Former Icelandic and German Foes Hug at Book Fair Skip to content

Former Icelandic and German Foes Hug at Book Fair

A special press conference was held in the Icelandic pavilion on the first day of the Frankfurt Book Fair yesterday when the German translation of the book Útkall – Árás á Godafoss by Óttar Sveinsson was introduced; it features the sinking of the Icelandic passenger ship Godafoss on November 10, 1944, by a German submarine.

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Koske (left) meets Gudmundsson. Photo by BV.

Twenty-four people, men, women and children, were killed in the attack but 18 were saved. The sinking of Godafoss, only a short distance away from the harbor in Reykjavík, was a national tragedy and the most serious event to occur in Iceland in World War II.

At the press conference, two surviving crew members of both vessels met for the first time since their destinies became intertwined on that fateful day and hugged in a moving ceremony: Horst Koske of the German submarine and Sigurdur Gudmundsson of Godafoss.

“I don’t hate you, I’d much rather love you,” Gudmundsson told Koske, according to visir.is, acknowledging that Koske, who was a young man at the time, had been serving his compulsory military service and following orders.

Also a youngster, Gudmundsson said he had toughened up after the attack on Godafoss, but now, in his eighties, the memories from that horrible day have resurfaced.

Koske explained that he hadn’t known at the time that Godafoss wasn’t an enemy ship and neither did his commandant, and he hadn’t known until he read Sveinsson’s book that women and children were killed.

Now a father and grandfather, Koske said it had been excruciatingly difficult to learn about the fates of those innocent people. By meeting Gudmundsson he was hoping for absolution so that he finally could sleep at night.

Our Germany correspondent, Bernhild Vögel, who was present at the press conference yesterday, described the atmosphere as one of “understanding and forgiveness.”

Click here to read more about the ongoing Frankfurt Book Fair, where Iceland is the guest of honor, and here to read a review of a documentary on the sinking of Godafoss.

ESA/BV

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