Ulla Weebe was a Swedish vicar’s wife who carried out extensive humanitarian work during the second world war in Norway.
Ulla Weebe was born in Gävle in 1900 as the daughter of Olof Adolf Högberg, an accountant, and his wife Erika Maria Högberg. Ulla Weebe had two sisters and two brothers. In 1921, Ulla Weebe married Axel Weebe, curate in the Ockelbo congregation, where the couple settled down. The first two children, Carl-Axel and Birgitta, were both born in 1924. Three years later, Axel Weebe was appointed as seamen’s padre in Norway, and the family moved there the year after. The same year, Axel Weebe was appointed as clergyman at the legation in Oslo and from 1931 he served as vicar at the Swedish Margareta Church in Oslo. The Swedish Margareta Church was then newly built and the family settled down in the vicarage that was part of the large church complex. The family’s third child, Holger, was born in Oslo in 1929.
The Weebe family soon felt at home in Oslo. The upper social set of Oslo Swedes were included in their social circle, as were several eminent Norwegian citizens. Among them was Christian Günther, for a time envoy and later Swedish foreign minister, whose wife, the artist Ingrid Günther, had great significance for Ulla Weebe’s humanitarian work during the war. The circle also included the Norwegian church artist Emanuel Vigeland, brother to the well-known sculptor Gustav Vigeland, and the Bishop of Oslo Eivind Berggrav, who was a national leader figure in the Norwegian church. Berggrav was put under house arrest during the war, whereby contact with the Weebe family was maintained by his wife Kathrine Berggrav. Ulla Weebe was a much appreciated hostess in Oslo social life, where she from time to time also made good use of her excellent skills as a pianist.
In April 1940, the war came to Norway. Daily life was suddenly marked by air raid sirens, blackout, quislings and troops of the German occupation in the streets. During the first years of the occupation, the situation concerning supplies of food and other vital goods was still satisfactory. This changed dramatically for the worse during the following years, however. Norway was affected not least by the allies’ blockade politics, since at the outbreak of the war it was one of the countries in Europe that was most dependent upon imports. The Weebe couple saw the developments at first hand. As the war progressed, Ulla Weebe experienced personally how the queues were growing longer and longer and how the shops’ shelves were getting emptier and emptier.
To start with, both the Weebes got involved in the situation of the Swedes and Swedish descendants living in Norway during the occupation, as they did in the exposed situation of Norwegian children. Thanks to the congregation, persons in Norway who were or who had once been Swedish citizens could receive food parcels and clothes. These ventures were organised by the Margareta Church. In order to receive this help, people had to register as members of the Swedish congregation in Oslo. As times became harder, a flood of applications for membership inundated the registrar’s office in Oslo. In the summer of 1942, about 600 people were members of the congregation, but by December 1943, 18,000 registered members of the congregation were spread all over Norway!
Apart from help to Norway-Swedes, Axel Weebe had succeeded in negotiating permission in spring 1942 from the Quisling administration to serve soup lunches to 100 especially needy Norwegian children in the Margareta Church’s assembly hall. The serving of the so-called ”Swede soup” was started in July 1942, but it was not until September the same year that it reached 100 children. To start with, the soup lunches were paid for by the National Committee for Norway Help (Landskommittén för Norgehjälpen), but from August 1942 by the newly founded non-state Swedish Norway Help (Svenska Norgehjälpen). The rather modest number of lunch guests at the beginning soon grew markedly. From having served soup lunches to 100 children in the late summer of 1942, the catering at the Swedish Margareta Church expanded during the last years of the war to include about 7,000 people every day. The Weebes have received several prizes and awards for the logistical solutions applied to this powerful expansion, as well as praises in the press, even a long time after the war had ended. As thanks for the food, Norwegian families collected money after the war to donate four new church windows to the Margareta Church, with motives among others showing children and bread. They were designed by the Norwegian artist Per Vigeland. The windows were however destroyed in the terrorist attack on the government quarters in Oslo on 22 July 2011.
Ulla Weebe functioned in many contexts as a support for and assistant to her husband in various humanitarian actions in Norway during the occupation, but she also had her own arena towards the end of the war which was the main reason for all the acclamation she received after the war. Ulla Weebe’s special interest was Norwegian infants. The war situation in itself, like the increasing number of Norwegian births during the war years, resulted in a great shortage of baby clothes. In the early spring of 1943, Ulla Weebe took the initiative to collecting almost 2,000 sets of baby clothes in Sweden that she then distributed to needy families in Norway, via the Margareta Church. This help effort was however stopped in April 1943 and taken over by the nazified Norwegian help organisation Nasjonalhjelpen.
Nasjonalhjelpen’s efforts did not however succeed in checking the shortage of baby clothes, which rather got worse the longer the war continued. The office at the Margareta Church was continually visited by desperate mothers who lacked the wherewithal to clothe their children. On the initiative of city councillor Günther’s wife Ingrid Günther, the Oslo section of Save the Children was therefore founded on 20 April 1944 in the vicarage at Margareta Church. About 60 members joined immediately, from the Swedish colony in Oslo and the rest of Norway. Ulla Weebe was elected to be the section’s chairwoman.
In November 1944, Ulla Weebe travelled to Sweden to try to get Swedes to donate clothes to the smallest of all Norwegians. She negotiated herself with the American legation in Stockholm to obtain the allies’ approval of the Norwegian import of baby clothes from Sweden, which she also succeeded in doing. In the spring of 1945, Ulla Weebe made yet another trip to Sweden for Save the Children. During the journey, the Swedish press frequently gave her their attention and she often described the situation in Norway. This resulted in headlines like the one in the major Swedish daily paper Svenska Dagbladet: ”Norway’s infants swaddled in paper”, and Swedes were encouraged to donate even more baby clothes to their Norwegian neighbours.
Thanks to Ulla Weebe, thousands of Norwegian infants must have received suitable clothing during the final years of the war, and acclaim for her efforts was not long in coming. In 1946, she was awarded the Vasa Medal in gold, the Save the Children merit emblem in gold and, during an audience with the Norwegian king, Haakon VII’s freedom cross for outstanding actions during the war. Both the Swedish and the Norwegian royal families showed the Weebe couple their gratitude during the years after the war. Even Axel Weebe knew how to appreciate his wife and in his war diary in 1942 he wrote: ”I must thank God for everything, and next to God her; she has stood faithfully by my side for 21 years”.
In 1946–1947, Axel Weebe applied for the vacant post of vicar at Oscar’s Church in Stockholm. The position was however filled with another applicant and the Weebe family remained in Oslo. Axel Weebe retired from his position as vicar for the Swedish congregation in Oslo in 1958 but the family still remained in Norway. In 1960, only two years after her husband’s retirement, Ulla Weebe died at the age of 60. She is buried at the Western Cemetery in Oslo.