CHILDREN'S CAMP ON GREFSRUD
MATHILDE OFTEDAL BROCH
(1909 - 1998)
was cofounder of the Children's Camp in Grefsrud near Holmestrand in 1949, with the financial support of Europahjelpen. Together with her assistent, Esther Rysdal, she made sure that the Jewish children from the poverty stricken communities in North Africa were able to immigrate to Norway.Thanks to Mathilde's initiative, 400 children were cared for to life following eight months.
In Mathilde Oftedal Broch's own words:
THE CHILDREN'S CAMP is located 84 kilometers from Oslo and 2 kilometer from Holmestrand on the western side of the Oslo fjord the climate is especially beneficial for people suffering from pneumonia and other illnesses in the lungs. Three kilometers from the Children’s’ camp is the location of the Rove Tuberculosis hospital, whose head physician Per Foss is the camps consultant physician on illnesses in the lungs.
There are eleven building in all tin the health center there are a physician, three nurse and a dentist. There are 21 beds in the center’s sick rooms and an insulating room. The medical equipment includes taking fluoroscopes. The dining room will accommodate 200 children and visitors.
In the playroom there is a stage. In the two school buildings there are eight class rooms a kitchen and a room for woodcraft. The kitchen and the laundry room both have modern technical equipment.
Aside from that the buildings have bedrooms and living rooms for the children and staff in addition to offices. All the buildings have central heating, except for one school building which has electric heating. In the children’s buildings sanitary plumbing has been installed. The staff enjoys their tea in its own kitchen and has shower and a sauna at its disposal.
The children are x-rayed, weighed and measured every month. Those who are undernourished are given extra period of rest and care x-ray pictures are taken at the Rove tuberculosis hospital to which patients are transferred if necessary. 60 staff the children camp provide ample space for 200 children.
One of the activities of Europahjelpen was its children’s permanent camp at Grefsrud near Holmestrand. The preparatory work started already in September 1948 and lasted until the children’s camp opened in April 1949.
Two million kroner had been granted and the children’s camp was to be fully active for two years, that is three groups of children were to stay there about eight months each and its capacity was 200 children.
At the end of two years in May 1951, a comprehensive archive was sent the head office of Europahjelpen. It is very unfortunate that it hasn’t been established where this archive is locate.
I have been contacted by Haakon Lie and he has asked me urgently to write ”The history of the children’s camp” which I so far have not done.
I was asked to makes some comments about the work of the children’s camp and that is what I am presenting here.
The comments are divided into five sections:
1. The preparations
2. The children
3. The staff and coworkers
4. Contact with the local environment
5. The distant families
6. The preparation
It was a German built military camp with barrack and a casino that was to be made into a home for 200 children. Each group was to stay with us for eight months. A child-friendly environment was to receive them with complete equipment for health care and schooling, play and festival daily life and everything connected with it.
This was in 1949 and the two first groups consisted of Jewish children after the estate of Israel had been established. Our aim was to make the children physically, psychologically and social fit for a positive existence in their new country.
The financial accounts provide a picture of what the plumber, electrician and partners accomplished. And then it was all there a health center with modern equipment, twenty sick beds and the store rooms filled with clothing for all the seasons, everything that the school might need, complete equipment for a nursery school from ”Riktige Leker” (proper toy). Not to mention furniture desks, carpenters benches, hand looms and equipment for a kitchen and a dining room for the children and also one for the grownups. We wanted it be a beautiful environment.
Students from the School of arts and Crafts came down and created large and beautiful decorations in the gym. Erik Hesselberg, a member of the Kontiki expedition, produced decorative signs which showed how one should walk from one house to another. The casino was turned into our schoolhouse, with its large room with the open fireplace becoming our place for celebrations and parties.
I had visited Tunis in North Africa in the autumn of 1948 and had been in contact with parents of the children who might come to the Children’s Camp. Our contact in Israel was Youth Aliyah.
They were North African children five to fifteen years old, but it was often difficult to decide on their age. Undernourished, scared, used to being overlooked and humiliated outside their own milieu. The information we received about them was often uncertain. Some of them had no living parents, some who were siblings, came together. Their language was simple French, a bit of Hebrew from their having read the Bible.
A few of them had attended schools or led a normal life the way we understand it. Begging was often the basis of the family’s income. Children may do well as beggars. Smoking had been common among the boys, alcohol on the other hand was no problem among Jews.
|Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen and Defense Minister Jens Christian Hauge were among those who visited the Jewish children on Grefsrud.|
It was thus an evening, late in April. It was raining and the Israeli and Norwegian flags were soaked next to the carriage entrance. An airplane had brought the children to Norway and they had continued in buses to Grefsrud in Botne, near Holmestrand on the Oslo Fjord. Then they warmed out, the dark skinned youngsters being tense, uncertain, with a bundle or a carton under their arms, feeling tired with their leaders having come from either Israel or Morocco. And we Norwegians were standing there drawn up, rather speechless for some seconds the only word we manage to say was “shalom”.
The evening hours passed quickly with brief medical examination, wash-ups and a meal. They ran from the dinner table with food hidden among their clothing, hid the bread underneath their mattresses, they no doubt felt that it was not so certain that food would be available in this place the following day.
They would rather lie down on the bedside rug in order to sleep, than what reminded them most of the slum at home. Toilets, tooth brushes, pajamas were rather ridiculous to think about that evening. What a transition. Culture clash became sort of an empty phrase from begging to a laid table with full dishes of food from a glee kitchen, from dark African nights to bright summer nights in Vestfold, and saying goodnight at 8pm according to the schedule.
Some of them ran down the steep road to Holmestrand, perhaps dressed in pajamas outside their clothing the first night they wanted to get back home, but they always returned to the Children’s camp. We actually quite soon provided the window with black additional night curtain in order to keep the bright night away.
When we talked to them individually, circumspectly they would hold a lifted arm in front of their face since they believed that we would beat them. But it did not last long, only a few days and then they would come gradually, fifty children each of the four buildings housing the children, wandering, perhaps singing into the dining room.
Yes even the ringing of the school bell became a natural beginning of the get together in the school house but we did have to build outdoors toilets, even though that was an unknown concept. And water closets in the houses were too bothersome during the day. And we learned after a while to say “laila tov’ (good night) in the evening and the children learned to sat “hei” and “takk for maten”
There was a small problem for which we were unprepared. It appeared that on the side of the Israelis, on the part of the Jews, it was thought that we ought to have a kosher kitchen. This was discussed. It was an economic question since we in that case that to have double sets of implements for the dining table as well as for the kitchen.
|Marcus Levin, American Joint Distribution Committee in Norway|
We discussed it with the representative for the American Joint Distribution Committee in Norway, Marcus Levin. He showed great understanding for this problem and it ended with the Joint Distribution Committee paying the expenses, connect with double sets of dining and kitchen equipment. I hardly think that a strictly orthodox Jew would call it a full satisfactory solution, but with a certain modicum of justification we could say that we had a kosher kitchen for the children.
The leader, the secretary and head nurse, all of us lived in the Children’s camp. Actually the entire administrative staff came from Botne and resided there, as was also the case with the technical staff, the laundry works, the kitchen help, the cleaning people and the janitor.
The majority of those who worked directly with the children were Jews from Israel or from North Africa and European countries. They spoke French and Hebrew, but English was mainly the language used in other connections. Internal reports were written in German, French or English.
It was difficult for Israel to spare social workers and other professional for work in Norway on a special project, which the children’s camp was at that time - the state of Israel was so new. Their people were needed at home. We therefore supplemented the workers for the children with Norwegians, students and professional for the School of Social work, from the university and the teachers’ colleagues and it was not difficult to obtain co-workers.
During the early days, with all the medical examinations, a number of medical students came to our aid. It became an exciting milieu, an exotic one. The connections with Israel made it especially of great interest. Contact between all staff members were very positive. And our task, which we were cooperating to complete, was so exciting that it was a matter of course that there existed a good open and close contact.
CONTACT WITH LOCAL ENVIRONMENT
The Children’s camp was located in Botne near the city of Holmestrand. The military camp at Grefsrud during the Second World war had signified fear and terror to its environment. German uniforms, roars of command, wild parties at the casino. Then came the years following the war, with prisoner of war and displaced persons, with the tragedies and problems of the postwar period. Here they had been living with all that practically right outside the doors of their own homes.
And now in the summer of 1949 there came 200 dark skinned children form Africa. It is quite clear that the people in the area remained skeptical. And during the early days even weeks the skepticism was well grounded. It was a good thing that a major part of the workers resided in the Botne and could talk to families and friends and explain.
And after a while we could invite small groups to visit us so that they could see and hear the children at close range. Their hearts would melt and friendship was created, in spite of the lack of linguistic contact. We had very good contacts with humanitarians and information organizations.
They collected yarn and knitted for the children and this was at a time in which we in Norway went without many things. Not many months passed before the children had received white blouses and shirts with blue embroidery with Israeli patterns, partly sewn by ourselves and partly but able and kind neighbor. All the children could dress up on Sabbath eves and days of celebration.
On the first 17th of May, we experienced at the Children’s camp, the head of the Grefsrud camp delivered the speech of the day in Holmestrand, and our children took part in the children’s parade together with the Norwegian school children. It was a wonderful sight.
And we competed with our neighbors in soccer and important games took place. Norwegian children came form their schools and visited us and soon one could hear Jewish children’s games from children’s voices in the street on Holmestrand as well as Norwegian children’s songs with markedly French accents at the Children’s camp.
THE DISTANT FAMILIES
We who were working at the Children’s camp were asked to visit various organizations in the cities of Vestfold in order to tell them about our work at the camp with words and pictures.
The contact that meant most to us consisted of Sunday visits to farms in the county of Vestfold. One Sunday each month the Camp was emptied of children. Al the children had received invitations to farms in the country. Two children perhaps two siblings or three or four were called for or brought and received some insight in Norwegian family life and the work on a farm.
The children enjoyed these Sundays and the Israeli instructors thought this was a very important experience for the children to meet with. Close friendships were created. On the last Sunday of their Norwegian stay the children returned with their arms full of gifts from their Norwegian hosts. Household items, useful things but also many beautiful and permanent objects which I am quite certain they still have to this day in their homes in Israel on shelves and in book cases.
Visits by the Holmestrand school music corps to the Children’s camp were very popular. And we too brought something along, music and singing when we visited Holmestrand.
It was important that our co-workers who came from Israel gained knowledge of Norwegian society. Our large room with the open fireplace in our school building was ideal for lectures. And it turned out to be many important gatherings. One series of lectured featured various members of the Norwegian parliament as well as speakers from the National Organization and a variety of the Norwegian organizations. We had among others a series of lectures on child psychology by Ase Gruda Skard.
Welfare work to benefit both children and adults at the Children’s’ Camp was headed by Herman von der Lippe who later on headed the municipality of Oslo’s work for children and young people. His father was at one time the head of the State Theater, Riksteateret, and we made many valuable contacts with artists who visited the Children’s camp and gave us all very memorable evenings.
And of course we brought children as well as the adults to places outside the county of Vestfold. We visited the city of Drammen, as well as Oslo. The adult staff members saw a few performances in the theater performances of Ibsen’s plays, visited the Vigeland park as well as the Munch Museum and the Folk Museum with the children.
|Herman von der Lippe|
CONTACT WITH ISRAEL AND JEWISH ORGANIZATION
It will be apparent from our large archive covering the children’s camp that we had numerous visitors by individual persons by schools and organizations. Among these visitors there were many Jewish groups and individuals from Norway and from other countries. And articles were written and published copies of which were sent us.
This is shown by the archive and I assume that our guest book has also become part of the archive. We kept in touch by letter especially with the leader Jochanan Omri who as a resident at the kibbutz Sha'ar HaAmakim was our closest contact in Israel.
I visited the country ten years later in 1959 and lived at Sha'ar HaAmakim. I was told about the children and how things had fared with them. Many of them had already started their own families and were in the military and engaged in various types of work.
Twenty years later in 1960 children and leaders of the Children’s camp came together. They wrote later to us. It is to be found in the “little archive of Holmestrand" and signed by among other Jochanna Omri, our able leader.
|Kibbutz Sha'ar HaAmakim|
We were invited to attend an affair in New York in 1950 while we were still working at the Children's camp for a meeing in New York. I had come directly from the Children’s camp and could tell the story of the 200 Jewish children to a Jewish gathering.
In 1956 I was also asked to visit the Jewish Women’s organization Hadassah in the US and to a lecture tour with 36 lectures in places between New York and China.
Mathilde Oftedal Broch, Nov 1989