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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
air in Venezuela before the advent of pressurized airplanes
and radar was an adventure in itself, especially in
Axel told us
about a time when he was on one of the early twin engined
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
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.
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.
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
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
Factory in LaBlanca, Táchira - Note
that the stairs to the office hardly meet OSHA
standards! “My” Jeep CJ is in the
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
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
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
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.
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 &
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
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.
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.
do not know who the happy guy standing with
the glass is. I remember that we had suckling
pig for dinner!