Officer of honour
In December 1942, Sipo, the German Secret Police, discovered a big military organisation in the southern region of Norway: Laudal's organisation or "Fighting Group 3", as it was formally called. It comprised Rogaland, Aust-Agder and Vest-Agder. The action against Laudal's people lasted for three months, until February 1943. Between 400 and 500 people were arrested. About 320 were imprisoned, awaiting their destiny with anxiety.
The disclosure of "Fighting Group 3" started in the early hours of 7th December 1942. The first one to be captured was the leader, Major Arne Laudal. He lived at Upper Strai in Oddernes (Kristiansand). In the middle of the night a Gestapo flying squad of 20 men, led by SS Hauptstumführer Rudolf Kerner, suddenly attacked. The squad was heavily armed.
Evidently, Hauptstumführer Kerner didn't take any risks with regard to this specific case. Most of the staff at the Sipo office in Kristiansand participated in the action, strengthened by people from the Norwegian State Police (Stapo) and German SS police soldiers.
State Police Inspector Ole Wehus was called upon as a local expert and interpreter. The flying squad surrounded Major Laudal's house as soon as they arrived at Upper Strai. Mr Wehus was instructed to go to the entrance and knock on the door, while the rest of the force sat waiting with their weapons ready.
Mr Erling Stray, Major Laudal's brother-in-law and owner of the house, unsuspectingly opened the door. The Sipo men immediately forced themselves into the house. Led by Kerner, they stormed up the stairs to the first floor, where the Laudal family lived.
At Arkivet earlier in the evening, Kerner had secretly planned the operation against the top people in the southern branch of the Norwegian Resistance. The reason was that Detective Inspector Friedrich Albert Lappe had returned from Stavanger (Rogaland) with dramatic news.
With regard to the disclosure of a comprehensive illegal case in Rogaland, Sipo learned that a military resistance organisation comprising 5,000 men existed in southern Norway. It was headed by Major Arne Laudal in Kristiansand. He cooperated with a weapon organisation which had obtained a great stockpile of weapons that was hidden in Setesdal.
The same day as Lappe returned to Kristiansand, Kerner received a teleprinted note from the Commander of the German Secret Police in Stavanger stating that the following people in Kristiansand were to be arrested: Major Arne Laudal, Supreme Court advocate Ernst F. Eckhoff, Clerk Ivar Christensen, student Erik Dahl-Hansen and Director Einar Lund.
Supposedly, Major Laudal was the head of a military organisation comprising Rogaland, Vest-Agder and Aust-Agder. Eckhoff headed up the civil part of it, where as Ivar Cristensen was the chief courier. Further, there were instructions that Major Laudal and his co-workers should be strictly interrogated, if necessary.
Sipo was worried about leakages and Kerner instructed his staff to keep absolutely silent about the planned operation. No one was allowed to leave Arkivet without signing a letter of consent.
Major Laudal and his wife Helga had not received any warning of Sipo's attack. All of a sudden, six to seven Gestapo soldiers appeared by the entrance to their bedroom, aiming at them with their guns. One of the soldiers shouted "Aufstehen!" at the top of his lungs. Major Laudal was told to get dressed. He calmly complied. During the first few minutes, Helga Laudal was completely paralyzed by the situation.
In the meantime, the couple's 16-year old son, Lasse, was arrested. "Are they taking you as well?" his mother exclaimed, her eyes filled with tears, when she saw her son being led to the waiting Gestapo cars. The soldiers put handcuffs on Major Laudal. He was led away surrounded by a group of armed guards. Laudal was not informed about the reason behind his arrest, but he understood that everything was over. He didn't utter a single word, but his face looked stern as he walked away with the Sipo officers.
Evidently, he had considered the possibility that everything might end with suffering and death. It was a risk which he had been aware of since the very beginning. Maybe Laudal was thinking of Emissary Fredrik Grøvan's visit a few days earlier. The Unit Head of the Lyngdal division had urgently requested that he went into hiding, as the situation appeared most unsafe.
- The house has two exits, Laudal had replied confidently. That was irrelevant now. The Gestapo soldiers had blocked all possibilities of escape.
After having captured the suspects, the next post on the soldiers' programme was to ransack the apartment. It was done with professional thoroughness. The Gestapo officers searched the whole house for compromising material. Every drawer and cupboard was carefully examined. But nothing illegal was found. No weapons. No confidential papers. The last thing the soldiers did before leaving the apartment was to cut off the telephone line. An officer remained in the house to guard Mrs Laudal and the daughter Liv, who was only 14 years. The mother and daughter were completely isolated for 14 days. It was not possible for them to reach anyone.
Major Laudal knew well where the soldiers were taking him; the next stop was Arkivet. Together with his brother-in-law, Erling Stray, Laudal was ordered to stand upright and face the wall in the stairway. New prisoners were continuously brought in during the night. In a quick glance, Laudal saw Clerk Ivar Christensen, Chief Superintendent Julius Hougen, Law student Egil Hagli and Lieutenant Aanen Smith. Later on, his other brother-in-law, Arne Hagtvedt also joined the convicts.
Major Laudal and the other prisoners were obviously considered as big shots. They were forced to remain in painful upright positions for several hours. It was strongly prohibited to talk. There was a constant noise of clacking boots and loud commands.
The "loosening" exercise had started. The intolerable waiting was both physically and mentally exhausting.
The first "talks" with Major Laudal started on Monday morning. Due to the convict's important position within the Resistance, the interrogation was led by the head of Sipo himself, Criminal Commissioner Rudolf Kerner. The prisoners who were brought before his custody could count on being exposed to the most cruel brutality and abuse.
This notorious Nazi officer was the one whom Major Laudal now was dealing with. With mixed emotions, he was facing his prime opponent.
They differed completely in mind and spirit.
Major Laudal, 50 years, was a well-equipped Norwegian Officer. Criminal Commissioner Kerner, 32 years, was a former shoe manufacturer from Saarbrücken. The former was an enthusiastic Norwegian patriot and Resistance fighter. The latter was a blind supporter of Nazi ideology.
Gestapo regarded the case to be very serious, as the "bandit activity" was to be considered a plot against the German power. Kerner knew that Major Laudal had a lot of important information. He was planning to force the Major to confess in order to give Sipo enough leads to proceed. Kerner opened the interrogation by putting all the relevant testimonials before Major Laudal.
Laudal was requested to submit a complete confession.
Kerner said that Laudal was suspected of heading up a secret military organisation in southern Norway. It would be futile to lie. The best option would be to admit straight away. If not, Kerner had means to force out the truth.
Major Laudal knew that the whole organisation would be destroyed if he confessed. From the first moment on he stated that he had nothing to confess. He denied that he had any information about what he was being charged with.
Kerner was focused on reaching results as soon as possible. Still wearing handcuffs, Laudal was exposed to what was called strict interrogation. The Gestapo officers used brutal force in order to make him give away the names of his co-workers. The head of Sipo started beating him with a rubber baton as he laid bent over a chair, unable to move.
Later on, Lipicki and Lappe continued the treatment of the Norwegian Officer. Major Laudal's response was complete silence. Not once during the torture did he utter a word.
Kerner must have had certain scruples with regard to the authenticity of the previous confessions. All of a sudden he stopped the violent interrogation and asked: "Are we mistaken in this case?" The head of Arkivet said that Laudal could not possibly be guilty of the serious charges against him as he, even after having been subject to the most dreadful treatment, still denied everything.
The head of Sipo subsequently got in touch with the Commander in Stavanger, SS-Obersturmführer Friedrich Wilkens. He was probably told to continue the strict interrogation, as the torture resumed shortly thereafter.
On Tuesday morning a new interrogation started. The abuse was repeated and continued the following day. At this point, Major Laudal had no illusions about his own future. He realised that he had only one duty: to protect his co-workers. Laudal was physically fit, but after three days of systematic ill-treatment, he noticed that his body was quickly dissolving.
The Gestapo officers kept requesting that he give away the names of his collaborators. The main reason was to acquire knowledge about the structure of the organisation. During the third interrogation, on Wednesday 8 December, Kerner triumphantly presented a list of 80 names, all of them Laudal's men who were spread across the area.
- Did he know that person? - And that one? Laudal refused to comment the list.
Following this cardinal interrogation, it was obvious that Laudal had been severely beaten. Those at Arkivet who saw him, noticed that he suffered from reduced mobility of his legs.
Still wearing handcuffs, Major Laudal was brought back to the county jail and locked up in cell number 3 during the evening. Due to the high number of inmates, it was impossible to keep the prisoners apart. Laudal was placed in a cell together with several of his collaborators; Law student Egil Hagli, Clerk Kjell Olafsen and Carpenter Einar Andersen. Most of them knew Laudal only by name.
Laudal admitted that the strict interrogations had been a terrible strain on him, but emphasised that the worst was that Gestapo knew everything. His co-workers saw that he had been dreadfully ill-treated. He had difficulties walking, but was still mentally intact. The District Leader told them that Lappe and Lipicki had beaten him with a rubber baton.
Major Laudal did not stay many days at the county jail before he was brought back to Arkivet for new interrogations. Back at the prison cell he told the others that he repeatedly had been forced to perform exhausting knee-bending exercises, while Lipicki nonchalantly dictated the pace by snapping his fingers.
The day after the arrest Major Laudal's son, Lasse, was brought to Arkivet and interrogated by Lappe and Lipicki. The 16-year old was surprised to be asked whether his dad had been in Stavanger the previous Saturday. The boy could truthfully deny it, as his father had stayed at home to celebrate the Silver Wedding of Otto Louis and Anne Marie Scheie.
After the preliminary interrogation the young boy was taken to the county jail, where he caught a glimpse of his father, the Major. Following several interrogations, the Gestapo officers realised that the Major's son didn't possess any information of importance. Lasse Laudal was released the day before Christmas Eve in 1942. For the Laudal family it was a tremendously sad time. Similarly to many other families in the southern part of Norway it turned out to be "the Black Christmas".
The military organisation's members who were still free were very worried about Major Laudal's position. The arrest of the District Leader had cast a threatening shadow on the situation. What did Gestapo know about Laudal and the organisation? They assumed that Sipo only had peripheral knowledge of the case, but couldn't be completely sure.
In an attempt to get hold of first-hand information it was decided that a representative be sent into the lion's den. The indefatigable XU-agent, Police Constable Henry Aamo, commissioned his reliable colleague, Police Constable Gunvald Århus, to pay a visit to Major Laudal in the county jail, in order to find out whether he had been forced to give up information of vital importance.
Århus carried out his task the following day, when Laudal was transferred from Arkivet to Kristiansand county jail. Thanks to courteous assistance from Jail Janitor John Vagle, Århus was allowed to speak with Laudal in private. The "incidental" meeting took place at a toilet on the ground floor.
Århus was oriented about which parts of the military organisation Sipo had knowledge of. Laudal informed him that Sipo knew about almost all the leaders. Only Second in Command (Major Peter W. Lørdahl), Chief Constable (Supreme Court advocate Ernst F. Eckhoff), Dentist (Harald Stray) and the selected head of the new organisation (Haakon Hertzberg) had not yet been disclosed.
According to Kerner, Major Laudal kept quiet during the preliminary interrogations. In the end, he agreed to be confronted with the person in Stavanger who had provided Sipo with the information.
It is not completely clarified when the confrontation took place, but it is likely that it happened one week after Laudal's arrest. The confrontation led to a turning point; Major Laudal realised that the organisation was in pieces, and that it was futile to deny the material facts. In order to avoid unnecessary suffering, he told the other prisoners that they might as well testify.
Criminal Commissioner Rudolf Kerner later admitted that he was astounded to learn about the existence of such a comprehensive illegal organisation in his district of command. The note from Stavanger had caught him by surprise.
Source: Kristen Taraldsen - "Arkivet - torturens høyborg"