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“My Feelings are Indescribable”

After 69 years, the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen could return to the Helling family from Norway a pocket watch and a marriage ring. The two objects had been the personal property of Torstein Helling. They were taken away from him when he was deported to the Natzweiler Concentration Camp. Torstein Helling’s son, Karre Dag Helling, came to see the ITS in Bad Arolsen with the team of a Norwegian television crew on 26 September 2012. “I could not believe it first”, he says. “Tears came to my eyes. My feelings are simply indescribable.”

Suspected of being an active resistance member, Torstein Helling, at the time a family man aged 36 with three children, had been arrested in Lillesand on 23 January 1943. After a short interim confinement at the prison in Kristiansand, the Nazis deported him as a so-called ‘night and fog’ prisoner, to the Natzweiler Concentration Camp on 15 June 1943. The Nazis used the method of systematically making political prisoners disappear without a trace (night and fog) as a deterrent to their alleged fellow résistants. Helling’s next station of his ordeal was the Dachau Concentration Camp where he arrived on 6 September 1944. His prisoner’s identity sheets, effects’ cards, the camp’s lists on newly-arriving prisoners, labour cards and medical files attest to his persecution – all of which are kept in the ITS archives. His son Karre Dag looks at the documents for a long time and has every line translated for him. “It is good to be here”, he keeps saying. “You do an important job.”

Thanks to the evacuation of Scandinavian prisoners by the Swedish Red Cross in so-called “White Buses” during the last days of war, Helling’s father could finally return to his home country in April 1945. One of his last interim stops had been the Neuengamme Concentration Camp in North Germany. “It was not until 1988 that my father started talking to me about that time”, relates his 63-year-old son. “After that he even went to see Natzweiler once more.” Helling did not know, though, that some of his personal objects were kept in archives in Germany.

The Nazi administration had sent Helling’s effects from Natzweiler via Dachau to Neuengamme. Following the evacuation of the latter camp, they fell into the hands of the British Army in Schleswig-Holstein. Via a restitution office in Hannover, the personal objects came to Arolsen in 1963, where they have been preserved since then. Thanks to the effects’ owners’ list the ITS published on its website and to research pursued by the Dutch family researcher Kitty Brom, Mr Helling’s family in Norway could now be located and written to. “I promise you that I will find other Norwegian families who share our fate”, was Karre Dag Helling’s farewell word.