Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dora Thing - Courtesy Morten Thing


by Morten Thing

My mother was born into a Jewish family of immigrants in Copenhagen in 1919. Her father, Leon Recht, was born in Russian Poland and had come to Copenhagen in 1911. Her mother, Malke Becker, was born in Lithuania and had come with her family to Copenhagen via Lund, Sweden in 1906. They married in 1913. My maternal grandfather wanted to marry the younger sister of my grandmother, but my great grandfather said that he had to take the eldest, unmarried daughter; and he did. 

My mother was born on Nørrebrogade, the main thoroughfare in one of Copenhagen’s working class districts, in the same house as my grandmother’s parents. When my mother was six her grandfather died, and she had to go every evening to sleep together with her grandmother, who was afraid of being alone. 

My mother was scared every evening when her grandmother first removed her false hair and then her false teeth. Both her parents and her mother’s parents were orthodox, and my great grandmother always used a wig. The family respected the 613 mitzvahs (the body of rules and regulations of Jewish law) that orthodox Jews should obey.

Dora Thnig - Courtesy Morten Thing

My mother had a sister, Rachel, four years older and in 1924 she got a brother, Leopold. The father was a travelling salesman for a German optical company. He belonged to ‘the small congregation’, an oppositional and more orthodox one than the “official” big one. 

It came into existence when the rabbi of the main Synagogue was fired for being considered “too strict” in his orthodox leanings for the Jewish community. . My mother, even in her old age, still remembered the strong feelings she had when her brother Leopold was circumcised. He had cried so loud, and as women and girls were not allowed in the room, there was no one to help him.

Dora Thnig's passport- Courtesy Morten Thing

My mother was born on Nørrebrogade, the main thoroughfare in one of Copenhagen’s My mother went to the Jewish kindergarten and subsequently to the Jewish girls’ school, Carolineskolen. 

At home the parents spoke Yiddish to the children. They understood it, but answered in Danish. All the family spoke Yiddish and went to the synagogue every Shabes and respected all the holidays, Pesach Yom Kippur, Sukkes and so on. Although the father was a very nice man to his children (and only punished them with the leather strap now and then), he was very strict with everything religious. They had to walk to the synagogue, ate only kosher food, and were not allowed to carry money on Shabes and so on. 

However, when my mother grew up, she became aware of things in her father’s religious practice that she found hypocritical. And when she was only 12 she refused to attend the synagogue anymore. Even if they threatened her with God’s punishment, she wouldn't go. 

Dora Thnig - Courtesy Morten Thing

After graduating from the Jewish school and entered the non-Jewish high school, her father wanted her to stay at home at Shabes, which she rejected. If she could not go to school on Saturdays, she’d be unable to pursue her education, she told her father. 

In the thirties the family moved from the small apartment in Nørrebro to a bigger one in Østerbro, an upscale middle class part of town. . After 1933 her father began to invite German Jewish immigrants to lodge with them, and through them, my mother was introduced to the various currents of thought in ‘modern Jewishness’ –such as Zionism, Communism and Atheism. It was a revelation to her and to her rebellion. She began to attend meetings in a small Zionist organization—where she met her first love, Peter, a German Jewish Communist. She was 16. 

Because her father’s fear she might get pregnant; he went to the secretary of the Jewish Community who had some close ties to the immigration police. In short order, Peter was called to the police. 

There he was told that he must either join his parents, who were living in France, or else he would be reported to the German authorities (who would likely deport him back to Germany). In the throws of this ultimatum, and with the police in the meantime having kept his passport, he bought a false one and went to join the Spanish civil war, where he was killed after a few months.

My mother had planned to migrate to Palestine and she enrolled in a school for kindergarten teachers as she thought their services would be needed there. The school also offered a course for unemployed workers, and in 1937 my father, Børge Thing, attended such a course. He was a plumber by training from Herning, in Western Jutland. He came from a very Lutheran Pietistic home and was a Social Democrat. When he saw this dark beauty he was very smitten by her and they began to talk. He was always hungry and often ate half of my mother’s daily package of sandwiches mad by her mother. 

As things would have it, they fell in love and my father became a Communist like my mother. They came from two different religions, and found each other in a third one. My grandfather would not accept my non-Jewish father and forbade his daughter to move from home and have her own place until she reached the age of 21. My father came regularly and ate at Shabes in my mother’s home. 

My grandfather acted as if he didn’t see him, as long as he would eat in the kitchen, which was my grandmother’s territory. But later, they became very friendly with each other.

Dora Thnig - Courtesy Morten Thing

In 1940 my grandfather could no longer forbid my mother to have her own home and they, my parents-to-be, got themselves a small apartment. Then came the fateful day, April 9th of that year when Denmark was occupied by Germany and both the Jews and the Communist were holding their breath as to how the Germans would behave towards them. 

But nothing happened until 1942 when the Communist Party was banned by the Danish government. My parents got married because my mother got pregnant, and in September 1942 they got their first child, my sister Jette. In late 1942 my father went underground to work with the early resistance fighters. My mother moved back to her parents with her baby daughter. Though my parents would meet regularly, my father lived somewhere else, essentially in hiding as most resistance fighters did at the time. 

On April 18th 1943, my father’s 26th birthday, my parents went out together to celebrate. Later that evening, after leaving my mother at her parent’s home, he was arrested by the Danish police and accused of being a Communist. He was tried and received a 4 months’ prison sentence. While in prison he got a very severe headache and after a lot of pressure from my mother he was moved from prison to the municipal hospital. 

It was in the summer and he was allowed visits from my mother and Jette. On August 29th the Danish government reacted to the German demands for capital punishments for sabotage by dissolving itself. A member of my father’s resistance group contacted my mother, she went to the hospital with his clothes, and they fled together. Outside the hospital a car was waiting for him and he disappeared into the resistance movement again. 

Only a month later the rumors began to fly that the Germans would at last arrest the Jews. My mother got into contact with my father, who arranged for the escape to Sweden of my mother, Jette, my mother’s brother Leopold and his friend Benjamin. They went by train to a coastal village by the Øresund Sound where they hid in a barn. 

A Jewish painter arrived with his two children. He had been injured and was very upset after having jumped from his apartment’s balcony to escape the Germans. Getting ready to acquire an additional boat, the men in charge of the transport asked who was immediately ready to get going to Sweden. My mother said she was as Jette had begun to cry, upsetting the other Jews waiting in the barn. 

They were nine adults and a baby. Jette was given an anesthetic in order not to cry. They were then lead to the beach, where a rowboat waited for them. What they didn’t know was that they were expected to row all the way to Sweden. Nobody except my mother knew how to row, therefore she gave Jette to one of the other women in the boat.

Also, what they didn’t know was that the boat hadn’t been in water for at least one year and it started to leak few meters from the beach. They didn’t have a bailer to empty the boat; they had to use a hat one of the men carried. Only some 400 meters from the coast, the boat had to turn around, and in the process the woman sitting with Jette lost her in the water. My mother’s brother Leopold immediately dived to the bottom and fetched her up again. They succeeded in turning the boat around and helped my mother manage to stand up with Jette in her arms in the boat. She didn’t know if Jette was alive and cried hysterically. They soon realized that the painter and his son had drowned. The painter couldn't swim and the son tried to keep him up. A German Jewish refugee among them couldn't swim either and drowned, too. 

Leopold and the woman who had carried Jette tried to swim back to get help, but they lost consciousness. Fortunately a boy on the shore saw them and he came to their rescue and found additional help for them at a fisherman’s house. After some time a sand-pump-boat heard the screaming of the four still in the water in and around the boat. It was just before the three still in the cold water passed out. They were all taken to the hospital in Elsinore. 

On the way, my mother passed out and when she woke up, she was lying in a hospital bed. The first thing she asked was: Where is my daughter? Her bed was pushed to the next room and she saw Jette sitting in the lap of her beloved uncle, who also had been driven to the hospital. A true wonder! 

The next day, they were all in the hands of members of the resistance and placed aboard a bigger vessel and arrived safely to Helsingborg in Sweden. In the beginning of their stay in Sweden, they were living in a kind of camp with other Danish refugees. My mother waited for her parents and her sister to arrive. Once they arrived her parents lived in a special camp with other orthodox Jews. As shekhting (kosher butchering) had been prohibited in Sweden since 1937, they had to either eat vegetarian or live with treif (non-kosher) food. 

After some time, Leopold got permission to continue his medical school studies in Uppsala (the University town near Stockholm) and the rest of the family got permission to follow. They had a new apartment in Uppsala and my mother opened a kindergarten for refugee children in town. 

At Chanukah time 1944 my father was sent to Sweden on a secret mission for the resistance movement to purchase weapons. My mother was unaware of this (although they had corresponded) and she was overwhelmed when she saw him. He asked Jette (who had started speaking a mixture of Danish, Swedish and Yiddish): “Where is your daddy?” “On the wall in the sitting room,” she answered. Moreover, she showed him his portrait on the wall.

He stayed for some weeks, and when he left, my mother was pregnant with me. After liberation, my father got a special military permit to get my mother and Jette to Denmark. He could not wait. They recreated their life, but except for their love, nothing was as it used to be. 

My father had been living in different rooms, with the gun under the pillow and had participated in hundreds of sabotages. He was nervous and suffered from what later was to be called a post-traumatic stress syndrome disorder. He received an offer to become an officer in the Danish Army and after three years at the military academy, he had the rank of major. 

However, to be a Communist and an officer during the cold war was very difficult, if not also quite stressful, and after 10 years of military service he couldn't take it anymore and resigned. My mother took care of Jette and me and for some time she had her own kindergarten, and I went with her every morning. In 1958, we even got a little brother, Michael.

My father had to find a new job after leaving the army. First he got an offer from a friend to join him establishing an advertising agency. It seemed he had talent for management, and soon he was offered a good job as a director for a big hearing aids corporation. As a family we were enabled to move upward socially in the fifties and sixties. But then tragedy struck: my father came down with liver cancer; caused by the earlier treatment with the radioactive contrast medium, Thorotrast. He died in 1971, my mother was 51 and Michael only 13. It was a disaster. But as my mother put it: after crying for some years, she realized that she actually liked to live on her own. She began working again and when she retired, she began travelling and spending long summers in her summerhouse. We would come to visit her with our kids. In the last years of the nineties, she suffered from dementia and spent some years in a rest home. She died in 2002.

I have written a book about my mother (in Danish). Its called Min mors historie. I published it myself. 

Should anyone wish the book, the price is 180 Dkr. It can be ordered at

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Book Review | Countrymen by Bo Lidegaard

The Untold Story of How Denmark’s Jews Escaped the Nazis, of the Courage of Their Fellow Danes—and of the Extraordinary Role of the SS.

Review by Leo Goldberger

Shortly after my bar mitzvah in 1943 at the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen, where my father had arrived from Czechoslovakia in 1934 to be the chief cantor, the roof caved in with all the uncertainties, terror and threats of annihilation. 

My family, along with some seven to eight thousand Danish Jews, were forced to flee their homes. It is surprising that it has taken 70 years and much archival digging to fully learn the details, especially the Danish and German political maneuvers, that made the escape possible.

Bo Lidegaard, a historian, former diplomat and current editor-in-chief of the leading Danish newspaper,Politiken, has carefully sifted through the work of numerous German and Danish archivists, who worked for decades to nail down the details of the events and grasp the roles of major players. 

This compelling, important book offers the reader a comprehensive and judiciously balanced account of what actually took place back in my old country in the late summer of 1943 during the worst months of the rescue crisis. 

Denmark Square is located in the Beit Hakerem Neighborhood of Jerusalem

The centerpiece of the work is the rich lode of diary entries from Jewish families, who recorded their traumatic experiences as they anxiously cast about for places to hide, made lists of what to pack for the children and worried about their homes, belongings and money as they suddenly became fugitives, desperately seeking a way to get to neutral Sweden (which was to welcome us with open arms!).

Lidegaard’s compassionate comments on the diary entries and his cogent day-by-day reportage of the political situation on the ground over the critical two-week period of the pursuit further provide the riveting narrative with a sense of immediacy and suspense. 

One clue to understanding why the Danish Jews did not suffer the fate of other European Jews is in the title of Lidegaard’s book itself. Countrymen embodies the idea that Jews in Denmark were simply fellow countrymen. In the author’s preferred usage, they were Jewish Danes, not Danish Jews. The historic absence of anti-Semitism in the country—from King Christian X to ordinary Danes—is a key element in understanding its humanistic character. 

Thus Lidegaard’s choice to open the book with a poltiical cartoon illustrating this point makes perfect sense. The cartoon (dating back to January 10, 1942, in a Swedish anti-Nazi paper) depicts Danish King Christian X and his prime minister pondering what to do if the German occupiers were to demand that Jews wear the Star of David, with the King responding: “Well, then we’ll probably all wear yellow stars!” The cartoon is the original source of the famous but apocryphal legend that the King wore the yellow star on his daily horseback rides through the streets of Copenhagen. 

Based on a careful study of the King’s personal diaries, Lidegaard reports that the King actually expressed this pro-Jewish sentiment—just as on other occasions the King was observed with tears in his eyes when he heard rumors of the Jewish roundup. We further learn from Lidegaard that not only the King but all his ministers and leading politicians regarded any sort of discrimination as totally unacceptable. 

In a word, this was the line in the sand that the Germans were not to cross—or else. The “or else” clearly became the paramount issue for the Danes to struggle with during the occupation as the Nazis made increased inroads into Danish autonomy. 

The Germans invaded Denmark on April 9, 1940—on the pretext of protecting Denmark from an English invasion—despite Denmark’s avowed neutrality and anti-aggression pact with their German neighbor. Within hours, King and government, seeing no realistic way out, agreed to a modus operandi for a peaceful occupation. They signed off on a “policy of negotiation,” a document that allowed Denmark to maintain its sovereignty, with its King, ministers, parliament, constitution, civil service, judiciary, police and military in place. 

Denmark Square is located in the Beit Hakerem Neighborhood of Jerusalem

Most importantly, it left all civil and domestic matters in the hands of the Danes themselves. In return for these “concessions,” resistance was prohibited and was to be severely dealt with by the Danish authorities. In Lidegaard’s reading, this agreement created the essential shield for the Jewish community. 

Active resistance was slow in starting, but when it finally erupted in 1943 the increasingly furious Germans harkened back to the original policy agreement, insisting that the Danish government take the toughest police measures against the resistance movement, including summary judgment and the death penalty for saboteurs. 

In protest, on August 29, 1943, the Danish government resigned en masse, leaving ministries in the care of their non-political civil service secretaries, headed by the foreign ministry’s chief employee, Nils Svenningsen. The Germans declared martial law, placing the Wehrmacht’s General Hermann von Hanneken in charge. The shield protecting the Jews was now gone. 

It was in the midst of this turmoil and tense negotiations that Werner Best—the senior SS official in charge of the civilian side of the occupation—grossly blundered by sending a telegram to Hitler calling for a roundup of the Jews. Here, Lidegaard provides us with many new insights. He convincingly depicts Best as a self-promoting conniver who, in his rivalry with his nemesis, General Hanneken, miscalculated the serious consequences of rounding up Denmark’s Jews. 

Best wanted the roundup to occur as soon as possible, while martial law was still in effect—thus making it Hanneken’s responsibility, not his. But Best neither foresaw the outrage with which the Danes would greet persecution of their Jewish compatriots nor the effect that panicking the Jews might have on maintaining public order. Even Germans flinched over much higher costs in manpower should Germans have to run the country on their own, and the potential loss of Danish goodwill in supplying agricultural and industrial products for them. 

Denmark Square is located in the Beit Hakerem Neighborhood of Jerusalem

After details of Best’s telegram leaked from his inner circle, Svenningsen, the courageous Danish official, held Best’s feet to the fire by insisting daily on answers to the swirling rumors of a roundup of Danish Jews, but his attempt to forestall the Germans by various means, including offers to intern the Jews under Danish supervision within Denmark, was a no-go. Meanwhile, in response to persistent Danish pressure, Best tried desperately to undo the damage and soften the impact of his initiative. 

In a written memorandum, he explicitly exempted half-Jews and Jews with non-Jewish spouses from arrests. With Adolph Eichmann’s written approval, Best sent assurances that Danish Jews would not be sent to Auschwitz, that the SS would not break down doors to Jewish homes, and that they were to cease active pursuit of Jews after the first night of the roundup. Despite these orders, some fanatic SS-men and Danish Nazis kept up the pursuit for several weeks, sending fearful Jews into hiding and prompting more than a few dozen suicides and drownings. 

Another painful reality was the major disconnect between fears and facts. People responded to rumors of all kinds, often quite misleading and conflicting. Many brave helpers were equally subject to rumors and misconceptions of the dangers facing them, as were the fishermen who often only reluctantly agreed to make the choppy three-to-eight-hour trip to carry Jews across the Sound to Sweden even in return for a pot of gold. 

I still shudder remembering how, after having waited for hours in nearby bushes along the shore, I waded chest-deep into the cold winter water to reach the fishing boat, then was hauled aboard and placed in its smelly hold while my dad abandoned his suitcase to carry two of my little brothers in his arms. 

As Lidegaard documents events, the SS, the Wehrmacht and their patrol boats had a higher priority—searching for mines in the waters off the western coast of Denmark, anticipating an attack by allied forces. Best placed the blame for the failure to capture and deport the Jews on everyone but himself. A master of spin, he proudly telegraphed his success to Berlin: Denmark was now Judenrein! 

Especially remarkable is the response of the Nazi hierarchy, from Best through Eichmann, Himmler, Ribbentrop and Hitler—how they all backed away from implementing the search on land for Danish Jews— which yielded a mere 482 Jews out of some seven to eight thousand. Why didn’t the Germans go after the Jews? 

Even if Hitler entertained a soft spot for the racially pure Aryans of Denmark, a prideful showcase for his “model protectorate” in a future Neuropa, Lidegaard believes that the consistent opposition of the Danes to the persecution of their countrymen somehow challenged and weakened the Nazi belief system—as unlikely as it may seem. 

An alternate explanation might have been Hitler’s conclusion that the significant propaganda value of allowing Denmark to exist as a limited but peaceful model in his thousand-year Reich was preferable to a bloody revolt by noble Scandinavians for the sake of a handful of Jews. The game wasn't worth the candle. 

Leo Goldberger is professor emeritus of psychology at New York University. He is the editor of and contributor to an original anthology, The Rescue of the Danish Jews.

Previously published in Moment Magazine, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Harald Isenstein - Kongelige Bibliotek


"Paa grund af de politiske forhold emigrerede Harald Isenstein i1933 fra Tyskland, hvor han havde vundet et navn som portrættør af mellemkrigstidens personligheder. Han er en udpræget portrætbegavelse med evne til, under sin foretrukne form: 
Portræthovedet, at omskrive Personens aandelige karakter 
og ydre i en plastisk syntese."

                     S. Rindholt: Harald Isenstein, 1938 (Schultz).

Kurt Harald Isenstein, (1898 -1980), billedhugger. Født i Hannover, død i Kobenhavn.

Forældre: købmand Adolf Isenstein (død 1922) og Jenny Meyer (død 1960). 

Isenstein voksede op i Berlin hvortil forældrene flyttede ved århundredskiftet. Hans udvikling var nøje forankret til Berlins kunstliv sådan som det udfoldede sig før Hitler. Dér var hans rod. 

Han blev 1917 optaget på kunstakademiets skulptur-skole og fortsatte – afbrudt af militærtjeneste i Flandern – igen på akademiet fra 1919. 

Han modtog 1923 som stipendium den tyske Staats-preis og udstillede jævnlig på Berliner-Sezessionen. Allerede som ung nåede han at blive en kendt skikkelse i Berlin inden han 1933 tvunget af de politiske omstændigheder drog til Danmark, det land han efter flygtningeårene 1943–45 i Sverige atter valgte at bo og arbejde i. 

Han blev 1947 dansk statsborger. Hans evne og særpræg som billedhugger fremgår klart af statuetter og portræthoveder fra 1920erne. Enkelte af dem repræsenterer noget af det betydeligste han har skabt. Det gælder hans Kvindehoved i bronze fra 1923, stilistisk beslægtet med den tyske billedhugger Wilhelm Lehmbruch. 

Busterne af Edwin Fischer, 1923, og Albert Einstein, 1924, hører til Isensteins fineste og mest træfsikre portrætfortolkninger. Det blev også i de kommende år den psykologiske indlevelse der stærkest prægede I.s resultater. 

Den plastiske helhed underordnedes som oftest den primære søgen efter modellens individuelle udtryk. I. skaber ingenlunde altid lutret kunst, men ofte en interessant portrætdokumentation. Der er dog adskillige eksempler på at form og indhold er i god balance. Mellem Isensteins heldigste værker må regnes det holdningsfulde hoved i mørk bronze af en ung afrikaner, udført 1930. 

Han følte sig draget af store personligheder, videnskabsmænd, kunstnere, politikere, og inspireredes ved mødet med dem. Det gælder også meget af hans produktion i Danmark hvor han 1934 udstillede som gæst på Den frie udstilling og bl.a. afholdt flere separatudstillinger. Blandt hans arbejder kan nævnes portrætbusterne af Niels Bohr, Georg de Hevesy ogKaren Blixen. 

Endvidere hans flygtningemonument i Helsingborg stadspark, et relief fra 1945, samt mindesmærker for norske jøder der blev Hitlers ofre, opstillet i Oslo (1947) og Trondheim (1948). 

Isensteins vitalitet og initiativ gav sig udslag på flere måder. Mange lærte ham at kende som pædagogen. Allerede i Berlin ledede han en kunstskole. Denne gerning tog han i vid udstrækning op i Danmark. I radio og TV henvendte han sig specielt til ungdommen. Rundt om i Danmark, Norge og Sverige afholdt han stærkt besøgte kursus, en særlig form for skulpturundervisning med ler som materiale. 

Vinteren igennem underviste han i sit københavnske atelier både i malerkunst og billedhuggerkunst. 1. behøvede den nære kontakt med mennesker, og hans hovedformål var en fortsat fordybelse i det menneskelige.

Maleren (Bronzestatuette, 1913)
Kunstnerens Hustru (Cement, 1917)
Diskoska­steren. (Bronze, cire perdue, 1926 Sportsmuseum, Berlin)
Mor og Barn (Gips, 1932)
Elskovskamp (Bronze, 1932)
Efter Badet (Gips, 1936)
Svømmerske (Gips, 1936)
Dansk­Flygtninge-Monument (svensk Granit, 1945 Stadsparken, Helsingborg)
Mindesmærke for 125 norske Jøder fra Trondhjem-Egnen (3 Bautasten i norsk Granit, 1947, Trondhjem)
Thalia (Kunststen, 1947 Parken til Skuespillernes Rekreationshjem, Marienlyst)
Mindesmærke for 620 norske Jøder (norsk Labrador og Bronzeplade, 1948, Jødisk Kgd., Oslo)
Halvfigurer: Den femtenaarige (brændt Ler, 1925)
Eva Maria (brændt Ler, 1930)
Nini Theilade (1937)
Heinr. Heine (Bronzemonument, 1930, Cleveland, Ohio) Fysikeren Heinr. Hertz (Buste, 1931)
Portræthoveder (i eller til Bronze, hvor andet ikke anføres) Alb. Einstein (1924 Provinzialmu­seum i Hannover, Mus. i Baltimore og Rio de Janeiro samt i Det hebraiske Universitet i Jerusalem), Præsidenterne Ebert og Hindenburg, Emil Ludwig (1924), Marcus Behmer (1926), Erich Kortner, Friedrich Kayssler (Eg, 1931), Wilh. Doerpfeld (1931, opst. i Marmor 1933 i Mus. i Olympia), Edwin Fischer, Ernst Toller, Luigi Pirandello, Karen Blixen Finecke (1935), Harald Bohr, Niels Bohr (1935), Fini Henriques (1936, Det kgl. Teater), Rob. Storm Petersen (1938), Poul Reumert, Martin Andersen Nexø. Endvidere Relieffer, drevne i Kobberplade, Figur-Malerier og Raderinger (bl. a. Illustrationer til Arno Holz' Digte).

Kilde: Danske Wikipedia


The Danish School in Gothenburg, 1945. 
Courtesy Leo Goldberger.

          Back row, left to right: 
          Leo Goldberger, Paul Anton Rasmussen, 
          Ernst Peter Weis, Torben Bendix, Bent Helge Skov, 
          Abraham Beilin, Aaron Engelhardt , Preben Bornstein; 
          First row, left to right: 
          Gunver Helweg Meyer, Lone Blatt, Judith Eismann, 
          Salli Besiakov, Carl Scousboe (art teacher), 
          Corrado Diena, Kurt Michael Hansen, 
          Hans Jørgen Goldschmidt. 
          (Missing: Per Grigat Horwitz, Ole Stanley 
          Segner, Sverre Heiman Olsen and Else Petersen).

T H E  D A N I S H  S C H O O L
 I N  G O T H E N B U R G

 (1 9 4 3 - 4 5)


One of my enduring memories was a particular lesson we had in geometry, conducted by our school’s outside math inspector, Niels Bohr’s younger professor Harald Bohr, a mathematician. 

Standing at the blackboard he enthusiastically tried to convey the “obviousness” of the Pythagorean theorem for solving the parallelogram, not arithmetically but “intuitively” by having us simply look at the lines he scribbled on the board. We were all a bit dumbfounded and in frustration he kept saying: “can’t you see it; just look at the board, it shines out at you!”

For starters I must say that one of the most memorable aspects of my and my family’s stay in Sweden from October 2, 1943 to June 6, 1945 as refugees from Denmark was the generous hospitality and genuine concern for the welfare of all of us by the Swedes—from officials to the ordinary folks one might encounter, their goodwill towards us was most heartening in our time of need.

Beginning with the major influx of the Danish Jews during October, 1943, totaling some 7000, there were also a growing number of non-Jewish Danes, about 10.000 in all, who (often accompanied by their immediate family) were on the run from the Nazis because of their involvement in the resistance movement. Needless to say it became quite a logistical problem for the Swedes to insure they were all properly housed and fed, if not also placed in suitable jobs across the country to the extent possible. 

Four children pealing potatoes. "Solviken" in Töllsjö was available in 1944 
for the Refugee Counsel in Gothenburg. 
During the summer of 1944 the students spent their 
time at a summercamp.

How best to provide for the hundreds of youngsters of school age and older students in varies stages of completing their education was obviously a top priority. The educational issue was so expeditiously addressed that hardly a day of schooling was lost for most of us. My own experience in continuing my education took place in Gothenburg (“Göteborg” in Swedish) Sweden’s second largest city and will the main focus here.

Our school in Gothenburg accommodated some 200 students at its peak, rivaled in number of students and scope only by the 210 enrolled in the Danish School in Lund. In addition, the city of Helsingborg had some 100 students in its school, which was limited to the lower and middle grades, while Stockholm, Northköping, and Jönköping only serviced the lower grades.

To so quickly establish a well-oiled school system on par with and credentialed as such by the authorities in Denmark in terms of scope, curricula, textbooks, exams and manned by a cadre of qualified Danish teachers was of course quite a daunting challenge. In Gothenburg, as elsewhere in Sweden, committees aiding refugees pursuing educational goals were rapidly established by prominent Danish academics-- professors and educators who themselves were refugees—working jointly with their Swedish colleagues.

These committees, with the support of the local Swedish school system and the backing of the central Danish refugee organization that had already been established at the behest of the Danish embassy in Stockholm under the leadership of professor dr. jur. S. Hurwitz, himself among the Danish- Jewish refugees, ultimately served as guarantors of the financial side of the establishment of the school. 

Though much of the expenditures for running the schools as well as the many boarding facilities for kids separated from their parents, the summer camps, etc. relied on donations from private sources, the main burden ultimately fell on the Danish governmental sources.

1. and 2. class at the Danish School Gothenburg. Taken towards the end of year 1943 
or 1944. The photo is taken in front of the synagogue
in Östra Larmgatan in Gothenburg.

In a remarkable show of cooperation from all sides, the Danish School in Gothenburg was able to open its doors on Nov. 9, 1943, with Gudrun Henriques as principal, Karl Hyldegaard-Jensen as administrator and Jes Schytt, the local Danish Consul general as patron. The initial student body, numbering some 50, spanned the entire educational spectrum, from the grades (1-5) through middle school (1-4) and “gymnasium” (1-3) leading to matriculation, the coveted red-banded white cap of passing the “Student Exam”, which allowed entry to the university level. 

At first the school was far from fully operational due to difficulties in locating suitable classroom facilities; Gothenburg was quite strapped for available facilities. While several Swedish educational and other institutions (such as the Jewish community center which hosted the grade school) made some spaces available, this was a rather makeshift arrangement and entailed splintering the student body into several different locations. 

 It also restricted the school hours, at least for the middle and upper level classes, to the afternoon hours, with classes meeting only 4 days a week. 

As many of us were already attending Swedish schools (Hvitfelska Läroverket, in my case), the transition to the Danish school on an afternoon basis—at least for the first few months--allowed us simultaneously to continue Swedish school in the mornings and to continue making friends among Swedish classmates.

Hvitfelska Läroverket - Foto: Göteborgs Stadsmuseum

Perhaps the key to the success of our Danish school was not just the flexibility shown by the powers that be, but the spirit of being in a common boat, all of us determined to make the best of our refugee stay without losing faith in our ultimate hope of returning home to Denmark. 

Though we rarely spoke about our traumatic escape or about a parent who might have had the misfortune of being incarcerated in Theresienstadt, we eagerly followed the progress of the war and spent as much free time together as was possible, seeing memorable movies—such as Casablanca and Scarlet Pimpernel –going to dances and week-end outings, and various festivities at national holidays, special concerts and theater performances arranged by the school or the local refugee club as well as by generous Swedes. We were indeed a close-knit community!

In my own case, the sense of community was furthered by my having I joined the Boy Scouts troop, entitled “Holger Danske” to commemorate the legendary Danish hero of old. The troop—as well as a parallel Girls and Cub scouts groups-- numbered around 40 and was established by our school with the blessings of the official Swedish scout organization.

Our troop was led by one of our much beloved teachers, Holger Michelsen, a resistance fighter from the South of Jutland and it had among its assistant leaders, the charismatic senior student Isi Vogel (Foighel), later to become minister of Taxation and prominent professor of law and a judge in the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. 

Another prominent fellow scout, and life-long friend, was the journalist Herbert Pundik, for many years the chief editor of the Danish daily, Politiken, who among other age-eligible scouts in our troop volunteered for The Danish Brigade in Sweden (i.e. the military group of some 5000 volunteers trained to join the allied forces as they neared the liberation of Denmark in May 1945).

Another significant event in our troop’s history was the week long camping meet in rural Gränna (in Småland on Lake Vättern near Jönköping) highlighted by the personal visit by the head of the Swedish scouts himself, Count Folke Bernadotte! An autographed copy of his photo still hangs on my wall as a memento of the exciting days around the fire there.

Front row from left: Birthe Marcus, Margit Blachmann, Henni Lachmann, Helen Arnby, Kirsten Cantor, Eva Garde-Jørgensen, Gitta Kempinsky og Martha Sachs.
Middle row from left: Erik Goldberger, Jan Igelsky, Henning Blachmann, Allan Fogel and Even Bukrinsky.
Third row from left: Bent Chmelnik, John Gordon, Arne Bodnia, Finn Bentow, Per Popp Hansen, Georg Blachmann (with his arm on Finn Bentow), Dan Sobol and Allan Meyer. The photograph is taken in front of the synagogue in Östra Larmgata

As for the academic side of our school, the most fantastic thing about it was having all the Danish textbooks, offering a curricular coverage identical to that we would have had at home, and thus ensuring that no time would be lost upon our eventual return. Having the books was largely due to the initiative of a most thoughtful educator in Denmark, Chr. Friis-Sørensen of Elsinore’s “Højere Almenskole” who right after our mass exodus recognized the need for the Danish textbooks for his fellow countrymen on the other side of the Sound. 

Through various intermediaries he contacted, the illegal shipments were successfully arranged, for which all of us owe him a deep gratitude! Thanks also must go to the Danish donors, mainly he publishers, the Danish Jewish community’s account, and the ministry of education who covered the cost involved. 

As for the teaching staff, growing to some 30 in all plus half a dozen teachers of Swedish. I can readily vouch for the fact that they were an extraordinary, heterogeneous group of dedicated men an women, some with extensive backgrounds in elementary and secondary schools and quite a few drawn from the ranks of university professors. In addition, when needed, several university students were employed as adjunctive staff. 

By and large, with relatively small classes, the atmosphere was uniquely warm and personal, with a sense of one-on-one-ness prevailing. And, again, the fact that we were “all in the same boat” Jew and Gentile alike—no matter what our prior socio-economic and class backgrounds were—added immensely to the general tenor in as well as outside the class room. However, that aside, my own most enduring memory was a particular lesson we had in geometry, conducted by our school’s outside math inspector, Niels Bohr’s younger professor Harald Bohr, a mathematician. 

Standing at the blackboard he enthusiastically tried to convey the “obviousness” of the Pythagorean theorem for solving the parallelogram, not arithmetically but “intuitively” by having us simply look at the lines he scribbled on the board. We were all a bit dumbfounded and in frustration he kept saying: “can’t you see it; just look at the board, it shines out at you!”

In addition to the teaching staff, numerous others were involved in ensuring a comprehensive school system. Thus we had a couple of physicians aboard, a nurse, ready access to dental care-- as well as the service of a school psychologist! For the substantial number of my fellow students who boarded out, there were also several group homes, one with at least 40 students, and a few smaller pensions…all manned under supervised conditions. 

In the absence of parents, the boarding students were even recipients of a weekly stipend in pocket money! In addition, care was taken to house the few orthodox Jewish kids whose parents did not live in the area and provide them with kosher food, permitting a larger group of observant students to join them at mealtime. 

Clearly, the Gothenburg School did as fine and dedicated job as one could wish for under the trying times that prevailed. That this is so is most evident in the report issued upon the school’s final day, June 9th, 1945. In its 67-page, including several photos, the report documents all the details that comprised the schools birth and 20-month’s existence in rich detail.

Students 1943 - Courtesy Leo Goldberger

It cites the names of us all--students, teachers and supporting cast. It provides our birth dates, first and last day of attendance, previous school affiliation and, for those matriculating with a final exam, their grades! Similarly the teachers are listed by their prior jobs, courses taught and specific classes taught, and the text used. 

Of course all significant school events are listed, as are the prizes that were given to the most deserving of us. Mentioned as well are the farewell gift of a book presented to each of us on our last day of school by professor Axel L. Romdahl of “Riksföereningen for Svenskhetens bevarelse i utlandet” [The national organization for the preservation of Swedishness abroad]: Sten Selander’s anthology “Svensk lyric från fem sekel” [Swedish poetry from the 5th century]; the grade-schoolers received Selma Lagerlöfs “Nils Holgerssons underbare resa” [The wonderful adventures of Nils]. Completing the report one will find the financial accounting to the very last penny of all monies spent and received. 

In my view, the final report of the school represents an archival gem of Danish cultural ways of treasuring every morsel of history. I was fortunate to receive a copy of the report from one of my younger brother Erik’s 1st-grade teacher, Else Baadsgaard (Brøndsted) who as a young resistance fighter had fled to Sweden and whom I met by chance in 1986 in one of my occasional visits to Odense, where I was a psychological research consultant at the University Hospital and her husband was the university’s principal. She expressed her own fond memories of the time spent in our school—as did I. 

The Danish School in Gothenburg. 
All photos are  courtesy of the Danish Jewish Museum

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum