Friday, January 8, 2016





At first my life in Norway was totally confusing. Everything was different than what I had been accustomed to. I slept on the Murphy bed in the living room, instead of in my own room. My mother went food shopping and cooked and cleaned, and when walking on the streets of Oslo I heard a language of which I did not understand one word.

It was imperative that I start school as soon as possible, since I had missed more than four months already. So a few days after I arrived in Oslo my mother took me to a neighborhood school and tried as best she could to explain the situation to the principal. 

It was suggested that I start 4th grade, which in fact was the right grade for my age (10). I would just listen in the beginning and do as much homework as I could. The principal assured my mother that I would learn the language in no time at all, because I was still very young. Little did he know how quickly I would speak and act like any other Norwegian little girl! At the same time I was enrolled in Cheder, after school Jewish classes. Here I met Jewish children my age, and one of them, Celia Century, became my lifelong friend.

My first day of school was quite an event. All the girls in the class wanted to be my friend, I was a celebrity, a girl who could not speak their language. But it was Else who became my ‘best friend.’ She would come to our apartment every afternoon, we would do our homework together, and since there was no other way out, I had to try to speak to her in Norwegian. That was the whole idea of course, and with Else’s encouragement it took only about three months until I was able to speak Norwegian perfectly, without a trace of an accent. It was not long before I refused to speak German to my parents in public, such as on streetcars, in stores etc. I was doing well in school, and was soon a better student than my mentor Else.

On their many business trips to Norway my parents had befriended the Meiranovsky family. Now that we were settled the Meiranovskys, despite their age difference, became my parents’ closest friends. Moritz and Rosa Meiranovsky had five sons, who at the time were already all grown up. One son, Elias, lived in the United States, four sons lived in Oslo, of whom two were married. 

The youngest, Sigmund, was nineteen years old, and he was my hero. To Sigmund I was the little sister he never had, and he was very proud of me, mainly because of my ‘scholastic achievementsí.’ He taught me how to ski and to hike in the mountainous areas around Oslo. I also became very close to his brother John who had recently married Beks. They lived in a lovely new apartment, and I was always welcome in their home.

The elder Meieranovskys were deported to Auschwitz together with two of their sons and their families. All perished in the camp. Sigmund’s is a long story. Suffice it to say that he left Oslo on April 11, and joined the Norwegian army in an as yet unoccupied area. It was not long until they too had to surrender to the Germans. Sigmund escaped to Sweden, from where he made his way to the United States. Ultimately he decided to get into the fight against the Germans again and went to Toronto, where he joined a contingent of Norwegians who were training to become airmen at a place called ‘Little Norway.’ 

Upon completion of their training, the airmen went to England, from where they flew bombing missions over Germany. Sigmund was shot down and taken prisoner of war. He managed to hide the fact that he was Jewish and tried to escape numerous times, unfortunately with little success. After liberation he returned to Norway for a short while and then emigrated to the United States. John and Beks fled to Sweden, where their only child, Rene, was born in 1944. They returned to Oslo after the war.

The Meiranovskys introduced me to an entirely new language - Yiddish, a language spoken by mostly East European Jews. The majority of the Jews in Norway (only about 1000 souls) had originally come from East European countries, and the older generation still spoke Yiddish at home. Yiddish is a colorful, expressive and melodious language which was rarely heard in Germany at the time.

The descendants of Rosa and Moritz Meiranovsky (changed to Meieran) played a very important role in my life. After the war Beks and John were our closest friends, and when I got married this friendship continued and included my husband. John died in his forties, but I never lost contact with Beks as long as she lived. We wrote letters to each other regularly and I visited her many, many times. When she was no longer able to write, in her eighties, I continued to send her news about my family and called her once a month at least. 

I know she treasured my letters and would read them over and over again. The last time I saw her was in 2002 on her 90th birthday. She died in December that year. Sigmund too has been part of my life. Our correspondence has died down, simply because he no longer likes to write, and he does not own a computer. Beks’ daughter Rene has taken over where her mother left off. We e-mail each other frequently and I am happy that she too feels that there is a special bond between our two families.

I cannot recall too much of the summer of 1939, my first summer in Norway, other than that it was a calm and quite carefree time - at least for me. We moved into a larger apartment in an adjoining building on Kirkeveien, and now I had a room all to myself. My mother, although losing her patience with me ever so often, seemed to adjust quite well. My father’s health was better than it had been for a long time, despite the fact that he still had a festering wound in his back, which refused to heal because of his diabetes. No one knew about this problem except the family doctor, my mother and I. The wound needed a new dressing every day, and my mother tirelessly took care of it.

The days were long and bright, and for a ten-year old girl there was always something to do. I played hopscotch with my friends on the sidewalk outside our building and often went to see our new neighbor, Fru (Mrs.) Prager, when she was at home. Herr and Fru Prager who were Jewish, were in their late fifties, childless, and seemed to enjoy my visits. During the day Fru Prager often helped out in her mother’s candy store. Beks and John lived very close by, and I would walk over to their apartment on a late afternoon to say hallo. On Sundays we would sometimes take the ferry to Bygdoy, a peninsula in the Oslo Fjord to go swimming. That was the highlight of the week.

In the fall of 1939 I began grade 5 and felt quite grown-up. Norwegian newspapers and radio broadcasts were full of news about the war in Europe. But it was far away, and did not concern me - or so I thought. My parents were in constant touch by letters with the family in Cologne. They were still living in the house on Marienburgerstrasse and Onkel Gustav was still waiting for his visa. Realizing the danger that the family was in, my mother urged my aunt and uncle to let Elfriede come to Norway, while they waited for their visa. This was an extremely difficult decision for Onkel Gustav and Tante Selma. It was one thing to part from your only child for a few months, knowing that you would see each other again, but quite another to send your daughter off all by herself, while you were unable to leave, and did not know what lay ahead.

But in the end, late in 1939, Elfriede too arrived in Oslo by ship, all by herself as I had before her. The coming months were not easy for her. Although happy to be with me, she was often homesick for her parents. She did not start school, because my parents hoped that my aunt and uncle would receive their visa soon and come to Norway to pick up Elfriede on their way to the United States. It would be more than three months.

By early April the threat of war was palpable even in Norway. Almost by a miracle Tante Selma and Onkel Gustav had received their visa and came to Oslo. We were happy finally to be together again, but we knew it could not last. By then both Elfriede and I were eleven years old and understood that a long separation might be ahead of us. The day of departure came all too soon. The evening before my uncle and my father were inconsolable. They had always been very close and they feared that they would never meet again.

The following morning, I believe it was April 4, 1940 we accompanied my aunt and uncle and Elfriede to the ship. They went on board only to be told that they would have to disembark and take a train to Bergen, where the ship would meet them. No explanation was given. What could this mean? That evening we were all upset and apprehensive and after a sleepless night we said our goodbyes once again at the train station and they left. Despite the delay they managed to get away in time.

Four days later the war broke out in Norway.

With kind permission from
Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors in Canada. Published by the