Christian Christiansen was a simple country pastor in Illinois who rode the circuit on horseback before the turn of the century. Later in life, he helped defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
The modest Lutheran preacher, who served parishes in Illinois and Wisconsin, never spoke of his achievements but was honored with a monument Aug. 7 in Gardner, Ill.
Christiansen was 83 and living with his son and daughter-in-law in Gardner when he read a newspaper story about Hitler trying to develop an atomic bomb. The Nazis had conquered Norway and were developing the heavy water essential to making a bomb. The plant was under a mountain shelf in Norway — out of the reach of Allied bombers and of battleships that couldn't navigate the narrow fjords.
But Christiansen knew the area — as a child he had sailed the fjords and climbed the mountains. He knew how the Allies could get to it.
The U.S. Navy was contacted, and officials came to Christiansen's home and laid war maps on the floor. With the new information, the British organized a successful commando raid in February 1943. The Heroes of Telemark (1965), starring Kirk Douglas and Richard Harris, tells the story.
Christiansen never spoke about his involvement because he considered it a war secret. He also continued to work with the Norwegian underground and family in Norway to rescue other Norwegian citizens from the Nazis.Christiansen's family in the United States didn't know this part of his life until after his death in 1947, when they received word that the king of Norway was recognizing him for valuable service during the war.
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers