SOME OF THE HOMELESS AND TEMPEST-TOSSED CONTINENTAL JEWS START LIFE ANEW IN NORWAY
by journalist students
(The authors of this article are American students who attended the Summer School for Americans. They have decided to remain in Norway to do freelance writing.)
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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send theses the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
This inscription can be found on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, but today there should be a Statue of Liberty in Oslofjord.
For it is in Norway, a land of 3,000, 000 people where at least some of the “homeless tempest tost” are being given the opportunity to start a new life.
Situated in Ystehede, in the town of Halden, are 150 of the most unwanted people in the world. Jews. They come mainly from Poland, Hungary and Rumania.
Many of them have been in concentration camps, whose names are known to Norwegians and the world: Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald and Oranienburg. Others have been constantly fleeing and hiding from German oppression for many years, citizens of no country, refugees from all.
The Norwegian government took 400 of these people to Norway in June. Two camps were set up at Ystehede and Mysen. Her reasons were both practical and humane. For here were people skilled in many trades who could contribute to Norway’s economy.
And here were people, long the object of man’s inhumanity to man for whom common decency shouted: “Let them live again.”
October marks five months for these people in Norway. Are they happy there? Will they become Norway’s new citizens? What are their reasons? Will Norway take care of them?
The answers to these questions are not simply yeses and noes.
Rosa Braude of Oslo, social worker at Ystehede camp said: “I am a Norwegian Jew and think like a Norwegian. Sometimes I get very angry at them. They are nervous, impatient and even ungrateful. But when I look at these people, I must stop and think again, for we cannot judge them as ordinary people. They have suffered too much.
O.F. Olden, 68 years old Norwegian Quaker and “Housefather” for the camp, believes that much of their gratitude can be explained by reason of their camp mentality.” This he defines as “egoistic individualism.”
“It is a struggle for existence where each man must help himself. It shows itself further in violent distrust for setting up any committees from their own group for the purpose of self-government. Each man is his own committee.
“This “camp mentality” is not peculiar to the Jews,” says Olden. “Norwegians acted the same way.” Mr Olden speaks from experience. He was in a German concentration camp during the war.
When we asked some of the Jewish persons in the camp why they weren’t more grateful and patient, they smiled. One man with the blue tattooed number of Auschwitz conspicuous on his bare right forearm said: “How long must a man be grateful to other men? We do not ever want to be grateful again to anybody for giving us something. We wanted to be able to give now instead.”
The great fact that stands out from all other after talking to these people, is their desperate need for an apartment of their own. To be able after a day’s work to return to their own home where they may wash and eat and read the newspaper, is the penultimate of their desires.
Yet Ystehede is no concentration camp. In fact to see the children playing and the older people sunning themselves on the banks of the Iddefjord, talking quality to each other, one might take it for a vacation spot. But listen to the people and try to understand.
“This is a camp” said a Polish Jew. “No camp is a good camp. If we had the finest of luxuries here, we would not want to stay. It is a camp.”
This deep desire on the part of the people to regain and feel again the dignity which is man’s to fashion for themselves a life worth living, has taken another form besides that of the longing for homes.
“Everybody wanted to have a child,” said Rosa Braude. “Many were afraid they would be unable to after what they had been through. Most of them have no family, no mother, father or relative. A child is a symbol of a new life.”
Just as having a child representing a start on a new life for these people they also represent new citizens for Norway.
For while the older people will probably become good citizens of Norway, they will never forget that they are Jews first, citizens second.
“How can we forget that we are Jews?” asked one of them. You tell me that here are many of the young Jews in America who act as Americans and never remember that they are Jews. Believe me, they will know very quickly that they are Jewish if a Hitler ever comes to America.”
The same man answered and a group of Jews around us nodded their agreement: “It is true there is a democratic government in Norway and there is a democratic government in Norway and there is no anti-Semitism there. But there was a democracy in Germany too once and a Hitler came. We can never be sure.”
O.E. Olden, the Norwegian Quaker House-father is confined that these Jewish people will be an asset to Norway: “For after what they have gone through,” he said, ”if you give them a chance at life now, they will be vigilant of their freedom in the future.” The problem of assimilation is not very acute, Mr. Olden believes. “Threat them as equals and they will be good citizens of Norway. These people are not orthodox in their religion. They are not business people. They are workers with skills, he declared."
"How can we believe in God?” spoke one man who till now had been quietly listening to us, “when we can’t even believe in people?" “No, we are not religious, but we still wish our children to have Jewish education to know something about Jewish culture.”
If anything can restore the faith of these people in their fellow man it is their experiences with the Norwegian workers.
“It is a wonderful thing to come into a job, yet to receive the same wages as other men who have been working there long before you.” The same man who had talked about God, said: “We have made good friend with the Norwegian men who work beside us. They do not think of us as Jews, but as working comrades.”
Many of them are working a paper mill factory until other jobs can be found to fit their special skills.
Asked what their political beliefs were, the group of men with whom we were talking, smiled and one said: “Of politics we can say nothing. For we are nothing now. When we have our own house, when we can read a paper and have a life again then there will be time to make up our minds what we shall be.”
Before we left Ystehede, we spoke to Theodore Hovda, one of six Norwegian instructors there. Hovda had been in Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany.
“To me these people are very good people. I love them very much,” he said. The problem of the Jewish displaced person cannot be solved by Norway alone. With the present housing shortage in Norway, the government is not planning to take any more of these people until adequate housing can be provided for them.
“The only way to solve the displaced person problem,” says Mayor Volckmar, in charge of the Jewish settlement program here, “is for every country to accept their quote.”