As all good spies are trained to do, Audun Fredriksen took most of his secrets with him when he died.
His family and friends knew they could get only so far before Fredriksen would gently deflect a query about his war days in the Norwegian underground. Still, they learned that he had personally smuggled many downed Allied pilots and displaced Jews out of his port city, Bergen, to coastal islands, where they were stowed in small boats crossing the North Sea to Scotland. They knew that Fredriksen himself had been smuggled out as a 19-year-old to train with British commandos before being dropped back into Norway to work as a spy during World War II.
“He did extraordinary things, thinking they were ordinary,” said his son, Stephen Fredriksen. “He was humble about it.”
Fredriksen, who went on to become a high-ranking international executive for 3M after emigrating to Minnesota after the war, died Aug. 11 of natural causes. He was 93.
Speaking five languages — including impeccable German — he was credited by business colleagues as being among the small group who successfully penetrated the Iron Curtain to market 3M products throughout Europe’s Eastern bloc.
Such breakthroughs stemmed from his academic talents. After the war, he looked to the U.S. and enrolled at the University of Minnesota. Within three years, Fredriksen earned a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in business. To get by, he worked as a waiter at Charlie’s Cafe, Minneapolis’ storied cocktail spot.
After graduating, Fredriksen worked for 3M for 30 years, and eventually led the corporation’s Healthcare division. He later became CEO of a German health company until he retired in 1983. Throughout, he pursued a passion for fly-fishing and became a trustee of the American Museum of Fly Fishing.
One story from his days in the resistance — known to Norwegians as The Milorg — seemed to come up more than others. It was a way for Fredriksen to remind family and friends of the choices that confront those who must decide whether to try to save lives against the worst of odds.
Fredriksen had been designated by Norway’s Nazi occupiers to act as an escort responsible for ensuring that key city workers in Bergen were taken safely to their homes at night. With official documents to travel across the city at any time of day, he could monitor the enemy’s daily ship and troop movements, pick up intelligence, and plan sabotage operations. “He had a license to move whomever he wanted across the city, no questions asked,” his son said.
It was during this time, for reasons never fully explained by Fredriksen, that a German military officer approached him with a stunning plea. The officer said he wanted to defect to the Allies. And he shared his reason why: He and his family were part Jewish, and he feared their secret soon would be uncovered. Fredriksen had no idea why the officer sought him out, or whether it was a Nazi ploy to uncover people working in the underground.
“My father had a good read of people,” his son said. “He took the chance. He told the officer to bring his family to a certain place 30 days later and he would meet them. All or nothing. My father was waiting. They showed up — husband, wife, two children, and he gets the family out of there by the same route through the island that he took the pilots and the Jews, from a small fishing village called Telavaag, from there off in a boat to Scotland.”
Fredriksen is survived by his former wife, Pat, the mother of their three children; his companion, Dorothea Gumbrill, grandchildren and nephews. Services will be held Wednesday at Unity Church-Unitarian in St. Paul. He will be buried in Bergen, Norway.