My stepfather Axel Hansen Tveskov arrived in Venezuela from Denmark in 1938. He was a 42 year old mechanical engineer and had recently been widowed. He had been hired by a Danish company to go to Venezuela to install the machinery in a fish canning factory in Cumaná. The deal also included three Danish North Sea trawlers that were to catch the fish for the plant.

The following stories come from two sources: My stepfather himself and letters that he sent to his brother in Denmark up till Pearl Harbor, after which communicating by mail to German occupied Europe no longer was possible. Fortunately his brother kept the letters and returned them when Axel returned to Denmark at the end of 1975. I found them in their home when my mother died in 1989.

In preparation for the trip Axel purchased tropical clothing from a department store in Copenhagen, supposedly from a cancelled expedition to Africa. The khaki outfit included a pith helmet, jodhpurs and riding boots. Once he got to Venezuela he found out that such clothes were not commonly worn there at all so the pith helmet was quickly thrown into the trash.

The trip from Denmark was on a German freighter. The officers were Nazis and engaged in quite a bit of propaganda. On several occasions the passengers were confined to their cabins when confidential and secret operations took place on and around the ship.

On arrival in Cumaná, work began and was completed. Meanwhile, on April 9, 1940 Germany invaded Denmark and Axel was stranded in Venezuela.

He spoke no Spanish and had neither job nor contacts – in effect, he had to start from the bottom.

One of the first jobs he got was as engineer on a Venezuelan freighter, a complete bluff. While he knew diesel engines, he had never been a ship’s engineer. On the ship’s first departure he misunderstood the engine telegraph and the ship rammed the flagship of the Venezuelan navy.

Not a good career move.

Later on he worked in a number of jobs in the oil fields around Maracaibo and at some point during the war he even owned a fishing boat and was fishing for sharks in the Caribbean. Sharks’ livers were used as a substitute for cod livers in producing vitamin D rich cod liver oil during the war. He therefore developed a good business with the U.S. Too good, as it turned out, as well-connected Venezuelans had his boat confiscated on trumped-up charges of selling oil to German submarines in the Caribbean.

He told me that on one occasion the boat was indeed accosted by a surfaced German submarine, but that the only transfer was the Germans kidnapping a Venezuelan woman from the fishing boat. As a Dane, he had little sympathy for anything or anyone German, so the charges were ridiculous.

While still working in Cumaná, a German cruiser came into port. The local military commander asked Axel to teach his band leader the German national anthem “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”. Axel pragmatically decided to cooperate and whistled the melody for the band leader, who wrote it down. The band did a fine job during the welcoming ceremonies when the German officers stepped ashore.

One of Axel’s pleasant memories from Eastern Venezuela was to sail across the golf of Caríaco and visit the ruins of an old Spanish fort. He enjoyed the beauty and the solitude of the deserted peninsula. The ruins are still there and are now a tourist attraction. Venezuela in those days was much sparser populated – probably about 5,000,000 people altogether vs 27,000,000 today - so there were many large and uninhabited areas throughout the country.

He spent one early Christmas as an “exile” in the country in Maracaibo. He and another stranded Dane decided to go to church on Christmas Eve. Axel’s father had been a deacon and catechism teacher in a Lutheran church in Kauslunde on the island of Funen, so he had been brought up in an intense Protestant family and had a very skeptical and suspicious attitude, coupled with little real knowledge, of the Catholic Church, its traditions and ceremonies. So the Christmas Eve mass was confusing to him. After mass they went to a bar for drinks to celebrate the holiday.

Axel told me that it was first and only Christmas Eve he ever spent in a Catholic Church and an establishment of dubious reputation!

There were a few other Danes in Venezuela, but many more arrived after the war. Among them were Mssrs. Aagaard and Wiese who worked at the Delfino’s cement factory in La Vega in Caracas, as well as Søndergaard, who was married to a Spanish woman and was Axel’s assistant and successor at the cement factory in Táchira.

Mr. Mogensen was the General Consul for Denmark in Caracas, not to forget Mr.Knudsen, a stocky, hard working salesman from Jutland who represented the Danish food manufacturer Plumrose. He was known to the Danes as “Plumrose Knudsen” and traveled all over the country by public transportation, wearing a suit and a tie, and definitely put Plumrose on the map after the war. One could buy canned Danish hams, butter and many other products in most major cities.

Harald Hansen, another engineer and friend of Axel’s, settled in Mérida where I used to visit him on my free Sundays while in high school in that beautiful city. He lived quietly with a soft spoken Venezuelan woman and their several brown-skinned blue eyed children. He introduced me to Cuba Libres, good Venezuelan rum with Coca Cola!

Other close friends were the Rondón family. Fernando “Freddy” Rondón, a Venezuelan educated in the US, was an agronomist working for the Rockefeller Foundation. On several occasions as a teenager I accompanied him on horseback into the monte to visit campesinos. His wife Betty was American and from Cape Cod. They lived in Táchira and eventually moved to Caracas.

So Axel’s reputation and contacts grew.

He built and managed an electric plant for a Canadian company in Barquisimeto in the mid 1940s during the presidencies of generals Lopez Contreras and Medina Angarita.

He wrote in his letters of driving the company’s jeep to a place called Rio Claro to enjoy the beauty and peace of the place. At that point as during the rest of his stay in Venezuela, he also had a large German shepherd dog as a companion.

In 1947 he left Barquisimeto and returned to Denmark for the first time. His thoughts had been to stay there, but he found the culture shock too much and the weather too cold, so he decided to return to Venezuela.

The trip to Europe was via a soon-to-be-discontinued LAV route to Madrid. The plane – an early model Lockheed Constellation - had to be serviced in New York, allowing the passengers a 24 unplanned layover. This was Axel’s only visit to the US and he took the opportunity to see “Show Boat” with Paul Robeson on Broadway while there.

Traveling by air in Venezuela before the advent of pressurized airplanes and radar was an adventure in itself, especially in the Andes.

Axel told us about a time when he was on one of the early twin engined Lockheed Electras on what was to have been an inaugural flight of some sort out of Maiquetía. Evidently everyone had been celebrating prior to the flight and the pilot decided to take off from the taxi strip. The plane belly landed and everyone got out without a scratch. However, most of the passengers were not even aware that they had survived a plane crash!

An American friend, Edmund Church Getty, had flown C-47s for the USAAF during WWII. On one flight in a LAV DC-3, both pilots were somehow disabled and he had to land the plane in Maiquetía. Sounds like and could be an “urban myth”, but I had no reason to disbelieve it when Ed – who lived with his wife Evelyn in San Cristobal - told me the story.

Jack Jumper, an American that worked in Anaco died when hitching a ride on a cargo plane that crashed in the Andes.

My own boss in Anaco, as well as – it seemed – many others in that area, had been a US Navy fighter pilot and was an absolute wreck when we would fly the AVENSA Convairs to Caracas. He was sitting on the edge of the seat “flying” the plane every moment of the flight and making comments about what was going on. My attitude was more philosophical and I accepted the fact that the pilots without a doubt were as interested in getting to wherever we were going as we were.

Probably one of the worst events had to be when Fidel Castro’s Venezuelan communist terrorist allies in the sixties set off a bomb in the forward cargo compartment of a DC-3, blowing off the plane’s cockpit. The plane kept flying for quite awhile before crashing. One can only imagine the terror among the passengers.

While in Denmark he met my mother at my cousin’s confirmation – Axel had been my uncle’s room mate in college and was thus an old friend of the family – and once back in Venezuela they began corresponding.

On his return to Venezuela he built a cement factory in LaBlanca near Palmira in Táchira. The equipment was Danish and the company Cementos Táchira belonged to the Delfino family from Caracas. Once the plant was up and running he was asked to be the director and operate it, which he accepted. There had been a long cement commercial relationship related to cement between Denmark and Venezuela. The building of the Colegio de San José in Mérida, where I went to school for two years, was built with imported Danish cement during the Gomez years. That cement had been shipped to Mérida from the coast on the back of mules!

Cement Factory in LaBlanca, Táchira - Note that the stairs to the office hardly meet OSHA standards! “My” Jeep CJ is in the picture too.
 
My mother and I joined him in Venezuela in 1948.

During the summer of 1949 he renovated a small hydroelectric plant near San Juán de Colón, north of Palmira. While really a “moonlighting job”, it was vital for the cement factory, as they needed more electric power. He hired a young Danish engineer, Erik Kældebæk, to help on that project. Erik went back to Denmark to get married when the job was finished, where he unfortunately soon died of a tropical disease, probably unfamiliar to the Danish physicians.

It was also my first summer job and the occasion to learn how to drive in the 1947 Jeep CJ. It was the summer of my fifteenth year.

The plant was located in the thick jungle in a deep ravine at the bottom of a waterfall. We would park the Jeep at the end of a jungle path and walk a path down the side of the ravine next to the penstocks providing water to the turbines.

All the equipment, including three big new alternators built by the Swiss company Oerlikon also had to be hoisted and manhandled down the same path.

While primarily known for its electrical equipment, Oerlikon is probably better known to US Navy veterans, as they also built and supplied anti-aircraft cannon to both the Allies and the Axis powers during World War II.

Once the alternators were installed and the water turned on, we noted that there was a heavy vibration in one of the alternators. We re-aligned, leveled and did everything we could to make sure that the machine was plumb and level and exactly lined up with the turbine. No luck. Axel finally dismantled the alternator and found that the shaft had been broken and welded back together at the factory! So much for Swiss quality. Bearing in mind that we really were out in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t just FedEx the shaft back to the factory in Switzerland, he had a new shaft turned in the machine shop of the cement factory, reassembled the generator and started it back up. It ran fine.

When the job and my summer vacation were over, we went to the office of the local electrical utility to collect payment. They paid us in silver 5 Bolivar coins – thousands of them in flour sacks! Undoubtedly this is how their customers paid their electric bills.

We loaded the sacks in the back of Axel’s Nash Ambassador and, with the rear bumper dragging on the dirt road, made it back to Palmira!

By 1951 Axel had decided to go into the contracting business for himself and we moved to Caracas where we had an apartment between the corners Marrón & Cují.

In the center of Caracas addresses have traditionally been determined by the traditional names of the corners. The brand new apartment building – Edificio Aldomár - was located just a few blocks from the Plaza Bolivar and a block from the recently built Avenida Urdaneta. We lived in the penthouse apartment and had a tremendous view of the whole valley of Caracas.

Axel by then had developed many political contacts, but unfortunately they were all opponents of Pérez Jimenez and after a failed coup attempt October 12, 1951, most of them were killed or jailed.

So he again had to start pretty much from scratch and soon moved to Ciudad Piár where he worked as a contractor for the Orinoco Mining Company, a US Steel subsidiary.

He also did installation work at the new Venezuelan steel mill at Puerto Ordáz, soon to be renamed Ciudád Guiana and they lived in Ciudad Bolivar for some years at this time.

He also did contracting work on the Island of Margarita, returning to one of the places where he had worked during the first few years of his exile.

On one occasion he even did a job in the El Dorado penal colony in the Guiana jungle. For many years this penal colony was not accessible by road at all. My mother told me that she was very impressed by the politeness and kindness of the prisoners. In those days, to be sent to El Dorado was considered a death penalty due to the horrible climate and surroundings. This was indeed Venezuela’s “Devil’s Island”.

At the end of 1975, now aged 79 and in poor health, he sold his trucks and equipment. He and my mother moved back to Denmark where they settled in the little town of Borup south of Copenhagen.

He died in 1980.

New Years Eve at the Club Táchira 1949. Sitting left to right: Mrs. Contreras; Axel Tveskov; Commandante Mário Vargas, Military Commander of Táchira; Peter Tveskov; My Mother; Ed Getty & Evelyn Getty; Señor Romero Espejo, Governor of Táchira; Angel Mora; and Sondergaard.
I do not know who the happy guy standing with the glass is.  I remember that we had suckling pig for dinner!