Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kjell Staal Eggen (1919 - 1999) 
Photo: Courtesy Trym Staal Eggen


Trym Staal Eggen, tells the story of his father’s heroic efforts to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Trym’s story is based on his father’s manuscript (Skammen) which he found in 2007, almost ten years after his father’s death. 

The manuscript was published as a book in Norway in 2008, and recently, Israel’s Holocaust center Yad Vashem has decided to publish the book.

As I said, I have known very few Jews. However, there is one Jewish man I have known all my life. Being a small child, I used to call him ”uncle”, like so many other friends of my parents – they were all ”uncles” and ”aunts”. My Jewish”uncle” has a Norwegian given name and a typical German family name. He was born in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, in 1924. His parents were Scandinavian-born Jews, his father born in Norway and his mother in Sweden. He does not practice Judaism, or any other religion.

One day, when I was maybe five years old, in the 1960s, I was together with my father in ”uncle” Sigurd’s shop in Skien. Skien is the main town of Telemark county, some 150 kilometers (100 miles) from Oslo on the southeast coast of Norway. On the wall inside his office there was a portrait painting of a male person. When my father and I were alone for a moment, I asked who the man on the picture was. “That is Sigurd’s father,” was the answer. “And where is he?” I wanted to know. Then I was told that Sigurd’s father was dead. “What happened to him then?” “The Germans killed him.” “Why?” I asked. “Because he was a Jew,” was the answer that left me speechless and literally ended the conversation. That answer was incomprehensible to me at that time, and it still is. That short conversation still rings in my ears, more than 40 years later.

As time went on and I grew up, I was to gradually learn the full story about Sigurd, his little brother, his little sister, his parents, his uncle and other relatives, and how they were victims of one of the greatest crimes in human history – the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler’s “The final solution” of the Jewish question. And, how much I hate to say it, their story also includes elements that are nothing short of a national shame. Sigurd’s father, who founded the shop Sigurd would take over after the war was, with his younger brother was murdered in Auschwitz. His wife and three children were miraculously rescued. 

This family of six people were the only known representatives of the “Jewish problem” in the county of Telemark. As I would find out, my father had a central part in the survival of the four lucky members of the family – something we are immensely proud of. And the story is ugly to the grotesque, although it has a happy ending for four of the family members – Sigurd, his little brother and little sister are all still alive today. The story is ugly not only because Sigurd’s father and uncle both perished in Holocaust but also because supposedly “good” Norwegians gave the Nazis a helping hand in the horrors.

In Norway, we have mostly been taught the story of Jews being harassed and persecuted by the German occupants, somewhat aided by Norwegian Nazis, while everybody else did their best to help. That is what we are mostly told, in writing and in museums, even in school. Wouldn't it be nice had that been the entire truth?

Yes, that would definitely be nice. But unfortunately, the picture is not quite that black and white. Although there are many examples of good deeds and heroic efforts, there are also stories I wish were not true. For example, in May 1940, while the outdated, long-time neglected, under-equipped and under-maintained Norwegian military forces were still at war against the overwhelmingly superior power of the invaders, the Germans asked the police in Oslo for lists of radio receivers in Jewish homes. 

Without any attempt of sabotaging the request, it took just hours for the chief of police in Oslo to produce and hand over meticulously compiled lists. Shortly after and with no legal right to do so, Norwegian police knocked on the doors of the same homes and confiscated all respective radios. The radios were then handed over to the German occupants.

Later on, in the autumn of 1942, the situation would become much more serious. When all Jews were to be arrested and deported to Auschwitz, it was Norwegian police that carried out the brunt of the arrests. The 1958 Norwegian movie “I slik en natt” (“In such a night”) things were presented differently. The film shows uniformed German military personnel doing all the dirty work.

It should be mentioned that there were many good people in the police who tried their best to warn the victims about what was going to happen. My “uncle” was given a warning by such a police officer. The policeman could not stop what was coming, but he did what he should do despite great personal risk. Also, my mother, who is from Oslo, remembers people from the Norwegian resistance rushing into her classroom, picking up a Jewish girl in the class and running away with her. This girl, Erna, came to Sweden along with her mother and other family members. After the war she was reunited with her class. Erna’s father however, was murdered in the death camps.

When it comes to “uncle” Sigurd and his family, their sad story is extremely controversial and has aspects we would like not to tell, aspects we would not even like to imagine. But, for history to be told truthfully, it has to be told. 

In the autumn of 1942, as the persecution of Jews escalated and culminated, Sigurd was saved by the mentioned policeman who warned him about his imminent arrest, and told him to get into immediate hiding. Sigurd’s mother then handed her son into the custody of a couple of resistance fighters in the town of Skien. These two resistance fighters were Kjell Batzer (1906-1966) and Kjell Staal Eggen (1919-1999), the latter being my father. 

But when these two resistance fighters approached the regional leadership of the main national resistance organisation Milorg, they received the most shocking reply: “Kick him out in the street and let the Germans take over! This case has no interest to a military organisation!” My father would later sourly comment: “I would later find out that the so-called “military organisation” at that time still had not acquired as much as a toy pistol to liberate the country.” Later on, after the regional leadership of Milorg had been replaced with people my father respected in the summer of 1943, my father reluctantly accepted to be engaged as leader in the resistance. He was responsible for sabotage and airdrops in southern Telemark, thus being instrumental in supplies of arms and equipment to Milorg.

The rescuers improvised an impressive and amazing apparatus. Sigurd was placed on an extra bed in the bedroom of one of the two rescuers – my father – in the apartment of my grandparents. As the apartment was right in the center of town and also housed the medical office of my grandfather, the boy was instructed never to leave the room and stay far away from the window. The rescuers made big efforts to find help to evacuate the young refugee.

My father was “editor” of one of the larger illegal newspapers in the region. The “edition” used to be contacted by various representatives of organizations who wanted paroles and messages printed. Now the same representatives were contacted with pleas for help. One of them was a well-known politician who self-importantly presented himself as the regional representative for the exiled government in London. Nobody could help. They either showed a total lack of interest, or they appeared to be embarrassed to admit that they were unable to help. Even the “regional representative of the legal government” had no ace up his sleeve.

Travelling was difficult, as the occupants had imposed strict restrictions. Still, long trips were made to various towns and places, in hope of getting in touch with any organization that could help. Among all the travelling activities, my father made two trips to Oslo, staying several days each time, trawling through addresses on a memorized list. It was all in vain – nobody showed any interest or ability to do anything about this local “Jewish problem”. There was one single exception: on the last Oslo trip my father met one man who showed a ray of hope – a book dealer who was connected with the organizers of an escape route that was momentarily suspended, but that might get active again.

After the rescuers had struggled for about one month to evacuate just one teenager, the police then decided to arrest Sigurd’s mother and little siblings. Dramatically, the rescuers succeeded in picking them all up right under the nose of Norwegian police trying to arrest them. This started a new era of the rescue operation. As if the rescuers did not have enough with one refugee, they now found themselves with four. Secret shelters had to be found – Sigurd had to be moved as there was a risk that his hiding in my father’s bedroom had been discovered.

Another month passed with fruitless efforts. Out of despair, new advances were made towards the regional Milorg leadership. Milorg remained merciless. When new approaches were made, the answer was like before: “Kick them out in the street, let the Germans take over!”

The whole matter was eventually solved under dramatic and improvised circumstances. The four family members were smuggled out of the country in the cargo of a Swedish freight vessel. The captain of the vessel can in no way be said to have acted on idealistic motives. He asked an outrageous price for the crossing, corresponding with years of average salaries at the time. The captain had to be threatened at gunpoint by my father in order to reach an “agreement”.

On top of all the grief already mentioned, it was found out around 1980 that the family’s economic possessions had been stolen – by nobody else than Milorg. The very organization that insistently had refused to help the family to escape had confiscated it all. Being fully aware that other resistance fighters were in a desperate and lonely struggle to save the family and could have made good use of the money, did not seem to bother Milorg. 

Mr David Becker, Sigurd’s father, who used to give financial aid to Milorg up till his arrest on June 2nd 1942, had over the last few years put aside money in case of crises like what they now faced. Not until 1981, after the press had brought up the case, the Norwegian government recognized a certain responsibility and paid a symbolic but not adequate compensation to the family.


This grotesque story is laid out in detail in my father’s posthumous publication “Skammen” (“The Shame”) published in 2008. The book is based on a complete script written in the early 1990s, which I stumbled over while browsing through a box containing some of the papers my father left behind. The script was totally unknown to all of us. There is also correspondence showing that my father made approaches to a couple of well-known publishers in order to have the story published. The same correspondence says that the manuscript, “although very interesting, is probably a bit too special to be published in Norway today.

Sigurd Becker 

” It is also well known that “the establishment” made significant efforts going out of their way to silence my father as he started speaking out about his experiences about 30 years ago. “Uncle” Sigurd has contributed an epilogue to the book. Sigurd and his siblings are all alive today. Still, more than a dozen years after my father’s passing, Sigurd knocks on my mother’s door at Christmas time every year and puts a gift on the table. I still call him “uncle”.

Yad Vashem has awarded the title of "Righteous Among the Nations" post mortem to Kjell Staal Eggen and his parents Staal Olaf and Anna Christiane Eggen for saving the lives of The Becker family during the Holocaust.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ragnvald Blix (1882 - 1958) 


 by professor Leo Goldberger

Ever since the popular stories of King Christian X of Denmark and the Yellow Star of David surfaced in the public consciousness throughout much of the Western world, there have been several attempts to track down its source. Such authoritative Danish historians as Ole Barfoed and Jørgen Hæstrup, among others, readily dismissed the stories as “legends”.

Even Harald Flender, an American TV writer, in his overly dramatic and somewhat flawed account made a note of the mythological nature of the story (Rescue in Denmark, W.H. Allen, 1963). An earlier, very earnest and factual first-hand account (October ’43, /Gyldendal, 1952; in English translation, Putnam, 1954) by a leading rescuer of Jews, Aage Bertelsen , was less definite on the matter of the King. 

In Bertelsen’s recollection, which admittedly he could no longer substantiate when queried some 10 years later by the Israeli historian Leni Yahil, the story had been confirmed to him by the King’s own secretary, he said! (Cf. The Rescue of Danish Jewry, Jewish Publication Society, 1969, p. 443). 

The search for the origin of the stories became a continuing puzzle to many authors writing about the rescue, either because of scholarly interest in the formation of legends or simply out of curiosity. While everyone agreed that as with most legends an ounce of truth was to be found in them, nevertheless the search for the causal chain in the story’s formation and subsequent spread has continued unabated to this day.


The first exhaustive piece of research into the question of the legend’s origin was mounted by a Danish-American anthropologist, Jens Lund, and published in a relatively obscure professional journal in 1975 (Indiana Folklore, vol.8, #1-2). While The Israeli historian, Lenil Yahil, whose landmark volume on the rescue is the unquestioned classic, the credit should definitely go to Jens Lund for tracing the initial appearance of the legend’s mention in the political cartoon by the Norwegian artist Ragnvald Blix.

As he pointed out, the cartoon in question appeared for the first time in the Swedish paper Gøteborg Handels- och Sjöfartstidning (GHT) on January 10, 1942. Though Lund did not see the cartoon himself, he reported the detailed description of it, which appeared in the May 15th 1942 issue of the Danish-American newsletter, The Listening Post, a mimeographed bi-weekly, dispersed out of the office of the Danish-American businessman Caspar Hasselriis in NYC.

As already indicated, most legends (as well as simply rumors) usually have some foot in reality. In this case, the presumed facts as depicted in the cartoon was an interchange between Danish prime minister, Thorvald Stauning and the King about the eventuality that Danish Jews be required to wear the yellow star should Erik Scavenius, the more-German friendly foreign minister, become head the new government, which was increasingly insisted upon by the Germans.

The captions read: 
Stauning: “What should we do then, your Majesty?” 
The King: “Then we must all wear the Yellow Star!" 

Thorvald Stauning Prime Minister of 
Denmark. In office 1924 - 1926. 
Source Wikipedia


In recent years there appears to have been some unheralded confirmation that a conversation along the lines depicted in the cartoon actually took place. This substantiation was reported by professor Knud V. Jespersen (the royal court historian) and appears in his extensive biography of King Christian’s—in preparation for which he scrutinized some 60,000 pages of the King’s personal diaries (Cf. K.V. Jespersen, Rytterkongen: Et portræt af Christian X, Gyldendal 2007). According to Jespersen, it was Stauning’s deputy, Vilhelm Buhl -- a staunch anti-German in the ministerial cabinet who briefly succeeded Stauning’s on his death on May 3, 1942-- who brought up his concern about the potential consequence for the Danish Jews of a Scavenuis takeover.

In an interview about his book, Jespersen very clearly concludes that :

…the diaries reveal that the myth about the king wearing the yellow star has a certain basis in reality. In connection with the decision by the Nazis of whether all Jews were to wear a visible Star of David on their outer clothes, the King said to the acting Prime Minister, Vilhelm Buhl in 1941, it might be an idea “if we all wore the Star of David on our clothes” (cf. Kirsten Boas, “Den Complicerede Konge”, Kristlige Dagblad, Oct. 24, 2007). 
This is the first confirmation of the kernel of truth in the story. The previous royal historian, Tage Kaarsted in 1990, had only maintained that “nothing in the King’s papers suggest for sure that the King ever threatened to wear the star”. But then Kaarsted did not have access to the complete set of personal diaries. 

Vilhelm Buhl Prime Minister 
May 3, 1942 - 9 November 1942


To be sure, there were additional factors that coalesced in the timing of the cartoon, not the least of which was Denmark’s signing of the Comintern Pact in November 1941 which was quite upsetting to many Danes at home and abroad. This in turn was followed by the troublesome news of an attempted arson attack on the Synagogue on December 20, 1941 by emboldened Danish Nazis who were pushing for a ”solution to the Jewish problem” in Denmark. 

What was unlikely to have been widely know, at home or abroad, was the King’s handwritten note to Rabbi Marcus Melchior a week or so later expressing his concern about the fire. However, this gesture was conflated with a number of fairly widespread stories about the king’s positive stance towards the Jewish community, not to mention the false rumor of his visit to the Synagogue, a visit that actually occurred in 1933 on the 100-year anniversary of the Copenhagen Synagogue.


After its first appearance in 1942, and following Jen Lund’s identification of its very existence, the cartoon was eventually referenced and reproduced in articles by Hans Kirchhoff, the leading contemporary Danish historian of the German occupation period and the persecution of the Jews (Kirchhoff, in Føreren har befalet, Samlern, 1993, Sofie Lene Bak, (Jødeaktionen October 1934, Museum Tusculanums, 2001, and most recently also by Bo Lidegaard, in his forthcoming book, Countrymen, Knopf, 2013 ). 

They correctly note the name of Stig Höök (Blix’s Swedish pseudonym) as the cartoonist and suggest, with varying degrees of conviction, that this might have been the spark for the legend, but they seem to fail to appreciate the genuine significance of Ragnvald Blix himself (1882-1958) in getting the story off the ground, never wondering who he was and what his unique role in giving the cartoon its credibility and spread.

Even a cursory check of who he was reveals him to have been an enormously popular and influential Norwegian artist with an intensely personal motivation and mission in creating his many and varied political cartoons —and they might have finally ended their search for the originator of the royal myth that so captured our attention. 

It could have been none other than Ragnvald Blix! And it was created out of his need to make a political statement—after which propaganda experts who knew a valuable piece of “copy” when they saw it wisely picked it up. Caspar Hasselriis himself, in his pamphlet Denmark Fights On, which he circulated from New York along with The Listening Post, he quite cleverly juxtaposed the statement “If they have to wear the yellow star, we’ll all wear it ” against a vivid photograph of King Christian on his daily ride (Cf. T.M. Terkelsen, Front Line in Denmark, London, 1944).

Blix’s biography is too extensive to cover in this brief article (the better source is Rikke Petterson “The cartoonist who challenged Hitler”, Journal Baltic Worlds, March 2011, pp. 22-25), but let it be said he was an extraordinary person and a highly regarded artist in his day, with his works—unique caricatures of most of the well-known literati, artists and even the most sacrosanct iconic paintings of his time--still to be found housed in several Scandinavian Museums. He also left a wealth of historic books and records behind, documenting how he was regarded as a pest by the German hierarchy, both in WWI and II, by his virulent attacks on their persons and inhumane deeds. 

Goering himself sent a personal appeal to the Swedish Foreign Minister urging him to ban Blix’s anti-German cartoons from further publication at the risk of damaging the relations between their 2 countries. Mussolini, Quisling and the other major fascists whom he targeted with immunity, despised him. 

It might also be noted that before moving on to Sweden in 1940, he had among other places in his life, lived in Copenhagen, where he worked for the largest daily, Berlingske Tidene, a paper that so worried about his political bite they fired him for fear of Nazi reprisals. (It should be noted that it was the brave Swedish editor of HST in Gøteborg, Torgney Segerstedt, who encouraged Blix’s political cartoons despite threats from the Germans and lent it much credibility!) 

Blix remained in Sweden throughout the war. He established the illegal publication of Haandslaget (The Handshake), distributed by the resistance movement throughout Norway and Denmark, his cartoons being seen by millions, with the text often supplied by the Norwegian writer Torolf and the German political refugee -- none other than Willy Brandt! Indeed, Ragnvald Blix as well as Torgney Segerstedt are names to be remembered and honored for their exceptional courage! 


As mentioned above, Caspar Hasselriis was clearly the key figure in spreading the story of the King and the Star of David. He was the acknowledged “soul” of the Danish-American group, which had sprung into service in late 1939 with its concern for Denmark’s welfare and reputation within the US government and public at large. The Listening Post surfaced in NY in 1941 with Hasselriis as chief. 

Ship magnate Hans Isbrandtsen and other prominent Danish-Americans, such as General Motor’s president General William S. Knudsen--along with advice from the innovative spin-meister Edward Bernays, got the ball rolling by 1941. The exact role Bernays played, as a “dollar-a-year” consultant is not specified in his memoir, other than he helped establish the organization and its news and propaganda outlet, The Listening Post. While short on details, Bernays does proudly acknowledge having received King Christian’s citation and Pro-Dania Medal for his efforts. (E. L. Bernays, Biography of an idea, Simon & Schuster, 1965). 

The aim of the Listening Post was to keep Americans informed about occupied Denmark, supplying readers with what sparse reliable information that was available. However, it also served as a propaganda vehicle to counteract the growing impression that Denmark was being too cooperative with the Germans. They went to great length to amplify the cruelty of the German occupiers against the Danish populace and tended to exaggerate the prevailing tenor of anti-Nazi sentiment, while exaggerating the early manifestations of active resistance in the country. In this regard, they were in close contact with the underground news and propaganda networks out of Stockholm and London’s Danish Section of the OSE, the Free Danish Council and the illegal paper “Frit Danmark”. 

Needless to say, these efforts had the full support of the courageous Danish Ambassador Henrik Kaufmann in Washington and the Danish Ambassador in London. The “Listening Post” was on a seriously important mission to make Denmark look its best in an attempt to insure its potential acceptance into the United Nations as an inherently Allied nation at war’s ultimate end. And it was no mean achievement when Kaufmann, represented by Hasselriis, won full membership in the Inter Allied Council, later to become the UN Information Board (Cf. Besættelsen 1940-45: Politik, Modstand, Befrielse. Politiken Forlag, 1979]. 

By no means to be forgotten was the significant role played by Victor Borge, who upon his arrival in to the USA in 1940 as a penniless thirty-year old, with but a few social connections for getting a break, fairly quickly met the very hospitable and helpful Caspar Hasselriis in New York. A warm friendship between them ensued, which more than likely involved him in Hasselriis’s propaganda efforts. 

Before very long, Borge’s incredible talent for “Comedy in Music” was widely recognized in the USA and his service for the Office of War Information, rallying support for Denmark and the cause of liberty became a regular feature of his entertainment platform, Though classified “4-F” by the draft board because of his age, he never tired of offering his service for the war effort. The fact that he had left family and loved one’s behind, in Denmark, including his mother's older sister who sadly enough ended up in Theresienstadt during the 1943 roundup of the Danish Jews, made his desire to fight the Nazi’s even more personal. 

While living in California he signed up as a volunteer in the coastal “Evacuation Corp”, quickly earning the rank of second lieutenant, charged with helping in the evacuation of women and children in case of a Japanese’s invasion. His potential assistance was also enlisted near the end of the war by the secret mission asked of him by the U.S. War Office: to parachute into Western Jutland for the purpose of preparing the local population –among whom he would still be a recognizable celebrity –for an allied invasion, should that be planned. An amateur flyer, the unfazed Victor Borge accepted the challenge and even kept the secret from his beloved wife, Sanna, while he prepared a small suitcase in readiness. 

Needless to say, his commitment to Denmark and all efforts of positive propaganda was close to his heart—and of course he never tired of telling the story of the King and the Yellow Star—in the mode of a Hans Christian Andersen tale no doubt. (Cf. Victor Borge, Smilet er den korteste afstand…, Gyldendal, 1997). As he shared the mean-spirited satire of Ragnvald Blix’s cartoons and, like Blix, was named high on the list of “the most wanted” by the Gestapo, it is not unlikely that Borge and Blix actually knew one another from the days in Copenhagen when both lived there—a fascinating further inquiry. 

Author: Prof. Leo Goldberger - Professor emeritus, New York University & editor, The Rescue of the Danish Jews: Moral Courage Under Stress, NYU Press, 1987

Published by Scandinavian Jewish Forum

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

(1819 – 1887)

Georg Brandes 


Goldschmidt var en lille kraftigt bygget Mand, med sluttet Holdning og hurtig Gang, mørk, med skarpe Træk, med et klogt stikkende Blik og med ualmindelig Meddelelsesevne. Han var i Samtale underholdende og livfuld. 

Han var vindende naar han vilde og dog var der noget ved ham der ligesom stødte tilbage. Han var ved sit Livs langvarige Stridigheder ved Bevidstheden om, en Tid at have levet som En, hvis Haand var mod Alle, som Alles mod ham, bleven mistænksom. Han var stadigt paa sin Post, alltid opfyldt af sit eget, ængstelig over sin Værdighed , let saaret og let saarende andre. 

Han havde ligget i Fejde med næsten alle danske Storheder, havde angrebet Grundtvig og Grundtvigianerne havde følt sig tilsidesat af Heiberg, hvem han afskyede som en kold, diplomatisk Natur, foragtet af Kierkegaard – hvis Dagbøger røber, hvilke Skældsord en Mand af dette Dannelsestrin i Monologer overøste Goldschmidt med – han var bleven gennemhaanet af Frederik Dreier der rettede sine Kølleslag mod hans romantiske Halvhed; han var yderst ilde lidt af Brøchner, der fandt ham overfladisk og hvem han til Gengæld havde lagt for Had som Ateist. Følgen var, at han ret jævnligt følte sig som Pindsvin og rullede sig sammen med alle Pigge rejste.

Deraf ogsaa, hvad der i sin Tid vakte saa megen Opsigt og Omtale, hans hyppige Skærmydsler med sine Forlæggere. De røbede visstnok et pirreligt og vanskeligt Sind.

En almen Anerkendelse, fuld og rund, som han i mange Henseender fortjente den, blev ham aldrig til Del. Goldschmidts meget stærke Selvfølelse kunde kun daarligt undvære Anerkendelsen; han tørstede imod den og velblev at føle sig ensom. Bitter var han just ikke og til Bitterhed havde han ingen Grund, men der var det Afvisende, Kritiske ved ham, som Ensomhedsfølelsen affødte.

Ved Siden af dette traadte i hans Væsen, i hans Samtale som i hans Skrifter, det dybtliggende romantiske Hang stedse stærkere frem som et Hang til Mystik. Da disse Linjers forfatter engang gik med ham paa et Billedgalleri og pegende paa nogle Malerier af hollandske Smaabilledmestre udbrød: Maestro!! Det er Deres Kunst i ting som Simon Levi og Avrahmsche Nattergal, svarte Goldschmidt med heftig Protest: Hvor kan De sige det! Hos mig er der alltid Noget bagved. 

Det var sandt, forsaavidt han i Reglen kom tilbage til den tysk-romantiske Grundanskuelse, som er den, at denne Tingenes udvortes Verdens skjuler en anden indre, der paa underfuld Maade svarer til den, mellem Ting og Personer, der staar hinanden ganske fjernt i Tid og Rum og tilsyneladende er hinanden fremmede, findes der derfor dunkle og usporlige Forbindelser, der udspringer af Love og Forhold, vi ikke kjenner.

Er der ved Goldschmiths Sans for Ideer og Grundspørgsmaal, hans hele Følgen med og hans Drøften af Tidstanker noget, der minder om hans Samtidige Karl Gutzkow, saa er han i sit stille Sind dog helt en Romantiker af langt ældre Type, ganske bortset fra at han er en mangefold større Kunstner. For ham var Skønheden altid det Skjulte.

Goldschmidt sad i Udlandet paa et offentlig Sted mellem et Par Landsmænd. Den ene, en Maler, faldt i Henrykkelse over en Dames Skønhed, der kom ind. Goldschmidt fandt ikke hendes Ansigt saa smukt og om det Ovrige erklærede han ikke at kunne dømme – Hvorfor ikke? sagde Maleren, jeg ser gennem Dragten, jeg klæder hende af med Ojnene i et Nu. – «Hvor De i saa Fald er ulykkelig!» sagde Goldschmidt, «saa eksistere der for Dem jo slet ingen Poesi i Deres Opfattelse af Kvinden» - Det var næppe muligt at finde nogen for en Arkeromantiker mere betegnende Ytring.

Det Stemningstryk, der fra Barndommen af havde hvilet paa hans Sind, bevirkede derfor ogsaa at det Store og Sande altid for ham blev staaende i det Uklare som hint Ideale, der i hans senere Liv fortolkedes som en hemmelighedsfuld Nemesis Magt. Han var anlagt til Verdensmand, havde Sans for Hygge og sømmeligt Vellevned, men fra tidlig Tid af var han i sit inderste en Nazaræer, ansaa det at nyde i Grunden for Synd og havde ikke Respekt for noget som for det at ofre, at afse, især i rent udvortes Forstand.

Goldschmidt havde f.Eks fra sin Ungdom af en vis Sympati med Socialismen, særligt en stærk Følelse af det Uretfærdige i de begunstigede Klassers Stilling. Da man i 1871 fra nationalliberal Side opfordrede ham til forenet Optræden mod den begyndende socialistiske Bevægelse, stillede han som Betingelse at man skulde danne en Forening, hvis Medlemmer forpligtede sig til aldrig at spise mere end tre Retter til Middag. Da de øvrige ikke vilde gaa ind herpaa, holdt Goldschmidt sig tilbage. Saa underlig det lyder, var Betingelsen stillet i fuldt Alvor. I denne Tænkemaade er der et Lighedspunkt mellem ham og hans Modstander Kierkegaard.

Han var uden af videnskabelig Forskole. Med en meget høj almindelig og kunstnerisk Dannelse forbandt han en fuldstændig Mangel paa videnskabelig Evne. Saaledes gik det til at den romantiske Mystik i Aarenes Løb blev eneherskende i hans Sind. Han gid efterhaanden rent op i sin Nemesis Lære som Ingen i Samtiden uden han kunde blive klog paa, og som drev en simpel og rigtig Iagttagelse ud i urimelige Følgeslutninger. Hans Bog om denne Nemesis ligner mest af alt en daarlig Doktordisputas. Men selve denne rastløse Attraa hos ham efter at raade Tilværelsens Runer viser at hans Blik stedse utvidedes og at hans Stræben som Aand holdt ud til det sidste.

Sin blivende og store Betydning har han dog som den første Udformer af en moderne dansk Kunstprosa. Hans Sprog er den bedste Arv, han efterlader os, Det slutter om Iagttagelse eller Indtrykket som et gennemsiktig Slør; det er stemningsfint og melodisk trods sit altid naturlige Parlando og det aabner stadig Perspektiver opefter og nedefter saa det er, som saa vi fra en smilende højtliggende Skovvej paa en Skrænt snart op mod Himlen, snart ned mod Havets Dyb.

George and Eva Klein


Christmas 1948. 
We were 23-year-old medical students in Sweden, still trying to understand the consequences of some momentous decisions, made during the previous year. 

In the middle of our medical studies earlier that year at the University of Budapest (located in our native city), George was unexpectedly invited to join a Jewish student group preparing to visit some universities in Sweden, which had been neutral during World War II. 

Eight days before departure, George met Eva; we fell in love, but George had to leave. We promised each other we would reunite in Sweden. In Stockholm, he found a haven in the Cell Research Department of the Karolinska Institute, which was led by one of the pioneers of modern cell chemistry, Torbjörn Caspersson. Eva was still in Budapest, where the situation under the Communist regime was becoming worse day by day. 

George returned to Budapest, we married in secret and emigrated to Stockholm at the last moment when this was still possible. We tried to forget the war, including the Holocaust, which killed many friends and relatives. We had miraculously survived, escaping the transports to the death camps in different ways, and making do with false papers. In Sweden we decided to devote ourselves to our new lives, to the new country, to science, and to the children we were going to have and to whom we were adamantly determined not to teach a single word of Hungarian. And so it went. We started speaking Swedish as soon as we could, and our three children were never taught Hungarian, a language that we loved and still love to this day.

However, we simply could not suppress the memory of our murdered relatives, nor of the Jewish classmates and friends who never came back from the slave labor camps. We were also unable to forget the indifference (and worse) of the non-Jewish Hungarian population—some wonderful exceptions notwithstanding.

George and Eva Klein are cancer researchers and professors of tumor biology at the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm. George Klein is also the author of several books, including The Atheist and the Holy City.


Approaching Christmas, 1948, our first year in Sweden, a Danish English couple, Nils and Cicily Andresen, cell biologists from the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, who were working as guest researchers in Caspersson’s department, invited us to experience a real Danish Christmas with them and Nils’ parents. We had never been to Denmark and found the invitation overwhelmingly exciting: we were the youngest and most insignificant among Casperssion’s colorful international research staff, spoke a slow stuttering English, and knew next to nothing about Denmark. 

The Atheist and the Holy City

Hardly had we arrived at Denmark’s idyllic coast village of Taarbaek, still exhilarated by the joy of having crossed an international boundary with an ease that seemed almost unbelievable, we immediately asked about the thing we most wanted to see: the Frihedsmuseum, commemorating the Danish Resistance. And that is where Dr. Nils Andresen, himself a former member of the Resistance movement, first took us. We could hardly believe our eyes.

How could this be? Could the Danes really have behaved so admirably toward the Jews in Denmark during the German occupation? How did they manage to act collectively to thwart the attempted German roundup of Jews? Why wasn’t their heroism tempered by fears of how the Germans might retaliate against themselves and their families? And first and foremost: why wasn’t Danish society pervaded with the anti-Semitism, malice and indifference that afflicted Hungarian society?

Nils gave us some books on the Danish Resistance, which we devoured. But his personal stories were even more powerful. He told us about the organization of the Resistance movement and his own cell, the decision-making process, the transmission of orders and the initiation of action.

Once, Nils’ cell suspected that a new member was an infiltrator, working for the Germans. They accidentally discovered that the man had a protective German certificate, only given to important Nazi agents. They reported their suspicions to the leadership of the Resistance movement, using the same cell-network organization as for the transmission of messages and orders. Only one immediate contact person was known to the leader of each cell within the network. This may seem cumbersome to our fax-world, but it worked with great speed and efficiency. The Resistance movement had its own court of justice.

They examined the evidence that had been submitted by Nils’ group, found it convincing, and condemned the man to death. The sentence had to be executed by the cell that reported the case. Nils and his friends decided by lottery who was to fire the shot. They knew the way the traitor walked to work every morning. 

A few minutes before he was to pass a certain shop, two Resistance members entered the store, pulled out their pistols and told the owner and his assistant that they were part of the Resistance. “No need to pull your guns, we are on your side,” was the answer. When the infiltrator walked by, the appointed assassin shot him dead.

Seconds later the shop was closed, and everybody had disappeared from the scene, including the passersby who immediately understood that they had witnessed an act by the Resistance. When the German police arrived a few minutes later, they could find no one who had seen anything.

Listening to Nils, we began to think about some very different shootings. We remembered the mass killing of defenseless Jews by the militiamen of the Hungarian Arrow Cross,* many of whom were teenagers, on the shores of the Danube in Budapest in December 1944. With the pounding of the Russian artillery already clearly audible in the distance, they carried out their murderous orgies night after night. The large icy river served as the silent receptacle of their victims.

To the once pleasing shores of the Danube, the favorite promenade of young lovers, they brought all the Jews they caught during the day. They pulled them out from their “illegal” hiding places or from their “ legal ” ghetto dwellings. Whenever they could, the Arrow Cross militiamen also seized the protected inhabitants of the “international ghetto.” The “Swedish” houses of the diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and houses that carried the flags of the Vatican, the International Red Cross, and other neutral nations, were repeatedly raided as well.

A prisoner myself, I (George) tried to discuss matters on November 3, 1944, with one of the Arrow Cross guards of about my own age (I was 19).

At this point, I had been in a slave labor camp on the east side of the Danube with other youngsters and old men for three weeks. Most men between 18 and 60 had been taken to the murderous military slave labor camps on the Russian front long before. On the night of November 2, the guards suddenly escorted us across the river. We knew that it meant we were going to be taken to a death camp. I had read the secret Auschwitz report of Vrba and Wetzler several months before and had no illusions.

After a forced march all next day, they kept us on a heavily guarded football field for a while in the evening. I was continuously thinking of ways to escape. (I did escape the next day, but that is another story.) At one of the gates of the football field I saw a young Arrow Cross man, about my age. He did not look particularly fierce, despite his machine gun and hand grenades. He could have been one of my classmates. I started talking to him.

"For what crime am I kept here? How would I know? You must be guilty if you are here.

But we are not here because we committed a crime; I am here because I am a Jew. Your people have committed terrible crimes against the rest of the world.

Are you sure that this is true? And if other persons committed crimes, is that my responsibility?

Yes it is. Your people have committed terrible crimes. You are all responsible."

I heard some uneasiness in his voice. He clung to the slogans he was taught, he used them as a shield. He was not hostile, his tone was almost friendly. But he would not let me go. How could he, as long as he believed what he had said?

Nils Andresen, the former member of the Danish Resistance, showed us some photos taken at a certain event by members of the Resistance. The event was a ceremony marking the commencement of work by the Germans on a broad autobahn that was to run across Denmark. It was obviously important for the war traffic, but the official propaganda spoke of it as a major step toward increased Danish-German cooperation after the war.

The Danish puppet Government was represented at the ceremony by one of its ministers, who appeared with high-ranking German officers. The minister was going to shovel the first piece of sod in the presence of a large crowd. But members of the Resistance had made sure that the spade was sawed in the middle; it broke the first time it was thrust into the ground. The photos show the minister with pieces of the broken spade in each hand. He is looking at them in utter bewilderment, as if he cannot believe what he sees. Two German generals are standing next to him, one on each side, with stony faces. A large crowd of Danes surrounds them, children, men and women, young and old, laughing.

Could this have happened in Hungary? Never. Many jokes were circulated, but there were different jokes among the victims, among the perpetrators and among the passive and indifferent majority. The Hungarian ruling circles were infiltrated by spies, opportunists, and turncoats. But even they played their roles with the creeping servility that had become accepted practice in a nation that had lived under Turkish, Austrian, and other foreign rulers over the centuries.

Hungarians have maintained their unique language and their cultural identity, but they have left heroism to others— at least they did during the war when it came to the “Jewish question.”

A month after I (George) had my conversation with the young Arrow Cross guard, I was again in Budapest, wearing a fake paramilitary organization uniform, and carrying false papers. I often overheard the conversations of people on the tram or on the street. On one occasion my tram passed by a group of elderly Jews, wearing the yellow star and surrounded by the machine gun-carrying youngsters of the Arrow Cross. I heard a passenger exclaiming: “Will I be happy when the last of them is driven out of my country!”

But another day, when I was standing in front of the synagogue that was the entrance to the ghetto, wearing my “uniform” and anxiously surveying the large crowd of old Jews herded into the ghetto to see whether I could spot my mother and stepfather, a Budapest police- man who took me for an idle onlooker suddenly whispered to me, in an angry voice: “Can’t you get the hell out of here, lad! I would give anything if I were allowed to move away rather than look at this misery.” (The Budapest police were much less anti-Semitic than the gendarmerie, who were brought to the capital to carry out anti-Jewish operations in their own implacable way.

How far can people be driven by indoctrination, how completely can they lose touch with reality? I (George) remember the sturdy middle-aged man with a mustache, who looked like a country squire with his small hunter’s hat (complete with the appropriate feathers), trying to comfort an apparently anxious neighbor on the tram in late November.

1944, when the Russian army had already occupied eastern and central Hungary: “The great turning point has come at last. I have just heard that our armored train has reentered Miskolc. The Russians will start retreating in no time.” The famous Hungarian novelist Sándor Márai wrote in his diary in May 1944 (published under the title Napló 1943-44, Budapest, 1945) the following (my translation): “You cannot talk to the people. It is just like talking with somebody who is dead drunk or crazy. The Hungarian middle class has gone crazy and gotten drunk on the Jewish question. The Russians are in Körösmezö, the British and the Americans are above Budapest, while this society behaves like foaming morons and can speak of nothing else but the Jews.”

Anti-Semitic individuals could, occasionally, act decently. Eva, who was (says George) an astoundingly beautiful girl, was trying to visit her parents in the “yellow star house” the day before they were to be taken to the ghetto. She had false papers, did not wear a yellow star, and hoped to sneak in and out of the house unseen. But as she was about to enter, one of the most infamous anti- Semites on the block, a middle-aged, very vulgar lady who was in charge of enforcing all the Nazi orders on the block, walked out of the doorway.

Eva thought that the woman would immediately hand her over to the police or to the Arrow Cross for not wearing the yellow star and for traveling about illegally. Instead, the lady started shouting at Eva, ordering her to leave at once in the most abusive and obscene terms provided by the rich Hungarian language; the woman acted as if Eva were some kind of criminal intruder. Eva walked away dejectedly, only to learn the next day that Arrow Cross militiamen had been in the house at the moment she was about to enter, rounding up all the Jews. One step through the entrance and into the court- yard, and she would have encountered them.

Early in 1945, while Denmark was still occupied by the Germans, an air-raid alarm sounded in Copenhagen. Several planes flew over the city at a high altitude. Their identity could not be discerned from the ground. A large number of leaflets were dropped over the city. They claimed to carry a message from the Allies: Due to the shortage of military manpower, the troops chosen to liberate Copenhagen were nonwhite soldiers from the British and French colonies, and Soviet soldiers from Mongolia and other regions of the Far East. The Allies hoped that the Danish population would excuse the rapes, looting, and other acts of violence that were inevitable.

The Resistance movement swiftly identified who was really responsible for the leaflets. They had been printed in Denmark, either by the Germans or their Danish puppets. The day after the leaflets were dropped, a large number of trucks of the Danish postal service delivered an enormous amount of mail to the German Embassy. The citizens of Copenhagen had collected as many of the leaflets as possible, written “tak tor lånet” (“thank you for having lent us this”) on them, and mailed them to the German Embassy.

One must not expect others to behave as heroes. An individual has no right to assume that he would behave as a hero in a situation he has never experienced, no matter how high an opinion he entertains about his own moral standards. Therefore, we ought not to forget the nonconformist martyrs of conscience who maintained their principled stands, whether they were scientists, poets or just ordinary citizens. And we must keep asking what motivates certain individuals to act honorably.

Let us teach our children to use their own minds. And let us remind them of the Danes. The brave and laudable deeds of the Danish people during the Second World War provide inspiration that young people, and the rest of us, badly need.

Courtesy Eva and George Klein

Previously written and published 1993
Published with permission