The Girl from Copenhagen
About the Book
The Girl from Copenhagen is a memoir. It includes a photo section that follows my mother’s life from childhood into old age. Born in Denmark in 1923 on the island of Falster (“amid thunder and lightning,” as she was fond of saying), Inge Buus had an idyllic life, growing up with her brother and sister on their father’s farm. All three siblings learned to ride a horse by the age of eight or nine. Inge, however, was anything but a farm girl. She never mastered the art of milking a cow. She refused to drink milk. During the fall slaughtering time, she would stay in her room and close the door so she would not hear the squealing of the fattened pigs. She avoided gathering eggs because the hens would peck her fingers. After graduating at the top of her high school class, she moved to Copenhagen to study nursing. Unfortunately, her nursing career was cut short when her ankles began swelling up on her long shifts, rendering her as infirm as some of her patients. She subsequently found employment as a bookkeeper at Burmeister & Wain, the largest shipbuilder in Denmark.
Inge and her family witnessed the German invasion of Denmark on April 9, 1940. At first, the occupation did not seem all that bad. The Danish economy, in a recession at the time, prospered with the German wartime demand for produce and machinery. But then the Nazis began to tighten the screws, revealing their true intentions as they attempted to round up and deport Denmark’s Jewish population to concentration camps. This was the last straw for the Danish people, who considered their Jewish neighbors as Danes first and Jews second and succeeded in smuggling most of Denmark’s eight thousand Jews to neutral Sweden on a flotilla of small fishing boats. After this blatant act of defiance, Hitler ordered a crackdown on his Danish “protectorate.” On her way to work, Inge would pass by German tanks stationed in Copenhagen’s town square. Helmeted German soldiers armed with machine guns demanded to see her Ausweis. There were almost daily bombings in the heart of the city—some conducted by the Danish Resistance, others conducted by the Germans in retaliation. Inge had mixed feelings about working in the shipyard, which was producing engines for German U-boats, making the yard a target for allied bombers as well as the Danish Resistance. But the pay was much higher than she would be able to obtain elsewhere, so she chose to stick it out.
In 1965, with the house completed to Bob’s satisfaction, he grew restless and set his sights on greener pastures. Over the next twenty-five years, there would be a total of seven more moves—some dictated by the necessities of employment opportunities, others simply places where Bob had aspired from his youth to settle down in. (“A house is just a place to hang your hat,” Bob once said.) Inge never uttered a word of complaint during all these moves. No doubt, like her husband, she had the spirit of wanderlust in her blood––after all, she had gone off to America with a man she had known for no more than a week. During these many moves, Inge made a total of twenty-five trips back to her native Denmark. The love of her life collapsed and died shortly after moving into their new home in Pennsylvania. “We’re staying here,” Bob promised a few days before his sudden death. “No more moves.”
Living with her son, Glenn, Inge would make two more trips to Denmark after Bob’s death. She would outlive almost all her contemporaries, dying of dementia at the age of ninety-four.
About the Author
Born in 1923 in Stubberup, Denmark, Inge Buus enjoyed an idyllic childhood on her father’s farm, Klostergaarden. Though she never mastered the art of milking a cow, she picked up many other practical homemaking skills that would serve her well throughout her life. An excellent student, she learned to speak English without a trace of an accent. In 1940 she witnessed the German invasion of Denmark. When she came of age, she moved to Copenhagen and found employment during the brutal Nazi occupation, under which she became accustomed to German tanks rumbling menacingly through the town square and armed soldiers demanding to see her Ausweis card. She worked as a bookkeeper at the largest shipyard in Denmark, which, as it was now forced to manufacture U-boat engines for the German navy, became a prime target for both Allied bombers and the Danish Resistance. When the war was over, Inge met a charismatic GI at a dance. After a whirlwind courtship, Inge agreed to marry Sergeant Bob Peterson and start a new life in the States. Eventually settling down on an undeveloped plot of land in rural New Jersey and camping out in the wild without running water or electricity, the resourceful couple built their dream house with their own hands.
Included in the memoir is a selection of photos from my mother’s albums, depicting her childhood and young adulthood in Denmark and her subsequent life in America.
Though I have been writing for many years, The Girl From Copenhagen is my first published book. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in psychology from Temple University, I supported myself by playing the stock market––a far less fickle enterprise than earning a living as a writer. You might call me a gambler, but I believe that my mother took a far bigger gamble than I ever did when she decided to leave behind her family and friends and excellent prospects in Denmark and sail off to America to live with a man she had known for barely a week. As I show in this memoir, Mother’s risky gamble paid off.