Sausages hanging from barbed wire illustrate a key moment in Arvid “Kris” Kristoffersen’s fight against the Nazis during World War II, a time that inspired both the artistic passion and the rebellious spirit that won him two medals from the Norwegian government last month.
Kristoffersen, 89, of Kalispell, was barely 15 years old the night he and a group of his friends snuck into a German camp in Telemark, Norway and stole food to feed to the poorly treated Russian prisoners of war in the area.
Kristoffersen narrowly escaped with his life. He took a bayonet to the leg, but escaped by knocking out a Nazi soldier with a ham, a scene illustrated in a sketch he drew.
To this day, he said, he remembers the anger he felt at the Germans’ treatment, not only of his fellow Norwegians, but of the Russian prisoners, because of the imposed starvation and exposure to the elements.
Some of his drawings from the time portray prisoners wearing potato sacks over their heads for warmth. He recalled standing in food lines for hours to receive inedible food to take home to his family. He fought back in his own way, risking his life to steal food or tricking German soldiers into buying the feral cats he killed, skinned and sold as rabbit meat.
In early February Kristoffersen received a letter from the Royal Norwegian Embassy and an award for his bravery throughout the German occupation of Norway until its liberation in 1945.
“Norway is thankful for your invaluable contributions to the struggle for freedom,” the letter states.
Though he fought as a civilian for the freedom of his country, the government honored his service with the Commemorative Medal, the award given to Norwegian foreign military and civilian personnel in respect of their contribution during World War II.
The solid gold coin is embossed with the Norwegian coat of arms and three flags with the inscription, “NORGE TAKKER DEG FOR INNSATSEN,” meaning thank you for your service.
Though Kristoffersen immigrated to the U.S. in 1952 and served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, his love for his homeland took root and blossomed through his artwork over the years, for which he has become internationally recognized.
In 2009, he was voted the No. 2 best fairy tale artist in Norway for his numerous illustrations published in a Norwegian magazine.
His carvings of Vikings, trolls, Norse shields and other cultural artifacts fill his home and have earned him recognition at events such as the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, North Dakota.
Some of his illustrations and paintings also have portrayed his embrace of his home in Montana, including landscapes of Glacier National Park and illustrations of characters he’s met in the community.
Now, a second medal, The St. Olav’s Medal, is on the way. The silver medals are presented in recognition of “outstanding services rendered in connection with the spreading of information about Norway abroad and for strengthening the bonds between expatriate Norwegians and their home country.”
The Norwegian native said he enjoys creating the trolls, Vikings and other Norwegian cultural symbols for their nostalgic value, both of his country and family.
The stories told through his artwork have spread Norwegian influence throughout the U.S. and beyond, connecting expatriates with their heritage and educating others on his homeland.
Some of his pieces act as records of memory. Others simply make him laugh.
Most give them a way to connect with the past, he and his wife, Roslyn “Roz,” said.
The medals, Kristoffersen’s family said, came as an honor, considering he’s been in the U.S., living, working, traveling and serving for nearly 70 years.
One piece of Kristoffersen’s artwork, the family said, has been missing almost as long, and they hope to add it back to their collection of personal, family and cultural history.
A whimsical 6-foot-tall wood carving, the first Kristoffersen made when he moved from Norway to the U.S., was stored in the house of a family friend in the Flathead Valley when Kristoffersen deployed with the Army the same year he arrived in the country.
The returning soldier forgot all about the sculpture when he returned from war, and the piece sat in the home for decades before the owner passed away.
Mistaking the piece as property of their father’s, the homeowner’s children gave it away along with much of the home’s contents.
The family still hopes to find the current owner of the carving in hopes of bringing the piece home.
The 6-foot carving, originally intended to be a lamp, depicts a tree with a male and female troll attempting to make a fire to cook porridge. At the top of the tree sits an owl looking down at a little bear climbing the tree with the stolen pot of porridge, the male troll swinging an ax at the bear to get it down and the female troll carrying a load of firewood.
The Kristoffersens ask anyone with information that might help them locate the missing piece call 406-752-8724.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.