The Return of Steve Jobs and the Rise of Apple (updated)

This is an update to one of my more popular posts that I wrote a year ago, but worth revisiting.  A lot has happened in that time.  With Steve Jobs in ailing health and the iPad now a huge success Apple continues to roll, but with a bit of uncertainty in its leadership ranks – namely how do you replace a Steve Jobs?  Still one thing has not changed Apple continues to succeed.

When I first started at Microsoft back in 1991 Apple was more or less a relic of what it used to be. Keep in mind it was still a cash cow for Microsoft as we owned the core application set for Apple, Microsoft Office for the Mac. However it was a company seriously lost in what it wanted to be and where it was going. the one thing Apple did have going for it was a fiercely loyal user base. Even though Microsoft was 90% of the market, Apple had 10% and it was going nowhere.

At the time the original founders of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were not to be found. Jobs had been forced out by then CEO John Scully and was off trying to do the next big thing at NeXT computer. In addition he bought a small company from Lucas that became Pixar (it did pretty well). On the other hand Wozniak nearly was killed in a plane crash and not too long after would walk away from Apple (though he still is on the Apple payroll). In a lot of ways you can parallel Woz with Microsoft Co-founder, Paul Allen. John Scully grew Apple significantly after the release of the Mac, however, he was never able to generate the buzz and excitement around Apple that it deserved. Scully came from a successful career at Pepsi and was no doubt a talented marketer. However after 18 years in technology one thing I firmly believe in is if you are going to be a cutting edge technology company you need someone from the industry to guide you and set the vision for the future, to generate buzz, to generate excitement. I have always said the tech sector is more Hollywood than Wall Street. Technology leaders who cater too much to Wall Street, will ultimately doom the company.

For the next 5 years at Microsoft I watched as Apple went through various CEO’s and considered licensing the Mac OS similar to what Microsoft was doing with its OEM channel. I watched as they launched a Windows Virtual Machine so they could run Windows Applications. It always seemed like Apple was throwing darts at the board trying to find someway that something would stick. At one point Microsoft even made an investment in Apple, just to show we were good guys. Things would start to change in 1996 when Apple purchased NeXT Computer, bringing back Steve Jobs to the company he helped found. It ushered in one of the great comeback stories in the history of high-tech.

It used to be said in the industry that you can have a PC any color you want as long as it is beige. It was sadly very true. In addition to the giant CRT screens we had in the day it made for a very ugly desktop. One of the first things that was noticeable when Steve came back to Apple was the launch of Mac’s in color. The orange and lime green seemed to be favorites. Some of the best ideas in the tech industry are the simplest. In 1999 I remember Bill Gates showing off some new Dell PC’s that had some color to them and he mockingly said “We can do color to”. It is and will always be a challenge for Bill to understand the “hollywood” side of technology. Color was important because the beige was so ugly.

For those who remember around this time in the late 90′s a company called Napster became very popular. Napster did some things that Microsoft liked a whole lot. Mainly it allowed end-users to share music files over the internet. Thus promoting the power of the PC and leveraging the value of the internet. Now at this point I can only guess, but my feeling is that someone at Apple could see the real value here – which was that these PC’s had large hard drives that enabled you to store a lot of music, would it not be cool if it was mobile? You could put a hard drive in a little plastic case with ear phones and carry it with you. In October 2001 Apple launched something called the iPod and later a music service called iTunes. As we all know these have gone on to be gigantic success. Microsoft has partners doing their own MP3 players and I remember going into the Best Buy looking at some of them, then I picked up a iPod. At first I was not impressed with its DOS like interface than I started touching and trying to click the wheel, at first it did not seem that responsive. Then I took my thumb and made a semi-circular! After that those other MP3 players were dust. The iPod was huge for Apple in the sense they were no longer the niche player the Mac, they were now the darlings of the every day end-user. As momentum continues Microsoft finally scrapped the partner model and came out with the Zune (I have had several). These devices work well, are cool and have the “wheel” like feel (apparently Apple forgot about the patent process). The challenge for any company is once a competitor has established a huge market lead, can you ever catch up? Not to mention on the advertising front I see Apple iPod ads everywhere, on TV, on Billboards. I cannot recall seeing one Zune ad. Another area that always has concerned me is what our response at Microsoft, while I was there, was to Apple. the typical, it is very proprietary. They really don’t work that well. As Steve B would say, “blah, blah, blah..” I would say, “who cares?” If end users like the experience and are happy with the $.99 price tag, they will continue to download songs from iTunes. As of this writing more than 10 billion songs have been downloaded from iTunes.

Then came the iPhone.  At a time when the smartphone had yet to “realize its potential”.  As the story goes Randall Stephenson, CEO of ATT Wireless (then Cingular Wireless) was in a meeting with Steve Jobs. Steve had just shown him a new mobile phone Apple had been developing. Randall just kept playing with the phone, fixated on its beautiful and responsive touch screen user interface. Steve Jobs is known as one of the toughest negotiators in the business. Randall was a long time telco guy who had net and negotiated withe th best. He also knew that what he was holding represented something bit, something that could turn the tables against some of ATT’s biggest competitors Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. Unlike most phones carried in a store which are in many cases subsidized by the manufacturer, Steve wanted it sold and all the revenue. ATT could get the voice and date plan revenue, but Steve wanted everything else. In the end the device was too good to pass up. Steve Jobs had just got an unprecedented deal in the wireless industry. This launched the march towards the delivery of one of the most “revolutionary” hand-held devices in the mobile phone industry, the Apple iPhone. I had a friend contracting at ATT at the time working on getting the online payment for mobility set up and all he would say was everything being done in Atlanta was geared towards the launch of the iPhone. This was a device with a serious amount of weight being thrown behind it.

The iPhone launched on June 29, 2007. As Bill Gates would say later on, “Microsoft did not set the bar high enough”. The iPhone was a huge success and that is an under statement. It did a number of things better than had ever done before. First was the touch screen. It was responsive. Very responsive. You could be up and doing something within seconds. Second the mobile browser experience was easy and the content you got back was readable. Every device I have ever had the mobile browse experience has been different with each device and very painful. Third it created a market for mobile applications. Prior to the iPhone making money on mobile applications was a dream more than a reality. Competitors will argue, again, Apple is a closed environment (for you non-technical folks – it’s Apple’s way or the highway). I will say again and again, that is the argument of technical people, if end users like the experience they support with their wallets and do not care about open environments versus closed. The iPhone will go down in history as a major technology milestone and another big hit for Apple and Steve Jobs.

Apple about a year ago launched yet a new device, the iPad. The orders are built up  and Apple has done it again. Now the iPad was yet another attempt at the Tablet. Does anyone remember the Apple Newton? Microsoft Pen for Windows? The Microsoft TabletPC?  I wrote a year ago “Will this time the idea of a usable tablet finally become reality? My view initially is that Apple is riding its wave of success to create yet another blockbuster in the industry”.  THey did create a blockbuster.  Then I wrote the following: In the latest issue of Wired Magazine they do raise the question of interaction with computers. If you think about how we as people interact with our technology it has not changed on over 20 years. We have a monitor, keyboard and mouse. I will say having been at Microsoft 18 years there were many efforts from the top down to drive the success of tablets. To change the interaction of user and technology. If Apple succeeds with the iPad it will be a huge psychological blow to Microsoft. Apples first attempt in over 15 years after the many attempts by Microsoft and it is a huge success? The success Apple has had with the iPad has led to a huge change in how people want to interact with technology and spurred a new wave of innovation.  Not far behind has been Android which was quick to respond with their own Tablets.  I cannot count the amount of emotional responses I hear from people with iPads “I Love”, “I adore”, “I treasure” .  Not far behind are business ideas for their iPad.  It is really quite amazing what can happen with success.  It creates a force of gravity that cannot be stopped.  A Wall Street dream.

Bill Gates has left Microsoft. Today Steve Jobs is the poster child of the technology industry. He is the rock star pumping out hit after hit. The movie star who cannot make a bad film. He is in the zone. From when I started to when I was let go at Microsoft the journey of Apple has been an interesting and amazing story to watch unfold. All tech stars rise and fall. The list is long WordPerfect, Lotus, Borland, Netscape, AOL, etc Apple certainly did this, but then to rise again bigger then what they were before has been a spectacle to behold. What they are doing now is not so much about how they are influencing technical innovation, but how they are impacting the global culture.  The future can still be bright despite the illness that has removed Steve Jobs from day-to-day operations.  In my view the next holy grail will be television and how we interact with our oldest of friends.  AppleTV is a start but it is not there yet.  GoogleTV is on their heals.  But given their track record it’s dangerous to bet against Apple right now.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann, Whistler, BC February 25, 2011


One of my favorite things to write about is the competitive landscape in the industry. I have seen many companies come and go. Some remain. Some are stronger and some are weaker. There are those that burst on the seen looking to change the world. They end up like Kim Kardasian on stage with Prince, bright lights and large audience but in the end they just can’t dance. Netscape and MySpace come to mind. They are then politely asked to leave the stage. Then there are those that burn so bright they are the future and the end is something they can only define, Facebook and Apple seem to be those stars of late.  We call them Lady GaGa.  How long will they last?  Who  knows.  They may end up becoming the next Madonna (Apple probably already is this category), constantly changing and exciting us or they could end up like…Lady GaGa.   Then there are those that were stars of huge magnitude and now they are like an aging Frank Sinatra or Mickey Mantle. The people who were there when they started revere them and those that came after are told to revere them, they just don’t know why. Microsoft and Nokia fall into those camps.  With the recent announcement of a partnership between Microsoft and Nokia,  I thought it would be good to go back and have a deeper look at Nokia.

Nokia has an interesting history.  Unlike your current high flyers who have a history that can be measured in some instance less than a decade.  Nokia is over 140 years old.  Being located in Finland they started in an industry that Finland has by default…timber.  The founders Fredrick Idestam started a pulp mill and Nokia stated manufacturing paper.  I am sure at the time it was sexy but in todays world  it just seems so un-environmental now.  That was back in 1865.  It would be much later during the era of diversification and mega conglomerates that they would diversify into another vertical,  telecommunications. This would lay the foundation for the Nokia that we all know.

When mobile phones came onto the scene Nokia was well positioned to provide the phones and start the drive towards where we are today.  Nokia had some keen insights that would propel them to the leadership position in the industry. As a a friend told me who has a deep history in wireless what Nokia really figured out was that you could do more with those phones then just make phone calls.  There was software on them.  You could show what day it is, the current time, all sorts of cool things.  You could even do this text thing pretty easily.  It was also one of the first companies to have accessories for their phones.  Those original dove bar phones that sold 80 million world wide pretty soon had all sorts of colorful cases, the kids loved them.

Things were going good for Nokia and then they made a series of unfortunate decisions.  Though people liked the dove bar phone there was a whole group that did not like them, but preferred the flip phone.  Nokia tried but did not persist in trying to create the next cool phone.  All companies should try to influence the market however they should not dictate to it.  It is a fine line, but I am afraid on this one Nokia decided to cross over it.  There was also the debacle with the US market.  For a long time the US market was perceived to be behind the rest of the world when it came to wireless. In all fairness this was true.  Part of the reason is in the rest of the wireless world used mobility to get around a lot of network constraints and government regulations related to traditional LAN line services.  Nokia being headquartered in this part of world understood it.  However the US is a very competitive culture, to dismiss the US and think we would not catch up at some point and be an exciting and aggressive market, well it is inexcusable.

Finally we have to look at the mobile OS that Nokia chose to build around, Symbian.  Symbian started as a open source project backed by NTT DoCoMo, Ericsson, and Nokia.  It operated independently for many years until Nokia bought the Symbian LTD in 2008 and became the main contributor to the source code.   Through the years it seemed that Symbian and then Nokia struggled to maintain a vibrant developer community.  With the move by more and more consumers to smart phones Symbian seemed to lose direction.  Though the largest mobile OS on earth by market share, recent years have seen a steady decline as more viable platforms like iOS and Android emerged on the seen. Those two platforms have obtained the perfect marriage; developer loyalty with consumer love.  Another interesting tidbit is Finland is the home of Linus Torvalds, the father of the open source movement.  Just think the birthplace of open source is standardizing in Windows Phone 7.  Turns out David didn’t beat Goliath.

Which brings us to today and the big recent announcement that Nokia is going to move to Windows Phone 7.  This deal even on the face of it has so many connotations and implications that it is hard to get ones head around it.  But in short Nokia is ditching the Symbian OS and letting Microsoft do the innovative things in software and reducing Nokia to a manufacturer of handsets.  It is, I am sure a hard pill to swallow for Nokia as for a long time they were perceived as the leader in mobility, a company that would try and set the future course of mobility.  They are walking into the wilderness deciding that their primary competition is HTC, Samsung, LG, and China is now also getting heavily into this space.  Nokia has decided they are going to compete on design.  Good luck with that.  The Asian handset manufacturers have made a living  off of creating cool inexpensive handset models.   At a time when the world is realizing the value of mobility in ways far larger than originally imagined, Nokia has decided not to lead and to walk away.  It’s a stunning fall from grace.

Will this partnership work? Possibly.  It’s two companies that really needed to do something different.  Nokia and Microsoft were losing market share.  What they were doing was  not working.  Focusing on the Nokia side the challenge will be selling the new strategy internally.  Early on there has been a lot of backlash, but lets be pragmatic and look 6-12 months out.  The big challenge for current CEO (and former Microsoft President) Stephen Elop will be managing a big cultural shift in the organizations mentality and the companies outlook toward the future.  I am sure of late they have paid a lot of attention to Google and Apple, moving forward that will be more a Microsoft issue.  How much input will Nokia have in these discussions?  What kind of input will Nokia have into the Microsoft software? Will they have more than HTC or Samsung?  Or will they just be another OEM partner?  I think in the end there are a lot more questions than answers, but one thing is clear the era of Nokia leading in the mobile industry is over.  It did not follow the traditional trajectory and now it looks like Kim Kardasian is back on stage trying to dance, Nokia it’s your turn to leave the stage, you just can’t dance.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 18, 2011

Waiting for the next Internet Browser Revolution

When we log onto our computer these days there is pretty much only one place we want to go,where we want to be, on the internet.  When we are in the internet there is really only one application that matters, our browser.  After years of being an Internet Explorer only kind of guy I decided it was time to branch out. At my current place of employment I have loaded all 4 browsers on my Dell Laptop and I even bought an iPhone. As I have played around with them it strikes me that not any one (Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Chrome) really “wows” me in any meaningful way.  But a few interesting habits have come to light.  On my laptop I spend most of my time in Firefox and Chrome, not sure why but it just seems to be comfortable to me.  In the world of mobility I am pretty much forced via my iPhone to be a Safari user and it does what I need so I am not upset, I frankly could care less..

I could go through a review of each browser but at the end of the day that would be, in my view, a pointless effort.  There are enough reviews out there and I cannot really add any value by doing one. Each has certain things that are nice and each claims to load pages faster.  The latter being something I could not verify from an end-user perspective.  they all seem about the same to me.  Chrome and Firefox have sites where you can get plug-ins for the browser, but so far the one’s I have seen are in the “geek world”.  Nothing very sexy or appealing about them, I may be proved wrong, but I am just saying..

Right now the browser has become the application of choice for nearly everything we do with a computer.  For the average home users it’s where we stay connected with friends, get our email, real-time news updates, do online shopping, and now we are starting to use if for word processing and online spreadsheets.  In corporate America  every internal corporate application is browser-based.  With the browser being so ubiquitous in our day-to-day lives it raises the question of what next?  What more can it do?  I think there are several areas that we will see these changes take place,

One of the hot topics is video.  By some estimates in 3-5 years 90% of internet traffic will be video, both on demand and streaming live events.  It;s not that far-fetched, when you look at popular content coming YouTube and Netflix it seems rather obvious.  The ability to have the entertainment when we want and how we want is pretty compelling and been sort of holy grail for years.  Of course it’s not quite that easy.  One of the big discussion in technology and what seems to be certain is the standard to play video will move to the browser based on the next specification for HTML; HTML5.  Today most video content is Adobe Flash based.  People in the industry make a big deal about open (HTML5) versus closed (Flash).  It’s a nice debate but at the end of the day what is ever the easiest for the average consumer will win out, because Joe average does not give a rip about versus open or closed and they should not have to.  In my opinion the biggest impact this will have is how we interact with our television or don’t interact.

Another change being driven primarily by Google is the browser as platform.  To the non-techies what this means in short is when I create an application I do not need to write it so that it run son Windows, but to the “cloud’ to use a popular current term.  In concrete terms in may mean you will by a personal computer that runs Chrome as the operating system.  Or maybe to quote Marc Andreeson, “Windows will just be a buggy set of device drivers”.  This is happening and is very real.  Over 75% of applications that are developed today are web-based applications.  Can  it be constrained to one browser?  Probably not, we will not see a Windows domination in the browser.  History is against that happening, but those that do not try will become history.

Finally the tablet  growth is driving significant changes in browser market share.  With an Android you are obviously getting Chrome as the browser of choice.  Likewise with a iPad you will be using Safari.  My view is with either and with not any huge difference between browsers there is not going to be a huge incentive to move to another browser.  The tablet to me is really about freedom to be where you want and freedom from your keyboard and desk.  I mean the last point in the physical sense.  If I can make my workplace where I am the most comfortable if that fits into my daily personal life, that is what freedom from technology is.  The point is with technology as much as it has liberated us it has constrained us and we get caught up in work and though we think we are being more productive, we are working longer and are less fulfilled in life.

In the end we may be blessed with a truly competitive browser environment where each iteration provides something very compelling.  With the growth in video content that possibility exists.  Mobility will take us to life scenarios yet to be imagined.  There will be downsides.  In Paul Theroux’s travel book through Africa “Dark Star Safari”  he started by saying he wanted to take a journey where there is no email, no cell phones he just wanted to be disconnected.  With the great promise of the future, the ability to browse wherever and whenever that desire will be very hard to achieve.  But the browser will be central to all those dreams and horrors for better or for worse.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 13, 2011

The Next Revolution has already occurred

It was interesting reading on CNet recently that Goldman Sachs was pessimistic about Microsoft’s 2011 (This article is not about Microsoft – so please read on). This was on top of a report the day before of 54 million Tablets sold this year, 37 million were iPads, the rest were based on Google’s Android OS.  As we entered the New Year we began with the preeminent trade show, the Consumer Electronics Show.  This show has grown in strength each year as people line up to see what type of technology gizmo will change the landscape of consumer behavior and of our day-to-day lives.  Analyst line up to see what the next big innovation will be and what new breakthroughs it will drive.    Reading about all this made me stop and think about the future, and as is usual I first started thinking about the past.  I will admit I am a product of the dotcom era, where everyone’s ideas were big and going to be revolutionary.  At the time everybody got caught up in it.  When it ended it was a let down on the future, it was not just not just a market bubble it was an emotional bubble.  It’s legacy is we are all waiting for the next internet tidal wave to hit us.

Information has always brought about change, but in today’s world it moves a lot faster than it used.  If you think back to the Cold War one of the defining moments was the publication of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago”.  The book that depicted the lives of the Soviet people in the prison camps during the Stalinist regime.  To get that book printed it had to get out of the Soviet Union.   It had to be hidden in homes and far away from the Soviet KGB.  Copies had to be made and there were no computers with floppy discs or CD’s/DVD’s. It required the support of high level politicians in the United States to facilitate the process (we all know how fast they move…).  The book finally got to the west in 1968, but would not be published until 1073.  It was a long, slow, and very winding road to get there.  Those days, luckily, are far behind us.

Fast forward to today and we see the world is changing before our very eyes and  technology is driving that change..  Nearly two years ago when a wave of violence and protest spread through Iran we saw “tweets” posted via Twitter regularly.  Videos came online as protesters took to the streets and captured video with small digital cameras and mobile phones and it came near real-time to the public online.  Many of the most gruesome videos from these protester came at us from the cable news networks, as the cable news companies scoured the web for the latest content.   Not their camera men but just ordinary people in the streets like you and I.  Now we fast forward to today and we recently saw this same act play out successfully in Tunisia.  Even now as I write protests have set the world (and the markets!) on fire in Egypt as violence has spread through mystical cities like Alexandria and Cairo.  Everyone in the media waiting for the next relevant “tweet” or video.  Despite the efforts of the Egyptian government to shut down the internet the information steadily flows outside its birders, coming from the Egyptian citizens.  The big key to this is not the PC, but the rise of mobility and the mobile  internet.  Former President George W Bush in his book, “Decision Point” took a long-term view of  history that the invasion and liberation of Iraq in 50 years would be the turning point in the middle east spreading democracy throughout the region.  My view is that road was already starting, but id did not require war to get there.  Technology is the major unifier as information flows freely across borders, no matter how autocratic the regime.  Democracy and opportunity is on its way as a world order, thanks to the mobile internet.

The idea of mobility and access to immediate information is transforming our lives, both in the big ways like Egypt and Tunisia as well as a small way, like paying our cell phone bill from a mobile phone while on vacation in Yellowstone Park.  If you think back in history these changes have all been about personal freedom.  Look at what the automobile did to the human experience.  The sheer idea that a person could go drive 300 miles by themselves  in six hours was unheard of, now it is fairly common as kids drive off to college.  But the automobile led to so many things in the course of the next 100 years, from the roadside Motel to the shopping mall.  Today we are looking for freedom from our keyboard and monitor (Bill Gate’s just vomited).  The mobile internet will lead to similar change and economic opportunity like the automobile.  There will be those companies and those individuals who recognize the opportunity and will drive changes in society beyond anything previously imagined.  Then there will be those who maybe saw it and did not understand it or missed out entirely on the change in front of them.   It is one of those times where in 10-15 years we will all look back at those that failed and say “How could they not see it?”.  A few companies come to mind today that are embracing the mobile change, and in some cases defining it.  The obvious ones are Facebook, Google, Apple and Twitter. Mobility is the single biggest transformation in society since the birth of the automobile and will continue to grow and change society throughout the 21st century.  Like the automobile it will lead to new modes of life that we have yet to discover.  Those companies that embrace mobility as an overarching strategy versus a line of business offering will be poised for greater success, while those that drag their feet will be irrelevant.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann February 8, 2011

My Father, My History

Sometimes as an amateur writer and an amateur blogger you need to take a break and write about something more personal. I think it gives one pause to reflect on who you are and how one comes to be. It has been over six years since my father passed away.  So the history of my family begins with my father and is the best place to start as that goes back a long way in time.  Family history is always a good place to start and hopefully this will shed some light who I  am.

My father was born Johannes Kristian Hoffmann on February 27, 1917 on a farm in Vinding, Denmark.  You cannot call Vinding a town as there is none. It had a smith and a church (Vinding Kirke).  Follow the link, it has not changed one bit.  I go there on every trip to Denmark as the church cemetery has quite a few Hoffmann’s buried there.  My father was the eldest of 8 brothers.  At the time of his birth the world was in the midst of its first great war, World War I.  My father told me often that those soldiers who came back from the war were mentally never the same.  It is kind of amazing to me now that I knew anyone who could comment at all on the first world war at a personal level, and on top of that he’s my dad.  Life for the first 23 years would be pretty routine for my father.   After 8th grade he stopped going to  school and went to work full-time on the farm.  When he turned 18 he joined the Danish military (For whatever reason they were sent to Hamburg, Germany).  Eventually in the end he was to take over the family farm as the eldest son.  Life was following a plan.  The same plan his father (Henrik) and grandfather (Jens Christian) had followed.

On April 9, 1940 that would all change, when Nazi Germany crossed the Danish border and occupied Denmark.  It is a day etched in every Danes mind who would live trough the ensuing years.   It was one of the most frightening times in human history. There were Dane’s who would join the supposed winning team and there were those who would not accept what was not right.  My father could not accept.   A local group was formed in the Vinding community to become part of the resistance and go underground. There were not many in Denmark who would do this.
I can’t name them all the members of the resistance group but I did meet some of them and was told tales of others.  From my father’s family there was he and the next 4 oldest of the 8 brothers – Christian, Peder, Filip, and Carl Einer.  From the neighboring Kockholm farm there was Gerhard, Hakan, and Torben.  The leader of the group was the Pastor from Vinding Kirke, Pastor Bitch-Larsen.  These groups were small pods in the Danish landscape.  Most Danes early on were not in the resistance.  Towards the end many would join up but in a way they were looked down upon as they did not take up the challenge when freedom looked non-existent against the Nazi power

I cannot tell you when the group was formed, but it was early on in the war.  Over the course of a few years they would do a lot of  missions well into the early morning hours. where the only light was moonlight  Their role was essentially to listen to the BBC radio broadcasts and wait to get signals about air drops.  The drops were ammunition, explosives, etc.,..they would collect at night and hide at various locations including some farms.  They would then pass on to other groups who would take the ammunition’s and set explosives on train tracks.  At the time in Denmark, Germany was sending ammunition’s up through Denmark and Sweden to Finland, where the Fin’s were fighting the Soviet Union.  So in an effort to slow down the German ammunition’s traffic Danish resistance groups would set explosives on the tracks in an effort to stop and destroy shipments.

For all this activity there was a price to pay.  War is never free no matter whose side you are on.   Sometimes those train’s that were blown up carried Danish passengers.  In one instance my father’s cousin was on one of those trains.  She was killed.  She was a beautiful woman in her early twenties, who knows what life would have held for her. Until my father’s death he had in is desk a photo of his cousin with a lock of her hair.   No matter how romantic the war, there is always a painful cost to the human heart.

The toll of collecting supplies from the British at night and working the fields during the day was an exhausting one.  Some days while in the fields my father would  be so tired he would just lay down on the freshly plowed dirt and fall asleep. Even though my fathers boyhood farm was isolated you had to keep the appearance of a working farm, as you had a tight circle of friends you could trust and could not take chances with others who may be easily swayed by the Nazi’s.

One thing I am commonly asked about my father by many Jewish friends is did they help the Jews flee Denmark?  Anyone in Denmark who was opposed the “occupation” helped the Danish Jews get out of Denmark and over to Sweden.  My father’s family would hide the Jews in the hay loft in the barn.  It struck me as interesting that the hay loft where my brother and I played as kids and had so much fun was a hiding place to help protect people from one of the worst atrocities to ever befall mankind.  I do not have much to add here, no heroic stories, no stories of people who hid,  of children laughing or crying, dramatic chases, all I can say in Denmark is protecting the Danish Jews from falling into the abyss know as the Holocaust was just something you did.  Because it was right.

Towards the end off the war there was an incident that would shape the lives of those who participated.  It came to light that during one of the night drops that the Gestapo had intelligence on what was happening and when it was happening.  The mission took place on April 13, 1945.  The British had dropped 6 tons of explosives in a field to collect.  To do such a mission would require the whole group and transport to move such a large load.  There had to be locations store and hide the explosives.  Unfortunately this would not end as planned

As some members of the group met in a farms courtyard one of the members came flying into the courtyard chased by the Germans.  It was my father, Johannes Hoffmann.  The group would quickly disband and run to the nearby woods for cover.  During the run my father was left alone  and ran across a German officer what ensued will be one of the great mysteries of his life, he escaped.  How he escaped went with him to the grave.  I never learned of the instance until after he had passed,  When the ones we have loved passed then the regrets begin to weigh on our souls as we discover what we did not know about those we loved.

During the time they were disbanded one group with Christian, Aage , Hakan, Gerhard, Simon Ramskov and Carl Einer were with the truck and the explosives.  Gerhard, Aage, Hakan and Christian ran to get weapons to combat the Germans.  But while they were gone the truck would be discovered and checked by the Germans.   Carl Einer would be taken into captivity while Simon escaped.  As Agge, Hakan, Aage and Gerhard fled they went to the cemetery at Vinding Kirke.  First Christian and Aage would be captured and later Hakan.  Gerhard was able to escape.  They would be held by the Germans for some time.

It would be my uncle Carl Einer who would suffer the worst fate.  He was the first captured and was the youngest of the group.  He was taken to the nearby farming town of Aulum.  One can only guess it was a dark small farmhouse he was taken to wherever the Gestapo had headquarters, but in the end they had plans for him.  They tied up his hands and feet and then hung him on a pole.  Then two German soldiers took turns beating the living hell of him.  They wanted the names of his collaborators.  He never gave up those names, but years later I would hear he was never the same after that incident.  Having met him many times I think I understand his personality better.  He has long since passed and I will never get to ask him about what happened in Aulum, but I gather if I had he would not have answered.

The other 3 men who were captured would later the following day be re-united with  Carl-Einer in Aulum, but he did not look too good after what he had been through.  They were all sent to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark.  Christian would be bound to a chair and beaten.  He was stronger than Carl Einer mentally and did not give up any names either.  They beat him severely.  They asked him again  and again for name.  He looked u, his face smeared in blood and said, “Go to hell”, then received one more mighty blow and slipped into unconsciousness.  The four were put into a jail cell.  There were 19 men housed in a prison cell designed for 3.  While in the jail cell they were all sentenced to death by firing squad.

After they disbanded, those that escaped all had to hide.  My father was on the run, he found a farmer who took him in and hid him for the next 4 weeks.  There were a lot of Danes who helped the resistance movement during this time. When I was in Denmark in 1972 my father took me to a retirement home where I met the man who helped hide my father.  I wish I could have understood more than. I would have thanked him.

This was a very stressful time for all in the Hoffmann family.  Several sons were in hiding and 3 more Hoffmann’s were being prepared to stand in front of a German firing squad in Aarhus.  Though I am sure my grandfather and grandmother knew a lot of what was going on I am sure they were sheltered from most of what was going on to avoid becoming to involved in the resistance.  In the end fate would smile kindly on my relatives as on May 5th , 1945 the Germans’s surrendered to the allies and Denmark was once again free.  My uncle’s were spared the firing squad and would return home.  Christian would take over the farm and my father would start another journey that took him to Canada and then the United States.  But that is another story.

Good Night and Good Luck,

Hans Henrik Hoffmann, Danish Son,  February 1, 2011

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