“Beat you to the turn!” Peter Lundstrom shot his sled down the long steep slope.
“No fair. You started first,” his friend, Michael Berg, protested. Nevertheless, he flew along in Peter’s tracks.
School was over for the day at least, and Peter and Michael were enjoying one of the sled rides the children of Norway never seem to tire of.
Snow Treasure was one of the books in my father’s collection of childhood stories that I co-opted as my own. It’s probably one of the first “based on a true story” pieces that I ever read, although I don’t recall clearly when that was. The book is a fictionalized account of a real event where $9 million dollars worth of gold bullion was smuggled out of Norway with the help of children on sleds.
For Peter, his sister Lovisa, and their friends Michael and Helga, the war with Germany seems far away… until Peter learns that the adults of their town, including his father and his favorite relative Uncle Victor, are working on a way to smuggle at least a portion of Norway’s treasury out of the country. They recruit Peter and the other children of Riswyk to carry bricks of gold bullion on their sleds to a place by one of the fjords were it will be stowed aboard Uncle Victor’s hidden ship and thence to American for safekeeping. What follows is a tense game of cat and mouse between the Norwegian children and the Nazi German soldiers who have landed to occupy the town.
I enjoyed Snow Treasure a lot as a kid and it still holds a great deal of daring and charm rereading it as an adult. The children are brave, but believable. The Nazis are remarkably restrained with the townspeople, completely dismissing the sledding children and leaving the adults more or less alone. When one of the Nazis is captured spying on the children, he turns out to be a young Polish man named Jan who was pressed into service as a translator when Germany invaded Poland. The story he tells is the closest any of the characters get to the horrors of Nazi occupation, which makes sense since this is a story written with a young audience in mind and the Nazis did not establish concentration camps in every single town they occupied.
If you like historical stories of adventure, then you really should check out Snow Treasure. It’s well-written, engaging, and introduces a little known part of World War II to a younger audience, perhaps encouraging them to learn more. While the authenticity of the story has never been fully verified, this daring conspiracy of adults and children against an invading force sounds like what a group of people determined to resist and thwart Nazis would probably do.