Nordahl Grieg

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Nordahl Grieg
Nordahl Grieg.jpg
Nordahl Grieg sometime during World War II.
Born Johan Nordahl Brun Grieg
(1902-11-01)1 November 1902
Bergen, Norway
Died 2 December 1943(1943-12-02) (aged 41)
Kleinmachnow, Germany
Pen name Jonatan Jerv (early works)
Occupation Playwright, poet, novelist, journalist, soldier
Nationality Norwegian
Notable works Til Ungdommen
Spouse Gerd Egede-Nissen

Johan Nordahl Brun Grieg, known as Nordahl Grieg,[1] (1 November 1902 – 2 December 1943) was a Norwegian poet, novelist, dramatist, journalist and political activist.[2] He was a popular poet and a controversial public figure in his lifetime.[3] Nordahl Grieg was never a member of the Communist Party of Norway, after agreement with the party,[citation needed] to serve the Communist idea. Nordahl could do better party work outside the party, without being the target of the witch hunt against communists.[original research?] He served as chair of the political organization Friends of the Soviet Union (1935–1940).[4] He was the brother of publisher Harald Grieg.


Nordahl Grieg with his brother, Harald, in 1922

Johan Nordahl Brun Grieg was born in Bergen, Norway, the son of lector Peter Grieg and Helga née Vollan. Grieg was married to actress Gerd Egede-Nissen.[5] He was related to the famous composer Edvard Grieg (though very remotely), and brother of the powerful Norwegian publisher Harald Grieg.

Grieg studied at King Frederick's University (now the University of Oslo) and spent some time travelling abroad, sometimes as a tourist and sometimes as a sailor. Receiving the Norway Scholarship for 1924, Grieg spent a year at Wadham College, Oxford in England, studying history and literature. At least one of Grieg's poems, "Kapellet i Wadham College" ("the Chapel in Wadham College"), was inspired by his stay at Wadham, where he was a contemporary of Cecil Day-Lewis and where he among others befriended G.K. Laycock. Grieg made his debut in 1922 with first book of poetry Omkring Kap det gode Haab ("Around the Cape of Good Hope"), based on personal seagoing experiences - as was Skibet gaar videre ("The Ship Sails On") in 1924. The latter book aroused controversy for its exposure of sailors' harsh living and working conditions.

Grieg spent 1927 as a newspaper correspondent in China, where he witnessed firsthand the civil war between the Kuomintang and the Communists.[6] The same year saw the production of Grieg's plays En ung manns Kjaerlighet ("A Young Man's Love") and Barabbas - the later giving a modern revolutionary interpretation to the New Testament character Barabas.[6][7] The 1929 poetry collection Norge i våre hjerter ("Norway in Our Heart") - expressing deep love for his country and his people in their then poverty and misery - got wide critical acclaim.

Feelings of compassion for the poor and exploited led Grieg to join the Norwegian Communist Party. From 1933 to 1935, he lived in the Soviet Union where he was officially invited to study the techniques of Soviet stage and film.[6] Upon returning to Norway, he became known as an ardent supporter of Joseph Stalin's policies, and became the chairman of the Friends of the Soviet Union in the same year. In 1937, he famously wrote a defence for the Moscow Trials, attacking a number of Norwegian authors who had criticized these trials. His novel Ung må verden ennu være was also a defence for Stalin and the Moscow Trials. In many articles, he also criticized the supporters of Leon Trotsky, whom he viewed as a traitor to the workers' cause [8] and who lived in Norway between 1937 and 1939.

His 1935 play Vår ære og vår makt (Our Honor and Our Glory), depicting the lives of Norwegian sailors during World War I (when Norway was neutral and traded with both sides) was an attack on shipping industry's exploitation of seafarers. From 1936 to 1937, Grieg published the magazine Veien Frem, which initially succeeded in attracting a number of prominent writers, but as the magazine adopted an increasingly Stalinist position in the discussion relating to the Moscow Trials, most of them severed ties with it and it ceased publication.[6]

Grieg as a war correspondent in Spain in 1937, together with Gerda Grepp and Ludwig Renn

His 1937 dramatic play Nederlaget ("The Defeat") was about the Paris Commune.[9] The Spanish Civil War was the subject of Spansk sommer ("Spanish Summer") (1937) and partly also of the novel Ung må verden ennu være ("May the World Stay Young")(1938), the latter's plot shifting between Spain and the Soviet Union. The same was also inspired the 1936 poem Til ungdommen ("For the Youth"), one of his most well-known works, which was set to music in 1952 by the Danish composer Otto Mortensen and was performed on numerous occasions (see Til ungdommen).

However, the outbreak of World War II , and especially the German invasion and occupation of Norway, brought Grieg into great variance with Stalin's policies. The Soviet Union signed in 1939 the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany and until being itself invaded in 1941 instructed Communists worldwide to regard the ongoing war as "an Imperialist War" in which they should not take part. Conversely Grieg, as a staunch anti-Nazi and a Norwegian patriot, committed himself from 1940 onwards to the struggle against the occupation following the German invasion of Norway. In the winter of 1939-40, Grieg served in the Norwegian Army in Finnmark on neutrality guard during the Russo-Finnish Winter War. In 1940, having served during the Norwegian Campaign against the Germans, he escaped to the United Kingdom in the same vessel carrying the Norwegian Royal family and the National Gold reserves.[5][10]

Wartime activities in exile[edit]

Once in Britain, Grieg served the Norwegian government in exile and participated in making patriotic radio programs in the United Kingdom.[6] He was commissioned into the Norwegian Armed Forces and served as a war correspondent. At the time of his death he was a Captain. His work involved visiting Norwegian units around Britain and experiencing their duties, in order to make his reports. He also travelled outside Great Britain to meet Norwegian servicemen on duty in Iceland and other more remote outposts. In the summer of 1942 Grieg spent several weeks on the Norwegian island of Jan Mayen in the Atlantic Ocean, writing the poem Øya i Ishavet (The Island in the Ice Sea).[11] Like other war correspondents he joined operational missions over occupied Europe, and it was in the course of one of these that he lost his life.

Crash site of LM316 in Kleinmachnow south of Berlin.

On the night of 2–3 December 1943, Grieg was one of several observers for an Allied air raid on Berlin. He was attached to 460 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which was based at RAF Binbrook. Grieg joined the crew of a Lancaster Mk.III (serial number LM316, squadron code "AR-H2") captained by Flying Officer A. R. Mitchell, RAAF. Berlin was always a tough target as it was the capital city and so was well-defended, but also because it lay far in the east of the country, which meant that crews were not only flying on the limits of fuel and of their own endurance, but had to pass over through the ranges of many night fighters on the way and from the target. 460 Sqn lost five aircraft that night and one of them was LM316; 37 airmen had been on board these aircraft and only eight survived being shot down (and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp). None of the eight survivors came from LM316. In addition to Grieg, the seven crew members: four Australians and three Britons, went down with the aircraft and were killed.[12] Grieg was neither the only correspondent shot down that night, nor the only Norwegian: an Australian reporter flying with 460 Sqn was also killed, a British correspondent with another squadron became a POW and among nearly 300 Allied aircrew (in 44 aircraft) lost on the raid were two Norwegians.[13]


After the end of World War II, Grieg became a hero in Norway because of his resistance to the Nazi Occupation, both during the invasion itself and in the continuation of the fight in the forces in exile in Britain. Grieg is still popular in Norway today, especially his anti-fascist poetry. The pre-war controversies in which he was involved were overshadowed by his war record.

In 1945, a collection of Nordahl Grieg's war poems, Friheten ("Freedom") was published which remained a best selling Norwegian poetry collection. In 1957, a statue Nordahl Grieg by Roar Bjorg was unveiled at Den Nationale Scene in Bergen. In 1990, the musical Nordahl Grieg i våre hjerter ("Nordahl Grieg in our hearts"), written by Erling Gjelsvik with music by Knut Skodvin debuted in Bergen.

Nordahl Grieg Memorial in Kleinmachnow, Brandenburg, Germany. The memorial was erected next to the site where his plane crashed during a bombing mission south of Berlin.

In November 2003, a memorial stone was unveiled at the site (52°23′51″N 13°12′58″E / 52.39750°N 13.21611°E / 52.39750; 13.21611) where Nordahl Grieg died in Kleinmachnow near Berlin, Germany, when the Lancaster bomber in which he was flying crashed into Machnower See on 2 December 1943. In 2010, Nordahl Grieg High School (Nordahl Grieg videregående skole) in Rådal was opened in the Rådal neighborhood in Bergen.[14][15][16]

Nordahl Grieg was a friend of English novelist Graham Greene who wrote about various aspects of Grieg's life and wartime career in his 1980 biographical work 'Ways Of Escape'. The two first met when Grieg turned up unannounced at Greene's cottage in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, in 1931.

Grieg's burial place went unrecorded after the crash. In the early 2000s, the grave was believed to be located under a highway between Potsdam and Berlin.[17] A new theory emerged in 2013, when journalist Asbjørn Svarstad stated that after doing archival research he believed that Grieg had been first buried in Berlin in 1944, then been exhumed and reburied at the Berlin Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Heerstraße in 1949.[18] In response to the new information, the leader of the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, Audun Lysbakken, declared that Grieg should be exhumed and reburied in Bergen, Norway.[19]

Selected works[edit]

  • Rundt Kap det gode Håp, 1922 - Around the Cape of Good Hope
  • Skibet gaar videre, 1924 - The Ship Sails On
  • Stene i strømmen, 1925 - Stone in the stream
  • Kinesiske dage, 1927 - Chinese Day
  • En ung manns Kjærlighet, 1927 - A Young Man's Love
  • Barabbas, 1927
  • Norge i våre hjerter, 1929 - Norway in our hearts
  • Atlanterhavet, 1932 - The Atlantic
  • De unge døde, 1932 - The youth died
  • Vår ære og vår makt, 1935 - Our Honor and Our Glory
  • Men imorgen, 1936 - But Tomorrow
  • Nederlaget, 1937 - The Defeat
  • Til Ungdommen (Kringsatt av Fiender), 1936 - For the Youth
  • Spansk sommer, 1938 - Spanish Summer
  • Ung må verden ennu være, 1938 - May the World Stay Young
  • Øya i Ishavet, 1942 - The Island in the Ice Sea
  • Friheten, 1945 - Freedom
  • Flagget, 1945 - The Flag
  • Håbet, 1946 - Hope


  1. ^ Nordahl is not a given name, but a middle name
  2. ^ 100-årsmarkering for Nordahl Grieg (NRK © 2010)
  3. ^
  4. ^ His biography Til ungdommen : Nordahl Griegs liv (For the youth : the life of Nordahl Grieg). Gyldendal, 1989. ISBN 82-05-29946-3
  5. ^ a b Ording, Arne; Høibo, Gudrun Johnson; Garder, Johan (1949). Våre falne 1939–1945 (in Norwegian). 1. Oslo: Grøndahl. p. 716. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Liukkonen, Petri. "Nordahl Grieg". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 
  7. ^ Nordahl Grieg (NRK)
  8. ^ Hoem, op. cit., p. 220
  9. ^ Nordahl Grieg (NRK Forfatter)
  10. ^ Nordahl Grieg (Dagbladet Forfatter)
  11. ^ Barr, Susan (2003). Jan Mayen: Norges utpost i vest: øyas historie gjennom 1500 år. Schibsted. p. 170. ISBN 82-300-0029-8. 
  12. ^ Nordahl Griegs grav funnet (NRK)
  13. ^ They were Gunnar Høverstad, captain of a Handley Page Halifax from No. 35 Squadron RAF that was part of the elite Pathfinder Force (and was awarded a War Cross with sword posthumously for this mission), and another crew member, Arne Storm (taken POW), of the same aircraft. (See: Chris Titley, "The day Arthur's war was over",, 1 December 2003.
  14. ^ Memorial stone to War Correspondent Grieg (Loss of Lancaster Lm316)
  15. ^ Erling T. Gjelsvik. Nordahl i våre hjerter : en musikal over Nordahl Griegs liv (Eide, 1990 ISBN 82-514-0361-8)
  16. ^ Med Nordahl Grieg i Berlin (Hordaland fylkeskommune)
  17. ^ Steenstrup, Erling (8 April 2002). "Nordahl Griegs grav funnet". NRK (in Norwegian). Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  18. ^ Vollan, Mari Brenna (2 December 2013). "Strid om Griegs grav". Klassekampen (in Norwegian). Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  19. ^ Valestrand, Terje (2 December 2013). "Lysbakken vil ha Nordahl Grieg gravlagt i Bergen". Bergens Tidende (in Norwegian). Retrieved 3 December 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Andreassen, Jostein (1992) Nordahl Grieg pa Sørlandet: Et studieheft om forfatterskap og miljø (J. Andreassen) ISBN 978-82-91188-01-0
  • Borgen, Johan (1945) Nordahl Grieg (Oslo: Gyldendal)
  • Boyson, Emil (1961) Norsk poesi fra Henrik Wergeland til Nordahl Grieg: En antologi (Oslo: Gyldendal)
  • Gustafson, Alrik (1944) Scandinavian plays of the twentieth century (American-Scandinavian Foundation)
  • Hoem, Edvard (1989) Til ungdommen : Nordahl Griegs liv (Oslo: Gyldendal) ISBN 82-05-29946-3
  • Mjoberg, Joran ( 1947) Nordahl Grieg; Fosterlandsvannen och Revolutionaren (C. W. K. Gleerups)
  • Nag, Martin (1989) Ung ma Nordahl Grieg enna være (Solum) ISBN 978-82-560-0655-7

External links[edit]