Ingeborg Holm

Poster depicting Ingeborg Holm at Wall of Feminism in Trondheim, 8 May 2021. Photo: Eva Rogneflåten
Poster depicting Ingeborg Holm at Wall of Feminism in Trondheim, 8 May 2021. Photo: Eva Rogneflåten
Ingeborg Holm (1894 - 1984) was a trade union leader, communist and resistance woman. She was arrested for illegal work in February 1945, severely tortured in prison, and spent the days of the liberation of Norway as a hostage for Gestapo agent Henry Rinnan during his dramatic escape attempt.

In the biography Tortured and taken hostage - the enigma Ingeborg Holm (Sæter 2020), her story is told; a story that has been surprisingly little known by most. Author G. Sæter herself has a background as a teacher in an upper secondary school, as a trade union representative and as an academic secretary in AKP (Workers’ Communist Party). During her work on the book, she has both carried out extensive archival studies, and she has also spoken directly to many who knew Ingeborg Holm during her lifetime.  


Ingeborg Magdalene Nilsdatter Holm grew up on Holm in Bindal, far south on the Helgeland coast. She grew up in a fishing and smallholder family, as the seventh of nine siblings. From a young age, she followed her father in his work on the farm:  

She becomes the tomboy who would rather help with work outside in the wind and rain and learn things that girls are not usually taught. She probably escapes traditional housework more easily because the older sisters take care of this. And there aren't many brothers amongst the siblings, so there is a need for more help with “men’s work. (Sæter 2020: 17)  

Ingeborg was already strong as a child, and her father is said to have told her: "You, Ingeborg, are the most likeable boy that I have". The family's farm was not that big, but it was the largest of the farms in Holm, with around 40 acres of cultivated land. Her father became a sole proprietor in 1874 and owned a Nordland boat. The family had horses, cows and sheep. All the children were born at home, without the help of a doctor or midwife, and all survived, which was unusual at the time. There was extensive work to be done on the farm: from barn maintenance and household chores to herding, woodcutting and butchering. Her father, and eventually also her brothers, were away fishing for long periods each year, and at those times the women in the family had to run the farm on their own. Ingeborg has been described as particularly skilled at cooking, carpentry and farming.  

The work experience and capacity would come in handy for Ingeborg Holm later in life. She started school in 1901, at a time when there were 12 weeks of statutory teaching, and was confirmed in the Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1908. In 1913, aged nineteen, she got a job as a maid in Trondheim, and moved away from home.  

Work life and political involvement  

Ingeborg moved to Trondheim during turbulent times. In 1913, women gained the right to vote; in the general election the year before, the Labour Party had grown from having a few representatives to a group of 23. At this time, the Norwegian economy was booming, with increased employment, but the rise in prices meant that real wages fell. In Trondheim, there came to be more demand for workers' rights, for the right to organize, for higher wages and shorter working hours.  

Ingeborg worked as a maid for a few years, but then changed her field of work to the canning industry. From 1916 onwards she worked for Trondheim Preservering. There she met Dagny Andreassen, who was to become an important person in her life.  

The working conditions were tough. Women's wages were roughly half of the men's wages, with a tariff for women in the canning industry of 30 øre an hour. The canning workers organized themselves in 1923, and Ingeborg became treasurer and later leader (1930-1936) of the new Canning Workers' Union. 1923 was also the year when the Labour Party split and the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP) was formed. Ingeborg joined NKP and remained a member for life. Her own motto was: "There will never be peace on earth as long as someone is suppressed and poor" (Sæter 2020: 10). 

The Cannery workers’ Association was a department of the Norwegian Union of Food, Beverage and Allied Workers (NNN). Ingeborg Holm was a delegate to NNN's national meeting in 1930 and the following one in 1932. These arenas were male-dominated, in 1930 five out of 83 delegates were women - three of the women spoke during the national meeting; Ingeborg was on the podium eight times. In 1932 there were three female delegates out of a total of 86. This time Ingeborg was the only woman to speak; she was however on the podium no less than 15 times.

Ingeborg Holm was not afraid to speak her mind, she had great work capacity and a large network. In addition to her job and her union work, the Workers' Women's Choir became an important social and cultural arena for her. She was involved from the start, she was the choir’s chairwoman for a period, and often contributed by writing speeches for the choir's parties. Holm is otherwise described as a good storyteller, and as someone who liked to dress up. There are pictures of her dressed as a "railway man" and as a male conductor with a cigar. As a person, she is described as social, funny and caring, but also as sharp and straight to the point.

In addition to her work at the canning factory, Ingeborg Holm eventually began working part-time as a cleaner at the railway, and eventually moved on to a full-time position there. During the war, the railway became a place for resistance work, where information and documentation could be transported over long distances by creative means. 

In German captivity  

In February 1945, just a few months before the end of the war, Ingeborg Holm was arrested, after being reported by a neighbour for illegal work. A photo taken 12 years earlier would now have major consequences for her. In the photo, she poses dressed as a sort of soldier, with a white shirt, black belt and tie, knee-length trousers and a dark hat. She salutes with her hand to her forehead and holds an antique weapon. The picture was taken on a trip to a cabin with friends. It was found during a raid following her arrest and was used as evidence to prove both that communists were conducting weapons exercises in the area, and that Ingeborg was a key person involved in this.  

Several newspapers published the photo of Ingeborg with the antique rifle. Aftenposten wrote on 23 March 1945 that "a female railway official confesses to collaboration with Soviet-Russian emissaries to destroy the railway." Adressavisen printed the photo on the front page on April 10th and wrote "Bolshevik rule in Norway has long been prepared". The newspaper described Ingeborg Holm as an example of dangerous people who stand behind the slogans of the so-called Home Front, and as a wolf in sheep's clothing: a member of a women's league for peace, but at the same time helping to prepare civil war and fratricide in the country. At a meeting in Trondheim, the leader of Nasjonal Samling, Henrik Rogstad, spoke out harshly against “the deadly communist Ingeborg Holm”.

After her arrest, Ingeborg was taken to a women's prison in Munkegata 1, where she stayed for a month. From March 12th, 1945 she was imprisoned at Misjonshotellet and remained there until the liberation of Norway. She told the weekly magazine Allers (no. 36-37/1980) about her time in prison. The first two days she was in a dark cell, then she was taken to another cell, which was freezing cold and had no window. Whatever food the prisoners were provided with was wretched, and there was no bucket; they had to relieve themselves on the floor. She was subjected to severe torture during the interrogations and suffered injuries that would trouble her for the rest of her life.  

Henry Rinnan's Hostage

Then came the liberation days in May. But while others could celebrate their freedom, Ingeborg's captivity continued. Together with a fellow prisoner, 34-year-old Magnus Caspersen, she was taken hostage by Henry Rinnan and his group during their escape attempt in the mountain areas towards Sweden. In a portrait interview in Adresseavisen in connection with her 86th birthday, on May 8th, 1980, she told what happened.  

Just before midnight on May 7th, the entourage drove off. Apart from the two hostages, there were people from the Rinnan group, their spouses and drivers, a total of 25 people. Eventually the cars were parked, and the group continued on foot. The nights were freezing cold, during the day they walked a lot, in rough terrain, Holm and Caspersen in thin clothes, shoes of poor quality and with major injuries from the torture they had undergone. At night they were both tied hand and foot. Several of the Rinnan group chose to leave, and Caspersen also managed to escape on the third day.  

Those who remained split into several groups, Ingeborg was in the group that was the last to be stopped. It took a few days for the hunt for the Rinnan group to be launched; only on the evening of May 10th, did the police start searching for them. At the same time, the newspapers began to write about the case, and they followed the case closely until everyone was caught, and Ingeborg was released. After eight days, on May 15th, the last group was stopped. Ingeborg managed to walk on her own two feet the 5 kilometres down to the nearest settlement, and she was met by people who stood as a welcoming committee along the road; there was cheering, laughing and crying. In the evening a party was held. In the May 17th parade two days later, Ingeborg Holm walked at the front, together with the mayor. But later it became quiet around her. The newspapers did not write more about her story in the time to come. Bergen Arbeiderblad wrote 9 June 1945 about Magnus Caspersen, referred to as "the man who managed to escape", but there’s nothing in the article about Ingeborg. In the novel Leksikon om lys og mørke (Stranger 2018), it is written that Rinnan took one hostage, Magnus Caspersen, with him. Ingeborg is not mentioned.  

Ingeborg Holm testified in five criminal cases during the national betrayal settlement in the period 1945-1947, against Gerhard Flesch, Hermann Dragass, Willi Paetow, Hans Birger Egeberg and Henry Rinnan. Gerhard Flesch, who was head of the Gestapo in Trondheim 1941-45, was sentenced to death for murder and severe torture, and executed on 20 February 1948. Hermann Dragass was also sentenced to death, for treason and torture. The case against Willi Petow was dismissed and he was deported to Germany in 1947. Hans Birger Egeberg of the Rinnan group was sentenced to death and executed on October 4th, 1945. Henry Rinnan himself was also sentenced to death and executed on February 8th, 1947. 

The illegal work

What was Ingeborg Holm's role in the organized resistance? Sources differ on this point.

NRK Trøndelag Radio had on September 9th, 2014, a feature in the series Historiske Trondheim with Ingeborg Holm as the main topic. Series creator Trine Søraa, who is a teacher, Trondheim guide and local history enthusiast, conveys in the feature that Ingeborg was not involved in any organized resistance work, as far as is known - "she had nothing else on her conscience other than that she subscribed to the newspaper Ny Tid". However, historian John Atle Krogstad states that Ingeborg Holm was part of the illegal network of the communists. He tells G. Sæter: “Odd W. Jacobsen gave me detailed information about the contacts in the illegal network of the communists in 1940-41. I then made an organization chart on drafts that is not included in the main thesis. There were dozens of names. Ingeborg Holm is one of the names in this overview.” (Sæter 2020: 185). Odd W. Jacobsen had a leadership role in the party network, particularly from January 1941. However, he was arrested in October of the same year, and the work was then reorganised. Sæter has not been able to find documentation of Ingeborg's role after this.  

Ingeborg Holm herself gives different presentations in different contexts. To Friheten 7/5/1965, she said that all the time leading up to her arrest she participated in the resistance work on the railway. To Aktuell 7/3/1970 she stated: "The Gestapo wanted me to reveal my colleagues and members of the group I belonged to, but then they would have to kill me." In 1980, she gave Allers this version:  

I had a job as a cleaner on the railway, among my workmates there were many resistance fighters. (…) This was probably my biggest "sin" during the war. I did not do any illegal work. Not of any importance. We had a radio hidden upstairs at Rosenborg school, which was otherwise a bit of a German nest. We sat and listened to the news from London while the bandits stomped past us a few metres away. I couldn't keep quiet about what came from London but spread the news as best I could to workmates who came to me as "dinner guests". These “guests” would then spread the messages on to others. I knew what the resistance guys were up to. I urged them to be careful, at the beginning of 1945 the Germans had gotten far too many of us. (Allers 1980/no. 36–37, reproduced in Sæter 2020:181).  

In a larger interview in Adresseavisen, the same year, however, she retold the story in a way that is more consistent with the reports in Friheten and Aktuell in the 60s and 70s:  

Nobody was reported. They would have to kill me before I told anyone. But I knew many active resistance fighters, and I myself was a member of a group. If I had opened my mouth, I wouldn't have any more good days in my life. (Adresseavisen, 08.05.1980, p. 20)

The Allers journalist and Holm may have misunderstood each other when it came to the issue of illegal work. Or Holm could, in this context, have defined "illegal work" as something other than "spreading news, being part of a group". But it seems strange that NRK Trøndelag in 2014 completely ignored Ingeborg's descriptions of her own resistance work in both Friheten, Aktuell and Adresseavisen.  

Close relationships

Ingeborg Holm never married and had no children. She was clear in several contexts that she was not particularly interested in men. In the portrait interview with Adresseavisen in 1980 it says: "She has never been married", and Ingeborg is quoted as saying that she "had never missed a man". A long-time neighbour and friend put it this way: "Ingeborg didn't want to hear about men; they were only trouble" (Sæter 2020:257). However, Dagny Andreassen became an important person in her life. The two became acquainted when Ingeborg started working at Trondheim Preservering in 1916, and were close to each other until Dagny's death in 1976.  

Dagny Elise Andreassen was born in Bodø in 1893 and moved to Trondheim as a child. She had nine siblings, and several of her sisters got jobs at the preservation factory, eventually Dagny did too. Ingeborg got to know Dagny's family well, and vice versa. Dagny owned a cabin by Jonsvollvatnet in Trondheim, and the two of them spent much of their free time there. They were both fond of the great outdoors and went skiing a lot; some of the relatives seem to remember that Dagny was never at the cabin without Ingeborg being there with her. During the holidays, Dagny often went home to Holm with Ingeborg, while they always celebrated Christmas Eve together at Dagny's family. Like Ingeborg, Dagny was involved in the Canning Workers' Association, from 1930 – 1939 as treasurer. Ingeborg's grandnephew Arvid Solstad describes Dagny as the opposite type of Ingeborg; calm and quiet (Sæter 2020:271). 

As she grew older, Dagny's health deteriorated and she needed help with many daily tasks. Ingeborg helped her a lot, right up until she died. "At Dagny's cabin, Ingeborg got to unfold herself with real men's work", says a relative. "She carved and painted. She was happy to keep herself preoccupied with such things. And there she could grow vegetables and harvest berries. It was something that suited Ingeborg." (Sæter 2020:117). In the last year and a half of her life, Dagny lived in a retirement home. No names are given in the obituary, but she is remembered as a dear aunt and good friend.  

Political commitment

Ingeborg Holm was politically engaged throughout her life. As a trade union leader, she acted as an initiator and debater at several meetings and conferences. In 1933, she was nominated as No. 4 on the NKP's parliamentary list for Trondheim and Levanger. The year before, she became a member of the Supervisory Board for the employment office, and later she was to be appointed to several committees. For three periods she was deputy representative to the city council in Trondheim (1935-37, 1952-55 and 1956-59). In the Norwegian Railway Union, she was a trustee from 1945, and leader of the Cleaning Workers' Association from 1948-1950. She attended members' meetings in the NKP and showed up for informal discussions over a coffee at the party office on Saturdays. She went from door to door selling Friheten. In 1963 she received a medal for 40 years in the party. She participated on March 8th and First of May events right up until the year before she died.

For her own part, Ingeborg Holm fought a long battle to get a war invalidity pension, which she was only granted when she was 80 years old. She died in 1984, aged 90. Many attended the funeral, and in addition to wreaths from the family, wreaths were laid from, among others, the Workers' Women's Choir, the War Invalids' Association, the NKP and the Norwegian Women's Association. She is buried at Holm in Bindal, where she grew up.

In 2021, Ingeborg Holm was included as one of 40 female pioneers on the Wall of Feminism in Trondheim.


Last updated 2023-03-23


Sæter, G. 2020. Torturert og tatt som gissel - gåten Ingeborg Holm. Oslo: Solum bokvennen

Fredsdagen lå hun bundet i Verdalsfjella. Adresseavisen 08.05.1980. 

Historiske Trondheim: Ingeborg Holm. NRK Radio 09.09.2014

Ingeborg Holm ble torturert og tatt som gissel, men hun ga seg ikke. 11.09.2020 (lest 16.03.2023)

Ingeborg Holm (1894 - 1984). (lest 16.03.2023)