Tuesday, October 29, 2013

 1833 - 1947

Gregory Aminoff was elected member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1933. His family is descended from a Russian officer who joined the Swedish army in 1612.

Gregory Aminoff had two careers - as an artist and as a scientist. While still a schoolboy he was interested in minerals and collected them. 

The famous Arctic explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, who was Professor of Mineralogy at the Museum of Natural History, gave him free access to the mineral collection there. In 1905, aged 22, Aminoff had already received a bachelor’s degree and published two minor papers.

Gregori Aminoff painting

It was then that he switched to painting, enrolling in a famous art school and joining ”The Young”, a group of young painters were to become very well known. Aminoff was successful and painted in Paris, London and Italy. He studied for a period with Henri Matisse. 

In 1914 when the First World War broke out his career as an artist ended. He resumed his scientific studies and gained his doctorate in 1918. In the same year he introduced X-ray crystallography in Sweden. He became Professor of Mineralogy at the Museum of Natural History in 1923. 

In 1926 it was discovered that electrons could give diffraction patterns similar to those of X-rays, and in 1930 Aminoff introduced electron diffraction in Sweden. Questions regarding the symmetry of crystals were central for Aminoff and it has been said that here lay the connection between his artistic and his scientific careers. 

In the thirties he also described a large number of new minerals, especially from Långban’s mine in Värmland. One of these, aminoffite, was namned after him. 

In 1950 in her will, his widow Birgit Broomé-Aminoff provided for the establishment of a fund, the Professor Gregori Aminoff Memorial Fund, to be administered by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. An annual prize, the Gregori Aminoff Prize, was to be awarded for theses published in the field of crystallography. It was to be possible for several prizewinners to share the prize.

The Gregori Aminoff Prize rewards documented, individual contributions in the field of crystallography, including areas concerned with the dynamics of the formation and determination of crystal structures. The Gregori Aminoff Prize was awarded for the first time in 1979.

Robert Levin (1912 – 1996)


R O B E R T  L E V I N

Robert Levin was a Norwegian classical pianist, teacher, composer and film score composer. Marriage with Solveig Levin since 1938.

Although he was an accomplished solo pianist and composer, Levin received international acclaim for his work as an accompanist with several of the world's most celebrated vocal and instrumental performers.

Levin was born in Kristiania, now Oslo, and grew up in the immigrant neighborhood in Grünerløkka, the child of David and Marie Levin, Jewish refugees from Lithuania who had immigrated in 1905. Levin's father supported his family through various means, including peddling sewing notions and carting coal. In spite of its modest financial means and minority status, the family maintained a traditional religious household.

Levin caught interest in the piano when he was four and a half years old, at his grandmother's home where there was an instrument that was disused. By the time he was five, he had taught himself well enough for his first public performance, using his fist at times to reach the black keys. He did not receive formal lessons until he was ten, and when he was twelve he was accepted by the pre-eminent music teacher of the time, Nils Larsen. On several occasions, his parents pawned their wedding rings to pay for music lessons.

Levin did his part to support the family by performing at restaurants, bars, and movie theaters during the silent film era. He only finished the first six years of public schooling and spent much of it in fights by his own recollection. He learned at the synagogue for his bar mitzvah, but was mostly occupied with his music. He was also an avid reader of diverse literature.

Like many of the classical musicians of pre-World War II era, Levin played at restaurants to support himself. He rose through the unofficial ranks as a teenager, overcoming strong antisemitic barriers. He took private lessons with Gustav Lange and notably Fartein Valen, being exposed to a wide range of musical traditions and innovations. Levin was the last living silent movie veteran when he died in 1996. He also became an accomplished accordion player during this time.

Levin had his performance debut on 26 January 1932 to widespread acclaim. (A critic, reflecting anti-Semitic prejudice of the time, speculated that Levin owed his success to his "father's money bag.")

Levin was introduced to several strains of modern music when he was engaged in the orchestra at Theatercafeen, where the Norwegian exponent of neo-Classical music Sparre Olsen, played. But the orchestra also introduced Levin to jazz music.

Robert and Solveig Levin were married in 1938 and had their first daughter in 1939. After Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940, Levin continued to perform but was subjected to daily threats and restrictions on the venues and music he could play. Some of his best friends joined the Nazi party, a terrible disappointment for him.

When Nazi authorities in occupied Norway started arresting and deporting Jews, Levin went under cover with friends and eventually fled to Sweden. The rest of his family arrived in Sweden a few days later, but many of Levin's closest relatives were deported from Norway and murdered in Auschwitz.

Levin became a proponent of Norwegian music and culture while in exile in Sweden. He wrote the music to several patriotic Norwegian songs, including Kirkenesmarsjen, a march to commemorate the liberation of the Northern Norwegian town of Kirkenes by Sovjet troops on 25 October 1944.

Sponsored by the Norwegian exile government or Svenska Norgeshjälpen, Levin performed for Norwegian resistance fighters in Sweden along with Herberth Ballarini and his wife Solveig, Randi Heide Steen, Ernst Glaser, Gunnar Sønstevold, Hugo Kramm, Gunnar Reiss Andersen, Axel Kielland, Lauritz Falk, Sonja Mjøen and others. Levin also sent packages to musical colleagues in Oslo under the pseudonym Banjo-Lasse.

When the family Levin returned to one of the central train stations in Oslo in June 1945, the orchestra Robert had to leave nearly three years earlier awaited him at the platform, performing at their arrival.

After the war, Levin decided to concentrate more on a classical career, and after he accompanied Gösta Kjellertz, his career as an accompanist took off. He accompanied such diverse international artists as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Yehudi Menuhin, Roberta Peters, Rita Streich, Henryk Szeryng, Ann Brown, Kim Borg, Camilla Wicks, Felicia Weathers and a panorama of Norwegian artists that included Ingrid Bjoner, Knut Skram, Arve Tellefsen, Terje Tonnesen, Elise Batnes, Aase Nordmo Lovberg, Edith Thallaug and Ole Bøhn. 

He took part in performing tours all around the world. Notably, on 22 May 1984, he and the American pianist by the same name, Robert Levin, performed together in Carnegie Hall in a concert called "From Grieg to Gershwin" with then Crown Prince Harald and Crown Princess Sonja in attendance. The two, along with other musicians including Ole Bøhn, Knut Skram, Feilicia Weathers and Ingrid Bjoner performed pieces by Edvard Grieg, Richard Hageman, Harry Owens, Aaron Copland, Celius Dougherty, Oley Speaks, George Gershwin and others.

He became one of the most respected classical musicians of his time in Norway. He took an active part in music education at all ages, led the Norwegian composers' association (NOPA), and promoted the art of accompaniment.

He was the first rector of the Norwegian Academy of Music when it was founded in 1973, where he was also a professor of interpretation. When the academy moved to its new facilities in Majorstuen in 1989, one of the performance halls was named after Levin.

Levin died in Oslo on 29 October 1996, at the age of 84.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, October 28, 2013


July 18, 1949: 24 Jewish Orphans Arrive in Norway; Will Spend Summer Vacation with Jewish Families. A group of 24 Jewish orphans whose parents were murdered in Nazi concentration camps arrived here from Paris today to spend the summer as guests of Jewish families in this city and in Trondheim.

August 7, 1949 Former German Concentration Camp in Norway Turned into Sanatorium for Jewish Children A former German concentration camp in Norway has been converted into a “children’s city” for Jewish children threatened by tuberculosis, the Norwegian Information Service revealed. The children will be accommodated at the camp at Holmestrand for about eight months, after which they will proceed to Israel if their health permits. The “city” will accommodate 200 children at a time and it is expected that a total of 600 will be treated there.

November 6, 1949 Aliyah Chief Lauds People of Norway and France for Aid to Orphaned Jewish Children, Moshe Kol, director of the Youth Aliyah department of the Jewish Agency, paid tribute yesterday to the “Christian humanity of the people of Norway and France for their rescue of orphaned Jewish children.” Addressing a news conference, Mr. Kol declared that “hundreds of devout Christians in Norway have taken in waifs from North Africa and European DP camps, no matter what their physical condition.” The cost to the Norwegians in preparing shelters for the youngsters has already reached $250,000 while the maintenance costs are $150,000 annually, he added.

• November 22, 1949 Hope for 30 Jewish Children on Missing Norway-bound Plane Given Up by Youth Aliyah The European headquarters of the Youth Aliyah movement today gave up hope for the survival of some 30 Jewish DP children aboard a long-overdue Oslo-bound plane which was believed to have crashed and burned in Norway yesterday. (At The Hague, officials of Aero Holland, which owns the missing Dutch DC-3, confirmed that there was no hope of the plans having survived. The airline officials said that there were 29 children, two nurses and four crew members aboard.) Fritz Lichtenstein, head of the Youth Aliyah office here, flew today to Oslo in connection with the disaster. He said that one of the nurses aboard was probably an official of the Norwegian Relief for Europe organization. Reports from Oslo said that troops, police and civilians were continuing the search for the missing plane today. They have been joined by Swedish, Danish and Dutch planes. The children were proceeding from Morocco to Norway where they were scheduled to spend eight months receiving medical care and instruction before going to Israel. A second plane, with a similar number of children aboard, landed at the Oslo airport safely last night. The last point at which the planes touched down before the hop to Oslo was Brussels.​

• November 23, 1949 One Jewish child, Isaac Allal, was today found alive in the wreckage of a Dutch DC-3 transport plane which crashed some 30 miles west of this city Sunday, it was announced here. The child was immediately rushed to a hospital for treatment. Twenty-six persons are known to have been killed and the fate of sight is still in doubt. The plane carried 29 children, two nurses and a crew of four. The children were coming from Morocco for eight months of medical treatment and instruction prior to their eventual immigration to Israel.

Isaac Allal found alive in wreckage as only survivor, November 14, 1949

The project, of which they were one part, is maintained by the Youth Aliyah movement. The plane, chartered by the Joint Distribution Committee, crashed in a rugged forest area and the explosion which resulted was heard some distance away. It is for this reason that the major search effort was concentrated in this sector. 

In all some 2,200 soldiers, policemen, airmen and civilians were engaged in the two-day hunt. Planes from the air forces of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Holland participated. (Members of the executive committee of the J.D.C. today offered a prayer for the children who perished in the wreck and appealed for continued aid to be made available to “tens of thousands of needy Jewish children still in North African slums, in distressed areas of Europe and in Israel.” Rabbi Jonah B. Wise, J.D.C. vice-chairman, led the prayer at a meeting of the executive committee this afternoon at the Hotel Commodore. ​ 

• December 15, 1949 Norwegian Labor Party to Establish Settlement in Israel in Memory of Victims of Crash “Arbeiderbladet,” the official newspaper of the Norwegian Labor Party, has launched a drive to raise money for a new settlement in Israel to commemorate the 28 Jewish children and six adults who were killed in an air crash near here last month. The settlement will consist of 40 houses.​

• April 19, 1950 Jewish Refugee Children Arrive in Oslo; 200 Foundsters sent from Norway to Israel. The Norwegian Embassy reported today that 77 Jewish refugee children arrived in Oslo last week. The 200 children who arrived in Norway eleven months ago for hospitalization and care have all been sent to Israel, it was announced.



B E N T E  K A H A N



Bente Kahan is a uniquely gifted Norwegian Jewish actress, playwright, dramatist and musician. She has her roots in a distinguished Hassidic family and has woven her talents and passion into the heart of her ancestral roots and personal identity. She was the major force of the renovation of the White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw, better known by the German name Breslau, the largest city in eastern Poland and situated on the Oder River.

She is the director of the Center for Jewish Culture and Education in this historical building. The Center organizes cultural and educational events year around and serves as a house for learning and culture – a place for tolerance and understanding. It stands as a vital Jewish heart in the middle of Europe. In 2006, Bente Kahan received the Wrocław Mayor’s Prize for her work and in 2010 she was awarded the title the Ambassador of Wroclaw.

Bente Kahan: 15 years ago I came across my family tree at my parents’ home. I discovered some family documents which enabled me to trace my family’s history back to the 13th century Sepharad (the Hebrew name for Spain). The majority of the Spanish Jews, approximately 200,000, were expelled from Spain during the Inquisition in 1492. They ended up in North Africa, Italy, Turkey, Poland and elsewhere throughout Europe. Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. They became known as “Maranos”. Those who did not convert were killed. After the expulsion, the Spanish authorities imposed an unofficial ban against Jews from ever living in Spain again. It was by chance that these family documents were preserved during the Holocaust by distant relatives in Switzerland.

Based on my personal, immediate and distant family history and genealogical findings, I have developed a solo performance piece around my family tree. I have used my family history as a theme for two of my concerts, one given in Warsaw and the other in New York. The whole idea of the piece was to tell my complex and multifaceted family story, and by doing that, perhaps also telling everyone else’s.

How was growing up in Norway as a Jewish girl?

I was born in Norway in 1958. When I was growing up in the 1960s, there were hardly any foreigners in Norway. The capital Oslo was populated almost entirely by blond natives. My complexion was a little bit darker. I had black hair and deep, dark eyes. I just about had the appearance of a colored person or at least what one who could be considered colored in USA. I was perceived as a foreigner, even though I was fluent in Norwegian and participated in the culture. People would always ask me where I came from. It was clear early on that I was different. I didn’t mind.

However, many of the Jews of my age found the tension between the Jewish and Norwegian identities difficult. Furthermore, we felt we were part of a minority. This would also explain why many of them chose to leave Norway to make Aliyah (move to Israel). 

As an integrated member of a minority, I became somehow an active member of an ethnic community. I had to be spokesperson for the whole Jewish society all at once! I had to represent the whole Jewish community when we were taught religion in school. I saw myself virtually taking the role of a rabbi. If the teachers or students had questions concerning my religion, I would make sure to give them a valid answer. I developed strength though these experiences.

The fact that my parents were very traditional Jews made me very grounded in my own Jewish tradition and I never entertained a conflict with my own identity as a Jew. I was very fortunate to have had parents who felt secure in their own identities.

My father came from Hungary and came to Norway after the war, in 1949. He came to visit his sister, whose husband was hired as a cantor in the synagogue in Oslo after the war. He had planned to continue to the United States, but he really liked Norway and decided to start his own business. He met my mother there. She was born in Norway, but had escaped to Sweden during the war. He was raised in a Hassidic traditional household and was a very open minded person. My father wanted very much that I speak Norwegian. At the same time, he would maintain his strong identity and conveyed that identity to his children. 

Growing up, however, I regret I did not learn to speak Yiddish. The only reason I wanted to learn Yiddish was because my father was telling all these Yiddish jokes that I could not understand. My parents only spoke Norwegian to me. The notion that a child can learn more than one language at the same time was not prevalent at that time.

The destiny of Scandinavian Jews and Polish Jews is tragically different. Is there any explanation?

My maternal grandmother was born in Lithuania and spoke Yiddish, but the official language was Russian at that time. Other minorities spoke Lithuanian or German. My grandmother came to Norway, the land of opportunity in 1905. It was also the same year that Prince Carl of Denmark came to Norway. 

After the dissolution of the union with Sweden, Prince Carl became the first king of Norway and he immediately endeared himself to his adopted country in line with former kings, by taking the Old Norse name of Haakon VII. I recently had an opportunity to meet his successor, the present King of Norway. I was a guest at a royal reception in Warsaw, hosting the King of Norway. I told the King: “We do have something in common: Your grandfather and my maternal grandmother came to Norway as immigrants the same year in 1905.”

Norway was really not a suitable place for Jews to make a living. In 1927 it became illegal to slaughter kosher meat. Nevertheless, my grandmother chose to stay, but she never seemed to have embraced the national sport of skiing! She was so poor when she arrived in Norway. She had nothing. Her family was traveling around the country, trying to sell a few things. She later became a store manager and spoke Norwegian with a Yiddish accent, the same accent as Jews in Odessa and Warsaw.

As to the comparison of the different destiny between Jews in Poland and Jews in Norway, we should remember that at the time of the Holocaust, Jews had lived in Norway for less than a hundred years, while the Jewish presence in Poland was already noticeable, extending over 800 years. Poland had the world’s largest Jewish population in 1920. These are two completely different narratives. 

The Jewish presence in Poland has had a huge impact on the Polish identity –few people know that the Jewish vocabulary has to some degree infiltrated the Polish language, as much as it has the English language and American culture. This is evident in literature and in the craft and art of food. 

Furthermore, some Jews assimilated into Polish society and became cultural figures. The Jewish influence on Polish society has been much greater than their influence in Scandinavia where they have always been a small minority. Even so, in spite of their minor presence in Norway, Jews have had prominence in the cultural and political life there as well. One example is Jo Benkow, who was a writer and a politician within the Conservative Party of Norway and the President of the Parliament from 1985-1993.

What is your current role at the White Stork synagogue?

The Jewish community in Wroclaw approached me some years back to assist them with cultural activities in the White Stork Synagogue, a nineteenth century synagogue (1829) that has become an important culture center for the whole city of Wroclaw (700.000 inhabitants) and religious center of the local Jewish community. 

The result was a Jewish Cultural and Educational Center which opened in 2005, some 60 years after the end of the war, where I am currently a full time artistic director. I created the Bente Kahan Foundation which currently runs the Center. However, the building needed serious renovation and I have been responsible for seeing this through. This has not prevented us from using the space, however. Three of my own theater plays with local actors performed for approx 20,000 school kids from the region.

The renovations of the synagogue were completed and the synagogue was rededicated in 2010. It was renovated with funds from the city of Wroclaw and later an EEA Fund (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), in cooperation with the City and The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, all with The Bente Kahan Foundation as its leader. Since opening in 2012, the synagogue has become one of the most attractive concert halls in this region of Poland.

I collaborated on a project with Norway in 2010 in connection with the completion of the restoration called “The Jewish life in Oslo and Wrocław“. The project consisted of two separate exhibitions, one in each country. The exhibition for our synagogue, History Reclaimed, was, about the 800 years old history of Wrocław’s Jewish communities. 

The Norwegian contribution to the project was called “Wergeland’s Legacy”, documenting the life of Norwegian Jews from 1851, when the Norwegian constitution first allowed Jews entry into Norway. The exhibition followed the timeline through 1940-1945 and is named after Henrik Wergeland (1808 –1845), a Norwegian writer known for championing for Jews to get the right to enter Norway in the 19th century.

Your voice – how did your musical and theatrical career connect?

I was a classical trained actress when I returned to Norway from Israel in 1983. The fact that I was very different, even as a child, was not an advantage in the arts community. The theatre was very conservative and core ethnic, but became progressive with time. I remember the head of the Norwegian TV saying to me, after an audition: “Bente, with your beautiful dark eyes will you be performing in a Norwegian theater?” I left the audition feeling weird. Today, the arts scene is a very different place, with people from multiple cultural and religious backgrounds. 

I had come from an active arts scene in Israel where I played at the national theater. Norway made me feel that I could be more creative. I started to write my own plays, such as a musical about Bessie Smith, Voices from Theresienstadt, Farewell Cracow and others. To continue my artistic development, I began collaborating with the Norwegian stage director Ellen Foyn Bruun, often using archival and historical as well as folkloric material. This way I could shed new light on the past, renovate and preserve Jewish heritage and make history personal and available to my audience and something that each of us could refer to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike.

Bente Kahan has appeared at various official Jewish cultural events, to mention some: 

The official opening of the Norwegian HL-center in Oslo, 2006. 
She sang at the commemoration of “Krystallnacht” in Wroclaw (Breslau), ”Voices from Theresienstadt”.The White Stork Synagogue, Wroclaw, Poland, 2005 
Part of the official Polish ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, 60th anniversary of the end of WWII. Berlin Opera House, 2005. 
60 years since the largest transport of inmates from the ghetto Terezin /Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. “Lieder und Cabaret aus Theresienstadt”. Terezin, Magdeburger Kaserne, Czech Republic, 2004. 
Inauguration of a plaque paying homage to the memory of the Norwegian Jewish victims of the Holocaust on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Oslo, 2002. 
150 years since the abrogation of Section II of the Norwegian Constitution excluding Jews from the country. Eidsvold Building, Norway. June 13, 2001. 
Swedish Holocaust educational initiative, Living History. Performance at the Great Synagogue, Stockholm, at the invitation of Sweden’s PM, Goran Persson. Stockholm, Sweden, 2000. 
Remembrance of the 50the anniversary of Krystall Nacht. “Stimmen aus Theresienstadt”.
Terezin/Theresienstadt, 1998. 
Norwegian Constitution Day gala, performer and MC. Oslo Concert Hall. Oslo, Norway, 1998. 
Celebration of Israel’s 50th National Day. Trondheim, Norway. 1998. 

Written by Liv Grimsby

previously published in Thanks to Scandinavia

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cross border route to Sweden


Carl Fredriksen's Transport operated until February, 1942. In its short lifetime, Carl Fredriksen's Transport had transported hundreds of refugees, mostly Jews, to the border. It was the greatest single lifesaving operation during the occupation of Norway.

A few days before Christmas this year of 1942 four Norwegian skiers reached the Swedish border bringing Irene Klein and Anne Rutt. This time Anne Rutt was placed in a sheep–skin sack specially made for her. The main guides were Jon Moan and a neighbour friend Ludvig Kruksve. They had brought mother and child 150 kilometres eastward and had been helped on their way by several friends. 

Two young men joined them across the mountains on the last phase of the journey. They returned when the border was reached. Irene had grown up in Germany and had no skiing experience. The men from Leksvik had given her some basic instructions and practice, but it appeared that she needed help when they reached the steep and tall mountains. 

From there she was towed with a rope round her waist across the mountains to the border– and safety, but not from the highland winter. They still were far away from populated area. Irene was on the point of exhaustion and a few hours later she was unable to walk any more. Jon went on with Anne Rutt, hoping to find help. Ludvig stayed behind with Irene, taking care that she did not fell asleep in the snow.

Jon found a ski track that brought him to a fence wire. On the other side he saw dimly a few houses. It was deep in the night and everybody seemed to be asleep. He managed to cross the fence wire and approached one of the houses. Suddenly he was halted by a soldier who pointed his gun against him. 

“Am I in Norway or in Sweden?” Jon asked, his heart beating. “You are of course in Sweden”. The soldier opened the door into the barrack as it appeared to be. There everybody awoke. The soldiers rubbed the sleep out of their eyes, got out of their hammocks and grouped around the young Norwegian. He carefully lifted the sack off his back and placed it on the floor, then took the child up in his arms. At that moment, tears trickled down the cheeks of the soldiers.

A few hours later Swedish soldiers with Jon in front found Irene Klein and her guide. Irene was brought on a ski sledge to the camp. After that the guides from Norway were allowed to return. They arrived safely in Leksvik when the church bells chimed for Christmas Eve.

When Irene and her daughter Anne Rutt finally came to Stockholm, great news awaited: Irene’s husband who had been in a prison camp near Oslo, had miraculously managed to flee from the camp and had been brought to the Swedish border. He met his family a few days later.

Only a few were saved by these men of Leksvik. But similar more or less accidental help was given several places. In Narvik in Northern Norway a Jewish couple was sent in a plumbed luggage van. They were in fact on a route that was used by an intelligence group exclusively, but an exception had been made this time. At the control points, Norwegian railway men attached to the intelligence group managed to keep them out of sight of the guards. The cargo train from Narvik crossed the border without incident.

A member of a central resistance group in Oslo, Tore Gjelsvik, heard about a Jewish youth on a sanatorium in Lom, far north of Oslo. Gjelsvik on a mission to the north-west coast, fetched the boy in a blizzard and brought him on a bus to Otta. Here a student friend took over, while Gjelsvik continued by train to the coast. The student placed the youth on a ski–sledge and brought him across the mountains – "The roof "of Norway – to Sweden.

In Bergen, at the west coast of Norway, Rannveig Bech and her husband Ludvig the day before Christmas 1942 travelled to an island west of Bergen with two Jewish children. At the rendezvous a small ship from the Norwegian Navy was waiting. These children Mrs. Bech had managed to get out of Austria in 1939. Since then they had been living in Bergen. Bech was among those who was warned. 

By coincidence they got in touch with a friend who after the war appeared to have been a central person in Milorg. Through him it was arranged that the family should be brought to the rendezvous on the coast where this vessel was expected. Next evening, Mrs. and Mr. Bech with the Jewish children were in safety in the Shetland. 

One of the escape routes followed the train from Oslo to a place called Romedal, close to Hamar, north of Oslo. From here the refugees were driven by car to a small schoolhouse and the school–teacher`s apartment on the first floor. The hostess was Kjellaug Herset. On this route the famous violinist Ernst Glaser was sent. Glaser had in September been warned about the persecution to come. 

A musician who was a Nazi–member had told he had been informed from a member of the Norwegian Nazi–government that something was going to happen to the Jews. But his high ranking source didn’t want anything to happen to Ernst Glaser, and offered to bring him safely to Sweden! Glaser didn’t believe much of this, his confidence in the Nazi musician being low. 

His colleague however, insisted that he should meet the Nazi minister who was the propaganda minister, Mr. Gudbrand Lunde (1901 - 1942). The minister could only confirm that the Jews were in danger. He had been very friendly and cultivated and wished Glaser welcome back to Norway “when we again are masters of our house”.

Ernst Glaser left the meeting not convinced at all, and he didn’t tell about it to any in his family, as he would not worry them. On the evening of October 26th he had left a concert where he played a solo part, and for once not very successfully as his mind was concentrated on how to get out. He hurried into hiding with friends. Later on he got in contact with Lise Børsum who finally sent him on the train to Romedal, north east of Oslo. His wife and children were sent on another route.

Some days later there was another group of nine at the school, all Jews, among them a small boy who had been taken from sickbed. The fiancée of Ms. Herset, a farmer called Lars, was next day to bring them to a guide close to the border.

In the evening the refugees were grouped around a radio that now was strictly forbidden, listening to BBC. Lars finally changed to Nazi controlled Oslo, where a voice just issued a declaration that those who helped Jews, risked death penalty. Some of the Jews stiffened in their chairs. One of them looked nervously at Lars.

“Oh, that makes no difference”, he said.

One of the Jews then spoke: “Allow me to say the Jewish Prayer: "Now we the Jews have been God`s chosen people for four thousand years. Dear God, kindly find another people!”

One of the women asked miss Kjellaug: “Don`t you feel afraid when hearing that there is a death penalty for helping a Jew, and we are nine!” Kjellaug answered: ”That makes nine death penalties.” They all laughed a little. 

Many of the Jews were shocked into apathy or great fear, others remained calm and expressed great gratitude for the help they were lucky enough to find. Others couldn’t find words.

The guide, Gunnar Felldal, lifted a lame Jewish man from Oslo from a home into a lorry and drove him and about twenty others to the border district, where guides were ready to bring them by foot through the forest to the border. The lame Jew was to be brought by a sledge. The canvas was lifted off the lorry, so that the refugees could come out. When the turn came to this man, he shouted that he wanted to see the driver. Felldal placed himself at the end of the lorry, ready to lift the man off. The refugee put his arms around Felldals neck, laid his chin against his, unable to say a word.

Transports of small children were sometimes difficult and dangerous. That was experienced by a group on foot to the border south east of Oslo. In this group was Solveig Levin with her three year old daughter Mona. Three persons in the group were Jewish refugees from Germany. They were on the run for a second time. 

One of these were a doctor. An old couple didn’t manage to keep company and at last sat down in the forest. The guide – or pilot – which these men usually were called, Iver Skogstad, discovered it too late. He chose to bring the rest of the group to the border before returning to look for the lost couple. He found them at last. They were sitting in the cold night waiting to sleep into death.

Iver Skogstad - photo private

Little Mona was a cause for great unrest. Her mother had given her a sleeping tablet, to keep her quiet, but it didn’t work and she cried often. This was not unusual with small children brought out into the wilderness by parents fleeing for their life. It seemed as if they cried to heaven for help. The adults knew that these cries might cost them liberty and life. Many guides in the border district had experienced the strain on the escapees in such moments. Some got furious and shouted: “Strangle him – knock his head off!”

One of the refugees in this group at last couldn’t stand this crying of Mona. It was the doctor. He approached Solveig with a strong sleeping pill in his hand. The mother, however, boxed his ears. Shamefully the doctor returned to his place. The guide heard someone shout: “Liquidate the young!” He calmed them: “Liquidate! That is not the way!

Shortly afterwards they had crossed the border and soon after Mona fell asleep. She was sleeping dangerously heavy when they arrived at the border station. The eyes didn’t react on the sharp light from a torch. Then they all understood that she had had more than enough of sleeping pills. But she survived. 

A Jewish couple from Austria, Mr. and Mrs. Adler, turned to a professor in theology, Ole Hallesby. They told him they had done so because he seemed a most unpopular man in the nazi press. He sent for one of his students, Hans Chr. Mamen, whom he knew as a fearless young man. Mamen had been a volunteer in a Red Cross Unit in the Finnish-Russian war three years ago. Mamen promised to help.

Hans Christian Mamen 1919 - 2009

Shortly after he had placed the couple in hiding near his home, and a few days later he had collected another 21 persons that the Adlers knew about. Mamen engaged two student friends, Arthur Berg and Per Faye–Hansen. 

The latter besides had contact to other Jews. They all took part in the work of getting Jews out. Mamen himself guided most of the Jews he had brought in hiding to the border or to other guides on the route.

Per Faye Hansen - photo private

From early in December it seems that all the existing export routes were used by Jewish refugees, but their capacity was much to small for this unique demand. Hundreds of Jews were still in hiding, most of them from Oslo, but many also from other parts of Southern Norway.

At this time the ex–police man Alf Pettersen drove his second group of Jewish refugees to the border. Among them was the rest of the London family, and even Marcus who had been arrested in October. He had later – among several others – been released and had the impression that the crisis was over. (Some of the released were caught again on November 26th).

Back in Oslo Pettersen was asked to organise a transport group with the purpose of mass transporting Jews and members of resistance groups. The request came through Reidar Larsen from the Milorg leader Ole Berg. In spite of his wife`s pregnancy and with her approval, Pettersen and his friends organized the group the following night and day. A vital man in the group was Reidar Larsen who disposed of all they needed of trucks, fuel and drivers. Most of the other members were policemen or students. 

The headquarters was at Pettersen`s home where his wife soon was busy writing false transport permissions for the trucks to the border district. Her task also was to give signals by telephone calls to contacts along the road to be used. These would be signalling to the drivers when passing by, and inform them if enemy patrols were ahead. 

The greenhouse of Rolf Syversen was chosen as assembly point. Taxies and other cars collected the Jews in their hideouts and drove them to the garden. The first transport started the following night at 20.30 p.m. The distance to the border south east of Oslo was 94 km and would normally require 2 hours and 12 minutes. 

Rolf Alexander Syvertsen 1906- 1944 -  photo Wikipedia

The warning system was built upon preciseness at all stages. In order to get quickly operative and ensure maximum of effectiveness, no cover–names were to be used, except one: The name of the group, which was Carl Fredriksens Transport. That was a proper name. Carl was the Christian name of the King of Norway. Fredrik was the name of his father, the late king of Denmark. 

At 20.30pm sharp, most nights except Saturdays and Sundays two trucks started driving in direction of the border with 40 refugees and would arrive two hours later. There was a great danger of being stopped by numerous controls and the load of the trucks discovered. The drivers had to be both smart and impudent to get through. The nerve strain was great. Some drivers could endure only one or two trips.

One of the group members was Doctor Rolf Engebretsen whose job was to give medical care to escapees who were ill or couldn't stand the strain in hiding or on the trip. Dr. Engebretsen also traced through his medical contacts the many Jews who were kept hidden in the hospitals. He was later arrested, received harsh treatment and died suddenly shortly after release.

The group had its most difficult operation when they brought out from a hospital 28 persons who were severely ill. Two of these were invalids. One had shortly before gone through an operation and had to lie in a horizontal position. One was mentally ill. This time they all were driven right up to the border where Swedish contacts were waiting. 

Many methods were used to avoid the sharp controls outside Oslo. One night when the first driver, Alt Pettersen, noticed a German transport convoy coming in on the main road, he gave a signal to the following driver and they both mixed in between the German trucks until the control posts were past. 

The contacts to the hiding places were a tiny army of women and men. They were in charge of supplies and often also for moving refugees from one apartment to another when that was necessary for security reasons. The task of finding substitute flats at short notice was often very difficult. They had to do with persons who suffered under the strain of fear, uncertainty and waiting. Many were despaired by the thoughts of arrested family members. A few used nerve medicine which didn’t always work. Others were in possession of poison in case the enemy should come before the transport people.

A woman with a small child broke down at the assembly point screaming into the dark night. The guide pointed a pistol on her head, begging her to think of her child. She calmed down. Two hours later they were at the border. There she asked for the guide and gave him her hand. Another mother with a daughter lost all hope. When the helpers broke into her room, both were dead by poison. Another helper returned desperately to his group. He had found the man he should fetch hanging in the room.

There was a growing atmosphere of terror and death. Many Jews meant that to come into the hands of the Nazis were worse than death. Others still believed that to escape was wrong. Non–Jewish friends did their utmost to prevent them from reporting to the police. Wives with their husbands arrested wanted to join them, husbands still free, wanted to join wives or children in prison camps.

At this time – late in December – there was a sudden increase of Milorg refugees. One evening when the drivers had filled up their trucks an order came to unload. Young men from Milorg on the southern coast were to take their places. Their organisation was breaking down. Numerous contacts were arrested and in the hands of Gestapo forced to tell what names they knew. The leaders behind the Group dared not take the risk of these men being arrested. The Jews most reluctant followed order, as the drivers promised to fetch them the next evening. That might be too late! But all went well. Next evening the drivers were at the same place and brought them safely to Sweden.

One night Alf Pettersen discovered that one of the refugees he was pushing into the lorry was Ole Berg, the Milorg Leader, who now was forced to leave. 

Ole Berg 1890 - 1968

After some time the assembly point was changed to a safer one. That was arranged by a new contact, Mr. Sverre Lie, the man who earlier this year had opened the Trøgstad route. Mr. Lie was now closely connected to the Civilian resistance movement (Sivorg) and supplied from now on the group with money. Normally every refugee was asked to pay 150 kroner for the trip, which was stipulated to be the average cost. Those who could pay more were welcomed to do so, but those unable to pay, were never turned off.

The drivers were instructed to conceal the route taken, to ensure that no passenger would be able to reconstruct it. They were constantly afraid of informers and of leakage back to Norway from the open Swedish society. These fears were well founded.

 Early in January Alf Pettersen was told that two of the refugees he had stowed into the lorry, were informers. When he later that night delivered the refugees to the Swedes, he told them about his suspicions and asked them not to lose sight of the men. A few days later three other Gestapo agents were reported to have mixed with the refugees. At this time one of the drivers was arrested. It was high time to close down, but the next night Pettersen had to make another trip. Before he left home his wife went into hiding. The next morning Gestapo knocked at his door. Pettersen was warned by Rolf Syversen and got away. Several members of the group were now sought after by the enemy. They left for Sweden on the 15th of January 1943. 

Carl Fredriksens Transport had not quite closed down. It continued to the middle of February, but then was finally broken up. In its short lifetime, Carl Fredriksen's Transport had transported hundreds of refugees, mostly Jews, to the border. It was the greatest single lifesaving operation during the occupation of Norway.

The price for some of the helpers in this and other groups was high. Rolf Syversen, the gardener, was arrested and executed. Many others were caught, among these Lise Børsum, who had been in activity from the beginning. She was sent to a death camp in Germany.

When that happened, nearly thousand Jews from Norway were safely in Sweden. 

Published with permission

Author: Historian Ragnar Ulstein