Heroes In Our Backyard” was written by C.E. Chambers and first published by “The Journal Newspapers,” Lynnwood, WA, August 1, 2000. It was also printed in “Western Viking,” Seattle, WA, September 8, 2000, and the “Norwegian American Weekly,” Seattle, WA, April 22, 2011, as well as in other publications. This story has been slightly edited for inclusion on this website. NOTES: 1) Knut Einarsen’s nephew’s name was corrected from Helge to Endre (thanks to Brian Einarsen). As of November 2015, Endre is still living and the author is in contact with his son; and 2) The date of death on the monument erected in Maurelius’s memory is 09.05.1940 which translates to May 9, 1940. He died almost one month after the Nazis attacked Norway. )
Photo 2: 1970s: Knut with a 435 lb. halibut he had helped catch. The other fisherman is 6’3″. (Photo belongs to Knut and Haldis Einarsen)
Photos 3 and 4: The monument erected in Skarstad, Norway, in the memory of Knut’s brother, Marelius, who was shot and killed by the Nazis during the first few weeks of the invasion of that country. He died in Knut’s arms. (Photo belongs to Knut and Haldis Einarsen)
Photo 5: August 1941. Knut and Haldis’s official wedding photo. (Photo belongs to Knut and Haldis Einarsen)
Photo 6: Knut and three of his brothers working on the Vandringen before the German occupation of Norway: Kristian (far right), Maurelius (second from the right), Knut (third from the right), Egil (far left). The photo is the property of Knut and Haldis Einarsen.
Photo 7: Vandringen (the Wanderer) in 1937. (Photo belongs to Knut and Haldis Einarsen)
Photo 8: Nordstjernen (The North Star). The brave captain of this boat risked his life to take Knut & Haldis (and others) to a Nazi-patrolled fjord in the middle of the night — with his lights turned off — where he dropped them off so they could begin their grueling trek to Sweden.
Photo 9: May 17, 2011: Knut and Haldis Einarsen speaking to Knut Brakstad, private secretary to King Harald of Norway, at a special luncheon at the Leif Eriksen Lodge #1 in Seattle. This was the prelude to the annual Norwegian Independence Day Parade in which Knut was an Honorary Marshal and Mr. Brakstad was the Grand Marshal. (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 10: May 17, 2011: Knut and Haldis Einarsen at the Leif Eriksen Lodge #1 in Seattle. (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 11: May 17, 2011: Knut and Haldis Einarsen in a chauffeur-driven convertible just minutes before the annual Norwegian Independence Day Parade began in Ballard (Seattle), Washington. (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 12: August 2012: Knut and Haldis’s 70th wedding anniversary. (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 13: June 2014: Knut enjoying a treat at Starbucks. (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 14: 2014: Knut with one of his granddaughters, Jennifer Einarsen Locke. (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 15: August 2014: A trip down memory lane: Knut standing in front of the first house he and Haldis owned in the U.S. (Seattle, WA). (Photo belongs to C.E. Chambers/Diana Einarsen)
Photo 16: October 12, 2014: Seven relatives from Norway, along with approx. 200 other guests, helped celebrate Knut’s 100th birthday in advance at the Leif Erikson Lodge in Seattle. (His birthday is Oct. 22, 2014.) (Photo belongs to Jennifer Einarsen Locke)
Photo 17: October 12, 2014: Knut with his son-in-law. (Photo belongs to Jennifer Einarsen Locke)
Photo 17: October 12, 2014: Knut with two of his grandchildren the day of his 100th birthday party.
Photo 18: October 12, 2014: During Knut’s 100th birthday party.
Photo 19: October 12, 2014: Cookies were imprinted with Knut’s face and placed at each table setting at his 100th b’day celebration at the Leif Erikson Lodge. (Photo belongs to Jennifer Einarsen Locke)
Photo 20: October 22, 2014: Knut’s actual birthday celebrated at his favorite Indian restaurant with two of his granddaughters.
Photo 23: January 23, 2015: The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, WA: More than 260 people watched Knut receive recognition for his work as a Resistance fighter in Nazi-occupied Norway. Åge Johnny Nabben Olsen (in the light blue shirt and tie) is a combat veteran who was delegated by the Commander of the Norwegian Armed Forced Veterans Center to present him with a specially designed double-sided coin (see photos below). Standing next to Knut is Dr. Bruce Solheim (author of “The Epiphany)” who was the catalyst for the Jan. 22 event. (Knut’s son, Kent, is on the far left wearing a Norwegian sweater. )
Photo 24: Norwegian combat veteran, Åge Johnny Nabben Olsen, shook hands with Knut after presenting him with a specially designed double-sided coin from the Commander of the Norwegian Armed Forces Veterans Center. Norwegian documentary filmmaker, Martin Høgberget, can be seen in the background.
Photos 25 and 26: The specially designed double-sided coin presented to Knut Einarsen by combat veteran Åge Johnny Nobben Olsen.
Photo 27 : January 22, 2015: Gene Thorkildsen, Producer & Director of “The Epiphany” as well as professional actor, and other members of the cast.
Photo 29: January 22, 2015: The cast of “The Epiphany” (actor Rick Walters, mostly hidden from view, is second from the right).
PHOTO 30: January 25, 2015