Sunday, May 12, 2013

Betzy Rosenberg - 
Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

A  R O O M 
 A   V I E W


In the late fall of 1942 Jewish women
were interned at a house near the Museum Place in Trondheim. My mother, Jenny Rosenberg,was among them.

One day I passed by the house near the Museum Place on my way to the milk store on Vilhelm Storm's street and saw my mother sitting by the window. She called me and said that she had a couple of boots for me. I did not dare enter the house. Mother looked severe and unhappy there by the window sill. I continued waling towards my destination. 

In the meantime someone had delivered those shoes to my home. Rosa did not know who had done it. In it was a pair of socks and a note from mother: “Yes Betzy, I am here. Don’t be afraid. I am not alone, but with the company of several others. Stay calm. Crying does not help. Be wise. Eat well! Jenny” I still have that note. Mother showed concern for her only daughter until the time of death. 

Mother shared room with Mrs. Laneklinsky who was a Swedish Jew, which was the reason she was able to travel to Sweden before the inevitable happened with the other internees. From there, mother was sent to Falstad, thereafter to Bredtveit. She was later sent to Germany with the ship "Donau" on February 24, 1943.

Trønderheimen Prinsens street
Courtesy Trondheim Municipal Archives

The Philipsohn//Rosenberg lived near a milk store on Vilhelm Storm street, near the synagogue on Architect Christie’s street. Maja was there too. She insisted that I go to Byneset to find out if Arne had a hiding place for me. I went. The bus ride was ca. 20 km. Arne’s house in Strandly was empty, the door open as was common (Byneset). There was a note from Arne “Gone fishing.” I waited till Arne returned. I stayed there 2 days –fearful. There were clear reasons to be fearful. The neighbor kept company with the Rinnan gang members and he himself was involved with NS. Rinnan was a notorious Gestapo agent in the area around Trondheim during WWII and had fifty known gang members. 

Betzy Rosenberg
Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

I myself traveled unguarded at this point. Maja sent a note with a messenger (there was no phone in Strandly at that time): “Come back to the city immediately!” There were increasingly rumors about deportation of Jews. I brought a big stack of clothing, just in case I would need them. On the way back two German police officers entered the bus (by Rye). They asked to see passport and identification papers. I carried my papers indicating a “J” They looked at me. There were some scuffle and the atmosphere was tense. Then they left. Arne was on board the bus. He had now been observed with a Jewish girl! Would this make hiding at Byneset impossible? We made it to the city, but I was thinking that perhaps I was on my way to a death camp? We walked slowly towards the milk store on Vilhelm Storm’s street. Arne waited outside in order to be on the lookout. I entered. The tension was tangible. No one was there.

Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

Later on that evening two policemen came to the milk store. A big black car stood parked outside. The police read out names from a big book of those who were supposedly there: Grandmother Rebecca, Aunt Rosa, Aunt Maja, Aunt Frida - mother’s 7 years old sister. I sat on a bench and wanted to be invisible. They looked at me: “Elisabeth Philipsohn?” “No, my name is Betzy Rosenberg”. They did not know that Elizabeth had died 10 years earlier, in 1931. My name was not in the book. They looked at me several times. I prayed to G-d: “They are not here. My name is not on the list.” I was 23 years of age and had just experienced both a miracle and answer to prayer. Grandmother Rebecca, age 74 and Aunt Rosa were allowed to remain. Rosa could after all take good care of her. 

Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

When Aunt Frida and Maja were taken out through the door, they wept. Rosa said: “We will never see them again!” She was right. They disappeared. This was November 26, 1942. Maja and Frida were sent to Bredtveit prison for women in Oslo. They were later sent from Oslo, Norway February 24, 1943 and died in the gas chambers in Germany the same day as mother, on March 3, 1943. Why was Aunt Rose spared . . . was it too burdensome to undertake a 74 yrs. old at that point? Rosa was captured 3 weeks later, in the street with bread in her arm. She was also sent to Bredtveit and then with "Donau" to Germany on February 24, 1943 where she was gassed. The Nazis were as efficient as they were pragmatic in approach.

Grandmother Rebekka was kept hidden among other places at Nidarvoll health center, Trondheim and died immediately after the war. She was buried in the Jewish cemetery Lademoen, a few yards from Elisabeth’s place of burial. 

It may be true that grandmother and I were the only one who made it alive as Jews in Norway during WWII


Once the black car had left Vilhelms Storm’s street that evening on November 26, 1942 with Maja and Frida, my landlord demanded that I leave immediately. Arne was standing outside in the dark waiting for me. Maja had called him to ask for help at the last minute. When I came outside the store, two strangers held a light at me. It might have been spies. They followed Arne and I as we made our way to Tronderheimen cafeteria where they finally disappeared. We sat there for 3 hours and worried that we would be thrown out - or arrested if we walked out on the street. 

We continued later to Arne’s sister who owned a house in Gaubekveita near Fjord street by the harbor. We stayed there 4-5 days. Arne returned to his home in Strandly to find a way for me to hide there. Arne was a painter by profession and generally very capable. He found some wood panel and worked nonstop for a day and a half and built my future hiding place: “The room”.

T h e  R o o m   

I secured a hiding place in Strandly late November 1942 and was able to experience freedom only 2.5 years later. During that time, I left the house only once. Arne showed me the gun. “If we had visitors, Gestapo or police, I shoot you first and then myself!”. The gun was on the nightstand or in the drawer at all times. Arne insisted that we keep our clothes on day and night and sleep interchangeably, 4-5 hours each.

"The Room" had tapestries inside with black insulation paper to prevent any odor in the event anyone would send dogs on us. Two hinges made it possible to close the ‘door’ from inside. The floor surface was ca. 50 x 65 cm. Height 120 cm. There was a wooden box by the wall. It was impossible to stand erect. There was no airflow. I fainted at least twice during the war period. The room was actually part of the pantry with entrance through the bedroom where the wall was parted with painted roe-panel in the bottom. Arne managed to find a matching color not to expose the new wall. The walls in room were in other words partly external walls facing the entrance. The Strandly house itself was Arne’s property that he had built himself many years ago.

There was no water in the house. Arne had to carry. There was a wooden stove in the kitchen and the neighbors would of course notice each time we lit the fire. This meant I could not bake if Arne was gone. One time a farmer came on a surprise visit while we were preparing food. I rushed to the room when the fellow knocked on the door. He seemed to think that he had heard a voice! Arne replied that he was aging and that he infrequently talked to himself.

We lived in suspense for 2. 5 years. Arne did not have steady employment, but went fishing and bartering was the currency for exchange of goods. Sale of goods made survival possible. We had one ration card. Fish at most meals never took away the preciousness of it.

We had ealy on assumed that I would remain in hiding for 1 ½ years or so. Of course the war would have ended by then! The rumors had it that the Englishmen would soon be here. .but not so! A cuckoo was often seen on the laundry line with Arne’s clothing. It was often a reminder of how much I was that cuckoo – a Jew in “foreign land”.

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When Arne returned from outings, he would always find a yellow note in the bedroom window. It meant that all was well. All clear. Enter. He was always worried about leaving me alone, when he had to run errands, deliver fish etc. With cash in hand Arne could at times also bring snacks. I was always relieved when he came back, from the city, from neighbors or from the sea. It was a neighborly trend to have the door open. If there was a knock on the door, my heart beat strongly. I ran into my room.

The son of our closest neighbor, Kåre Martinsen, was a Nazi. He lived ca 100 m from us. The cabin was a place of gathering for Nazis. They practiced pistol shooting. The Rinnan gang gathered there often too. One dark day in the fall of 1943, during a lively party at the cottage, some drunkards came walking towards Strandly. “The guests” started circling the house. They were loud and banged on the walls. I was in the room. Arne had gone to visit his brother. As it turns out, Arne had been hiding nearby in the forest and was observing the activities. He seemed to conclude that some of them were part of the Rinnan gang. 

On another occasion our neighbor Kåre came on a surprise visit. Arne managed to talk him in to joining him on a boat trip. The trip lasted 3 long hours. Arne played the role well, however anxious. He had had very little contact with Martinsen prior to this encounter, and it made Arne scared.

Once Kåre’s father, Kristian, came unannounced and entered the door while I was in the kitchen. I managed to hide behind some bed linen that was on the floor. Had he seen me? Probably the sunlight had blinded the old man – we hoped! 

A farmer once came to visit and wanted to chat with Arne. He stayed for 2 hours. I was in the hiding place, but fainted in that dark room, with no ventilation. Arne had to pull me out after the guest had left. To call on a physician was out of the question. I was a non-person after all. Illness was treated with naphtha and camphor drops bought at the local pharmacy in Trondheim. 

Later on that fall another Nazi dropped by our house. He wanted to celebrate his birthday and ended up staying for 4 hours. I fainted. I later knocked quietly on the wall to signal to Arne that I was alive, but could not take it any longer. A sign of life helped the morale and my determination. 

Once this fellow had left the house, Arne took some liquor to quiet his nerves. We both lived with a real fear: imagine if the Germans should show up and claim Strandly for their own use? Martinsen’s approach made it fairly possible that such a thing could happen.

In the late fall we were about to give up. We did not know how long the war would last. “Betzy, we cannot continue like this!” Arne said one day. “We have to try,” I insisted. It was hardest for Arne. Patience was the biggest challenge. I promised that I would take care of him one day should he need it in the future. That promise I kept 40 years later. 

We had 4 carbide lamps and one paraffin lamp. The odor was bad. They could not be used if I were alone in the house. I would have to be satisfied with dark if daylight had passed. There was no electricity, so we had no outdoor light. That made it difficult to identify the person who would knock on the door. To be on guard in the bedroom during night hours was an exhausting enterprise. Nor did we know when this captivity would end. 

Preparing food could only be done after 10-11 pm. If smoke came from the pipe, it would be considered an invitation for visitors to show up. Arne and I did not eat together at the kitchen table. One had to be on the lookout. Conversations were always as whispers. The restrictions also meant that I was unable to use the outdoor bathroom, but use toilette in the bedroom.

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One time when Arne had left to go to the city, ca 20 German came to Strandly. They were very loud and stayed in the neighborhood. I was in the bedroom. I overheard some of the conversation. Since I knew Yiddish, some of it was comprehensible. They wanted to buy fish. Since no one was at home, they left. We had a small radio, but Arne got rid of it. We used to read Adresseavisen (local newspaper), however censured. We had no books, only a few magazines available. My first and only outing was in 1944. We went fishing. We met a German soldier who was rowing his boat. He chatted with Arne while I was hiding under a tarpaulin for half an hour. I never dared leave he house after this incident. 

Arne grew tobacco during the war. He used to smoke to calm his nerves. I tried it only once. During the berry season Arne would leave early in the morning. Once he left at 5am and crossed the fjord to Geitastrand by boat. It took him one hour to cross. He returned later that day with ca 20 kg blueberry. This was a major contribution to our economy. 

His father Anders Haugronning visited us altogether 2 or 3 times during the war. He was well liked in town. Anders knew about the hiding place. I had only a couple of conversation with Arne’s sister Jenny and Anne, face to face during my whole stay in Strandly.


I prayed to G-d often, the G-d of Abrahams Isaacs and Jakob those years in that dark room. It was that of complete loneliness, in the heat and stuffy air. Knocks on the wall from Arne was a rare luxury. I was brought up religious. I was proud of my Jewish people! I remained a loyal member of the local synagogue without being formally a member, which happened in 1996.

On the day of liberation, May 8, 1945 we read an article about us in the local paper, but I was still more or less in hiding until the month of June. We could not fully trust what was written in the daily newspapers: “A Jewish girl is kept hidden at Byneset for 2.5 years!” It said that “Haug Rønning had been kind to her by risking his life and rescue this unfortunate person. Miss Rosenberg is in good health, both physically and mentally. . “ I seemed to notice a certain optimism in Arne’s voice. “The Room was simple and nice . . ” it said . . - a simple way to solve a problem of calamity.

We never owned a car. Arne drove a motorcycle. We took courage and started leaving our house. We took the bus infrequently. Some people we met thought I was aunt Maja Philipsohn. They wanted to know what happened to the rest of my family. Other people we met made the sign of the cross. They could not believe their own eyes - a Jewish person, alive!

I was skinny. I had no friends in the city aside from grandmother Rebekka. She died on July 16th, 1945. Jews came to her funeral who had returned from Sweden. There I met Uncle Jacob Philipsohn who had been rescued by escaping to Sweden. My own people had become strangers to me. The first Jews I was in touch with locally, were Mrs Karen and Harry Dworsky. They bought fish from us at Byneset!

2-3 years after the war, electricity came. Water came only towards the end of 1950.

Betzy Rosenberg Arne Haug Rønning  
Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

Arne and I lived during the exile in a father and daughter relationship. However, we married many years later, on New Year eve 1949. We moved to Trondheim center in the late 1970 and used Strandly as a place for vacation both summer as winter. Arne died at age 80 at the Regional hospital in Trondheim, 1985. I was at his side when he died. He had helped me survive and I took care of him till the last minute as promised. Strandly was sold in 1996, the house was leveled and thus was a war memorial no longer. 

Not a single item from my childhood was found after the liberation. The war had left deep wounds. I started stuttering already during the war. I still do when strong memories come.

Betzy Rosenberg Arne Haug Rønning
Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

I had a long life of 80 years. I feel that G-d has been with me. My life is a proof that the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob heard our prayers and is a merciful G-d.

Psalm 66: 

"Praise be to G-d, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”

Betzy Rosenberg
Trondheim 1999

With kind permission
Trondheim Jewish Museum

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum

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