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Butte granny takes possession of former Nazi house in Denmark

Butte granny takes possession of former Nazi house in Denmark

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AALBORG, Denmark – Edith Craig got a reception worthy of a rock star when she arrived here half a world away from Butte.

At the airport Friday night, the Danish national press turned out in large numbers to cover her visit to Denmark.

Despite Craig’s late-night arrival, a group that for more than 800 nights conducted candlelight vigils to protest of the Nazis who lived in the house Craig later inherited, showed up at the airport, waving both the red, white and blue American and red and white Danish flags.

The following days in the Aalborg area were busy for the 82-year-old Butte woman, who is traveling with her daughter, Barbra Cockhill and her grandson, Russ Cockhill.

The highlight occurred Saturday morning, where Craig, in front of half a dozen TV cameras and a crowd of radio and newspaper reporters, unlocked the front door to the house, that has been on her mind daily for more than two years.

“I cannot describe my feelings,” Craig said. “I cannot believe I am actually here, standing in the house, that my half-brother was living in for so many years.”

Craig successfully contested the will of her late half-brother, who left his entire estate to the Danish Nazi party.

She and her family spent more than an hour exploring every room in the brick building. From the top floor, Craig had a breathtaking view over the waterway that divides Aalborg in two. Craig was disappointed by the lack of maintenance in the house.

Since her half-brother’s death two and one-half years ago, the Nazis had done next to nothing to the house, and her half-brother, Gunner Gram Jr., had clearly neglected the house for many years.

“It is going to take a lot of money to make this house habitable, but I hope that it in due time will be a nice home for a nice family,” Craig said.

To the Danish press, she kept emphasizing what she called her minor role in getting the Nazis out of the house compared to the neighbors’ persistent nightly protests.

“Think about it,” Craig said. “For more than 800 straight nights, including New Year’s Eves and all holidays, in rain and snow, these people have met in front of the house at 8 p.m. every night. Amazing.”

And the persistence of the neighbors was honored by the Montana Human Rights Network, the same organization that earlier this year presented Craig with their award for being the outstanding advocate of human rights in Montana for the year. The network’s co-director, Christine Kaufmann, who also made the trip, presented a plaque to the neighbors in honor of their fight against the Nazis.

The Human Rights Network also raised money to send Craig and Cockhill to Denmark for two weeks.

Since the house was first put on the market two weeks ago, many people have taken the tour around the estate, guided by a local real estate agent. Most of them visited out of curiosity, but by the deadline Thursday, the agent had received offers from 17 individuals wanting to buy the house.

At a meeting Monday with her Danish lawyer, Claus Fisher, Craig accepted the highest offer of about $100,000.

After visiting the house, Edith Craig, her daughter and grandson participated in a lunch, given and attended by a large number of the neighbors.

After spending five days in Aalborg, the Butte family will go Wednesday to the island of Fyn to visit family there. Then a couple of days will be spent in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen.

“This has been fantastic,” Craig said, “Everyone here in Aalborg has been very friendly, and has been helping us out in any possible way. And it surely was nice, finally, to meet the neighbors, whose struggle we have been following for such a long time.”

It was Cockhill’s dogged genealogical research that uncovered the shocking news that the father and half-brother that Craig never knew were active in the Nazi Party in Denmark.

Craig’s mother died shortly after giving birth to her in North Dakota. Craig’s father, a Danish immigrant demoralized by his wife’s death, abandoned Edith and gave her up for adoption in North Dakota shortly thereafter, and she was raised by her adoptive parents.

In her genealogical research, Cockhill discovered that Craig’s father and half-brother were Nazi Party activists in Denmark. Her late half-brother, Gunner Gram Jr., willed the house to the Nazi Party, which turned it into its national headquarters in February 1999.

After being contacted by a Danish lawyer regarding the house, Craig decided to contest Gram’s will, arguing that she was the rightful owner of the house. A Danish probate court ruled in August 2000 that one of the witnesses to Gram’s will, Esben Kristensen, a longtime member of the Nazi Party and editor of the party’s weekly newspaper, was disqualified because he would have personally benefited. The court then ruled the will invalid and determined Craig to be the owner of the estate.

The party appealed the decision to the Danish Supreme Court, and it ruled 3-0 in May in favor of Craig and ordered the Nazi Party to vacate the house.

Dorte Geertsen is a journalist for the Danish newspaper NORDJYSKE Stiftstidende and has been covering this story for the Lee Newspapers of Montana. Lee State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson assisted on this story.

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