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