Thursday, June 25, 2015

Lotte Laserstein (1898 - 1993)


Lotte Laserstein (1898 in Preussisch Holland, German Empire – 1993 in Kalmar Sweden) was a German-Swedish painter and portraitist. 

Laserstein was born in Prussia. Her mother, Meta Laserstein was the widow of pharmacist Hugo Laserstein, who died in 1902. Meta and Hugo had two daughters, Lotte (born in 1898) and Käthe (born in 1900).

After the death of her husband, Meta Laserstein moved with her daughters from Prussian Holland to Danzig, where her mother and aunt, Anna Birnbaum, lived.

In 1912 the family moved to Berlin and took an apartment at Stier Strasse 19 in Friedenau. Both of Meta’s daughters took their school-leaving certificates and went to university. In 1930 Lotte moved to Nachod Strasse and from 1931 Meta lived with Käthe on Immen Weg in Steglitz.

Meta Laserstein (b. Birnbaum) Adress: Immenweg 7
Steglitz-Zehlendorf . Born 1867 in Preußisch-Holland. Deported on the 23rd of December 1942 to Ravensbrück. Murdered on the 16th of January 1943 in Ravensbrück. 

With the introduction of the Nazis’ Race Laws, Meta Laserstein became a “first degree person of mixed blood”. In 1937 her daughter Lotte, a painter, emigrated to Sweden. Meta visited Lotte here in 1939, returning to Berlin on 3 September.

Käthe Laserstein went into hiding on 14 July 1942. During a search of their home, Meta refused to reveal her daughter’s whereabouts and was arrested on 29 July 1942. In December 1942 she was taken to Ravensbruck women’s prison, where she died on 16 January 1943.

Though severely traumatized, her daughter Käthe survived in Berlin together with her partner, Rose Ollendorf. After the war she lived with her sister Lotte in Sweden for a time but returned to Berlin in 1954 and became a teacher at the Gertrauden School in Dahlem.

Lotte received her artistic training at the Berlin academy, which she entered only a couple of years after it had opened its doors to women painters.

Here, Laserstein studied under Erich Wolfsfeld whom she admired greatly. In her final two years at the academy she was his 'star pupil'. This entitled her to her own studio as well as free access to models. She favored female models, whom she claimed were better at holding long and difficult poses.

Traute Rose was her favorite model, who became a lifelong friend of Laserstein's and features in many of her works.

Berlin in the 1920s was an uneasy, yet exciting place. The changes in society were certainly apparent to Laserstein, who was extremely modern in her thoughts. During this time women were growing in independence and were increasingly entering the workplace. Laserstein depicted the New Woman, who also adopted a stereotyped appearance of a masculine look, typically with a man's style haircut.

As a single professional woman, Laserstein can be seen to adhere to the definition of the New Woman, and her androgynous look is evident in her many self-portraits, for example, Self-portrait with cat at Leicester Museum and Art Gallery.

While Laserstein was a Jewish artist, her early work was typical of both the avant-garde New Objectivity movement and the extremely traditional backward-looking trends in German art of the period.

Her works were peopled with attenuated intellectuals such as one sees in the portraits of Christian Schad (the Portrait of Baroness Wassilko, for example), but her figures also often had a strong, cold, and athletic look that would have made them appropriate for Nazi propaganda posters.

A painting of a lady tennis player, bursting with strength, is a good example of the type. Laserstein is difficult to place conclusively in any aesthetic category. There is a sense of emotion and a connection with her models which does not appear to be suited to New Objectivity. Art historians have also argued for her placement within German Realism and German Naturalism.

Laserstein's masterpiece was the large (about 8' wide) 1930 painting Abend uber Potsdam (Evening Over Potsdam) or The Rooftop Garden, Potsdam, a frieze of friends sharing a meal on their terrace, with Potsdam's skyline arrayed in the far distance. The mood is pensive, full of ennui, and the picture achieves the deepest emotion of any of her works.

During the Nazi period in Germany, Laserstein relocated to Sweden, where she stayed in Stockholm and the city of Kalmar. She created her greatest works in the period between the two world wars. After World War II, her works consisted of inoffensive portraits which lacked the vigor of her early work.

Lotte Laserstein was rediscovered in 1987, when Thomas Agnew and Sons and the Belgrave Gallery organized a joint exhibition and sale of works she had retained in her personal collection, including Abend uber Potsdam.

In 2003, a large retrospective of Laserstein's work was held in Berlin. In-depth research was carried out by Anna-Carola Krausse which was synthesized in the exhibition catalogue, Lotte Laserstein: My Only Reality.

Lotte Laserstein’s predominant theme was people. When she left the Berlin Academy in 1927, she quickly gained recognition for her sensitive and skilfully executed portraits of characters typical of the age: fashionable urban ladies, young women applying make-up or foreign faces encountered on the streets of cosmopolitan Berlin. 

Lotte Laserstein admired the Old Masters and kept her distance to avant-garde and abstract art. Nevertheless her paintings from the Berlin time convey perfectly the spirit of the modern age. The amazing blend of traditional craft and contemporary motifs, the striking mixture of sober observation and delicate brush work have lost nothing of their fascination until today. 

In 1933 the promising career came to en end. The National Socialists declared Lotte Laserstein a “three-quarter Jew”, and the artist was increasingly prevented from exercising her profession. An exhibition at Stockholm’s Galerie Moderne in 1937 provided the propitious opportunity to leave Germany with a large body of her works. Sweden became her “second home”. Here she lived for more than fifty years and it was here were she painted most of her works. 

Source: Wikipedia

Otto Ullman - Courtesy Elizabeth Åsbrink


And the trees in Wienerwald are still standing, Swedish writer and journalist Elizabeth Åsbrink’s third book, is a true story based on over 500 letters sent to Otto Ullman, an young Austrian boy who was sent to Sweden to escape Nazi persecution. The book was published in August 2011. 

How did the idea of this book come to you?

It so happened that I met a woman named Eva Ullmann. She was the wife of a friend of my husband. It turns out we had somewhat similar Jewish backgrounds. The Ullmanns were very ambivalent about their own past. Eva told me that she had been thinking about some letters that her father Otto had left her when he passed away. She had kept these letters in an IKEA box and had been living with the knowledge that these letters existed, but she never read them. 

She neither read nor spoke German, and since no one had read these letters, she had no sense of what they were about. She knew they had been a source of great pain, and she did not want this pain to be passed on to the next generation, to her children. Yet, she wanted something to happen to the letters that could somehow solve the mystery of this pain. She felt that her father had carried all his life a sense of having been wronged by the Swedish government. She wanted somehow to explore this further. 

As it happened, she had read a book I wrote 3 years earlier about a famous Swedish playwright, Lars Norén, and his association with long-term criminals. It was a play with three lead characters, two of them were Nazis. One of the Nazi had brutally murdered two policemen. This was a story that no one had covered before. The play provoked a major controversy and prompted a general debate on the issue of Jewish identity. In the book, I had included some discussions that addressed the issue of Jewish identity.

After reading my book, Eva contacted me and told me: “I have over 500 letters from Vienna. They are written in German. Would you like to take a look at them? Is there anything you can do?”

I was afraid of the content of the letters. At first I refused. It scared me because it would be a huge responsibility to accept. I did not know what I would find. One of my concerns was that what I found might taint their family history. The Ullmann family was very supportive and told me to make public whatever I found. The Shoah, (I don’t like the word Holocaust) is part of my history also. I was afraid of going into that pain. I was also very concerned that after all that had been written and said about the topic, I could not possibly add anything new. People were asking me: Why do we need another book about the Shoah?

It turned out that I actually did find something that had not been told before.

During the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938, the so-called “Anschluss”, Otto Ullmann, Eva’s father who was a young boy at the time, lived with his father in central Vienna. His father was a sports journalist and an opera critic. He loved sports and loved being outdoors. The family ate pork, celebrated Christmas and was assimilated, urban and modern. After the Anschluss, they were doomed because of their Jewishness. And they, of course, suffered the fate of so many Austrian Jews.

Otto’s parents had sent their son to Sweden and were planning on leaving Austria as soon as possible to join their son in Sweden. Very sadly they were arrested and sent to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt.

I chose as title of the book And The Trees in Wienerwald Are Still Standing because the Wienerwald, a beautiful wooden, recreational area aroundVienna, was where the Ullmann family spent their Sunday picnics, played soccer and enjoyed each others’ company. The title of my book refers to the fact that the trees are still there but the people who sat in their shadow are gone, leaving a void empty space.

The book begins with Otto’s parents’ daily letters to their son, telling him of their detailed departure plans.

Otto was 13 years old when he was sent to an orphanage in Sweden called Henhult. This had been organized by a Swedish Christian organization that worked in Austria. This was to be his home for a short while – it was meant to be a temporary solution until his parents managed to leave Austria (then part of Nazi Germany) to join him. They had realized early on that the situation in Vienna had become very dangerous, even critical for them.

The orphanage soon became overcrowded and could no longer accommodate that many children. Therefore, some of the children in the orphanage had to move out. A devout Christian woman made her house available for some of these children and welcomed Otto along with 22 other children. The placement of Jewish orphans into residents’ homes was organized by the Swedish government. It was later discovered that the real objective of many of the Christian families who took in Jewish children was to convert them to Christianity.

When Otto was 14 years of age, he became a manual laborer, working at various farms in southern Sweden. He described some of these years as quite good. He was very fond of the people he worked with. He was not in a financial position to get a higher education. This was a great loss for him.

He was deeply traumatized when he heard the news of the murder of his parents. That trauma stayed with him for the rest of his life.

Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA’s founder, entered into the picture of this story very early. (IKEA stands for I: Ingvar; K: Kampf; E: the town where he grew up; A: the village nearby). When Otto was 18 years old, he went to Kamprad’s estate, applied for work there and was hired.

While researching secret police files, I found significant evidence that Ingvar Kamprad was a registered member of the Swedish Nazi party in 1943. His membership number was 4014. Kamprad was only 17 years old at the time. Although he was still a young man, it is evident that the Swedish Nazi Party SSS had their eyes on him, which is amazing. Maybe the fact that Ingvar’s grandmother had been a German immigrant played a role in his joining the party.

He clearly admitted that he had been a member of the Swedish Nazi Party, a hardcore anti-Semitic and aggressive party. He also declared that he had already recruited members to the movement and that he had intended to devote all his time to work for the movement.

When the issue of Kamprad’s fascist involvement became public in the 1990s he pleaded for forgiveness, saying it had been an error of youth. “I was only a boy!” It is true that he was only 17 but it was a quite a conscious decision. It is not an error of youth in my view.

Kamprad’s political involvement in the Nazi Party was one of the few pieces of information I had when I started writing this book. I knew that Otto and Ingvar had become friends as young men. I needed to know what that relationship meant. How was it possible that Ingvar became friends with the Jewish boy Otto while he at the same time was involved with the Nazi Youth movement? When Ingvar and Otto met, Otto’s parents had already died in Theresiendtadt. From the beginning I wanted this relationship to be the focus of the book.

What was the role of the Swedish Church?

The Swedish Church at the time had some strong humanist views. Priests offered assistance to the refugees and pleaded in their favor during their Sunday sermons. There were also priests who believed in the Nazism. It is therefore difficult to define where the Church stood at the time.

For instance, the Swedish Archbishop Erling Eidem was a great lover of German culture and of the German language. He was also a Pietist, a movement within Lutheranism, which believed that faith should be separated from the rest of the world. He had no interest in taking part in politics. As early as in 1942, he was probably one of the first to learn of what happened in the death camps in Germany. He received detailed information and yet never passed it on. He simply never took a stand.

Some priests within the Swedish Church were missionaries to the Jewish people. They had a very particular point of view. The mission was based on their belief that Jews had made a terrible mistake by not recognizing Jesus as Messiah and that everything that had happened to them was actually God’s judgment. They believed that as true Christians they had to show Jews the way to Christianity. Very surprisingly it was later revealed that the Archbishop was very close to this movement. He too may have felt that these children refugees had to be “saved.”

How do you see Sweden’s role during WWII?

Sweden and Germany were very close ideologically. It was a symbiotic relationship. Those of the upper classes who studied at universities would also be studying the German language, poetry, music, wrote in German and were in tune with German ideas. This was true for the upper classes. These were also the people who believed in Hitler, and were most afraid of Soviet power. They believed that only Germany could stop the communists. Sweden had always been afraid of Russia and then of Soviets. This explains in part the solidarity that existed between Sweden and the Nazi regime.

We also have a long tradition of not liking foreigners, and that included gypsies and also Jews, particularly Jew from the East. German Jews were easily accepted but Jews from the East had difficulty entering the country. This was the case ever since the 19th century.

When I studied the Foreign Ministry’s archives concerning Austria and the Anschluss period, it became apparent that the Foreign Ministry was afraid of a Jewish invasion or a Jewish “import”. The authorities feared that German intellectuals, physicians and students would come and take over their jobs. It was a combination of economic worries and a certain fear of foreigners. Sweden, comparatively was actually very restrictive in its immigration policies, more so than other neighboring countries.

In November of 1942, the Nazis invaded Norway and started the deportation of the Norwegian Jews. This was a complete shock to Sweden. Somehow the Norwegian Jews one could identify with much easier than with the German or Polish Jews. The Norwegian Jews were ‘almost’ Norwegian. This is evident when we read the press clips and the debate going on at that time. I believe that 524 Norwegian Jews were deported and most of them were murdered in 1942. This was alarming according Swedish newspapers. This was a wake-up call for Sweden.

For instance, when the public was asked in a survey published by one of our largest newspaper on New Years Eve as to what was the most significant event of 1942 the unanimous answer was: The deportation of the Norwegian Jews. Someone says for instance: “I saw the Jewish deportation with my own eyes; I never want to see something similar. I am no friend of Jews, but these things should not happen.”

A year after Danish Jews had been deported from Denmark, Sweden, knowing what was happening opened its borders. Because of these past events, the Swedish people were better prepared to receive Jewish refugees. Some historians say that when Hitler began to lose power in 1943 (he had won every major battles until then) people in Sweden came to think that maybe he wouldn’t win the war after all.

Were you always aware of your Jewish roots?

I think I must always have been. I grew up with a mother who said hush-hush to me, don’t tell anyone, and don’t let anyone know that you are of Jewish heritage. My father is Jewish Hungarian, born in Budapest. When he was 5 years old, someone had shouted ‘bloody Jew’ at him. He went to his mother and asked: “What is a Jew?” 

Shortly after, the Hungarian Nazis took power and my grandfather was sent to labor camp and was murdered with several other relatives. His family had been assimilated, just like Otto and his parents. They shared a similar background. They were condemned to their Jewishness and therefore condemned to death. My father has never said that I should hide my Jewish heritage, but he has said that he would be happy with a non-Jewish son-in-law because that makes the Jewish blood disappear from our lineage. I grew up with this sort of shame and denial. This book has been a sort of coming out for me.

How long did it take you to write this book?

I worked 6 days, sometimes 7 days a week for one year. I was never available to do simple things like taking a walk. My husband objected to my obsessive behavior or relentless efforts in getting the book competed.

Knowing what you knew about Kamprad, was it difficult for you to interview him?

The meeting wasn’t difficult. We met at IKEAs headquarters in Sweden. When I asked him about Otto, he immediately replied: “Of course I want to talk about Otto!” He really loved Otto. However, I don’t think he was prepared for my question about his Nazi background. He did his best to answer my other questions, but when it came to that subject, he suddenly did not remember much.

It was after I kept pushing him about his Nazi past that he said he still maintained the view that the Fascist leader Per Engdahl was a great human being. In view of the available information about him, this is quite a shocking statement. Engdahl was first of all a fascist leader during the war leading a party which was small, but active. It was anti-Bolshevik, anti-democratic and anti-Semitic. These three ideas were very strong within his party. Engdahl’s biggest achievement came after the war. Immediately after the war, he helped Nazi prisoners who had been captured to escape to South America to avoid being held accountable.

Engdahl and Kamprad were at this point close friends. I don’t know what Kamprad knew about Engdahl. No one can give me the answer to that question. Kamprad was also close to other people in Engdal‘s movement. Kamprad wrote Engdal a letter in which he wrote that he was proud to be a part of the movement. When Kamprad , in 2010, said that Engdahl he was a great human being, one has to remember that Engdahl at that time was at his greatest politically, working for the European fascist and Nazi revival. I can’t claim that Kemprad knew, about but he definitely did not distance himself from him.

What happened to Otto after the war? 

According to his children, Otto got tired of living in the countryside and decided in 1949 to move toIsrael. He decided years later to return to Sweden, where he eventually reunited with Kamprad. He settled in Stockholm and proceeded to make a living. He married a girl who he met at the Kamprad’s estate and they had 3 children. He owned and managed a restaurant. He was never a failure, nor a huge success.

When I first portrayed Otto, I let his children read the text. “You have made Otto too nice, too humble, too kind” was their response. “Otto was an angry man.” Their conclusion was that he had been traumatized and that this trauma had made him such an angry man. He was not an easy person to live with, nor was he a happy person.

More information about And the trees in Wienerwald are still standing and Elizabeth Åsbrink, click here.

Written by Liv Grimsby 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

1935-1936 Copenhagen from left: 
Brother Milan, mother Helene, 
brother Gustav, Leo, father Eugene


by Leo Goldberger

The trauma all Danish Jews experienced during the days of the intended roundup by the Nazis in Denmark in 1943 consisted mainly of having to confront an unexpected and potentially life-threatening situation. One had to take quick and decisive action, in order to hide and ultimately to flee somewhere – but how? Where? 

These were of course the burning questions. At this juncture, the family unit was under severe pressure. The family was often broken up. Separate hiding places for individual members of the nuclear family were thought to be the only solution. For some intermarried couples, husbands and wives made the decisions to separate, with the Gentile spouse remaining in Denmark, while the Jewish spouse fled. Concern about how the extended family was faring, whether living in Denmark or elsewhere in Nazi Europe, was yet another element in the traumatic upheaval faced by many of us. 

The question of “why” was often on the minds of children. Their capacity to comprehend the reasons for all the tumult or the worry and despair of their parents was limited at best. In later testimony even 4 years olds recalled these frightening moments of concern while they clung to their dolls or security blankets. Even more disturbing, at least for the many children who were left behind, were the questions: Why am I being sent away to live with complete strangers? For how long will I be alone?

The fact that many children were left behind in Denmark has strangely enough only surfaced in the past five years due to the archival research conducted by historian Sofie Lene Bak (2009) of the Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen. The estimate is that more than 100 children, ranging from babies to teenagers, were left behind with non-Jewish friends, acquaintances or complete strangers. 

Fearing the uncertain future while on the run from the German roundup, parents felt it safer for their children to remain behind, despite the anguish and pain of separation. One can imagine the plight of parents as they were forced to make these fateful decisions. In some instances their decisions were made based on the false rumor that crying babies would be dumped overboard while crossing into Sweden. These parents were unaware of the common practice advised by physicians of sedating younger children as they waited to board fishing boats (Sofie Lene Bak, 2009).

Our apartment in Denmark was located in a rundown building in the center of old Copenhagen within a short walk of the Great Synagogue, where my father was one of the two chief cantors. Once occupation began in Denmark, the future and safety of Jewish families, as well as those of the Danes, was unclear. Like all other buildings, ours had its own makeshift air-raid shelter in the basement where we spent many uncomfortable and anxious nights listening to the thud of bombs and antiaircraft shelling followed by the “bah-boos” of ambulances, the rumble of fire trucks and, at last, the welcome wail for the “all-clear” siren.

At about 3:30 on the morning of August 29, 1943, the fateful date martial law was declared in Denmark, the Germans took some 150 hostages, mostly prominent Danes including a dozen or so Jews. Unlike the other Jewish functionaries on the arrest list, such as Dr. Max Friediger, the chief rabbi of the Great Synagogue, my father sensed he should not respond to the incessant and loud banging on our front door. Fortunately an upstairs neighbor came to our aid by yelling down to the Gestapo that the Goldberger’s were not at home and then Gestapo left. Thus my father was saved from internment in a local transit camp and subsequent transport to Theresienstadt, the fate of the other Jews apprehended that night.

A month later, the plan for a general roundup was leaked by a high-ranking German official, George F. Duckwitz. An urgent warning was issued in the synagogue during the early hours of September 29, a few days before Rosh Hashanah in 1943. Word spread quickly throughout most of the Jewish community. 

There would only be a few days to prepare for an escape before the dreaded confrontation with the Nazis, expected to occur during the High Holy Days. We quickly had to decide which household belongings to take – clothes, valuables, the Sabbath candlesticks, the family photo album, and important documents. Other questions worried us: Do we pay the rent for our apartment or place of business? To whom should we turn over our home or business for safekeeping? For how long?

The anxiety and confusion took its toll and challenged even the most resilient families. Some coped quite well. Many others, though, did not know what to do or where to turn. With the anxiety level increasing by the hour, people experienced instances of sheer paralysis while desperately attempting to find his/her way to a suitable hiding place. Some families were full of members who despaired to the point of suicide (at least 13 followed through – in one case an entire family, including children). 

Others simply waited passively for some sort of deliverance. Many Jews without families were caught in the Jewish Old Age Home, situated in the courtyard of the hurriedly abandoned synagogue, and were brutally rounded up and tossed into covered “prairie wagons” in the early morning hours while Copenhagen slept. These people were unloaded and marched up the gangplank of a huge German transport boat anchored along the harbor on their first leg to the cattle cars that would transport them to the Czech city of Theresienstadt, where they would be among to 50 or so Danish Jews who succumbed to death in the camp.


The most urgent need of the Jews of Denmark was to find a safe hiding place and reliable connection to someone with a boat (or whatever could float – even a rowboat was used by some). Help came from emphatic non-Jewish people: old friends, neighbors even total strangers, even though there was always a chance that they might turn out to be informers. In a general sense, the degree to which any Jewish family was integrated into the Danish community, spoke the language, and had a social network of non-Jewish friends increased the chances of getting the help they needed. 

It must be noted that many Danes perceived Jews as fellow countrymen rather than a strange species. The mainstream Jewish families could readily be identified in the phone book by their Jewish names. It was more difficult to locate the marginalized refugee families (totaling approximately 1,000 individuals) who sought asylum in Denmark in the late 1930s. Because of poverty, they often lived as boarders in other people’s homes. An even more daunting task was tracking down some 480 young Jewish women and men who were separated from their families and languished elsewhere in Nazi Europe. These young people had been allowed into Denmark at the beginning of WWII as agricultural trainees and lived scattered throughout rural Demark in preparation of achieving their ultimate Zionist dream of moving to Palestine.

Once Jews on the run were in hiding places, the question of how to obtain transportation for the voyage across to Sweden loomed. While everyone knew that Sweden was “neutral,” few were sure whether the Swedes would welcome a large contingent of Jewish refugees. In fact, it was not until the famous atomic scientist Niels Bohr, whose mother was Jewish and who had been whisked off to Sweden on September 29, pleaded with the Swedish government that the Swedes broadcasted their willingness over the radio to offer refuge for the Jews fleeing Denmark (Yahil, 1969).

Despite the current argument that the success of the mass exodus was in large measure due to the lack of an aggressive pursuit by the Germans, those of us who lived through it certainly did not experience “easy” times. Twenty one people perished by drowning, others were caught on land while escaping or were captured on the high sea after being betrayed by a Danish pro-Nazi traitor and sent to Theresienstadt.

The idea of being a refugee was such a foreign notion to most of us that it was difficult to even imagine. There are vivid memories of how miserable it was to be in the hull of a fishing boat, crowded like sardines and falling ill with seasickness. Frequently it was fraught with unexpected terror such as searching midstream for a passing Swedish boat willing to take us aboard. The transfer from one boat to another in the choppy sea was fraught with mishaps as well.


Once in Sweden all was well. There was relief and joy, though the nightmare replayed in the deeper recesses of our memory. In Sweden we experienced the plight of any group of refugees throughout the world: adapting to new circumstances, language, and culture, which for most of us was not too difficult considering the close historical ties within Scandinavia. The question of where to live and work was another matter.

When we arrived on the shores near Malmo, we were picked up by the coastguard and taken to the police station. We had to identify ourselves. Apparently a lot of German soldiers, who were fed up, had escaped from the army. There were also Danish Nazis who had escaped. So how did you prove that you were Jewish? It was not indicated in the passport. 

We did not have the visas that were needed to travel to Sweden at that time. Luckily, my father knew the chief rabbi in Malmo, Eliezer Berlinger. He called him and the wonderful rabbi Berlinger came immediately to the station and verified that my father and family were Jewish. Rabbi Berlinger also invited us to come with him to his house that same morning. I will always remember this. We slept in his study on the floor, on blankets since he didn’t have enough beds. We were about 6 people.

In the morning during breakfast, Rabbi Berlinger offered to help my father find a job somewhere, since he had influence as a chief rabbi. He called people in Stockholm and Gothenburg, the only cities with synagogues aside from Malmo. Luckily, a board member of a small Gothenburg synagogue who had heard my father’s great voice immediately offered him the vacant position they had. So within the next two days, we were on a train to Gothenburg. Almost within a week we were resettled in an apartment in Gothenburg, but it was only because my father was fortunate to have immediate employment as a cantor in a synagogue.

Within a week, I was also enrolled in a Swedish high school. It was a little tough because my Swedish language capabilities were not strong. I understood quite a bit, however. Fortunately, there were many refugees, including Christians who had escaped with their parents. These were children of people who were wanted for espionage or for resistance work. At some point, there were 17,000 Danes in Sweden, not just the 7000 Jews, who were rescued by boat following the round-up. 

Danish Refugee schools were formed in both Gothenburg and in Lund. With the help of the Danish Resistance movement, all the relevant textbooks and exams required by the Danish curriculum were smuggled in via an underground network. I attended this school for the next two years. My experience was easier than many other people’s, such as those Sofie Bak describes in her new book. They could not get a job and were restricted in their travels. They were placed in various camps and could not move around freely unless they had special police permission. They also experienced a good deal of anti-Semitism. This was not my personal experience. My family stuck together and became involved in social activities, such as boy scouts. We had food and light, and there were no bombings like we had experienced in Copenhagen.

Depending on specific circumstances, life continued its normal course. The initiatives of the collective Danish contingent and the establishment of an efficient Danish refugee organization in the major cities and fine refugee schools in Lund and Gothenburg helped us. 

Quite memorable was the fact that we all tended to stick together, both as a family and as Danes. We lived with the fervent hope that we might soon return home. In some sense sharing our traumatic experience and living with a common hope for a quick end to the war and safe return to our beloved Denmark, we, as refugees, became one close knit extended family. We never considered Sweden as more than a temporary residence.

I now have a better appreciation for what others may have experienced during this time. This is one of the values I see coming out of contemporary research. With time, memory changes and experiences are viewed in different ways. Essentially, we continuously rewrite our own history. Each time we do it, we think, “this is the reality.” However, depending on age and experience, one sees the past differently. The only things that remain are facts. For instance, where I lived in Gothenburg has not changed, but the way I remember those years has. In the 1980s I went to Stockholm to give lectures and experienced a sort of nostalgia in connecting with the past. For many years I could not talk about my feelings surrounding my past experiences.


In June 1945, shortly after the war’s end, we finally returned home to a universal celebration of welcome. Our family and the others joyfully returned to life in Denmark. Through the diligence and care of wonderful people and official agencies, our homes, workplaces and friendships remained mostly intact awaiting our return. We found our apartment in good shape, faithfully cared for in our absence by our live-in housekeeper who greeted us with flowers, freshly brewed coffee and the proverbial “Danish pastry”. 

Already by June 22 of 1945, the Great Synagogue of Copenhagen was cleaned up (the Nazis had used it as a horse stall!), and ready for the official rededication ceremony. I recall it as a most solemn and moving event. Among the many dignitaries in attendance were representatives of the government, the leading bishop and other church officials, including the minster from the nearby Trinitatis Church, which had safeguarded the Torah scrolls during our almost two-year refuge in Sweden. My entire family was present. My brothers Milan, Gus and Erik sat proudly in our family row near the front and my mother in her center seat in the upstairs gallery as we heard our father’s emotion infused voice reciting the traditional prayer of thanks.

It was a thrill to be back home. The war had ended. Jubilation spilled into the streets of Copenhagen with the liberation soldiers – American, English, Russian, and Canadian – milling about in town squares. Improvised bands played and people danced and exchanged words and souvenirs with the soldiers. It was still summer time, so the work and discipline of the school year had not yet set in. It was an exciting few months for us all.

However, as the months went by, I sensed a melancholy that seemed to especially affect my father who steadfastly pursued the whereabouts of our extended family in Czechoslovakia and Austria–Hungary. Weekly notifications from the Red Cross resulted in one bad tiding after the other for many families, including ours. Almost all of my father’s brothers and sisters and their immediate families had perished. 

My father became increasingly morose and with his growing awareness of the Soviet menace, a desire to move away from Europe took root. My mother’s parents and two of her siblings miraculously survived, living in hiding on a farm near Bratislava (three of her siblings had succeeded in getting to Palestine in the late 1930s via Cyprus). Some years later after our own immigration to Canada, my maternal grandparents and two of my mother’s siblings were able to join us in Montreal, which became our family’s new geographic center. 

After just a few years in Montreal though, my grandparents revealed that with the establishment of Israel, they were now more eager than ever to settle in the Promised Land. They did just that, joining their sons and daughters there (including my brother Milan) and living out their lives in the city of B’nei Brak.


The memories will linger and like the Passover story, will become part of our cultural heritage. Over these past 68 years, I have heard and read hundreds of stories of our rescue. I remain consistently impressed by how amply the variations demonstrate the nature of an ordinary person’s reconstruction of his/her life history, including attendant internal silences, mythologies and often quite fragmentary memory. For those of us who were quite young at the time, the knowledge that our childhood was cruelly interrupted is always present. More importantly, however, we are continuously mourning the family members we lost, and of course, the millions who tragically did not escape the ultimate horrors of the Holocaust.


Bak, S. L. (2009). The Jewish children were left behind by their parents. Interview inPoliteken and the Danish State Radio, Copenhagen, Denmark, July 4, 2009.

Yahil, L. (1965). The rescue of Danish Jewry: Test of a democracy. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.

Leo Goldberger, Ph.D. professor emeritus in clinical psychology at New York University, has researched and written widely on sensory deprivation, stress and coping. He was editor of Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, an interdisciplinary journal and author of the book “Rescue of the Danish Jews; Moral courage under Stress” (1987, NYU Press), which was awarded the “Merit of Distinction” by the Anti-Defamation League. Dr. Goldberger, consultant to various Holocaust organizations, was instrumental in securing the Danish rescue boat now on permanent display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In 1993 Dr. Goldberger was awarded the order Ridder af Dannebrog by the Danish Queen in recognition of his many services on behalf of Danish-American relations.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


HeChalutz , from Hebrew means “The Pioneer", was an association of Jewish youth whose aim was to prepare its members to settle in the Land of Israel. It became an umbrella organization of the Zionist pioneer youth movements.

Hechalutzim in Denmark 

During World War I, HeChalutz branches developed across Europe, Russia, America and Canada. The organization had strong leadership. Its membership peaked between 1930 and 1935. By the end of Second World War, in 1949, HeHalutz numbered 100,000 members worldwide, with approximately 60,000 having already made “Aliyah”, and 6,000 members in hakhsharot (training centers) for the pioneering life in Israel. 

A training program of ḥalutzim contemplating settlement in Eretz Israel later became "a general Jewish workers' organization made up of unmarried young men and women of sound mind and body. Each member was committed to settle for a period of at least three years in Eretẓ Israel, where he or she would attend army service for the Jewish people. Their weapon would not be “the sword and the rifle, but rather the spade and the plow" .

Early interest in ḥaluziyyut among German Jewish youth caused the establishment in Germany at the end of 1918 of a Hechalutz, and, as a first step, hundreds of ḥalutzim - calling themselves Praktikanten and organized in a Praktikantenbund – such as Blau Weiss who had their roots in the German youth movement (e.g the Wandervogel), went out to work on farm estates in order to train for life in Eretz Israel.

While the movement laid decisive weight on practical training most of all in farming, it also tried as much as possible, to supplement the pupils’ training with lessons in Hebrew, Zionist ideology, Jewish history and general knowledge of Palestine. The idea was to make sure that all the members of the movement would come to Palestine prepared and not be confronted with hard work and unaccustomed social norms.

After Hitler’s seizure of power, when it became clear that this would lead to violent measures against German Jews. The “Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland” a union of a number of larger German Jewish organizations was created. Included in this umbrella organization was Hechalutz. Hechalutz had set up a number of training centers in various places in Germany and in other countries in Europe, where young Jews could gather in preparation for possible immigration to Palestine.

“Reichsvertretung” was a voluntary union of a number of larger German Jewish organizations that was established in 1933 as the umbrella organization. For the first time ever all the Jewish organizations and religious bodies were united and represented Jewish interests at a national level. The Berlin Rabbi Leo Baeck was elected president of the Reichsvertretung. 

A national Civil Service Law was passed by the National Socialist regime on April 7, 1933 two months after Hitler came to power. The law allowed the dismissal of government employees who were not of Aryan descent, an opponent of the Nazi regime, employee whose previous political activities indicated less than total support to the national state. They were forced to resign. This meant that Jews and political opponent could not serve as teachers, professors, judges or have other government positions.

The Reichsvertretung was therefore created to help German Jews to establish central welfare organizations, occupational training for dismissed officials. Thus the Reichsvertretung developed - at least to some extent, a response to the Racial Policy of Nazi Germany.

With the passing of the Nuremberg Laws two years later, in 1935, the Reichsvertretung was forced to rename itself as Reichsvertretung der Juden in Deutschland (Reich's in charge of Jews in Germany). In the same year Israelitisches Falienblatt, newly relocated to Berlin, became the mouth piece of the Reichsvertretung. 

Under this umbrella there was also Hechalutz. Hechaluz had set up a number of training centers in various places in Germany, where young Jews could meet before their actual training in one of a number of European countries in preparation for possible immigration of Palestine.

Denmark was well suited as a training country. The high standard of Danish farming was generally acknowledged and the cooperative idea particularly was greatly developed and harmonized with the view held in Zionist circles on building an up and coming Jewish society in Palestine. Hechaluz worked closely with the Agricultural Travel Bureau in Denmark, an institute that was affiliated with the Alien Department of the Police, which issued the necessary permits. 

The Agricultural Travel Bureau also worked with Danish agricultural organizations. The bureau enjoyed the confidence of the authorities and by this time had long experience in placing foreign agricultural trainees in Danish farms, in dairies agricultural colleges or other institutions which could be of use to agricultural students. 

Ever since the creation of Kibbutz-Alijah Denmark in 1933, one of its main tasks had been to care for the spiritual needs of the trainees and to make sure that they became ideologically prepared for life in Palestine. This idea is clearly seen in a correspondence written by a trainee back in October 1935, and sent out by the Hechaluz office The ultimate goal was to move dispersed people in exile to Palestine”. 

During the year 1932, emigration from Germany began, as seen in direct correspondence between the Hechalutz offices in Berlin on Meinickestraasse 10 and Denmark. From April 1933 the application from came to a stop. Binjamin Slor was the Berlin office’s contact in Copenhagen. He was informed that the bureau had found training places for a seven young Jews for permits from the State police. When Hechalutz in Berlin asked the bureau for those residence permits, the Hechalutz office replied that the State Police would first have to investigate the homes, to see whether the conditions for exchange were met. 

Commemorative plate in Meinekestraße #10.Source: Wikipedia

From then on, clearly influenced by Hitler’s seizure of power, the influx of immigrants increased noticeably.

With the immigration of the Alijah children, a formidable task presented itself to the leaders of the Hechaluz group in Denmark: to form the many children with such different backgrounds and in widely different monetary situations. 

The Zionist movement offered them a possible solution for their future existence. The aim was to explain to them why they were in temporary exile in Denmark, what duties they had in this foreign nation, with its foreign customs. As Jews, they also had to hold fast to their Jewish identity. The children must be given hope and a vision of a Jewish future, in a Jewish society in Palestine, in the longer term perhaps a Jewish state.

Julius Margolinsky was in charge of the practical aspect of Hechalutz in Copenhagen where he was born in 1895. Originally he had wanted to be a doctor and began the study of medicine at the University of Copenhagen, but gave up and established himself as an antique bookseller after the war. 

He became a librarian at the Mosaic Religious community’s library. He was an ardent Zionist from his youth and in 1925 watched the official opening ceremony of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem which he maintained a contact through his life. In the years 1933-34 his work was limited to the Hechalutz activities, but his sphere of interest was extensive. Chief among them was Jewish history in general and family history in particular. 

His numerous letters to Hechalutz trainees in the difficult years 1940-1943 bear witness to this warm interest in each of the immigrants and their problems. The chief Rabbi Ben Melchior in his eulogy of Julius Margolinsky, in 1978 said:

“In many ways Julius was an original in the best meaning of the word – he was an individualist who went his own way, never played to the gallery, but had an unfailing sense of assessing a situation on the basis of a Jewish interest that was marked by humanity."

Rudolf Sinnreich left Berlin by rail on July 26, 1939, to attend an agricultural student exchange program in Denmark, with a visa, a huge travel case, personal belongings and two suitcases in hand. He had gone to the Hechalutz office in Berlin where he had met with Ms. Reha Freier, the leader of the Youth Division. She had promised to find a solution for him. The Youth Division negotiated with branches in England, Sweden, and Denmark and had succeeded finding an exchange program in Denmark.

A throng of people were at the train station along with several other Hechaluzim heading for Denmark and Sweden. At that time, it became clear that leaving Germany would be leaving for good. In the train heading to Denmark, he wondered whether he would be able to cross the border before the War broke out. 

He arrived in Warnemunde, Denmark, one month before the War started. The train cars were driven on-board the Danish ferry. Once he felt the breeze from the sea, the feeling of safety was complete. His next destination was Tastrup. A fellow from Hechalutz, Nante Ehrenberg, who had escaped Germany some months earlier, met him upon arrival. He brought Rudolf to a village called Sengelose, where he had been secured employment.

The Hechalutz had to remain with the assigned farmer. The place of employment and name of the farmer were indicated in the workers’ passport. Any changes in employment status had to be approved by the Police and Labor Department. Mr. Sinnreich received several job offers, one of them was at a farm in Galsgaard, a suburb of Brøndbystrand, close to Copenhagen. At some point, the owner Mr. Galsgaard received notice from the Hechalutz office in Copenhagen that the Danish State Police recommended that the Jewish farmers do not to work in proximity to Copenhagen. He could not hire Mr. Sinnreich, who was later transferred to a new work place, on the island Mon, where he met the owner whose name was Warner Henriques.

As it turned out, Mr. Sinnreich, along with 7,220 out of 7,800 fellow Jews in Denmark, was among those who were rescued by the Danish resistance movement and brought to safety by sea in Sweden in October, 1943. The rescue allowed the vast majority of Denmark's Jewish population to avoid capture by the Nazis and is considered to be one of the largest actions of collective resistance to aggression in the countries occupied by Nazi Germany. As a result of the rescue over 99% of Denmark's Jewish population survived the Holocaust.

Mr. Sinnreich was a true hehalutz. He held fast to his Jewish identity and lived to see the creation of a Jewish state of Israel and lived a long, full life there.


Jewish Encyclopedia
Jørgen Hæstrup Passage to Palestine