Thursday, January 14, 2016


The Germans were under no immediate danger, as we had no ammunition for the rifles. (After the War ended the church underwent repairs and the rifles were discovered hanging in the chimney. Nobody understood how they got there!)

The Germans confiscated our school and our only teacher in the village, Ole Tronstad, transferred the school to his home. The children were dispersed into 2 classes and each group attended school every other day.

On Sundays all of us attended church. The people of Navik were all Protestants and most observed the rituals and reading of the scripts. The Germans fired all the ministers, but continued to conduct services, ending the sermons by blessing our "King and Government abroad, fighting for our freedom!" (In England). 

German soldiers attended occasionally the sermons, but those who understood Norwegian did not seem to object to the blessing. For us and all the people in the village, these sermons were a morale booster. The only complaints by the deeply religious ladies in the village were that I often cursed "Faen i Helvete! (The devil in hell!). The ladies often visited my father in the hospital and read the scriptures with him, ensuring him that the chosen people will prevail the Nazi persecution.

I read a lot, mainly adventure books and detective novels during the War years. My mother complained often about it and went to the local priest for advice. Priest Noto, a practical man, opened the drawer of his desk and showed my mother his collection of detective stories. "See what will happen if you let your son read the novels!"

My father taught us mathematics and English all the War years and we owe him our proficiency in this language to this day.

On the 24 of October 1942 we celebrated my 11th birthday at the hospital's cabin some 20 km up in the mountains. Suddenly several police officers entered and arrested my father on the Gestapo's order. Although Norway had been occupied by the German army since 1940, the arrests of Jews in Norway was delayed until 1942 because the ship carrying the lists of Jews in Norway had been sunk at the entrance to Oslo harbor on April 9, 1940. 

I will never forget my father's blessings when he left, all of us believing we would never see him again. It was my saddest birthday party.

My mother accompanied my father to the Gestapo's headquarters in Hammerfest, Europe's northernmost city. He was to be deported to Southern Norway and from there to the concentration camps. Before transportation, the Germans had my father examined by a young SS doctor, who had to certify my father was fit for deportation. By pure coincidence, this doctor recognized my father from a medical conference before the war. 

My mother asked to speak to him privately and told him frankly that "if he certified that her husband was sick with tuberculosis (he was infected years ago and still had some signs on his chest X- rays), he may save his own life, by saving my father's". "Nobody knows how the War will end" she said. 

The German SS doctor recommended that my father be returned to the lung hospital in Talvik as a patient and my father assured him that his X- rays would provide ample evidence about his condition. My father was then hospitalized until autumn 1944, when we and all the population of Finnmark were transported to South Norway by the retreating German army. 

He “treated” himself by pumping air into his pleura sack, a treatment used to collapse the tuberculosis cavity in the lungs, in the days before antibiotics. He also smeared barium on his chest, to simulate an active TB lesion on X- rays. Every couple of months, the Germans sent a doctor to examine his condition and decide if he was not fit to be deported.

My father continued his medical work at nights, staying in bed during day time. I believe that all patients and the villagers knew that my father was misleading the Germans' but nobody disclosed it to the Germans. 

The Norwegian directors of the hospital, Dr. Erik Fjosne and later Dr. Peer Foss supported us financially (because my father did not receive any salary) and so our family could continue to live on the hospital premises, free of charge. We were cared for by all, regular Norwegian citizens and none of the villagers disclosed our true identity.

In 1941 my sister injured her upper leg. The site was painful and became inflamed. She developed a high temperature and became toxic. My father decided she had to be immediately hospitalized in a general hospital, as her condition became life threatening. 

In the Hammerfest district hospital she underwent surgery and an osteomyelitis abscess was drained by the director of the surgical department, Dr. Borchgrevink. She received several doses of penicillin, which were very hard to come by those times. Our parents stayed next to her bed, nursing her for a couple of months, until her condition improved. She still had discharge of necrotic bones from the lesion several years later.

The German Navy established its main base in Kåfjord, a fjord next to our village. They used this base for the attacks on the British and American ship convoys, supplying the Russian army with war material. The convoys consisted mainly of merchant ships which sailed from Scotland to the harbor of Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula. The German navy attacked these ships from their bases in northern Norway and we could observe the heavy cruisers leave and return to their harbor in Kåfjord

This was also observed by the very active Norwegian underground and messages were sent to England. Soon, the allied forces sent airplanes to raid the harbor in Kåfjord with bombs and torpedoes. The attacking airplanes flew over our village and we were excited to observe the tens and hundreds of planes attacking the Germans. The flagship of the German navy, the heavy cruiser "Tirpitz" was the main concern for the British navy and most of the attacks were directed against it. The Germans camouflaged he ship and protected it beneath a mountain prominence, so it could not be attacked by aerial bombs. 

Tirpitz was the second of two Bismarck-class battleships built for Nazi
Germany's Kriegsmarine (navy) during War II. Named after Grand Admiral
Alfred von Tirpitz

They also established many anti-aircraft gun batteries, one next to our house, in order to seek protection of the Red Cross inscriptions were painted on the roof of the hospital. The allied airplanes nevertheless bombed these positions so that during the raids we took shelter in the cellar of the hospital, which could not be considered secure enough against any bomb. In the end, in 1944, the German ship was attacked by mini-submarines and one of the torpedoes penetrated her hull and the ship started sinking. To our great joy we witnessed the results of this attack. The Germans towed the ship to a more southern port in Tromso, where it was finally sunk during an air attack with heavy British bombs.

On Christmas 1943 the German navy attacked the small island of Spitzbergen in the Northern Sea. The allied forces had installed a primitive radar station on the island, operated by Norwegian Free Forces, based in England. The attack was carried out by the German fleet, stationed near us. The heavy cruiser Scharnhorst led the attack. The Germans shelled the island heavily and sent a landing team in wooden speed boats to destroy the facility and its crew. 

Scharnhorst was a German capital ship, alternatively described as a battleship and battlecruiser of Nazi Germany's Kriegsmarine. She was the lead ship of her class.

The Norwegian soldiers, however, took shelter in the coal mines and when the shelling stopped, emerged with their machine guns and attacked the German boats, killing most of the sailors. The Germans rescued their damaged boats and brought them ashore in our village, where we could inspect the holes and blood in their hulls. 

The plight of the German task force did not end, however. The British navy got the information of the attack and dispatched the Royal Navy to intercept the German ships. A Norwegian torpedo boat reached the German cruiser and sent a couple of torpedoes which damaged the rudder of the cruiser. The ship could only sail in circles and was soon attacked by the heavy guns of the British battle ship "Duke of York". Scharnhorst was sunk on Christmas day and the German army announced a period of mourning, throwing out all Christmas trees and carrying black arm bands. Our joy was great!

We used to collect German rifle ammunition in the fields where the German troops were exercising. One day we took bullets up into the mountain, lit a fire and threw the bullets into it. The explosions of the ammunition were heard by the German army who believed somebody was shooting a machine gun. We were suddenly surrounded by soldiers who directed their weapons at us and shouted " Hände hoch!" (Hands up!) We were brought to the local headquarters and interrogated regarding the shots. In Norwegian we explained that we were just playing with the bullets and did not shoot any weapon. I, of course, did not show any signs of understanding German. Ultimately we were released.

The Germans established a prison camp for Russian war prisoners near the village. The prisoners were in a pitiful state, emaciated, poorly clad in the winter cold and frequently beaten by their captors. They used to come to a location near our school to carry heavy sacks of coal to the German army's camp. We concealed our lunch sandwiches in the coal mound and in return the prisoners left us some finger rings or ornamented cigarette cases which they produced from aluminum.

In late 1944, the German army started retreating from the Russian front in Finland. Preceding the retreat, orders were given that the whole population of Finnmark, the northern-most province of Norway, was to evacuate to the South, because all houses would be burnt and destroyed. Many of the people in outlaying hamlets and villages refused to leave and preferred to survive the bitter winter in caves and hiding places in the mountains. 

The lung hospital in Talvik with its entire staff was also planned to be evacuated and the director of the hospital, Dr. Foss traveled to the South to hire a ship for the transportation. He did, however, not return in time and the Germans ordered the hospital with all its inmates to be transferred to an abandoned children's home, located in one of the outlaying fjords (Korsfjord). All the inhabitants of the villages had already left their homes and the hospital and its occupants was the only remaining building. 

My father was the only doctor in the hospital caring for the patients and my mother became the administrative manager. One day a junior German officer approached her and told her that the hospital would have to remain in its location until the end of the war, because no ships were available. He also told her that he had an order to demolish the hospital's large power generator, but if she managed to hide it within one hour, he would not look for it. When he left, my mother covered the generator with a hay load standing nearby on a cart. When the officer returned, there was no sign of the generator.

A couple of days later the same German officer told my mother to take her family and evacuate and go to the South, because the German air force would bomb the hospital the next day. My mother told him that we will not abandon the patients and that we will stay with them. Luckily, Nurse Karin from the hospital and my mother hired three small fishing boats in Alta which all of us, including the patients, boarded and sailed to the city of Tromsø

The hospital's director managed in the meantime to arrange the transport of the patients and staff of the hospital on a ship which took them to Trondheim. Later we learned that German airplanes had bombed the village we had just left. The Germans used the children's home for slaughter of the cattle in the village, some days after we were gone.

The travel to the south in the winter of 1944 was extremely difficult. More than 100 patients and staff were crammed into the small ship and the weather was stormy with huge waves tossing the ship. Everybody on board (including us) was sea sick, filled with coughing and retching people. The danger of infection with tuberculosis was immense, but luckily, my father had immunized all of us with BCG vaccination some years previously and so we developed resistance against this disease. Several of the patients died on this trip. 

The hospital was later transferred from Oslo to Mo i Rana and remained there until its repatriation back to Talvik, after the war.

After our arrival in Trondheim, a large city in the central part of Norway, we were approached by members of the Norwegian underground, who informed us that we would be transferred to Oslo by train and sent to a concentration camp. The underground had arranged, however, an escape route for us to Sweden. We did not know the operators but as we had no alternative, we followed their instructions. 

We were told to enter the train as all the other passengers and exit immediately from the backside of the carriage, cross the rails and return to the station, where we were issued new passports and tickets for another northbound train.

We traveled about 150 km. to a small village called Trongfoss, where the local stationmaster was supposed to take care of us. Unexpectedly, a German officer entered our compartment in the train and started a conversation in Norwegian with us. We told him that we were refugees from Finnmark, traveling to our relatives. I believe he became suspicious, as my father and mother refrained from talking (they spoke Norwegian with an accent). 

Anyhow, he helped us carry our luggage to the station platform when we left the train. The good station manager became worried that we were planted to expose the underground ring. He refused to talk to us and it took most of the remaining day to convince him we were genuine refugees. He eventually drove us by car to a family living near the Swedish border in a small village named Staldvik, where we spent a couple of nights in their home during a severe snowstorm, which delayed our travel. The eldest son Gunwald took us a couple of days later to the Swedish border. 


We had to cross the distance of 10 km. to the Swedish border over the Tunnsjøen Lake. After a couple of hours walk we arrived wet and exhausted at the last station before the border. Gunwald carried my sister most of the trip on his broad shoulders, but it became clear that we would not be able to continue our trek in the deep snow. A couple of km before the border crossing, which was guarded by German sentries, we got the choice to continue our walk to the border or travel by a horse drawn sledge which entailed a higher risk of detection. 

Our mother made a bold decision to cross immediately, in spite of German reinforcements at the border crossing. Gunwald brought a horse and sledge into which we all crammed together with a cat (for good luck and warming). The date was 7th of December 1944, shortly before midnight. Luckily, the snow storm was still raging and the German sentries never left their accommodations. We crossed the border and were taken to the Swedish police chief's home. 

We were warned in advance not to disclose anything about our escape, as he was cooperating with the Germans. My mother carried some secret papers for the Norwegian underground which were to be delivered to the Norwegian representatives in Stockholm and not to fall into the hands of anybody else. She hid the documents between the pair of double gloves she was wearing and without any hesitation placed the gloves under the chief's cap near the entrance. 

We were brought into an interrogation room and had to undress for a very thorough body examination, which of course did not reveal anything. When we left the same night for a refugee center in the Western part of Sweden, my mother picked up her gloves and the papers were eventually safely handed over to the proper authorities.

On the way, I stopped the same train by pulling the emergency brake and got some well-earned spanking from my mother. We were brought to a refugee camp in Strangness in southern Sweden and eventually lodged in an apartment in one of Stockholm's suburbs, in Midtsommarkransen. My father was offered a job as a laboratory technician in one of Stockholm's larger hospitals, the St. Goran. My sister attended primary school and I was enrolled into high a school (Vasa realskolen). 

We started learning the language and adapting to the Swedish outlook on life and the political situation. My schoolmates considered themselves not to be involved in the War and the occupation of their Scandinavian neighbors and many sympathized quite openly with the Nazis. Our German teacher stressed that German should be spoken with the intonation of the Nazi leaders. I was paradoxically selected as a model for speaking German! I actually made very few friends in the school. On weekends, I attended a target shooting club. In fact, I continued to practice shooting rifles and eventually became quite proficient.

Our family was supported financially by the Swedish refugee council. Mother tended a baby of a Norwegian embassy employee by name of Terje Larsen (?). I was enrolled into the Jewish community center in Stockholm and started my preparation for Bar Mitzvah. I don't remember excelling in my religious studies but nevertheless was accepted to adulthood at the ceremony held in the Jewish synagogue in May 1945.

After the War my mother went to Oslo in order to make provisions for our return to Norway. She got a telegram from my father who had survived to return immediately to Stockholm as we were all going home to Czechoslovakia. According to our good friend Dr. Katznelson, my father was wanted in Czechoslovakia to take care of the TB survivors from the camps.

The end of the 2nd WW, on May 7th 1945, was a day of joy to all of us. My sister and I went immediately to the king's castle on the central island of Stockholm. We were both decorated with small Norwegian flags. The courtyard of the castle was crammed with celebrating citizens and the Swedish king Gustav V, who was very old and frail. He was sitting on a small seat in the middle of the crowds. 

When the Swedes saw 2 small Norwegian children trying to get a view of the event, they immediately opened a path for us and pushed us to the forefront. We ended up standing on each side of the King and our photographs appeared next day on the front pages of the Swedish press. After the war ended, we approached the Czech repatriation authorities in Sweden and repatriated in autumn 1945 to Czechoslovakia.



My father, Hugo Adler (b.1895), the youngest child of the Adler family, was born to a traditional Jewish family in Ceske Budejovice. His father, Jacob died in 1926, and his mother, Josephine (born Rind), raised her family of 5 children working as a Swiss cheese agent. She was exterminated in Auschwitz in 1943, as were 2 of her sons and their families; Maximilian Adler, a university professor of ancient Greek history and Arthur Adler, a traveling agent for meat products. The third brother, Leopold returned sick from the First WW and died before I was born.

My mother, Zdenka (b. 1907), was born to a Czech family from Northern Bohemia, who immigrated to Germany, because of poverty and unemployment.

My father studied medicine in Vienna during his service with the Austro-Hungarian army on the East front and after receiving his diploma from the University of Prague in 1919, specialized in treatment of tuberculosis in Vienna and Prague. He became the founder and director of a new tuberculosis hospital (Weinman's Stiftung) in Usti nad Labem in the early 30s until the occupation of the Sudeten border area in1938, after the Munich accord. He met my mother as a patient in the hospital and they married in 1930.


I was born on October 24, 1931 and my sister, Hanna, on July 9, 1934. We lived in a villa, which my parents built in a nice neighborhood in Klise, Usti, where I went to a Czech primary school until 1938.

Our life was of an average Jewish assimilated family, though my parents led a modest life, supporting their poorer relatives. The language at home was Czech, but many of our friends also spoke German, so we became bi-lingual.

In 1938, after the Munich accord our father was mobilized to the Czechoslovakian army and stationed in the Eastern part of Slovakia.

In late 1938 we escaped in the middle of the night when the Nazis who occupied all of the Sudeten areas expelled all Jews, screaming "Juden raus, Juden raus!" (Jews out!)

We left with only a couple of suitcases and traveled with our neighbor, Dr Clement in his car to one of his clients in Svetla nad Sazavou. We stayed there until father was demobilized from the Czech army.

Then we went to grandma's home in Ceske Budejovice. I continued at a local school, and became friendly with the Freund family whose father was a pediatrician in Budejovice and a long time friend of my parents. They all went to the concentration camp in Terezienstadt and from there they were deported to the death camp of Auschwitz, where they were murdered, except for their youngest son, Honza, my best friend, who miraculously survived the hell and is now living with his family in Canada. 

In Budejovice I continued at the primary school. My mother, returning in 1938 from a short trip to Linz in Austria to visit my father's sister, Ida Kafka, urged our whole family to immediately leave Czechoslovakia to any foreign country ready to accept us, because she fully believed that the Nazis would carry out their threat to exterminate the Jews of Europe. 

None really believed her, except for my aunt's family in Linz who managed to escape to the USA and my father who wrote to all of his acquaintances in the USA, Great Britain and Scandinavia requesting a visa to emigrate. Finally a friend of him in Norway, Dr. Jorgen Berner, who was at that time the chairman of the Norwegian Medical Association, sent us and nine other young Jewish doctors a visa to Norway.


We immediately packed our belongings and set out for the supposedly short journey by train and ship to Norway. The winter of 1939-40 was extremely cold and upon our arrival at the Baltic Sea harbor of Sassnitz in northern Germany we discovered that the sea was frozen and that the ferries to Sweden could not sail.

We had to look for some accommodation in Sassnitz and my mother, without any hesitation, boarded the German cruise ship Deutschland which was anchored (it was frozen in) for the winter in the harbor. With an excellent German dialect she convinced the shadow crew to accommodate us in one of the luxury cabins, where we stayed free of charge until some days later, when the Swedish icebreaker Queen Victoria managed to get through to Sassnitz and we continued our journey to Trelleborg in Sweden. 

We arrived in Oslo in the beginning of 1940. My sister and I were accommodated in a children's orphanage, managed by a humanitarian organization. We did not know the language, the food was unfamiliar and the temporary separation from our parents did not ease our predicament.

After several weeks, my father was offered a position as an assistant doctor at the lung hospital in Talvik, Altafjord, in the northern district of Finnmark. After sailing one week along the coast of Norway, we arrived in the small village of Talvik (in the county of Finnmark), which would become our home during the difficult years of German occupation. We lived in Norway until the winter of 1944. 

My sister Hanna and I were attending primary school in Talvik, which at that time had a population of 200 people, mostly farmers and fishermen. I remember my first days at school, with pupils who were older than me and a head taller. People in Talvik lived a secluded life. They did not follow the news on Nazism and the War in Europe and certainly did not have any idea about the persecution of Jews. We were one of two Jewish families in Finnmark. (There was an Austrian dentist there as well.) 

One of my schoolmates, Helge, teased me during one of the breaks at school and called me Hitler! Helge was one year older and much stronger than I, but I attacked him on an ice pick on the seashore hitting him severely, until our schoolteacher, Andreas Bredal Pettersen rescued both of us in a row boat. Never was I called Hitler again! Helge, the son of the local police chief and his brother, Tore, became my best friends until this very day.

One day Helge approached me and offered me a cigarette. He decided to start smoking on his 12th birthday. I joined him of course, almost suffocating. The next day he told me that he had stopped smoking, because he felt he was grown up enough. I never smoked a cigarette again!

At one of my birthday parties which we celebrated in our small flat in the farm that was attached to the hospital we invited some of my best friends. Suddenly a severe storm broke out and because the ground was icy, my friends were blown away and found later in a ditch several hundred meters away. The winters were very cold, with temperatures dropping to minus 40 degrees C and were often buried in 2-3 meters of snow. We had to walk along ropes, stretched from house to house in order not to get lost in the snow storms.

The people in Talvik were very friendly and accepted us among them. We learned the language and participated in all the games, fishing, hiking, plucking berries in the mountains and skiing in the winter. We often went to the mountain cabins during hunting seasons and after a short time we felt at home. The different climate of long and cold winters, with no sun, did not bother us, but were difficult for our mother, who became depressed during the dark months.

The winters were very beautiful during the long, cold and clear nights when we observed the beautiful colors and intricate movements of the aurora. The aurora looked like a moving drape seen from below. The light was sufficient to read a book. Our neighbor's daughter Åshild, who was approximately my age, with whom we played most of the time, was superstitious and believed that if she would point her finger at the aurora, she would be lifted by it to heaven. I, of course wanted to see it and so we held her finger by force pointing into heaven. To our disappointment, nothing happened. 

My father worked in the hospital and soon became renown and loved by his patients for his professional skills and his caring and warm attitude. He was one of those typical family doctors, who understood that medicine involves more than technical skills.

Talvik Hospital

In April 1940 the German army invaded Norway and in the subsequent months occupied all of the country. The Norwegians fought bravely, but they had no chance against the overwhelming force of the Wehrmacht and of the German navy.

In the spring of 1940 an alarm was sounded in the village and the news spread that German warships entered Altafjord and were approaching Talvik and Alta, the district center. Immediately 10-15 militiamen, equipped with WW- I outdated "Krag-Jorgensen's" rifles boarded a small coal cutter in the harbor. 

Krag-Jorgensen's rifle

The Norwegian flag was hoisted on the mast and all schoolchildren sang the Norwegian national anthem. The small motor boat disappeared in the distance, but returned after one hour with the fearless warriors totally heartbroken. The German sailors of the destroyer, observing the futile attempt of the pathetic Norwegian militiamen, started laughing and throwing down potatoes on them. They returned to the quay and unloaded the rifles, which were greased, packed and sunk under the quay. 

A couple of days later the German army occupied our small village. At night 2 of my best friends and I sneaked under the quay, the German sentry pacing overhead and fished out the box with the old rifles. We hid them in the safest place we could think of, in the spire of the local church. From then on we cleaned the weapons every Sunday and practiced aiming the rifles at imaginary German soldiers. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

The history of the Jews in Sweden probably began with the Hanseatic League in medieval times, but there are no records. In the Elizabethan era, it was common for European royalty to have Jewish doctors at court, and there is a record of a Jewish doctor who served Gustav Vasa in the 16th century.

Church records at Stockholm Cathedral record several Jewish families entering Sweden and being baptized into the Lutheran Church, a condition at that time imposed upon any Jew who desired to settle in Sweden. 

In 1681 for example, the Jewish families of Israel Mandel and Moses Jacob in Stockholm, 28 persons in all, were baptized in the German church of that city in the presence of King Charles XII, the dowager queen Hedvig Eleonora of Holstein-Gottorp, and several other high state officials.

King Carl XIII (1697–1718) spent five years with an encampment in the Turkish town of Bender and accumulated a large number of debts there for his entourage. Jewish and Muslim creditors followed him to Sweden, and the Swedish law was altered so that they could hold religious services and circumcise their male progeny.

In 1680 the Jews of Stockholm petitioned the king that they be permitted to reside there without abandoning their creed, but the application was denied because the local consistory had refused to endorse it. 

On December 3, 1685, Charles XI ordered the governor-general of the capital to see to it that no Jews were permitted to settle in Stockholm, or in any other part of the country, "on account of the danger of the eventual influence of the Jewish religion on the pure evangelical faith." In case Jews were found in any Swedish community, they were to be notified to leave within fourteen days.

Through court patronage Jewish merchants were occasionally appointed royal purveyors. During his bellicose reign, King Charles XII (a.k.a. Karl XII) usually had one or more wealthy Jews with him in the field as the paymaster(s) of his army.

In 1718, Jews obtained permission to settle in the kingdom without need to abjure their religion.

Charles XII spent five years in Bender, Bessarabia, at the time a part of the Ottoman Empire, with his army and incurred tremendous debts with Jewish and Muslim merchants who supplied the army with equipment and provisions. On his return a large number of Muslim and Jewish creditors arrived in Sweden and the Swedish law was altered to allow them to hold religious services and circumcise their sons.

After the death of Charles XII in 1718, the Swedish government was financially embarrassed for a long time and the royal household was often relieved from pecuniary difficulties by the Jewish merchants of Stockholm who insisted, in exchange, for the granting of additional privileges to themselves and their coreligionists. 

As a consequence the concession of 1718 was renewed and supplemented by royal edicts of 1727, 1746, and 1748, but permission was restricted to settlement in smaller cities and rural communities. One of the most prominent Jews in Sweden at this time was the convert Lovisa Augusti, who became one of the most popular singers on the stage in Stockholm.

In 1782 an ordinance was issued (juderegelemente) - due particularly to efforts of the prominent Liberal Anders Chydenius - by which Jews were restricted to reside in one of four towns: Stockholm, Gothenburg, Norrköping. 

Anders Chydenius (1729 – 1803)

To these was added the town of Landskrona, as a Jew had established there a factory for the manufacture of sails and naval uniforms. They were not permitted to trade in markets elsewhere or to own property. Jews were ineligible for government positions and election to Parliament. They were forbidden from converting Lutherans to the Jewish religion. (All Swedes were born into the Lutheran church until the separation of church and state in 2000.)

Source: Wikipedia

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum

Friday, January 8, 2016




The soldiers’ cottage was warm and equipped with several bunks. My parents and I were assigned to a bunk each and my father immediately fell into an exhausted sleep. When one of the soldiers wanted to give him a cup of coffee, I motioned to him not to wake him up. I, although just as tired as everyone else, simply could not fall asleep. Too much had happened in a short time and it was impossible for me to relax.

The following morning we were transported to a small city called Alingsås, where we were quarantined, I believe in an old school. Here we met a few other Jewish people from Oslo, who had recently escaped to Sweden, among them Gerd and Charles Philipsohn and their mother. Gerd was a year younger than I and always clinging to her mother’s skirts and was soon rumored to be a spoilt young girl. I also met four Czech girls, who had lived in Norway the last few years, been adopted by Norwegians and converted to Christianity. Under Hitler’s laws they were still Jewish. They had lost their biological parents and now they were separated from their adoptive parents too, and they were quite lost. All they had was each other.

While we were in quarantine we were allocated some clothing and examined by doctors. The doctor who examined my father was astonished when he saw the small but deep wound in his back, and recommended that he be operated at once, to close the wound.

About two weeks later we moved to a rooming house in Alingsås. Once again my parents and I lived in one room. Here we had to share the bathroom and the kitchen with many other people. The two persons I remember from this place were Fröken (Miss) Potovsky and her mother, who had a different name. The two were also refugees, but seemed to have been living at the rooming house for some time. Fröken Potovsky had a piano in her room and played Chopin incessantly - almost from morning till night. The mother was her daughter’s greatest admirer and let it be known that she had been a concert pianist in her native country (I believe Poland). Even today, when I hear Chopin’s music I always think of Ms. Potovsky.

My father decided to heed the doctor’s advice and have the surgery he had suggested. The prospect of being operated in a small town in Sweden, after all he had been through, was extremely stressful for him. My mother knew that she would not leave his side during his hospital stay, and that she would be unable to look after me during that time, so a solution had to be found.

A Jewish orphanage had been established in Alingsås for refugee children who needed a place to stay. I fit into that category, albeit temporarily. Not all the children here had lost their parents, but for reasons of their own they were unable to look after them. Living with so many children was a new experience for me, but one I enjoyed. The atmosphere in the ‘home’ was cheerful thanks to the leadership of the wonderful person in charge, Nina. Nina had a heart of gold, she scolded where it was needed, she comforted when tears were flowing, she intervened when disagreements erupted, in short she was on the go from morning till night. 

Nina was a psychologist by profession and herself a refugee. Most of the children had come from a Jewish orphanage in Oslo that was established a few years before the outbreak of the war. When the persecution of the Jews escalated in Germany, some parents chose to be parted from their children rather than risking their lives and sent them to Norway where they thought they would be safe. The Oslo Jewish community had supported the orphanage. Eventually the Norwegian underground smuggled the children across the border to Sweden.

Two of the children I remember best are Ruth Elias and Josef Fenster. Ruth was a cute young girl my age, who had been sent from Germany to Sweden together with her younger brother. After spending several years in various foster homes, Ruth was sent to the orphanage in Alingsås, while her brother was in a ‘boys’ home’ in a different Swedish town. When I met Ruth she had gone through so much hardship that, as a result, she had become a difficult teenager. At times Nina had to be very strict with her. That same year, when she was only 14 years old, Ruth began working in a photo shop in Alingsås.

Ruth’s parents were deported from Germany to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where her mother remained until she was liberated in 1945. Her father had been sent to Auschwitz, but died on the transport. When Ruth was reunited with her mother, the two did not get along - 6 years’ separation was impossible to overcome. Eventually she met her husband Amek, also a survivor, in Stockholm. The two emigrated to Canada more than 50 years ago and live in Toronto. Amek became a successful salesman, and although Ruth is scarred for life by her past, she succeeded in overcoming most of her old fears and lives a productive life as a wife, mother and grandmother. We met again last summer after having been out of touch for more than eighteen years.

Josef Fenster was a quiet boy, about my age. He was also born in Germany and was one of the children who had been in the orphanage in Oslo. His parents died in concentration camp. When the war was over he returned to Oslo, became a baker and tried to blend into the Norwegian Jewish society, which took him many years. 

The Norwegian Jews, although those who survived the war had been refugees themselves in Sweden, still felt somewhat superior to those whose background was different than theirs. Josef is one of the most generous people I know, in terms of giving of himself. He never married, is now retired and devotes all his free time to the Jewish community. He has become one of its esteemed and prominent members. I have met Josef each time I have visited Norway, and saw him last on my visit in 2002.

While I easily adjusted to the routine at the ‘home’ my father had his operation. On my visits to the hospital I was shocked to see him pale and weak and feared for his future. After a week he was able to return to the rooming house, but it took five more weeks for him to recover and - the operation had been unsuccessful. When my father was strong enough I returned to my parents. I had spent six weeks at the orphanage.

The Salomons were old friends of my parents. They were originally from Frankfurt am Main, a city close to Wächtersbach. The Jews in Frankfurt were generally orthodox, and this is the environment Hermann Salomon came from. His marriage to a beautiful non-Jewish divorcee shocked his parents and the whole Frankfurt Jewish community, despite the fact that she converted to Judaism. When we arrived in Sweden, the Salomons had been living in Stockholm for several years and were well established. 

They had no children. Now my father contacted them, and they were so happy to hear from us that soon afterwards they came to Alingsås to see us. Their visit was a shot in the arm for my parents. I too was included in the warmth of their reunion and when the Salomons asked me to call them ‘Onkel’ and ‘Tante’ I readily agreed, although I had always been reluctant to make strangers an uncle or an aunt. But the Salomons seemed like family and became Tante Ruth and Onkel Hermann without any reluctance on my part. Before they left they not only loaned us money but offered to help us with whatever else might become necessary for our relocation in Sweden. They also invited me to come to visit them in Stockholm whenever possible.

My father had advised Nordiske Destillationsverker in Oslo of our safe arrival in Alingsås, and they suggested that he get in touch with their branch in Malmö, a city located in Southern Sweden. On the request of the head office, a position was created for my father at Nordiske in that city, and after packing up our meager belongings we went to Malmö by train, happy to leave Alingsås and the rooming house behind.

It did not take us long to settle in Malmö. We rented a nice, modern one bedroom apartment in a quiet neighborhood and bought some second hand furniture. I was given the small bedroom, my parents slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room. Life assumed some normalcy. My father went to work in the mornings, my mother did the grocery shopping in new and strange stores and took care of the apartment and I went to school.

Since I had missed about five months of schooling again, and my education in Rogne had left much to be desired, I was quite nervous about starting yet another school. The Norwegian and Swedish spoken languages (as well as the Danish language) are quite similar. The written languages are another matter entirely. Going from Norwegian as it was spoken and written in Oslo, to the ‘new Norwegian’ in Rogne, and now to Swedish was not easy. 

The school in Malmö to which I was admitted without losing a year, was a vocational high school, where I studied not only the usual subjects, but was also taught typing and shorthand. One of my teachers, a lady in her fifties, took pity on me and volunteered to tutor me in Swedish. Since I seemed to have a certain gift for languages I was soon able to express myself fairly well in Swedish. It did not take long before I had caught up with my contemporaries and even my written Swedish was acceptable.

Actually I very much enjoyed the typing and shorthand lessons. I felt this gave me something practical to fall back on in case it should be needed in future. Despite the fact that my father’s health was manageable again, I always feared that something would happen to him. The wound in his back had opened up again soon after the surgery in Alingsås, and my mother continued to tend to it. When she wanted to teach me to cleanse and bandage the wound, she was not too successful however. I was too squeamish. Although things were finally going quite well for us, I was always nervous and apprehensive. I suppose the past had caught up with me.

The Jewish community in Malmö was small. Rabbi Berlinger was in charge of the synagogue and the Sunday morning ‘cheder’ (Jewish school). My Jewish education had been put on hold in April 1940 and it was important for my father that I resume where I had left off. So instead of enjoying some free time on Sundays I was off to ‘cheder’. I immediately loved the Jewish environment and felt completely at ease with the other children there. Ultimately I became friendly with the Rabbi’s three children, a daughter, Yetta, a year older than I, a son exactly my age and a younger daughter. It was Yetta who became my special friend. Often on Shabbat, after attending synagogue, I would be invited at the Berlinger home for lunch, and once again Orthodox Judaism held a certain attraction for me. But I never acted on it.

Malmö is a port city and has wonderful beaches. The sand is almost white and the beach is kept spotlessly clean. It was here that I finally learnt to swim properly. A long wooden pier led from the beach to two large seawater swimming pools that were separated by a wall but not covered. One pool was for men and the other for women, and everyone swam in the nude. Although I was rather shy I loved the sensation of swimming without a bathing suit, and gladly paid the few öre (Swedish pennies) admission.

It takes about two hours by boat to reach Copenhagen from Malmö, and on a clear day one can see the skyline of Copenhagen from the beaches in Malmö. Knowing that the Germans were in such close proximity always gave me an eerie and unsettled feeling.

A new wave of refugees began to arrive in Malmö, Danish Jews from Copenhagen and its surrounding areas. For the most part they made their escape in Danish fishing boats. The fishermen stowed their Jewish passengers in the holds of their boats and left Denmark under the guise of darkness. Many people were saved in this manner. My parents became friendly with several couples, friendships that in many instances lasted all their lives. Stories were told of the heroism of the Danish people during the German occupation, and how even the King protected his Jewish citizens. Only a small number of Danish Jews were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp, of whom very few perished due to the King’s influence and interference.

It should be mentioned here that Theresienstadt was not an extermination camp. The Germans called it a ‘model’ camp, where no one starved or was mistreated, which was of course exaggerated. Neither did they disclose that many of those who did come to Theresienstadt were subsequently transported to Auschwitz and other extermination camps. When my husband and I were in Czechoslovakia in 1992 we visited Theresienstadt, or Terezin, which is located about one and a half hour’s drive from Prague. We were a diverse group of people, two young men from as far away as Australia, but whatever our origin, Theresienstadt would never be forgotten by any of us.

Returning from synagogue on a Friday evening, my father brought home a guest. Jack Ganz was a Norwegian Jew, in his early forties, a small man with a pronounced nose in his narrow face and an easy friendly smile. He was a bachelor and became a steady fixture in our home. Both my parents enjoyed his company. He was a most helpful and generous person, who would remain in our lives for years to come.

One day a letter arrived in the mail, addressed to me. To my great surprise it was from Sigmund. He was in a German prisoner of war camp and had obtained his brother John’s address in Sweden through the efforts of the Red Cross. John, in turn, had sent Sigmund our address. Now my personal ‘war effort’ began. Many letters between Sigmund and me crossed the oceans, and when we met at the end of the war he told me that the arrival of a letter from me always made that day a brighter one.

In the spring of 1944 I went to visit John and Beks in Norrkjöping. Beks was pregnant with Rene and quite unwell, but we still made the most of the few days we had together. Also that same spring I visited Tante Ruth and Onkel Hermann in Stockholm. It was Onkel Hermann who became my guide. We visited museums, beautiful parks and dined in fancy restaurants, all of which was a novelty for me. Onkel Hermann made a deep impression on me with his knowledge of art and his interest in anything and everything around him. Although older than my father he appeared much more youthful and except for my father he would be the most important person in my life for some time to come.

When school was over in the spring of 1944 I decided to make use of my new skills, typing and stenography and began looking for work. I was certainly not a fast typist and my shorthand left a lot to be desired, so I was overjoyed when I was offered a job in a small office. It turned out that all I had to do was to answer an occasional phone call, and I was left alone in the little narrow office, from the time I arrived in the morning until 4 o’clock in the afternoon. 

A typewriter was my only company. Two weeks later I had to admit to myself that this venture had been unsuccessful and I left. An ad in the newspaper attracted my attention. A small company was looking for a Girl Friday and I could not believe my luck when I was hired. The office consisted of only two people, the owner of the company and his secretary. In my opinion the secretary, a young woman with an engagement ring on her finger, was the most efficient and smart woman I had ever met, and I was completely in awe of her.

Things went really well at the office for a while, until one day I committed a blunder I have never forgotten. I was handed a stack of letters to mail, one of which was, however, a registered letter and had to be taken to the post office. Instead, I mailed all the letters in a mailbox, and when I realized what I had done, all I could do was stare at the mailbox hoping against hope that it would regurgitate the registered letter. I ran back to the office and confessed to my boss what had happened, expecting to be fired on the spot. But he calmly went to the post office and the letter was retrieved without any problems. I became, if possible, even more eager to please, and at the end of the summer I regretfully left my first employ and the two people who had shown me such kindness and consideration.

The construction of a beautiful theatre complex had recently been completed in Malmö. I saw my very first play on an outing with my class and loved it. To my great surprise Yetta’s brother asked me one day if I wanted to go with him to a performance of “A Midsummer Night's Dream”. My first date! It would also be my last with him.

At the end of 1944 it was obvious that the Germans were losing the war, and in the spring of 1945 it was only a question of time when Hitler would have to capitulate. The allied forces were beginning to land in Germany and rumors of concentration camps and atrocities abounded. But nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to witness.

In April 1945 we were told by the teacher who had tutored me in Swedish, that we would be relocated for the remainder of the school year and that we would be going to school in shifts. Our school would be used to house concentration camp prisoners who would be liberated shortly through the efforts of Sweden’s Count Folke Bernadotte. At the same time the teacher expressed her regret that the graduating class would be unnecessarily inconvenienced by this move, and that she found the whole thing grossly unfair. I was shocked. This woman who I thought was so kind, had no compassion at all for the unfortunate people who were about to come to Sweden! In anticipation of their arrival many schools in Malmö were converted into temporary hospitals, and the Malmö museum, a reconstructed fort, located in a lovely park and surrounded by a moat, was prepared to house the more or less healthy survivors.

And then they started to come. The museum was soon filled to capacity with Jewish men and women of many origins. Few were from Germany. For my parents it became a daily ritual to go to the museum to make inquiries about our family, but no one had any information. One day they spoke to a young boy from Cologne. 

Although conversation across the moat was difficult, they were able to find out that he was sixteen years old and the sole survivor of his family, except for an older brother who was in the United States. My father suggested that, since we were the same age, it might benefit the young boy to have a friend visit, and from then on until the end of his quarantine I went to see him every day. Even though we had to shout across the moat we managed to become good friends and when he was able to leave the museum he came to our apartment several times before leaving for the United States.

Although Sweden had remained neutral, many Swedes had secretly sided with the Germans. Not so secret were the transports of German weapons that were allowed to go through Sweden. Although the Jewish population was negligible many of the Swedes were anti-Semites, something I experienced first hand and in a very unpleasant way. I was visiting my friend and shouting across the moat in German as usual, when a man passed by and yelled at me that I was nothing but a whore. I was in shock and too young to have the presence of mind to react. Now I had one more thing to worry about. Would the man be there the next day? He never came back.

In the meantime the schools too began to fill up. In the schoolyards where kids had been playing until recently, pitiful victims of Hitler’s concentration camps walked aimlessly about. The bony hands reaching for the bread and chocolate that people brought them, the emaciated faces staring through the fences begging for food, the fights that sometimes erupted over a piece of bread - it all made me almost physically ill. Yet I returned every free minute with more bread and chocolate that turned out to do more harm than good. Soon it became strictly forbidden to bring food from the outside, as many of the former prisoners had gotten seriously ill from the unaccustomed caloric intake. They had been starving too long and their digestive system could only handle small portions of food at one time that were now apportioned by the doctors in charge.I cannot describe the deep sorrow and despair I felt that spring of 1945 and even now, a lifetime later, I can still feel the pain of the 16-year old I was then.

Once the former prisoners were healthy enough they were released from the different quarantines in Malmö. The majority headed for the larger cities in Sweden, Stockholm and Göteborg (Gothenburg), in search of work. Ultimately many immigrated to Canada and the United States, but no matter how their lives turned out, the memories of the horrors of the camps would always be with them.

As we know, the Germans finally capitulated on May 7, 1945. My parents went out that night to spend the evenings with friends, but I was in no mood to celebrate. The events of the past weeks had depressed me so much that all I wanted was to crawl into bed. Since we were living on the ground floor, I always rolled down my blind before getting undressed. That evening I did not. A face in my window almost paralyzed me. I screamed. He ran, but he had seen me partially undressed and I felt completely violated. I never told my parents.

The end of World War II also signaled the end of our life in Malmö as well as a new beginning. We had come to Sweden as refugees and could, therefore, only stay as long as there was a need for it. Both Norway and Denmark had been liberated, and all of us who had settled in Sweden during the war had to return to our respective countries. 

The good news was that Nordiske in Oslo were anxiously waiting for my father to resume his position as director of their paint division, but the bad news was that they had only been able to find a small studio apartment for us. That was the best they could do under the circumstances. Since we had been living in Malmö for more than two years my mother, in particular, became busy winding up our affairs, having our furniture shipped to Oslo to be placed in storage and packing up our personal belongings. Finally, in the fall of 1945 we said good-bye to all our friends and went by train to Oslo, the city we had left so long ago, on April 9, 1940.

Like any other country that had been occupied by the Germans, Norway had been left in shambles. Rationing of certain foods was still in place and the housing shortage was critical. Only two years after we returned to Norway were we finally able to leave our studio apartment. Nordiske had once again lent a helping hand by paying for a long lease for a newly constructed apartment in one of the suburbs of Oslo. Our new home positively rejuvenated my parents, but it would not be for long. On November 11, 1947 my father passed away suddenly. He was only 57 years old.

That same year a contingent of about 400 Jews arrived from Europe on the invitation of the Norwegian government. The intention was to replace those that had fallen victim to the concentration camps. Among the 400 immigrants was my future husband Stefan Szilagyi, a survivor from Hungary. We met in November 1948 and got married in Oslo in December 1949. While we were engaged, Stefan decided to change his name to a more Norwegian sounding name and one that was easier to pronounce. Stenge (which means ‘to close’ in Norwegian) was acceptable to the authorities.

Stefan and I emigrated to Canada in 1951 and our first child, a boy. was born in 1954. That year my mother decided that she did not want to be separated from her grandchild and moved to Montreal. Our son Marvin was followed by a little girl, Helen, in 1957.

My mother adjusted well to life in Canada. She learned to speak and read English, became part of a circle of German Jews, played bridge and traveled all over the world. She died in 1980 at the age of 79.

Stefan and I are the grandparents of four grandsons and two granddaughters. Our oldest grandson Motti is married to Sara. They live in Israel.

In my speech at the medal ceremony in Oslo in honor of Einar Wellen I said: “... The passage of the years serves to illustrate what it means to save one life. Because of Einar I survived the Holocaust and was able to bring two children into the world, who in turn have all together six children, eight Jewish lives in two generations...”

The Nazis did not succeed.

With kind permission from
Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors in Canada. Published by the