From 1938 to 1949, dad was pastor of the Torpa congregation in Östergötland. The pastor’s office was housed in the parsonage, which meant that Papa, when he wasn’t out on visits somewhere in the parish (which if memory serves me right was quite often), he was home. Because of this, we had close contact with our Papa every day. I remember that I often sat on the threshold to his study and read a book or drew while he sat at his desk and wrote. That I should be completely quiet and still was always clear to me, but it wasn’t bothersome. On the contrary, there was an atmosphere of great calm. And I can continue to see him in front of me with his loving eyes sparkling and a warm smile when he looked my way. He used to sit in front of the fireplace in the evening and tell stories; sometimes he would even draw them. Dad was a very good artist. They were often very gruesome tales that were both charming and frightening. We children also helped in church with various practical things such as arranging flowers on the altar and counting the offerings, or rather preparing for it to be counted by sorting the coins in one-crown units according to type. The twenty-five cent pieces went quickly, then the ten-cent pieces made a nice square, while the five-cent pieces required more space and work. Let’s not start on the two-cent pieces...! In hindsight I can’t help but to think that this was a good way to keep the kids quiet, but we felt very important, and in any case it was good training in practical mathematics of a type not found in the school’s math texts at that time. My father was a good pedagogue.
History was one of dad’s favorite subjects and he shared his knowledge with infectious enthusiasm.
During his time in Torpa, I always remember dad in his cassock, even during the week. Only during physically demanding labor, like when he fought with the weeds in the garden (he did not like gardening!) or when he rowed across the lake to go visit someone in that part of the parish in the area of Torpön, that the cassock came off. He always had three cassocks; first, second and third. The first was the newest and the third the most worn and would be thrown out soon. This would be the one he wore when he played “Eagle” with us children. He would flap his long cassock sleeves and hunt us while we, delightfully terrified, would try to run between his legs without being caught.
In 1942, our mother died and my brother Martin was only a week old. Dad was alone with four children. With the purposefulness that was typical of him, he tried to compensate the children for the loss they suffered. During the following years he found plenty of time to go do things with us children. One might suspect that he did not have a realistic conception of how much time a pastor’s wife in the country, during a time of crisis and with a huge garden, had had to play with her children! It was a lovely time for us and they were happy years. We put together puzzles, collected stamps, picked mushrooms, and learned plants. And everything was accompanied with engaging conversation if we could keep up. The puzzle “Chillion Castle” gave way to conversation about old buildings and medieval history. Every stamp had a background, “Do you know who this is? This series has come about because it is a hundred years since this and that happened, in this country it was so and so…” History was one of dad’s favorite subjects and he shared his knowledge with infectious enthusiasm.
His time in Torpa, Östergötland
Another interest he had was plants and animals. The nature around the parsonage offered abundant occasions for demonstrations. We learned the names of all the flowers and a lot about their properties. Dad had a joy and enthusiasm for this, which often went beyond anything us children were really capable of coping with. I remember that I was content with dad’s explanation of why blood root was called blood root. But dad thought that it was important, and funny, that I myself should investigate and ascertain that something is true. So, we wandered into the pastures, found a blood root plant, took up the roots and cut it in two so that the little red streak in the middle was visible. This was a concrete example that makes me remember, as I said, dad was a good pedagogue. But it was typical of him to emphasize that a person should never readily accept what another person says. But as far as one can, they should always seek the facts for themself.
It was typical of him to emphasize that a person should never readily accept what another person says.
His time in Torpa coalesced in great part with World War II. Even if Sweden wasn’t directly involved in the war it was to a great degree present in our childhood home because refugees came from Denmark and what they had to tell us about it. For a long time there were two families living in the wing of the parsonage; or actually two mothers with two, and four children respectively. The father of one of the families was in a concentration camp. The father of the other family was active in the resistance and occasionally popped in on his family before disappearing again just as quickly. In addition, there were two young boys that lived with us that were called the saboteurs by us children. These people came to us because their parish priest in Denmark said, if you are lucky enough to get to Sweden, say that you are going to see Bo Giertz in Torpa, and that way you can make it into the country. Later dad said that the first time the police in Helsingborg called and said, “There are some people here who say that they that they are to stay with you. Is that right?” He was a bit perplexed because he had no idea what it was about, but he thought, “If they say so, then certainly it is God’s will that they should be here.” And so he answered, “Yes, that’s correct.”
The presence of our Danish guests gave rise to many questions and discussions about society and politics; about right and wrong, and the different opportunities and obligations to take a stand and do something. Dad was very clear in these conversations. He clearly opposed Nazism and was just as clear when it came to how an individual should behave. One has to speak out when he encounters something that is wrong, and one has to set up and help those who need it. And this is something one has to do regardless of the consequences it might have for himself. A concrete example of this attitude showed in his conduct a few years later when he actively wrote and worked against the Baltic Repatriation. This was the first time I realized that which I later came to see was a foundational feature of dad’s personality; to fight for that which one thought to be right regardless of what it costs.