Thursday, March 14, 2013




Marcus Levin from the age of 21 
until his death  in 1965 witnessed many of the major historical events that greatly affected Jewish life in Norway.  

He was in reality the first Norwegian Jew who witnessed what had happened to the Jews who were deported from Norway in 1942 and 1943. 

1950: A memorial service took place in 
Oslo in memory of the plane crash that 
took place in Hurum, Norway in 
November 1949. Marcus Levin left, 
Golda Meir, center, Minister of Labor. 
Photo: Courtesy Irene Levin.

He was also strongly involved in refugee work before, during and after World War II, both in Norway and Sweden. After the war, because of his many contacts with international Jewish organizations he was able to collect funds for the Jewish communities in Oslo and Trondheim. These funds were used in part to build a modern Jewish community center in Oslo, as well as a new Jewish chapel at the cemetery at Helsfyr in Oslo.

Marcus Levin was born in Kristiania (subsequently Oslo) in 1899. The Levin family lived at that time at Osterhausgate 21, in the center of the Hausmann neighborhood, where most of the Jewish citizens had settled when they came to Oslo. He was one of nine siblings – the fifth child of Leib and Henriette Levin. During his lifetime, Jewish life in Norway had experienced great changes and had been exposed to a catastrophe of unbelievable dimensions.

Marcus Levin grew up in Rjukan, but spent his adolescence in Oslo. Rjukan is a small town in the county of Telemark (The Heroes from Telemark). There were a few other Jewish families living in Rjukan. The Levin family was the only family to become well established in that town.

However, Leib Levin realized that in the long run it would be impossible for his children to maintain their Jewish identity unless they were living in a larger Jewish environment. In 1918, the family returned to Oslo where Leib opened his own store on Markveien in Grünerløkka. During his later years he became very active in a Zionist organization.

Both Marcus and his siblings were active in Jewish youth organization in Oslo. It was small, yet thriving, in particular within the Organization for the Young Israelites. Marcus was an eager participant of that organization and arranged regularly summer camps for Jewish children. 

These were originally meant to counter-balance the Church’s “Israel Mission” which was an attempt to convert poor Jewish children to Christianity by offering them a summer camp vacation. Jewish youth organizations not only collected funds to run the summer camps, but also to finance a Jewish orphanage. In 1932, the organization built a small lodge in the countryside for Jewish children living in Baerum, on the outskirt of Oslo.

Marcus Levin center, year unknown. 
Courtesy Irene Levin

In the early 1920’s Marcus had, with Heiman Selikowitz, who later became his brother-in-law, established an organization called The Israelites Athletic Organization. Marcus Levin led the organization from 1925 to 1926. Unfortunately the organization did not last long, but it was to be remembered for a long time by some of the members!

Who does not remember those pleasant athletic evenings at Lokkegaten School's gymnastic hall - well, it may have been some 15 or 20 years ago - when Marcus Levin's commando voice was resonating within the walls of the gym as the boys worked very hard. Yes, there are some people who remember, and remember it well!

In the early 30s, Marcus Levin acquired over a store on Brugata in Oslo. He married Rosa Selikowitz, his “friend’s” sister in 1933. Julius Selikowitz, now his brother-in-law was interested in films and he shot some unique footage of Markus’ wedding day outside the Selikowitz family’s house on Calmeyers Gate 6. Their son, Leif Arild, was born in 1935 and their daughter Irene in 1938.

Levin’s was very involved early on, in the 1930s in the Jewish Relief organization, created in 1906 by Jews in Oslo that was primarily directed towards the needs of poor Jews in the city and elsewhere in the country. After the Russian revolution and the massacres of Jews in the Ukraine and Poland, the organization collected money to cover the needs of Jewish social needs for these areas. 

It was not until 1930 however that the organization really would become of significance in providing aid to Jews in extremely difficult situations in Norway. When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, there was a mass emigration of political and Jewish refugees. 

 It was extremely difficult, quasi impossible to obtain permission to settle in another country. Norway was one of the countries that had extremely strict asylum policies. Research indicates according to Prof. Per Ole Johansen, that that the immigration guidelines were discriminating against Jews.

Levin’s previous organizational experience must have been of great importance when he started tackling the refugee issues. He remained preoccupied by the refugee problems until his death. 

There is no doubt that the serious situation in Germany since 1933 and the rapid expansion of antisemitism must have been of great significance. In addition, it was the Jewish belief that you should always do good to other people and take care of your own. 

In the Diaspora the Jews developed a stronger focus on self-preservation. Marcus Levin was brought up in this very tradition. In a profile interview in the Jewish monthly newsletter Hatikwoh published in Oslo in October/November 1938, Marcus Levin’s obsession is described as following:

But now Marcus Levin is beginning to be “bothersome!” If you happen to meet him during the day, there is only one issue that occupies him – and that consumes all his time. He is one of those who feel that the Jews in Oslo have neglected their responsibilities towards the immigrants. 

Don’t misunderstand. Those who have been in charge of this work – first of all the merchant D. Goldberg and a few others – have his full respect and admiration for the efforts they have contributed for the refugees. But they were alone in their endeavor. Marcus Levin is now working to change the people’s mentality on this issue.

As of 1938 the American Jewish Joint Distribution committee (“the Joint”) started to play a role in the Norwegian-Jewish efforts to help the refugees. The Joint was established in USA in 1914 to help the needs of the Jews in Eastern Europe and Russia, which were, had in WWI acute humanitarian needs. From 1933 to 1939 the organization participated in helping 375,000 Jews out of Germany. This was a significant effort against all odds.

In 1938 the Jewish Relief Organization eventually changed its name to the Jewish Aid Society. Many Jews made great efforts to assist the Jewish refugees who immigrated to Norway. 

Elias Feinberg

Among them were Elias Feinberg, the leader of the aid organization. His skills as a social worker resulted in him becoming a mentor to Marcus Levin. Incidentally, Elias Feinberg's son, Kai Feinberg, was one of the 28 Norwegian Jews to survive the concentration camp. Subsequently, Kai Feinberg took the legacy of the Jewish congregation in Oslo, a position he held for close to 20 years. Herman Valner and Marcus Levin were also involved in the Aid organization.

Kai Feinberg

Mr. Valner was a successful businessman in Oslo. The state required a financial guarantee for each refugee of 5,000NKR, an average annual salary at that time. Prior to 1940, Valner's guarantees had provided financially for more than 20 refugees. Both Mr. Valner and Mr. Feinberg were subsequently deported to Auschwitz and killed.

Very few Jewish refugees received assistance in Norway due to extremely strict policies. Norway became however a transit country for refugees who were waiting for visas for entry to other nations. Most of the Jewish refugees in Norway had only temporary permission with no work permits. 

Marcus Levin, right. Year unknown. Courtesy: Irene Levin

In the fall of 1939 the Jewish Aid Society and the Nansen Refugee Award offered assistance to ca. 300 Jewish refugees. Most of them would require continuous assistance for housing and food. Ca. 350-400 refugees came to Norway in 1940. Most of them were stateless, having lost their citizenship when they left German, Austrian or Czech soil. Those who managed to escape from Norway to Sweden during the roundup in 1942 would later experience problems with returning to Norway.

When the Germans invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, Marcus Levin left Oslo and moved his family to Valdres. He then reported to service with the Norwegian Armed Forces and participated in the war, including the intense battle near Bagn

 When the Norwegian forces surrendered, he was taken prisoner of war. Due to his knowledge of the German language he was appointed a liaison between the prisoners and the German forces. He later returned to Oslo with his family once the relatively short prison time was over to assume normal activities.

In the meantime, the Jewish Aid Society had been forced by the Gestapo to inherit all social work for the Jewish refugees in Norway with the justification that Jews should not become a burden to the Norwegian state. This resulted in an even heavier load on the organization. Through organized effort, money was collected from the Jewish congregation in Oslo and Trondheim, representing a social tax.

The Norwegian Jews participated loyally. Certain Jews even gave beyond requirement to this cause. The first war years included a stepping up of the anti-Jewish politics, although it was not until January 1942 that the Police Department and the Norwegian police carried out a systematic recording of the country's Jews. 

The anticipation of something worse might take place, increased among the Norwegian Jews, but none of the Jews in Norway would ever imagine the final outcome of a catastrophe that awaited them. A summary of these events is outlined in Marcus Levin's personal writings (to be published at a later point).

Shortly before the state police ordered the arrest of male Jews on October 26, 1942, Marcus Levin went undercover. Two of his brothers, Leonard and Sigurd Levin, had already been arrested and were under German captivity in northern Norway and at Grini Prison. With his third brother, Alf Levin, and two of his brothers-in-law (the Selikowitz family) he was brought across the border to Sweden. His family followed on November 25th, the day before the action against women and children in Oslo took place.

The escape was not organized through one of the major export company, but through a smaller group that charged a significant amount of money – approximately 40,000 kroner in addition to personal belongings – in order to help the family across. 

 It was not without anguish that Mr. Levin sent a complaint in January 1943, addressed to the Norwegian Consulate. The company had indeed brought his immediate family to safety – that was the most important. However, he expressed in his letter to the Consulate in Stockholm the bitterness he felt when he realized that the organization hardly operated as part of a patriotic initiative, but primarily on the objective of a personal profit.

Marcus Levin was offered a position at the refugee’s office of the Jewish Congregation in Stockholm upon arriving. For him and his family Stockholm was to become their place of residence for four years. From 1943-1946 it was the only time in his life when he exclusively worked with the cause of refugees as a pure social and dealing with the refugee problem on the administrative level.

Marcus Levin remained the Joint’s representative in Norway until his death in 1965 at the age of 66. He was awarded the King’s Gold Medal of Merit for his efforts in 1960. The Norwegian Refugee Council’s magazine Ny Fremtid (New Future), the following article written after his death stated the following:

With the loss of Marcus Levin, one of the refugee’s greatest friends, has left us. He was in the prime of his work with refugees internationally. As the long-term chairman of the Jewish Social Committee, he gave of his soul and life in order to help those who suffered.

Extracted from article written by historian Bjarte Bruland, Jewish Museum, Oslo