Thursday, May 9, 2013

Betzy Rosenberg Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

A  R O O M  W I T H O U T  
A  V I E W



I am Jewish. 
Both my parents were Jewish. 
My parents came to Norway in 1902
and got married in 1917.

The conversations between Betzy Haug Rønning (1919 – 2004) and her physician Artis started in 1999 after several years of hesitation. She had a strong reluctance to making her story known. She wanted to keep the story between her and her deceased husband private, saying that “the sorrow is ours.”  With time however, she started writing down stories that she in time decided to share.

Betzy has a rare combination of a temperament of someone local (Trøndelag) in language and thought, yet at the same time having an approach of an outsider. Her story is indeed a different story.

Betzy is one of the last remaining voices who can bear witness of ethnic and religious persecution in Norway.  Her story is also unique in that it deals with the relationship between a Jew and a Christian. 

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

Trondheim, September 1999
Dr. Artis


“I don’t know how to start writing my story, but I will try. My name is Betzy Haug-Rønning. My maiden name is Rosenberg. I was born July 1, 1919 in EC Dahls hospital in Trondheim Norway. (E.C. Dahls clinic, opened in 1908, was one of the most modern maternity clinics in Europe).

Betzy Rosenberg Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

I am Jewish. Both my parents were Jewish. My parents came to Norway in 1902 and got married in 1917. My dear brother and only sibling Charles, was born May 12, 1924. My father Bernard Rosenberg was born in Minsk in Russia on March 16 1895, son of Ephraim and Rachel. He was a businessman.  

My mother Jenny was born December 20, 1895 in Grajevo in Poland. Her maiden name was Philipsohn. Her parents’ names were Abraham Samuel and Rebecca. 

Abraham Samuel Philipsohn, my grandfather, was born December 1864 in Stoojin in Poland. He came to Norway in 1899 with his wife, my grandmother Rebecca who was 4 years younger. Abraham was a businessman and started men’s clothing store on Prinsens street 28 in Trondheim, 1910.  The Philipsohn was a happy family with close ties to the synagogue and kept their Jewish traditions.

E.C.Dahls Stiftelse Billedsamling NTNU

My mother’s two younger sisters, Rosa (born 1903) and Maja (born 1912), traveled in the late 1920s to Kirkenes (Finnmark) where Abraham had set up a retail store as he had in Trondheim.  Aunt Elisabeth managed the family business in Trondheim. She lived with us.

Aunt Elisabeth) was a very charming and a beautiful woman. She became ill and died in 1931. Her death would for strange reasons indirectly result in my rescue during the War. Her death was of great sorrow to all in the family. Elisabeth was buried in the Jewish cemetery Lademone in Trondheim. Following her death the other aunts returned from Kirkenes in order to continue operating the business in Prinsens street 28.


 The first 7 years of my life I lived at Pappenheim (bluecolor neighborhood, citadel called “Brekkan” built ca. 1920) in Trondheim with my grandparents, the Philipsohns. I went to Singsaker school. My teacher was Miss Tennebø.

Singsaker school

I developed Scarlet fever as a child. This was considered a dangerous illness. A big note was posted on my door that said Scarlet fever! People were naturally scared and avoided coming close. I lived a solitary life for 3 months before full recovery.



I was 12 years of age when I moved to (Treslottet) Hans Nissens gate in Ila, close to Ila school where I attended primary school. My teacher was Miss Valso.  We lived with our grandparents the Philipsohns.

I had a friend I called ”sister”. She was later to become Gustav Lorentzen’s mother, Rosemary («Siss») Fewkes Lorentzen.

Our home on Treeslottet on Hans Nissen street was near St. Elisabeth hospital. During this time Aunt Elisabeth became ill,some nuns at the hospital cared for her at home..  She became good friends with them.  We experienced their religion as strict but they were nice people. Several nuns had come from Poland as did my mother’s family. They made a good impression on me and had my respect.  My  first encounter with Christianity was a picture I saw hanging on a wall at our seamstress’ studio (Bakklandet) portraying Jesus. The seamstress I recall charged 5 krones for making a dress. She was an artist and made the pattern herself. As an artist her reputation was that of being somewhat liberal.

St. Elisabeth's Hospital Trondheim Mun. Archives of Trondheim

My aunt Maja was kind, so very kind. She would send me gifts from Kirkenes (Finnmark) during the years she managed the store there. I was between 10-12 years old at the time. After Elisabeth’s death she would buy me a bun every so often, at 5 ore a piece, or she would give me money for a movie, which was 25 øre (cent) at that time. Aunt Maja had a beautiful voice and her chestnut colored hair was known among the city’s hairdressers. I remember once when we lived in Strykejernet i Ilevollen, I entered the kitchen where my beloved Aunt Maja was singing while preparing fishcakes. She had a white apron and looked like an angel. Aunt Maja was a true human angel. I believe in supernatural angels.


I moved to Grensen 8 which was more modern with indoor bathroom. I attended school The teachers name was Tennebo. My grandmother Rebecca lived with us for some time.  She had heart problems. The medical advice at the time was to do the least strenuous of activities. She and her husband moved to Strykejernet that same year, a 2 story house by Oslo and Ilevollen streets. I used to visit them and slept on a leather sofa in the kitchen.


We moved to Innherredsveien 51 in 1937, the year I turned 18.

The Jewish holidays were simply put difficult to keep, especially for a child like myself. During  Yom Kippur one was to fast from 5pm to the following day 5pm. I recall a peculiar incident when I was about 10 years old. It was common to use gas stove with manual lighting using matches. From Friday evening at sunset to Saturday night it was not allowed to light the stove  during the Sabbath. To read paper or light a match was also not permitted. But we needed heat. As good Jews we were not allowed to disturb the Sabbath peace, so we asked a kid from the neighborhood to help us and we offered 5 ore for the service of lighting the stove. Consequently, people in the neighborhood would gossip. During that time it was forbidden for Jews to buy meat from animal who were not slaughtered according to Jewish law. The meat we ate had to be imported, mostly from Denmark. This of course was a very expensive enterprise. 

Betzy Rosenberg Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

In the Philipsohn’s household, the dietary rules were kept strictly. For this reason the sense of high holidays always brought a particular joyous atmosphere.  One needed three separate dishes and cutlery, one for fish, meat and milk. If we had eaten meat, we had to wait two hours before dairy could be eaten. During the Jewish Passover we used separate cups and ate matza. This was also bought abroad. We drank tea and used special butter that was bought via the synagogue in Trondheim. We had to wash hands in the morning and later on before all meals. 

Grandmother Rebecca was the most consistent religious Jewish person I ever knew. She prayed at the table with two lit candles at Sabbath meal. She spoke and wrote Hebrew as did Grandfather Abraham Samuel. I did not learn much Hebrew, but learned Yiddish that would come handy later in life. In my youth during the 1930s, it was considered a great error for a Jew to marry a Norwegian. Good relationships existed, but it never concluded in marriage. The rules were strict and our culture was protected. My life, as it turns out, would be in opposition to this rule.  But what happened did not come without resistance.

Before the war, there were about eight Jewish families in Trondheim. The Abrahamsen, Buchmann, Isaksen, Kelin, Philipsohn, Savosnick (a watchmaker), Koritzinsky and Dworsky (both physicians).


The morning of April 9th 1940 I left my home in Innherreds street 51 to go to the clothing store at Prinsens street 28 where I encountered for the first time German soldiers (in Ravnkloa) marching into the city. Aunst Maja and Rosa were as little aware as any of us were of what was going on. They had asked me to attend a wholesale event the evening before, on April 8th in Britannia hotel. We  were to select merchandise for the store. The seller from the Britannia hotel came to our store the following day to deliver the goods we purchased. He seemed nervous. We did not completely understand the urgency.

The outbreak of the war was in its second week. We refused to assist any German soldiers who would come in our store (on Prinsens gt 28). We knew about the Krystal nacht. The Nazis were already a threat. We made them aware that we knew. 


There were early on incidents of persecution of Jews in Norway. We experienced for instance that mother was kicked by a stranger near Bakke’s church. She fell to the ground.My mother Jenny was a very strong woman. That was at that time that the police ordered Jewish families to be photographed and issues passports and other identification papers with the stamp “J” for Jewish. Ethnic cleansing had started!

I was offered extra work at the florist Mr. Forbregd. I recall one of my customers was a bank director named Gunnar Birch. He was later taken hostage and shot on October 6, 1942. 

Aunt Maja was ordered to do cleaning work at the local hospital. She got to know a nurse that she confided in. It was this same nurse that brought me a note in 1941 urging me to escape – included certain details: I was to flee on a certain boat. I had to cut my hair and dress as a sailor.  However  the escape never happened. Later  the same nurse mentioned to Maja,  the possibility of a hideout for me at Byneset where she knew someone named Arne. Unfortunately we lost contact with the nurse. 

Later that year we were offered another escape plan: A thoughtful fellow came in to our store in Prinsens gt 28. and introduced himself as Mr. Johansen. He offered to arrange an escape for us to Sweden. We hesitated, but he insisted. Aunt Rosa was working in the store. As he was about the put on his winter coat part of the lining became visible and it had a NS insignia. We had most likely been prevented from falling into a trap.

We were also offered help from skilled "jøssing" couriers (Jewish allies) to be brought across the border to Sweden. But we never felt safe and rejected all offers. The most important reason was that we had to consider Grandmother Rebecca’s well being. She had heart problem and we couldn’t stand the idea of leaving her as she was not strong enough to cross the border to Sweden.



The Jewish males from the Trondheim area were captured during the summer of 1942. Grandfather Abraham Samuel Philipsohn, uncle Philip, mother’s 2 years younger brother, my father Bernhard and my little brother Charles 18 were sent to Falstad prisoner camp near Trondheim. We lost contact with them at that point. We later learned that they were sent to Bredtveit on February 24th 1943 and then to Germany. By March all had died. Grandfather’s store in Prinsen street 28 and the home in Ila were methodically robbed by NS people and by Germans as was our home in Inherreds road 51 when my parents were captured. During the time my mother was awaiting deportation, she sent me a note that said: “Be strong Betzy!” That note has helped me many times. My dear brother Charles received a notice by mail to meet with the police. He was later sent to Falstad. When my brother was captured, I made up my mind that I would personally never have children of my own.

Charles Rosenberg - courtesy JMO

We did not have much information regarding the destiny of Charles, my father, uncle and grandfather and their experiences at Falstad until after the war when legal action was taken against the Gestapo Gerhard Flesch. Newspaper editor Adresseavisa Sverre J Herstad testified about the Jewish refugees who lived at Falstad most of their time “on their stomach then on their feet.”  He had himself witnessed that Jews had to clean the inner courtyard with their mouth and hands. Herstad also said - most likely referring to Charles - ; “Rosenberg, one of the young Jews had his head and body scolded with boiling water. Afterwards he was scrubbed with a sharp brush followed by ice water thrown over his body. He had huge sores on his head afterwards. The idea was for prisoners not to utter any sound.”

Ester Rosa Philipsohn courtesy JMO

After my father had been captured, Rosa got the idea one day that she would visit him at the prison camp in Falstad. She knew he was ill. She went, but was unable to  see him or deliver any gift to him. At this point we got scared. We started to see the outlines of a scary scenario. 

Jenny Rosenberg - Courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

My rescuer, Arne, was born July 6 1897 a second child of a family of 4 at a farm in Byneset near Trondheim He was born Haug-ronning but later took the name Haug-Rønning I knew him from the time I used to work in the store. When I met him he had already worked several years in Sweden as a painter. He had been a good support. Following Rosa’s unsuccessful trip to Falstad, Arne too became concerned – and was afraid to visit us. The Nazi regime was moving in – and cold air moved upon us. 

All pictures and original documents

courtesy Trondheim Jewish Museum

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