Tragic Heroes: Two Persecuted WWII Female Resistance Operatives Who Greatly Aided the Allied War Effort
By Samuel Marquis
In Spies of the Midnight Sun: A True Story of WWII Heroes, Book 3 of his WWII Series, historical fiction author Samuel Marquis recounts the courage and tenacity of female Norwegian Resistance operatives Dagmar Lahlum and Annemarie Breien in their efforts to defeat the Nazis, as well as the tragedy of their post-war lives.
At the close of the Second World War in Europe, a climate of paranoia and retribution permeated newly liberated Norway. Norwegian Resistance operatives Dagmar Lahlum and Annemarie Breien contributed greatly in the fight against the Nazis—and yet soon after the war trumpets faded these two women were tormented by their countrymen as “collaborators” and locked up as common criminals. For a country that was complicit with the Nazis during WWII and failed to thwart Nazi aggression, there was a fervent need in 1945 for the country to find culprits—and both Lahlum and Breien were undeservedly snared in the post-war reckoning known as the landssvikoppgjør (The Settlement with the Traitors).
As Richard Overy, author of Scandinavia in the Second World War states: “For all the discussion in present-day Scandinavia about the failure to uphold universal human values, there was a strong sense of retribution at the time against those deemed to have failed those values…in Norway, 20,000 were imprisoned [for collaboration] and 30,000 lost their civil rights.” At war’s end, Norway had an inferiority complex and a public-relations nightmare on its hands: it had to convince itself and the Allies—which had expended billions of dollars and spilled copious amounts of blood while Norway had cozied up to the Nazis and offered only token resistance—that it had been a steadfast resister and stalwart ally all along.
Lahlum and Breien were the collateral damage of this post-war witch-hunt. Their only crime—which was, in fact, no crime at all—was having an intimate relationship with the enemy, or in the case of Dagmar Lahlum, with a perceived enemy, while actively working to topple Nazi Germany. From April 1943 through March 1944, Lahlum fell in love with and spied alongside former safecracker, Lothario, and British double agent Eddie Chapman, who was only pretending to work on behalf of the Abwehr, the German Foreign Intelligence Service, in Occupied Norway. Similarly, from May 1942 through May 1945, Annemarie Breien maintained a humanitarian-relief-based relationship with German Captain Siegfried Fehmer, the handsome and charming yet brutal police investigator of the infamous Sicherheitspolizei Abteilung IV (Gestapo) at Victoria Terrasse in Oslo. In getting close to Fehmer, Breien managed to secure the release of 80 to 90 of her countrymen from prison. But there was a price. By the fall of 1944, her relationship with Fehmer had become intimate and her lawyer husband, unhappy with the time she was devoting to her humanitarian mission and the Gestapo bloodhound, left her. For these wartime indiscretions in the name of defeating Hitler and his Thousand-Year Reich, both women suffered a lifetime of abuse and emotional damage following the end of hostilities.
History shows that they should have long ago been recognized for their wartime achievements just like celebrated male Norwegian war heroes Max Manus, Gunnar Sønsteby, and Knut Haugland. British and Norwegian records indicate that Lahlum not only risked her life working as an unofficial MI5 spy on behalf of British double agent Eddie Chapman (thought by the Norwegians to be working in the Abwehr), but as an operative in the Norwegian Resistance, most likely Militær Organisasjon, or Milorg. As Ben Macintyre, author of Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal, states, “Dagmar Lahlum, model and dressmaker, was…secretly working as an agent for Milorg, the spreading Norwegian resistance network. Though neither knew it, Eddie Chapman and his ‘beautiful and adorable’ new lover were fighting on the same side.” During Chapman’s time in Norway, Lahlum became his skillful subagent, assisting him in intelligence-gathering activities and enabling him to blend in and act as a sponge within the Oslo community. With Lahlum’s help, Chapman was able to construct an accurate picture of the Abwehr in Occupied Norway and identify the Germans’ key military installations in and around Oslo.
Similarly, Annemarie Breien performed inestimable service on behalf of the Norwegian Resistance, serving as an unofficial operative with Milorg as an intelligence gatherer, courier, go-between, and unofficial humanitarian relief worker on behalf of the Allied cause. According to brilliant Norwegian Historian Kristina Hatledal, author of Women Fighting: The History of Norwegian Female Resistance Fighters based on her detailed Master’s Thesis on Lahlum and Breien, and other Norwegian researchers, Breien carried letters, packages, and suitcases bearing food, clothing, and hidden money to incarcerated Resistance figures and delivered communications to her Milorg compatriots about forthcoming raids based on intelligence given to her by Fehmer—or that she was able to overhear, coax, or steal from him. She also succeeded in convincing him to soften his interrogation procedures on prisoners and to remove one or more of his most brutal Gestapo torturers from his interrogation teams. Her primary Milorg contact she reported to was a dentist and captain named Knut Reidar Bergwitz-Larsen, and she also maintained contact with key executives in Milorg through Else Endresen, who in turn reported to Jens Christian Hauge, the head of Milorg. On the night of May 7 and 8, 1944 at the Gestapo headquarters at Victoria Terrasse, she was an instrumental and trusted liaison between Milorg and Fehmer in helping bring about a peaceful end to hostilities and transition to Allied control.
Thus, while most of their 40,000 Milorg comrades in arms did nothing but tromp around in the woods performing useless training exercises until April 1944 when Allied victory was imminent, Lahlum served as a courier for the Resistance and worked unofficially with British intelligence combatting the Nazis, and Breien secured the release of 80 to 90 of her countrymen from prison and garnered critical intelligence on behalf of the Allies—and yet both suffered post-war incarceration and ostracism. Again, their only crime was getting unacceptably close—at least in the eyes of the Norwegian police and their countrymen—to German officers in order to gather intelligence on the enemy. In doing so, they were disparagingly called tyskertøs—German whores—an unfair label that unfortunately still persists to this day.
Lahlum was locked up in Bredtveit Prison in 1945, convicted of treason in 1947, and had to serve a total of 378 days in incarceration. Breien suffered a less stringent sentence for her supposed collaboration with the enemy, but her post-war life was just as tragic. Ironically, it was the Norwegian police that was largely responsible for the harsh sentences of both women—the same police department that only two years earlier had been staffed by more than fifty percent pro-Nazi Nasjonal Samling Party members and had terrorized Norwegians, especially the Jews sent to Auschwitz, as much as the Germans. But the Norwegian government had to make an example of someone—and Nordic women who had been romantically involved with German officers were as good a retributive target as any. Neither the Norwegian police nor the British government that Lahlum ultimately made her appeal to (as Chapman had instructed her to do) cared a whit about their good deeds fighting on behalf of the Allied cause.
The judgments against Lahlum and Breien for “sleeping with the enemy” and their undeserved reputations as tyskertøs dogged both women for the rest of their lives. They were repeatedly harassed in their hometowns. Lahlum’s neighbors back in Eidsvoll whispered within earshot that she was a “German’s tart,” but she ignored the affronts and never told her presumptuous neighbors that she had spied on behalf of the British Secret Service and Norwegian Resistance during the war. Breien was punched in the face and subjected to other forms of violence. Even though she had far more supporters, friends, and family members than Lahlum that had served in the Resistance and testified on her behalf at her trial, her life after the war wasn’t much better and her countrymen continued to abuse her. Breien obtained a job at the United States Embassy in Oslo but was let go without any reason. More tough breaks would follow. During their lifetimes, Lahlum and Breien would never be able to escape their past, and even today most references to the courageous Breien mistakenly and slanderously refer to her as “Fehmer’s mistress,” which Randi Evensmo, whose Resistance-warrior husband Sigurd was saved by her, took grave exception to, and rightfully so.
Both Annemarie Breien and Dagmar Lahlum should be officially honored by Norway for their wartime service on behalf of the Allied cause. They were the collateral damage of a nation that was desperate to purge its ugly past and have clear-cut heroes who actually killed Nazis and blew up ships and plants, like Max Manus and Gunnar Sønsteby. But today we know better. We can make restitution and call them what they truly were: WWII heroes.
The ninth great-grandson of legendary privateer Captain William Kidd, Samuel Marquis is the bestselling, award-winning author of a World War Two Series, the Nick Lassiter-Skyler International Espionage Series, and historical pirate fiction. His novels have been #1 Denver Post bestsellers, received multiple national book awards (Foreword Reviews Book of the Year, American Book Fest Best Book, USA Best Book, Beverly Hills, Next Generation Indie, Colorado Book Awards), and garnered glowing reviews from #1 bestseller James Patterson, Kirkus, and Foreword Reviews (5 Stars). Book reviewers have compared Marquis’s WWII thrillers Bodyguard of Deception and Altar of Resistance to the epic historical novels of Tom Clancy, John le Carré, Ken Follett, Herman Wouk, Daniel Silva, and Alan Furst. Mr. Marquis’s newest historical novel, Spies of the Midnight Sun, is the true story of legendary British safecracker and spy Eddie Chapman, the British Double Cross Spy System, and courageous Norwegian female Resistance operatives Dagmar Lahlum and Annemarie Breien. His website is samuelmarquisbooks.com and for publicity inquiries, please contact JKSCommunications at firstname.lastname@example.org.