Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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


by Else Baadsgaard

“How did you get over?”. As a returned refugee you are asked this question a lot of times. Well, how actually did I get over the Sound to Sweden? Today, the time from I went “underground” in Copenhagen to I found myself as a teacher at The Danish School in Gothenburg seems peculiar unreal.

One morning in May 1944 at 5:30 a. M. I walked together with some other people through the grated gate at Toldboden right in front of the German guard who as anticipated didn't notice us in the crowd of hundreds of workers who at the same time glided through the gate on their way to the shipyard on Refshaleøen. 

Nor did he notice that we turned right and finally entered a large steamship where the chief officer, without a word, lead us down through one ladder after another, and finally guided us through a narrow hole, down into the actual keel of the ship where all five of us were placed on iron girders, with our legs dangling over an empty space. Not without horror, I found out as my eyes had accustomed to the darkness that there were at least 5 meters to fall if we tumbled.

Then there was the long waiting time, five unending long hours, before we arrived at Swedish waters and were ordered upstairs to be questioned by the Swedish pilot. He took us over to the pilot boat that headed for Falsterbro, and soon we found ourselves on Swedish ground, in the promised land that did not know of war.

We were immediately taken care of by the Swedish cost guards who at first glance gave rise to our deep disgust by wearing uniforms of a repellent green color. They actually looked like Prussians, the Swedish soldiers. I wonder how many refugees have experienced a chock when they arrived in Malmö and saw the streets overcrowded by green uniforms. 

Then our first experience with Malmö where we were brought to. It was a true revelation. Light, light, light in the windows and the tram-ways. Neon signs as in the old days. We were almost blinded. And how shabby our clothes were! We realized that now where we observed the smartly dressed Swedes wearing genuine leather shoes and all-wool. 

We pressed our noses to the shop windows and enjoyed the sight of incredible amounts of textiles in all sort of lovely colors, dresses, stockings, shoes and so on. On the market place the newly arrived refugees formed a crowd in front of the window of a shop selling chocolate, oranges, figs, and pineapples. We were speechless of excitement.

It would take us too far to go into details of the following weeks. As all refugees we were taken to what the Swedes called a “förläggning”, in our case an internment in a camp in a small village in the middle of the woods of Småland, and we stayed there sufficiently long to be afflicted by what they called a psychosis of “förläggning”, a feeling of depression and nervousness characterized by anxiety for the ones we had left behind in Denmark and a bad conscience of having “run away”, a state of mind that usually followed the initial huge relief of having escaped. 

As anybody else in the internment, I every day hoped to receive the message or letter that would free me from the idleness and reestablish my contact to life. And the letter came! After a month I received the happy message that I was needed at The Danish School in Gothenburg where my former teacher in French, Miss (now Mrs) Henriques, was headmistress. This was an exceptional fortune. Not only I would move to one of the three large, “closed” cities, the object of the longing of all refugees. I would further get employed according to my profession what only very few refugees achieved.

My work at The Danish School in Gothenburg would without comparison become my greatest experience in Sweden. For this reason and because I assume that educational issues are of special interest to the readers of BAUNEN, the rest if this article will concentrate on the school.

The Danish schools in Sweden were as the readers probably know established shortly after the terrible days of October 1943 where whole families of refugees suddenly poured over the Sound and the consulates constantly were packed with desperate parents who didn't know what to do with their children. 

The beginning - that I didn't experience – was modest. However, events rapidly moved so that eventually three large Danish schools were established, namely the school in Hälsingborg with primary and middle school and the schools in Lund and Gothenburg with primary, middle, and high school. These were Danish State Schools because they, in-officially of course, were placed under the Danish Ministry of Education and were authorized to carry out examinations just as the schools at home.

Eventually 29 teachers were attached to the school in Gothenburg, about a dozen with full employment and the rest as temporary teachers. This was indeed a motley crowd. It included masters of art, educated teachers, phd's, professors, students of art, students of engineering, interpreters, headmasters, an organist, a vicar, and an engineer. All of them Danish refugees.

During the last school year we reached a total number of 225 pupils. The largest class was probably the first class with 24 children. Otherwise the middle school classes each included between 10 and 20 pupils. At least taken up was the high school where some classes had only 4-5 students.

My first encounter with The Danish School is still fresh in my memory. I had arrived directly from the internment to Gothenburg and went full of excitement to the High School of Gothenburg where the Danish School celebrated the end of the school year 1943-44. My courage was somewhat lost as I entered the large hall and found it crowded with black haired people. Of course I had expected to find some Jewish children in the school, however I never imagined that almost all of them would be Jewish. 

I suddenly felt like an albino, alone and abandoned among strangers. And things got worse since I found myself in front of a couple who eagerly conversed in German. Luckily – and of course – these feelings disappeared within the next few days.

After two months of “vacation” which I spent in a summer camp [at Tölsjö] for Danish school children, I started the actual work at the beginning of the school year the 1rst of September 1944. At that time, the school had stopped attempting to borrow class rooms and instead rooms were rented all around the city so that teaching could take place in the morning. 

We were placed at the strangest locations, in rooms of Young Men's Christian Association, in the Church of Bethlehem, in the house of the Mosaic Community, in cellars, in attics. In total at 7-8 different locations, something unfortunately not unfamiliar to teachers here in Denmark today.

A staff room was of course not available. However, this would have been completely superfluous since the teachers in every break had to hurry to a new location where they should teach the next class. We troubled to arrive on time, and in the beginning I constantly got lost trying to find my way from the Church of Bethlehem to Drottningsgatan. 

Once I ended up far out in the harbor where foreigners were not allowed. To our excitement, the section for culture under the office for refugees provided the full-time teachers with sparkling new Swedish bicycles with “real” tires enabling us to arrive without too long delays. Not without fear I mounted my lovely, blue bicycle and for the first time rushed headlong into the extremely dangerous traffic of Gothenburg where people against any common sense drove in the left lanes of the streets.

I  soon realized, that being a teacher at the Danish School was a work full of difficulties and obstacles. The class rooms were far from ideal. For instance, one class was placed in a kitchen without daylight. At another location two classes were situated in the same, large room with an absolutely provisional, separating wall with no sound insulation. Then suddenly a meeting was arranged in the Church of Bethlehem, and we had to leave the room. Then there was a Mosaic holiday and we couldn't use the rooms of the synagogue and half of the children took the day off.

Blackboards were at the beginning not available and books were sparse. They had to be ordered from Denmark and illegally imported which often failed. Further, the school grew in size far beyond the limits initially presupposed as the list of book orders were given. I happened to teach English in the first class of the middle school with five books and 12 children. 

Further, I had the doubtful pleasure to be responsible for the education in natural history in the entire middle school, initially almost without books and without additional material such as preparations, plates, etc. Such additional material I had to make myself. First towards the end I received a lot of fine pictures, but then the Germans surrendered and most of them were never used.

An additional difficulty which we at least do not experience in Denmark was the language. Most of the children had been in Sweden for so long time that their Danish was permeated with Swedish. Especially bad was the situation in my first class where many spoke entirely Swedish when they started school. This resulted in many surprises. When the school gathered for the first time after the summer vacation also the small aspirants starting in the first class had appeared. 

As they were going to be in my class, I addressed a cute little boy with dark, brown eyes and asked him – not very originally I admit – the standard question of any adult to children and said “What's your name?”. To my surprise he answered in absolutely accent free Swedish and said something like “My name is Årne”. 

I hastily sent a kind thought to the headmistress who had ensured me that all children in my class would be Danish and replied: “Well – then you are not going to be in this school”. The boy looked very contrite, but then his father appeared and explained that his name was Arne (Årne is the local pronunciation in Gothenburg) and that he indeed was Danish. However, they couldn't talk him into speaking Danish anymore.

Hence, in the beginning it was my principal assignment to teach my first class Danish again. “Aunt, Aunt [Swedish for Miss, Miss], come and look”, little Jan shouted when he was excited. He never succeeded in speaking proper Danish again. He simply refused. 

However, I managed to persuade him to address me as “Miss” with a Swedish pronunciation. Many of the children addressed us with the Swedish pronoun “ni”. When I arrived, they often welcomed me by shouting: “Can we start 'regne' today [i.e. Danish 'calculating', Swedish 'counting' or 'learning numbers'), and a little girl could ask me: “I can well have [can I get] a bead frame as them had when them calculated things like that”.

Some times this mixed language played me a trick. To illustrate the letters, I had one day prepared a drawing of a very elegant bag (Danish “taske”) which I proudly showed to them to illustrate the letter 't'. The children insisted on calling it a “väska” which off course muddled the concepts. In the same way, they delighted shouted “tomte” when confronted with the drawing of a gnome (Danish “nisse”) illustrating the letter “n”.

Just as confusing was arithmetic. As we late in the school year had been through all numbers till 100, Henning one day thoughtfully asked: “I don't understand, Miss, when are we going to learn the numbers 'femtio' and 'sekstio' [Swedish 50 and 60]?”

In the older classes things where not quite so bad. The pupils where bilingual and managed at least when speaking to separate the two languages. However, I did notice that the children of the 4th class were confident with Swedish words like “lingonsylt”, “hallon”, “vinden” (cow berry jam, raspberry, ceiling) and many more. 

When writing the situation was a more Babel-like confusion. This was partly due to the fact that many had visited Swedish schools. Danish words with Swedish geminations (“att”, instead of “at”, “till” instead of “til”), Swedish replacements like “Skogen” instead of “Skoven” (“the wood”), “Mørkret” instead of “Mørket” (the darkness), “Vædret” instead of “Vejret” (the weather) I corrected ceaselessly in the dictations. Not to mention the problem, that the children after some time in Sweden were very reluctant to write nouns with initial capitals according to Danish orthography. The Swedish letters 'ä' and 'å' were not to get rid of.

As always, the children acquired the foreign language with much more ease than the adults. They spoke Swedish accent free without the Danish glottal stops. Swedish shibboleths as in “sju” (seven) they pronounced without any problems. A father told me how he was turned down as he at a ticket-office window at the railway station had tried to purchase tickets to a location where foreigners were not allowed. He then sent his 8 year old daughter who purchased the ticket without problems.

What had all these children not gone through, so small they were! Some of them still an entire year after their escape ran away and hided if the door bell rang. Others took their experiences with great naturalness and described dispassionately how they had crouched together on the bottom of a boat because “they shot across the boat”, how they had become sopping wet by the waves pouring in and “the boat behind us sank”. There was little Allan who had arrived alone. His father and mother had placed him and his sister – at that time 5 and 3 years old – at some foster-parents believing they would be safe there and had escaped alone.

After a few days the foster-parents became anxious, and the two children were given an injection making them unconscious, were provided with false identity papers and sent over the Sound alone on a fishing boat. In Sweden the hadn't the slightest idea what to do with the two unconscious children of whom they only knew their first names. They phoned a Danish internment for advise and by a miracle it was the father of the children who answered the call. He nearly got a chock and hasted to the coast and was present as the children woke up.

There was Johnny whose mother was in Theresienstadt. Two families had hided in a house while waiting for a boat to escape with. The men and the boys had gone out for a moment to look for the boat and in the same moment Gestapo arrived and took the wifes and a little girl they had left behind and took them to Germany. Almost all the children had relatives in German camps.

Standing and looking upon these small children in the first and second classes while they happy and satisfied were playing in the yard in front of the synagogue, I many times had to think of the destiny they would have had if they had been caught and brought to Germany. The cruelty of the Germans I first fully understood when I reflected on the fact that it were such children who had been killed in gas chambers and in other bestial ways. It were such children and their parents who had been hunted like animals.

We cannot allow this ever to happen again. We can prevent that, all of us. Nazism shall not be given the triumph of, before defeated, having sowed the evil seed in the mind of mankind and kept antisemitism alive. Antisemitism lies dormant in time. And danger still exists. 

It was far from uncommon that so-called Aryan refugees aired a kind of – compared to the Germans of course “moderate” - antisemitism: “I'm far from being antisemitic, I've even helped Jews escape; however, enough is enough, and it cannot be denied that ...”. That's how it sounded and then followed the old phrases, arguments, and accusations against Jews which actually were taken from the Nazis. More than anything in the world let us root out this way of thinking. Antisemitism is not rooted out just by preventing direct violent acts against Jews. It is the mind set of people that has to be cleaned for any touch of the old prejudices.

Often I had to think of a Hebrew song I had heard at a Jewish concert. A mother tells her child that each time Israel suffers, God sheds a tear into a cup. The child asks: “Mother, isn't the cup soon full?”. Yes, isn't the cup soon full!

Else Baadsgaard

* Published 1946 in BAUNEN, a yearbook addressing former students at the College of Education in Aarhus. 
Original title “Dansk Lærerinde I Sverige”.

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum