Wednesday, March 5, 2014



July 14, 1955

Because of the successful rehabilitation and absorption into the Norwegian economy of refugees with medical histories of tuberculosis, the Norwegian Parliament has approved new legislation to admit 78 chronically ill DPs from Germany, of whom 41 are Jewish refugees, sponsored by the Joint Distribution Committee.

At the same time JCD has made a gift to the Norwegian Government’s rehabilitation center in appreciation of its successful experiment in transforming the chronically ill into useful self-supporting citizens.

The news was made known last week at a press conference in Oslo by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Dr. Erling Steen. Chairman of the Counsel and President of the Norwegian Red Cross presided.  Other speakers included Dr. Gudmund Harlem, Director of the rehabilitation center, Dr. Galtung Hansen, head of the TB divisions of the Ministry of Health, and Charles Jordan, Assistant Director-General of JDC.

Foehrenwald was one of the largest DP camps. It was established in June 1945 in the American occupied zone in Germany, southwest of Munich. The buildings of the camp had previously been used to house IG Farben employees and some had held forced laborers. By the end of 1946 there were appx 250,000 Jewish DPs. Foehrenwald was the last remaining DP camp in Europe. It was closed in 1957. Courtesy Yad Vashem.

“No country has done more for its size in reclaiming and rehabilitating the most desperate of the remaining DPs than has Norway” Jordan said. “You have provided scientific and technical facilities that have proved remarkably successful and you have added to that a sympathetic understanding and warmhearted hospitality. Such a combination is necessary if these veterans of persecution and disease are to be saved for humanity and for normal living.

Charles Jordan, Courtesy JDC
“The story of what you are doing has been widely publicized, and has served as an inspiration to men of good will in every country. I feel confident that the results obtained here have helped to inspire the amendments to US immigration laws, which are now before Congress and which will allow the admission into the United States of a certain number of refugees with tuberculosis histories.”

How completely possible it is to rehabilitate tuberculosis, was stressed in a report made by Hansen. The first group of sick refugees allowed into Norway in 1951 numbered 105, of whom 90 percent were adults with pulmonary TB and 10 percent children with relatively light symptoms.

“It must be pointed out from the start,” Mr. Hansen said, “that these refugees did not come here just to get treatment. What was most important for most of them was to find a place where they could settle after treatment to become useful citizens, get a job and be able to support themselves.

“In checking on these 105 today, three years later, we find that five of the most severely ill have died, seven have left the country, five of them after successful treatment, and 12 are still under treatment.

Of the remaining 81 cases, 76 are now leading normal lives, 11 are school children, eight are housewives and the other 57 are usefully employed, supporting themselves and their families. Only five refugees who are living outside hospitals are unable fully to support themselves, three of them being over 60 years old and the other two being able to contribute to their own support by part-time work.”

Mr. Steen announced that the newest groups elected and approved would start coming to Norway in August. In addition, he made it known that the Norwegian Government had made provisions for the admission of further refugees during 1955 and 1956.

The transportation of Jewish refugees from Germany to Norway will be provided by the United HIAS Service, whose staff works hand in hand with JDC in the selection of candidates for the Norway transport.

Courtesy: JDC

Scandinavian Jewish Forum




Inga Gottfarb (1913 – 2005) spent more than 50 years of her life in refugee work – in her native Sweden, in France, Italy, Switzerland and the US. 

She was born into one of the two Jewish families in Falun, Sweden. As a young girl, she moved to Stockholm, where she studied at a college.

When the Jewish refugees escaped by boat from Denmark in 1943, Inga stood at the harbor in Helsingborg to offer help. With the same goodwill and great intensity, she helped the suffering refugee women who arrived in Sweden in 1945 with Folke Bernadotte's White Buses. 

She moved to New York after the war to study. She received an MS from at Columbia University School of Social Sciences. She also worked as a social worker in Harlem. 

Inga Gottfarb

From 1952 till 1962 she worked in the JDC office in Rome, and later in Paris, where she did extensive work with refugees. When Alger was freed from France in 1962, Inga helped organize through JDC the evacuation of the French Jews. 

Returning later on to Sweden, she did extensive work with the Ministry of Immigration. She was also involved in working with the Russian Jews. She traveled and later lobbied for support for the "refuseniks". Her support for various projects with Keren Hayesod in Israel came also out of strong personal conviction.

In her book "Den livsfarliga glömskan" (The Perilous Oblivion), she has written about her personal experiences and recorded interviews with survivors of the concentration camps, after the liberation. 

NEW YORK 1996:

"I remember the arrival of the first Jewish refugees in Sweden in 1933 and have kept up with and been involved professionally or as a volunteer with all aspects of refugee work ever since, both Jewish and non-Jewish. 

I remember that the first Jewish refugees I met were those who came to my parents’ home to get one decent meal a day. At that time, the refugees had no right to the “dole”, nor to work and had to live on a small grant from the Jewish community and its members.

The flow of refugees increased, and in my parents’ home over the years, we housed and fed Jewish children from Austria and Germany, refugees from Poland and Czechoslovakia, Norway and Denmark and later Holocaust survivors.

In later years I was adviser to several Ministers of Immigration and was instrumental in bringing refugees to Sweden from a number of countries, among them many Jews, especially from Poland and Czechoslovakia.

Inga Gottfarb 

The deepest impression on my life, however, was the arrival of the concentration camp survivors in Sweden in April 1945, just before the end of the war in Europe. The small Jewish community in Malmö had called me to come and help with their reception of refugees.

I saw them coming to the harbor in southern Sweden in the White Buses as part of the Bernadotte expedition – all in all over twenty one thousand persons from twenty-seven different nationalities, of whom 5,000-6,000 thousand were Jews. I have been wondering about each of their destiny ever since. What happened to them later in life? 

White Buses" refers to a program undertaken by the Swedish Red Cross and the Danish government in the spring of 1945 to rescue concentration camp inmates in areas under Nazi control and transport them to Sweden, a neutral country. Although the program was initially targeted at saving citizens of Scandinavian countries, it rapidly expanded to include citizens of other countries.

All told, the program removed 15,345 prisoners from mortal peril in concentration camps; of these 7,795 were Scandinavian and 7,550 were non-Scandinavian (Polish, French, etc.). In particular, 423 Danish Jews were saved from the Theresienstadt concentration camp inside German occupied territory of Czechoslovakia, contributing significantly to the fact that the casualties among Danish Jews during the Holocaust were among the lowest of the occupied countries of Europe.

Following the rescue, it was always on my mind to find out what happened to them following the rescue. Upon my retirement, I was given an opportunity to do research at the Ministry of Immigration. Four years later, it resulted in the publication of a book entitled "The Peril of forgetting." (The Perilous Oblivion).

"The Peril of forgetting" is an experiment with oral history, I interviewed about sixty refugees who had arrived in Sweden from German camps during the spring and summer of 1945. All those refugees interviewed agreed - for the purpose of the book – to let the testimony be known, so that the evil times should never be forgotten. Hence the name of my book” The perils of Forgetting”. 

The last contingent of refugees consisted of sick persons who under an agreement between Sweden and UNRRA were received in Sweden for immediate care. 

With the exception of one Polish woman, all the refugees that I interviewed were Jewish, representing thirteen different nationalities. About half of them remained in Sweden, the other half in Israel. I was able to find some who had left Sweden. I recall very well a mother and her two years old daughter who was one of only three Jewish children who had come to Sweden from German camps. I managed to find them in South Africa and interviewed them. I found a former refugee living in New York that I interviewed as well.

Another group of interviewees were those at the “receiving end” who recounted their memories to me. Among them were the drivers of the “White Buses”, the Swedish Red Cross coaches who carried out the Bernadotte expedition that started March 9, 1945. This was a Swedish government enterprise run by 305 volunteers, men and women. Among those who met the refugees were a few social workers, nurses etc. 

Add caption

Facts: 308 personnel, among them about 20 doctors and nurses, the rest were volunteers. They were commanded by Colonel Gottfrid Bjorck as he was the inspector general for the Swedish supply forces. 36 ambulance buses, 19 trucks, 7 passenger cars, 7 motorcycles, rescue and workshop trucks and a field kitchen, all necessary equipment, including food, fuel and spare parts, as nothing could be had once in Germany (Source: Wikipedia).

Retirement gave me an opportunity to do follow-up work. I worked in a small research unit, a section of the Ministry of Immigration. Four years of research resulted in the publication of my book entitled "The Peril of forgetting." (The Perilous Oblivion).

My book is an experiment in oral history. I have interviewed about sixty of those who arrived in Sweden from German camps during the spring and summer of 1945. The contingent of the latter period consisted of sick persons who, under an agreement between Sweden and UNRRA, were received for care in Sweden.

Women prisoners gathered as the Red Cross arrived in Ravensbruck in April 1945. The white paint marks show they are prisoners. Buber-Neumann writes in her book Under Two Dictators. Prisoner of Stalin and Hitler: "The SS had no fabric for the production of new prison clothing. Instead they drove truckloads of coats, dresses, underwear and shoes that had once belonged to those gassed in the east, to Ravensbrück. 

The clothes of the murdered people were sorted, and at first crosses were cut out, and fabric of another color sewn underneath. The prisoners walked around like sheep marked for slaughter. The crosses would impede escape. Later they spared themselves this cumbersome procedure and painted with oil paint broad, white crosses on the coats." Courtesy: Wikipedia 

Folke Bernadotte - courtesy Wikipedia

I had the opportunity to interview two diplomats about their personal memories: Ambassador Gunnar Hägglöf who was stationed in London during the war and Torsten Brandel, Secretary at the Swedish Legation in Berlin, accompanied Count Bernadotte to several of his meetings with Himmler. He told me the amusing story that Himmler thought he was really going to meet General Eisenhower and was worried as to who should greet whom first. Himmler was politely told by Bernadotte that he would never meet the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces!

All those interviewed agreed with the purpose of my book: to let people testify so that the evil times should never be forgotten. Hence the name of my book ”The perils of Forgetting”.

It is important to relate this historic course of events. Soon all those who personally experienced those years will no longer be with us. 

“Who will tell when we are no more?“ they said to me. They all expressed the fear that what happened might be forgotten. They were grateful for my work to prevent this from occurring. They also wanted to protest against all those who maintain that the annihilation of six million Jews never took place.

I might mention that I believe that we all have a responsibility, a duty, to protest and act on behalf of human rights whenever they are suppressed. As the Nigerian Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka said: “Humanity dies in all those who keep silent in the face of tyranny.” And the Babylonian Talmud emphasizes: “He who could have protested against injustice, but failed to do so, will be called do account therefore.” (Avoda Zarah 18A) The ethical message of the Jewish heritage is thus that we should speak up when acts of injustice are committed.

May I give you a picture of what I saw in Malmö in the spring of 1945 when the 21 000 people saved by the Bernadotte expedition arrived: 

The ferry from Copenhagen arrived slowly to the dock. Onboard were several white buses with a red cross and with the Swedish flag painted on their sides. They had brought people during bombardments and air attacks from the German concentration camps through Austria, Germany and Denmark to safety in Sweden. One driver of a white bus had lost his life in Germany during an air raid. Others were seriously injured. They had all risked their lives caught in the intensive battles during the last days of the war.

On board were people of all nationalities, English, Chinese, Russian or Spanish. At the port was hustle and bustle. Swedish Red Cross volunteers, sanitary soldiers, policemen, railway personnel, soldiers, representatives of foreign embassies.

Over the gangway streamed healthy looking tall blond Norwegian boys, sailors, fishermen, students who had already been taken care of in Denmark. They looked healthy and fit as they came ashore. They eagerly received our chocolates and cigarettes. They intended to go home to Norway to continue to fight for the liberation of the country, still occupied by Germany. 

These images were in strong contrast to all those who arrived in railway carriages directly to the railway station in Helsingborg, sick and dying, bedridden persons, coughing feverishly and whispering a prayer, begging for water, or just wanting to hold the hand of a fellow human being.

Others were tired, emaciated, staggering from the ferry, supporting, almost carrying each other ashore. In grey striped prison clothes or blankets stiff with dirt, sometimes stinking horribly from carbolic acid. No stockings, legs as thin as sticks, their skin was red and chapped, dirty shawls covering their heads. Some were with only rags around their feet instead of footwear, some clip-clopping in torn “shoes’ with wooden soles. They looked scared. Their only possession was a dirty bundle or a Red Cross parcel, pressed to their chest.

Some of the Jews wore the yellow Star of David, on their prison clothes, while others had blue squares on theirs. A green triangle meant the prisoner was a habitual criminal, a violet one was that of a religious, pink denoted a homosexual, while black was for an asocial person. A red triangle showed the bearer to be a political criminal - today we would call him a “resistance fighter.” All these were signs sewn on cloth on their backs along with the painted x for prisoner.

We greeted the survivors as they came with a “hello”. When we thought somebody might be Jewish, we said “Shalom”. This lit up their faces. “We can’t believe it, it is just like a dream,” they said.

But when we mistook someone for being Jewish and said “Shalom”, some non-Jewish Polish women refugees would spit. The anti-Semitism had been fanned infernally by the Germans.

Sweden had been near isolated throughout the war and many products were rationed: butter, bread, meat, cheese, coffee, clothing, shoes, tobacco, cigarettes, etc. We could not be very generous with the new arrival of prisoners. A woman could for example only be offered one dress, one pair of shoes, two pairs of stocks, etc. - and a cardigan or canvas shoes only on a doctor’s prescription! And no bra!

One of my interviewees told me she had been sent as a social worker to visit a camp in the small province of Skåne. There were about 150 camps in Sweden that summer geared towards receiving the refugees. Over 100 physicians were given the task to give immediate care to the survivors.

In this particular camp the social worker discovered that the Swedish flag was missing from the flagpole. It turns out that the girls had pulled down the blue and yellow flag, torn it in pieces to make bras from it.

But let us go back to the reception of these ex-inmates, a reception which - as I pointed out – was not very good from the material point of view. Emotionally, however, it was overwhelming. The girls, almost 90% of them, came from women’s camps, eg. Ravensbruck, were most warmly received. It was a moment to reflect on the tragedy’s demand on humanity and what it truly means to be a refugee. They responded to the help and goodwill they were offered.

Among the 150 camps throughout Sweden was also the Malmö City museum, the quarantine of the old castle. Some of the women were housed there. Mattresses were placed on the floor, within the big halls, decorated with paintings, statues – all with the goal to just rest and sleep.

I spoke to a woman who seemed very weak, lying on one of the mattresses. She had worked at the SS office in Auschwitz. Her task was to register the persons who had been gassed. She had been working there for 18 months. She seemed to be very near a breaking point. As was I!

I came back two days later, however, and met that same woman, now an elegant French lady in a nice dress and hat – a gift from the Swedish government: “You know Madame, I am a lady and I am not used to wearing ready made clothes. I like to have my dresses tailored in Paris. Could you help me get some of my money from Switzerland so that I can have dresses made for me? This way I can feel like a lady again”.

Three Jewish children ages 9 to 15, English and Argentine citizens, had been permitted to receive Red Cross parcels in the camps. They now would like to have access to books. I was very pleased to find a copy of “Alice in Wonderland’ in a book shop. It was not so easy in those days.

A small dance hall in the city called Valencia was also used as quarantine. There were 100 young Polish girls, of whom 35 were Jewish. The leader of the youngest girls was a German born wife of the Polish rabbi. I told her that I was sent to offer assistance from the Joint Distribution Committee. It was as if this was the greatest miracle of their last lifesaving days. “Children,” she said, “you know what Joint is and you know from home what it means? Now we will be taken care of.”

“Could we just see a book with Hebrew letters?” and “Could we have some Sabbath candles?” And she asked if we could help in getting them separated from the Polish women since they were so anti-Semitic. This request we later heard often.

In the Tennis stadium were 300 Jewish girls from Poland happily sleeping on the floor mattresses. Some of them asked for religious help. They wanted to read the “gaumel prayer” the thanks when one’s life has been saved. We were permitted to arrange for an ambulating synagogue service with a minyan, the ten men needed for service - to every camp we chose - even the quarantines. It was a very special courtesy.

We, the helpers, were overwhelmed facing enormous problems that we needed to solve. We had for instance no interpreters for many of the language requirements. We had to help and rely on each other and use our imagination.

We were for example unable at times to explain to the new arrivals why they had to take a bath immediately upon arrival. That reminded them too much of the “bath houses” at Auschwitz and the deadly gas Cyclon B. At times they thought they were still in the hands of murderers and were frightened, so they refused to enter the bath. Not until a Swedish volunteer at one time a teacher tore off his clothes and rushed naked into the bath, did they dare to follow him.

Some women were so depressed, so despondent, so degraded. Sometimes a little thing can be of at least a momentary help. A store promised me a gift worth two hundred dollars, which was a big sum at that time. But what could I find that was more rationed? Lipsticks, brooches, handkerchiefs - they proved an excellent remedy for restoring pride in a woman’s self-image and self-respect. Some of my “saved” friends still remember the lipsticks.

In May of 1995 a commemoration of the rescue of Holocaust Survivors to Sweden was held at the Museum of Tel Aviv. Miriam Akavia, one of the rescued, said among other things in her speech: “We knew only the German beast. We were shattered by agony and grief and losses . . .Our stay in Sweden was for many of us a wonderful period in our lives. The Swedish people treated us in a philanthropic – humanitarian manner, expecting nothing in return.”

WHITE BUSES TIMELINE (Source: Wikipedia)

The first Norwegian political prisoners are deported to Germany.
The family of Johan Bernhard Hjort interned at the castle 
Gross Kreutz outside Berlin in Germany, start work to support the prisoners.
The Danish coalition government resigns; deportations of Danish prisoners to Germany begin.
Niels Christian Ditleff establishes contact with the group at Gross Kreutz.

Carl Hammerich visits Sweden and has the first of several meetings with Ditleff, discussing the Scandinavian prisoners.

September 22
Ditleff meets Bernadotte and suggests a Swedish expedition to save Scandinavian prisoners.

September 23
Major Johan Koren Christie writes a PM which states that the prisoners shall "Stay Put".

A report from the Gross Kreutz group written by Johan Bernhard Hjort argues that the Scandinavian prisoners must be moved out of Germany before the war ends.

Felix Kersten masseur to SS head Heinrich Himmler, manages to free 103 Scandinavian prisoners.

December 29
The Norwegian government-in-exile in London changes its view and requests that the embassy in Stockholm research a possible Swedish expedition to rescue prisoners in Germany.
February 5
Ditleff sends an official Norwegian PM to the Swedish foreign department, requesting a Swedish expedition to rescue the Scandinavian prisoners.

February 16
Bernadotte travels to Berlin by plane, meets Himmler and discusses the release of political prisoners.

March 12
The "white buses" arrive at Friedrichsruh, the base for the expedition in Germany.

March 15
The first transport from Sachsenhausen to Neuengamme; 2,200 Norwegian and Danes are collected.

March 19
The first transport collecting prisoners in the south of Germany; 559 prisoners are transported to Neuengamme. Five surviving Norwegian Jews in Buchenwald are left behind.

March 26
The first transport of Swedish women married to Germans are carried to Sweden.

March 27
Transport of French, Belgian, Dutch, Polish, and Russian prisoners from Neuengamme to make space for additional Scandinavian prisoners.

March 29
The Swedish Red Cross gets access to the Neuengamme concentration camp.

March 30
Transport from the area around Leipzig; some 1,200 prisoners are collected, 1,000 of them are Danish police and transported on to Denmark.

April 2
A new Swedish column to the south of Germany, the camps at Mauthausen, Dachau and Vaihingen are visited; 75 prisoners are collected at Neuengamme.

April 5
About half of the Swedish contingent return to Sweden; they are replaced by Danes.

April 8
The first transport from Ravensbrück; 100 female prisoners are transported directly to Padborg in Denmark.

April 9
A Swedish/Danish column travels to Berlin to collect political prisoners from jails; 211 prisoners are transported to Neuengamme. The evacuation of sick prisoners to Denmark starts.

April 15
A total of 524 political prisoners from jails in Mecklenburg are collected; 423 Jews are transported from Theresienstadt to Denmark and Sweden.

April 8
The first air attack against the "white buses" occurs at the Danish camp at Friedrichsruh, four Danish drivers and one nurse are slightly wounded.

April 20
The evacuation of all Scandinavian prisoners from Neuengamme to Sweden through Denmark starts.

Transport of sick prisoners from Ravensbrück; 786 and 360 female prisoners in two columns are taken to Padborg.

April 2
One column with 934 female and one train with 3,989 female prisoners; the last "white buses" transport leaves from Ravensbrück.

April 30
The Magdalena with 223 prisoners and Lillie Matthiessen with 225 female prisoners depart from Lübeck.

May 2
2,000 female prisoners (960 Jews, 790 Poles, and 250 French) arrive in Padborg by train.

May 3
Cap Arcona, a German passenger vessel filled with prisoners from Neuengamme is attacked by the RAF; almost all the 7,500 aboard the vessel die.

May 4
The last transport leaves with rescued political prisoners transported by ferry from occupied Copenhagen in Denmark to Malmö in Sweden.

For the purpose of this article, minor technical edits have been made. 

Courtesy JDC