Thursday, March 21, 2013

Henrietta Samuel testifying at the District Court in Jerusalem, November 1951. Courtesy Yad Vashem

H E N R I E T T A   S A M U E L

"My husband said to me, as he had already 
repeatedly said in 1940: “I, as a Rabbi, shall not leave my community in this dangerous hour”. 

The following are parts of the testimony of Ester Samuel-Cahn’s mother, Henrietta Samuel, during the Eichman trial. Her story is also intertwined with complimenting remarks based on her son Elchanan’s and daughter Ester's stories, as well on other sources.

Q. How many Jews were living in Oslo when the Germans entered Norway in April 1940?

A. At that time there were 1700 Jews in Norway.

Q. Do you know how many lived in Oslo at that time?

A. In Oslo there lived about 1200.

Q. What was the situation of the Jews in Norway just before the entry of the Germans?

The Jews had a free unhampered life in Norway and felt at home there. They lived in good economic circumstances. There was no anti-Semitism.

Q. What was the situation of the Jews from 1940 until the beginning of 1942 during the German occupation?

A. At the beginning of the German occupation, from 1940 to 1942 the Jews lived in the illusion that in Norway, the country of Henrik Wergeland and Fridtjof Nansen, Hitler’s Jewish laws could not be applied.

Q. What was the first anti-Jewish measure you experienced?

A. At the beginning of 1942 all Jews had to have their identity cards stamped with “Jude”. Sometime later, the Jews had to hand in their radio sets. However, a month later, the Norwegian non-Jews also had to hand over their radios, with the exception only of members of Quisling’s Norwegian Nazi Party; they were allowed to keep their radio sets.

Elchanan tells that in the beginning of the German occupation he continued to attend elementary school until all schools were closed. The reason for closing the schools was the refusal of the teachers to cooperate with the Germans, who demanded to educate the children in a pro German spirit, and use Nazi textbooks. The Nazis closed the schools also. 

Elchanan was interviewed on February 1st, 1979, by Ms. Buny Gurewitz., for the ‘Center for Holocaust Studies’ in Brooklyn, N.Y. The tape number is OH 79-15 SuC Rg 546. Mother’s testimony is indented in the text. 

A well-known Norwegian Statesman, known for his expeditions and research of the North Pole, in 1923, Nansen prepared, for the Association of Nations, a treaty about help to refugees because they needed the buildings as dwellings for the German soldiers. After the closing of the schools the teaching continued in private homes. There was a claim that the Jews were listening to the B.B.C., something prohibited by occupying power. But just a month later, also the general public had to hand in their radios. Only members of Quisling’s Nazi party were allowed to keep their radios.
Q. Mrs. Samuel, when did you first come in contact with the Gestapo directly?

A. In Trondheim, the northernmost Jewish community in the world, there were about 500 Jews. The first Jewish victims died there.

Q. Can you tell us briefly in what circumstances this happened?

A. There was a curfew. One Jew returned home a little late and was shot dead on the street.
Q. When was your late husband first arrested by the Germans?

A. Shortly after the Trondheim affair it started in Oslo; all Jews named Bernstein – they were looking for a spy by the name Bernstein – had to report to the police. The physician Dr. Paul Bernstein was arrested, while the others named Bernstein were sent home. During the summer, Dr. Bernstein stayed in Naersnes, a small village in the Oslo Fjord, and the result was that all Jewish families who spent that summer in Naersnes on the Oslo Fjord had to report to the Gestapo when they returned home, among them my late husband.

Q. How many times was your late husband arrested after the incident?

A. My husband, together with the twelve men who had been in Naersnes, had to report to the Gestapo five or six times. Once my husband came home and told me he had received hints that he should disappear.

Q. Who gave him the hint?

A.  One of the Gestapo officials. (Elchanan says that a Gestapo Commander asked him: “Are you still here?” [Sind Sie noch immer hier?)

Q. And did he listen to this suggestion, to this recommendation?

A. My husband said to me, as he had already repeatedly said in 1940: “I, as a Rabbi, shall not leave my community in this dangerous hour.” Our mother probably meant the suggestion of our uncle Joshua, in blessed memory, (who passed away on December 14th, 2003), that we should flee Norway and come to him to Teheran, through the Soviet Union which borders on north-east Norway. It is possible that she hinted to other suggestions of escape.

Q. What happened then?

A. The men in Oslo, among them my late husband, were again called in to the Gestapo on 2 September 1942, and did not come home again. 
Q. Does this mean all Jewish men in Oslo?

A. No. On 2 September, it involved only the men who had been in Naersnes.

Q. Did you find out where your husband was when he did not return? 

A. The underground movement saw to it that the twelve families concerned were informed the same day.

Q. And did they inform you where your husband was?

A. The men were taken to Grini, the Norwegian concentration camp near Oslo.

Q. Did you try to see him there?

A. All my efforts to get a visiting permit through the Gestapo were in vain. So were the requests of the Jewish Community to let the Rabbi officiate at least on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Even the application of the Jewish community to the Gestapo with such a request, and their thought that such a request had a chance of being granted, shows that still in year 1942 there was large amount of naivety about the true character of the German occupation force. 

Q. Did he take anything with him when he went to the Gestapo on that day, 2 September, belongings, clothes?

A. My husband went with the clothes he was wearing, without saying goodbye to me or the children, because we believed he would return as he had on previous occasions.

 Q. How many children do you have?

A. I have 3 children.

Q. When did you first learn that your husband was no longer in Norway?

A. On 21 November Inge came to visit me …

Here the flow of mother’s story was interrupted. In an answer to a question she explained that Ingebjorg Sletten Fosstvedt was one of the leaders of the Norwegian underground, who lived close to where we lived. Members of the underground had to operate extremely secretively in helping Jews, because if caught, they could await the death sentence.

She told me: “Last night your husband was deported to Germany, I was struggling with myself whether to call you. Perhaps this was the last time you could have seen him”.

The imprisonment of father in Grini thus lasted 80 days. A Norwegian prisoner who was imprisoned in there together with our father, testifies that his conduct was “quiet and relaxed”.

Q. Do you also know how your husband was taken to Germany?

A. My husband was deported on the Monte Rosa on 20 November 1942, together with the other eighteen Jewish inmates of Grini.

Q. Mrs. Samuel, you said your husband was arrested on 2 September, together with others, with twelve persons who had been in Naersnes. When were the other Jewish men arrested in Norway?

A. On 26 October all Jewish men were arrested in a lightning operation.

Q. Presiding Judge: All the Jewish men in the whole of Norway?

 A. The operation was meant to apply to the whole of Norway, to all Jewish men. However, thanks to the Norwegian underground movement, some went into hiding.

Q. State attorney Bach: Who actually made the arrests, both times, of the Jewish men in Norway?

A. The operation was carried out by the Norwegian police accompanied by the Germans.

There was no coordination between the Gestapo who arrested our father, and the Norwegian police who acted under the Germans. When the Jewish men were arrested, the police came to us, wanting to arrest Rabbi Julius Samuel, not knowing that he already was arrested in Grini.

Here we have to add a few details, not included in mother’s testimony: In the middle of November all men older than 65 were released from the prison Berg, where the men were imprisoned. This release arouse hope among the Norwegian Jews thinking: “if now the old men are being released, soon the others will also be released”. But this optimism was short lived. 

On November 25th, when our brother Elchanan came back from school, mother told him that all those released from Berg were to be arrested again. 

Elchanan tells about this episode: “I made a list of all the old men I remembered, and I, as a child – I was a little over ten – went from one old person to another, with intention to warn him and convince him to leave home and come with me – I would explain that we had connections with the Norwegian underground -- so that he could be hidden and later brought over to Sweden. Everywhere I went, I found out that I was too late, the Germans had been there before me. 

In Mr. Siv’s house the Germans had also been, but Mr. Siv was absent, and so he was not arrested. I waited and waited until Mr. Siv came home. I tried to convince him to come with me, but he refused. I went home and told mother to go to him, maybe she would succeed in convincing him. Just as mother came to Mr. Siv’s house, he came down the stairs escorted by the police – we were too late.”

Q. Do you know when and on what ship the Norwegian Jewish men who were arrested in October were deported?

A. The men were carried off to Germany together with the women and children who were arrested on 26 November 1942, and were taken straight to the ship Donau, with the men from the Berg camp who were arrested on 26 October.

Q. Presiding Judge: Which women and children were arrested? We have not yet heard of this.

A.  On 26 November a lightning operation, similar to that against men, was carried out in Oslo at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Q. And the women and children were also arrested?

A. In this operation arrests were made especially of women and children.

Q. How many Jews were deported from Norway altogether?

A. Half the Jews of Oslo, about 750, were taken to Auschwitz. Twelve survived.

Q. State attorney Bach: Mrs. Samuel, did you know a man named Kai Feinberg?

A. Kai Feinberg is the son of Elias Feinberg, a son of one of the most respected Jewish families in Oslo.

Q. Did he come back from Auschwitz?

A. He is one of those twelve from Auschwitz who remained alive.

Q. Tell me, Mrs. Samuel, what happened to the other Jews, those who were not deported and who did not hide inside Norway?

A. During the night of 25 to 26 November, the underground tried to warn as many Jewish persons as possible that danger was imminent and that they had to go into hiding.

Q. And what happened to these Jews? How did they manage to escape?

A. Very slowly, with the opening up of trails and with the development of political conditions, these Jews were saved by the underground movement and taken to Sweden. This was a very dangerous operation because the trails and the borders were closely watched by German guards who patrolled there.

Q. And what happened to you and the children?

A. During the night of 25 to 26 November, I received a call from Inge: “Tonight it is very cold. I advise you to cover the children well.” That was enough for me. Telephone conversations were monitored. I understood the language, I understood there was danger. I woke my children and dressed them warmly.

Q. And what happened?

A. Inge came to us an hour later and transferred us, as well as my sister-in-law and her children. My brother-in-law was hospitalized for a hernia operation. As I said, my sister-in-law with her two children and I with my three children were transferred by Inge to another neighbor in a house nearby. Inge took upon herself to keep us hidden. There, however, we could stay for only one day. There were children in the house, and this Christian family was endangered. The children might tell people: We have Jews living with us.

On October 10th 1960, Kai Feinberg gave a declaration to Mr. Yochanan Bein, vice-consul of the Israeli Embassy in Norway, about what happened to him during the holocaust, (Yad Vashem archives, TR 3-34). This declaration was in the hands of the judges in the Eichman trial, and their questions stemmed from it. (A more detailed testimony about his arrest by the Nazis and his stay in the various camps was given by Feinberg to an investigating Norwegian court on January 17th 1946. This testimony is included in a protocol of various testimonies, dated May 20th, 1947. A copy of this protocol can be found in Yad Vashem. In his testimony, Feinberg mentions our father, but did not give any specifics about his death.) 

We learned what happened to us that night also from another source, namely the book of a woman by the name Sigrid Helliesen Lund, who was active in the underground, and played an active role in our rescue. In her book “Alltid Underveis” (“Always Traveling”), pages 96-97, she writes: I understood immediately what it meant: It was concerning women and children. Again we had to leave our homes and act. 

There were many homes where we were unsuccessful in entering, but Mrs. Samuel, the wife of the Rabbi, who was the first to whom we went, was home in Melzersgate #3. She and her two older children were brought to my brother who lived in #1 of that street. 

I took little Amos to the two sisters Erichsen, who lived on a street crossing Colbjoernsensgate. Just as I left the entrance, a siren went off. This was an excellent method for vacating the streets of people. I ran alongside the green fence of the Swedish Embassy, (which was located on Melzersgate). A German inspection vehicle with search-lights directed towards gardens and alleys came zooming by. I lied down, with Amos underneath me, and we waited … The light hit us, but we were not detected, and Amos was brought to safety”.

Q. After that day, how long did you remain in Norway?

A. We were housed in an empty villa outside Oslo. My son, ten years old at the time, drew back terrified on entering the house: “We cannot stay here,” he said, “there is a radio in the house, Nazis live here.” I had to calm him down and explain: “If Inge sent us here, then I am safe.”

Elchanan later said that we were told that indeed the owner of the villa was an active Nazi, but he was away in North Norway as a supervisor of the Work-Camps where the Norwegian teachers, who had refused to cooperate with the German occupation, were held as prisoners. His wife was active in the underground. Thus it seems that we were hid in a safe place.

We were five children and two grownups, and a staff organized by Inge kept us supplied with food and clothing. They were all Homefront fighters who worked during the day, followed their professions, and used the nights to fight for the Homefront.

As a recognition of her activities in the Norwegian underground, it was recently decided (June 2006) to posthumously recognize Mrs. Helliesen Lund as one of the “Righteous among the Nations”. Mrs. Ingebjorg Sletten Fosstvedt got this recognition already in the sixties in Jerusalem, and planted a tree in the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Q. How long were you in that villa, Mrs. Samuel?

A. We stayed only eight days in this villa, as we had priority, because of the children, to be taken across the border as quickly as possible.

Q. When did you cross the border into Sweden, Mrs. Samuel?   

A. During the night of 3 to 4 December 1942 (first night of Hanukka.)

Daughter Ester Samuel-Cahn

Q. Perhaps you will only say briefly who brought you to the border and how you crossed the border.

A. We were a transport of forty persons in two lorries. The lorries had permission to transport potatoes. We were split between the two lorries. Mother and we were in one lorry and Elchanan in the other. He believed that the underground purposely did not transport all members of the family in the same lorry, like: (Genesis, 32, 8) “if Esau come to the one camp and smite it, then the camp which is left shall escape.”

We had to behave like potatoes under the tarpaulins: not a word must be spoken. The children were given sleeping pills. And we were warned of danger if the lorry should stop en route. “Those will be Germans searching: not a word from you, you are potatoes.”The papers reporting on the trial, said that upon hearing this, Eichman smiled in his glass cage. The last stretch could not be traversed by the vehicles. We had to cross on foot with the children, in minus twenty degrees temperature (The two of us, our brother Elchanan and our two cousins, Hannelore and Gunther (Lore Frank, presently in the US, and Gerry Samuel, presently in Israel).

Q. How old were your children, Mrs. Samuel? 

A. My children were 3, 9 and 10 years old.   

Q. Did the whole group reach Sweden safely?    

A. Thank God, we managed to cross into Sweden safe and sound. Swedish police whom we met asked us why we stole the border. We answered that we had to escape from Norway because of the persecution of the Jews. They permitted us to go to a refugee camp in Alingsaas, east of Gothenburg, where we stayed a few days.

 Q. Do you know how many Jews altogether reached Sweden with the help of the Norwegian underground?

A. About 850 Norwegian Jews were saved by the underground and taken to Sweden.

Q. Mrs. Samuel, did you ever hear from your husband after he had been taken to Germany?

A. In 1943, in January or February, I received an exchange immigration certificate to Palestine, sent to Sweden through my brothers, thanks to the help of the late Chief Rabbi Herzog, of blessed memory. I applied to the Swedish Foreign Ministry, which tried to have my husband sent to an exchange camp.

At that time, father was no longer among the living. There was also a formal application by the Swedish Government to the German authorities to release father. The Germans ignored the application. (In an internal German document there exists a reference to this application, worded: “We have no intention to give the Swedish embassy a receipt of their letter, or to answer it”. (This is mentioned in the article by Leni Yachil: “Acts of rescue in Scandinavia (in Hebrew), Yad Vashem, Collection of Research about the Holocaust and the Uprising, Vol. 6, page 161). 

I used to send packages through the Red Cross and once, I believe it was in 1943, confirmation came that Reb Shemuel (Code name” for Rabbi Samuel.)  had received the packet.

Q. Did you ever receive a letter from your husband?

A. I never received a letter and never heard a word. From Grini too, correspondence had been forbidden. I have a document from the Arolsen Archives saying my husband perished in Auschwitz already on 16 December 1942.

Our father perished in Auschwitz on December 16th, 1942. The fact that he was no longer among the living reached us in the summer of 1945, while we were still in Sweden, but we found out the exact date of his death only after we came to Israel. Details about his death are based on conflicting evidence. In the documents of the Arolsen Archives, to which our mother alluded, it says: “Transported to Germany with S.S. ‘Monte Rosa’ on 20 N with S.S. ‘Monte Rosa’ on 20 November 1942. Probably gassed by the Germans. Died on 16.12.1942.”

A different testimony reached us indirectly through someone who was imprisoned with our father in Auschwitz: On November 10th, 1943 a Jewish Norwegian watchmaker who reached Sachsenhausen from Auschwitz, told Odd Nansen, a Norwegian Statesman who was imprisoned there, and was interested in the lot of the Norwegian Jews which were sent to Auschwitz, that a day when our father returned from work, he collapsed on the stairs of the barrack, and died.

Exactly nineteen years after the death of our father in Auschwitz, on the eight of Tevet 1961, Eichman was sentenced to death by the Regional Court in Jerusalem. The sentence was carried out during the night between May 31st and June 1st, 1962.

Shortly after our arrival to Sweden, we got an apartment in Stockholm. Our uncle Ludwig, in blessed memory, (passed away in Stockholm, March 7th, 2002), a brother of our father who lived there already before the war, was able to obtain a permit enabling us to live in Stockholm. (Generally, refugees were not permitted to live in Stockholm.)

Most of that time period we did not know anything certain about our father. In spite of this, our mother managed to keep her spirits up: with a lot of effort our mother managed to give us, as far as possible, a regular life, and to educate us in true Torah-spirit, even though this was often involved with difficulties and arguments. Our mother, may she rest in peace, managed also to be active in social work, especially among the refugees from the camps and those rescued, from all over Europe, who came to Stockholm towards the end of World War II. She opened her home to them, even though our apartment had only two rooms (one bedroom). (This is told in the diary of Odd Nansen (English abbreviated translation, from the Norwegian,) “Day after Day”, page 437. 

The advantage of this testimony is that it is directly concerned with our father, as opposed to the Arolsen document which states ‘probably’, assuming that the fate of our father was the same as that of the others, but not based on an explicit German list of the persons gassed to death. On the other hand, one must take into account that this is an indirect testimony – Nansen telling what he heard from the watchmaker in Sachsenhausen – and not a formal testimony, told in front of a court. (The watchmaker also told Nansen that father’s brother, our uncle Ferdinand was killed in Auschwitz, which certainly is false.)

Odd Nansen, an architect by profession, was the son of Fridtjof Nansen. During WWII he was active in rescuing refugees from European countries, and bringing them to Norway. He was a friend of our father, and helped him in rescuing our uncle Ferdinand and his family from Germany to Norway.

After the war, mother went for a few days from Stockholm to Oslo. In the cellar of our home in Melzersgate # 3, the house where we lived before the war, our mother found the big wooden bin, where the books which belonged to us, both Jewish and secular, had been stored, together with various papers and some artifacts. She was happy to see that none of these had been harmed by the other tenants of the house. Furthermore, she found out that whatever she and our father did not manage to put into the bin before we escaped, the neighbors put there immediately after we left.

The furniture and other items which remained in the vacated apartments of the Jews, were taken by Norwegian citizens, cooperating with the Nazis, to their own homes. Everything was carefully noted down by the officials. After the war a law was made which enabled the survivors to get back their belongings, and thus also we got our furniture back.

Shortly before Shavuot (Pentecost), 1946, we were privileged in coming to Israel. Here our mother succeeded in rebuilding the ‘House of Samuel’, and to fill it with the spirit which previously dwelled in the home of our father and mother in Oslo.

By the initiative of leaders of Keren Kajemet in Norway, the Jewish community planted a grove in memory of our father in the Forest of Martyrs, on way to Beth Shemesh. The place is called ‘Samuel Place’, and in its midst is a stone commemorating our father. It also commemorates other Norwegian Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The grove is located near the crossing to Eshtaol, left to the road leading up to Zoba and Ramat Raziel.

Mother, thank G-d, reached an old age. She died in Jerusalem at the age of 96, on May 5th, 2004. She was blessed with having 20 grandchildren and over 100 great-grandchildren during her lifetime.

In the new museum of Yad Vashem, which was inaugurated in 2005, there is a showcase in memory of our father, showing a few artifacts which remained from his service as Rabbi in Oslo, and a brief summary of his activities.

In Oslo a Center for the Holocaust was completed. It exhibits the deeds of the underground, and  commemorates Jewish and non-Jewish Norwegian victims of the Holocaust. The inauguration took place this summer (2006).

After further investigation it seems, however, that this account is inaccurate. Evidently mother and Inge went back to the apartment after we had gone to the neighbors in hiding, and carried down books, additional documents, etc. until it was dangerous to stay there any longer, and stored them in the bin. After our escape to Sweden Inge packed everything in wooden boxes and had them stored with a member of the underground.

May the soul of our father be cherished in the treasure of the living, with the souls of scores and multitudes of Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

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A ceremony in memory of Norwegian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was held at Martyrs' Forest in the Jerusalem Hills. The ceremony took place on the 70th anniversary of the transport that carried some 530 Norwegian Jews to Auschwitz on November 26th, 1942 read more