September 28, 2016

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September 27, 2016

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Picture in Sweden dated May 17, 1943

Dear Readers,

This picture was taken in Sweden on May 17, 1943 when celebrated by Norwegian refugees on the Norwegian Constitution day.

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This picture was randomly sent to me. I almost fainted when I recognized that the little girl in the middle of the first row, with black hair and a hat, together with a little boy, also with a hat, represented my brother Leif and myself!!!

 

The first of the five next paragraphs gives us a slight summary of the book as seen in the eyes of the publisher.  The next four paragraphs were written by personal friends of Irene who were the first ones to express the content of the book in a brief but vital atmosphere.  The four people involved are professional and highly appreciated authors.

 

In 1940, Norway wasn’t too small for Hitler. By the end of the war, Norway had lost a higher percentage of its Jews than almost any other country in Europe. This story, inspired by and based on the author’s own experience as a Holocaust survivor and growing up Jewish in 1940s Norway, brings readers both young and old into the courageous struggles of one family to survive. Budding artist Rebekka Davidson sketches the soldiers filling the school and streets, while her cousin Harald Rosenberg learns that he’d rather read about Hitler’s politics than experience them. Talented musician Ingrid Rosenberg prepares to go to her dream school while experiencing the wonders of first love—with the nephew of the leader of the local Nazis. Together, the family will do whatever it takes to return to normal life…but will it be enough? Hamilton Books, Publication April 2016

 

“A story of courage, loss, and dignity in the midst of Norway’s holocaust – told by one who survived it. Norway’s little known story is an essential one for us to learn from, to record, to remember.” Rebecca Makkai, author of Music for Wartime

 

“Irene Levin Berman’s riveting debut novel, Norway Wasn’t Too Small, is a coming of age tale about a budding young artist caught in the midst of a unique and tragic moment in history. Based on true events, this is the untold story of the Holocaust… It is a moving testament to the courage and resilience of those young people who, despite all odds, held fast to their hope and humanity in the Nazi era. This book will linger in the hearts of readers for years to come.” Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace

 

“A superb and chilling accounting of the domestic details of two Norwegian families coping with the Nazi invasion. You grow and mature with the teenagers as they recognize the horror they face. Nothing like it! A must read.” Gerry Bamman, actor and writer, “Uncle Frank” in the Home Alone movies.

 

“This fact-based story of the Holocaust is a compelling educational and literary experience for young readers and adults alike! The vivid reality of daily life in Nazi-occupied Norway, the escapes to Sweden aided by resistance workers, the hospital ploys to save Jewish patients, and the ultimate round up and deportation of Norwegian Jews to death camps are all thrilling and heartbreaking as seen from the perspective of two teens.” Karin Stahl, Writer

 

September 26, 2016

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Book Review from Norwegian American Weekly, an old and well known magazine in Seattle, Washington.

Dear Friends,

cover-norwayThis book review was written by Sandy Brehl, Author of Odin’s Promise and Bjorn’s Gift.    I  have never been more touched by another person’s response to my family experience, my childhood, and my attempt to describe Norway and the Holocaust, than the comments sent to me by the above person. For that reason I have decided to include it for my readers to absorb.

Book Review: NORWAY WASN’T TOO SMALL: A Fact-Based Novel about Darkness and Survival, by Irene Levin Berman (Hamilton Books, 2016)

Reviewer: Sandy Brehl, Author of Odin’s Promise and Bjorn’s Gift

While Hitler’s war-machine overwhelmed country after country, Norway took comfort in its declared neutrality, its separation from the continent, in being “too small” to merit Germany’s attention.

Until the morning of April 9, 1940, when this novel opens.

Families clustered around radios, neighbors exchanged rumors, and veterans pulled out old weapons from military service “just in case” this was an actual war. Meanwhile, uniformed German soldiers commandeered schools to use as barracks and marched down Oslo’s streets within sight of the royal castle, claiming to have come as friends and protectors.

As the calendar pages turn from that April, 1940 morning to early 1943, Berman’s omniscient narration and the cousins’ communications offer access to the reality of Norway’s invasion and to the emotions of Rebekka’s Oslo family and of her relatives in Aalesund. The lives and relationships Berman depicts are drawn from personal knowledge and, where necessary, her imagination, making them highly credible. The alternating points of view and geographic locations successfully weave together a complex story on opposite sides of the country.

Given her inexperience as a novelist, Berman impressed me with a story that reads like an action-packed drama, animating through fiction the history she so carefully documented in her earlier nonfiction work, (noted later in this review).

Foreshadowing speaks in the voice of Rebekka’s hysterical aunt, who had sought refuge from Germany a few years earlier after her husband was run down in the streets of Berlin by a Gestapo-driven truck. She, too, believed Norway would be safe. On the day of the invasion she ranted about the threat to their entire family, that Hitler would implement his genocidal plans, achieving the elimination of Norway’s Jews as a showcase for Aryan supremacy. Family members reassured her that she couldn’t be right, that Norway’s Jewish population was too small. That, the aunt insisted, is why he would succeed.

Berman incorporates traits of her relatives into strong, complex characters who serve as able and appealing protagonists. Rebekka’s sketches of both disturbing and comforting scenes combine with her correspondence with young cousins to provide specificity and move national events forward. Museum archives indicate that art and journals were used by many Norwegians to make sense of a world turned upside down.

I encountered Berman’s family history, WE ARE GOING TO PICK POTATOES: Norway and the Holocaust, the Untold Story, while pursuing research about the German occupation of Norway. In it she documents the fates of her extended Norwegian Jewish family before, during, and after the occupation years. Other research sources barely mentioned the small Jewish population in Norway, and none were as authentic or detailed as Berman’s. Her original book was praised and supported by Elie Wiesel, who urged her to share her history with a wider audience.

Berman resolved to prevent this significant story from disappearing. By blending fictional elements into her characters and portraying historic events through realistic and compelling dialogue and interactions, this novel brings to life harsh times and events. The author, at age four, escaped from Oslo with her family to the safety of neutral Sweden in November, 1942. They fled in secret, just hours before Nazis ordered the arrest of all remaining Jews. Most were deported in November, and the final few in January.

Their eventual destinations, although not publicly understood then, were the ovens and concentration camps in central Europe from which only a handful survived. The actions and consequences of the Nazi occupiers nearly decimated Norway’s Jewish population. Even so, their history was considered “too small” to be included in some Holocaust accounts. Told by one who lived through that reality, Berman’s initial publication and this novel stand in testimony to the little-known truth of those times.

The subtitle, A fact-based Novel, is an important clarification of the genre. Tragically, much of the story is real. By writing it in the form of a novel, the history behind the story can be shared with a wider audience. I’m convinced that everyone who reads it will respond with empathy, vicariously experiencing the hardships and dangers of that time, specifically through the harrowing plight of Norway’s Jewish citizens.

What a gift Berman has given to her own extended family and to the rest of us. As a reader and writer I devour the front and back matter of books, always eager for additional insights in author notes and acknowledgements. Every bit of extra content in this case helps to stitch the novel into the fabric of history. Because of this book, a nearly forgotten truth about Norway is preserved within its pages. It conveys the pride Berman’s descendants should rightly feel. I urge everyone to read it, share it in book clubs and classrooms, and keep history alive.

 

September 2016

 

May 26, 2016

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Norway Wasn’t Too Small, A Fact-Based Novel about Darkness and Survival – Opening Night!

Norway Wasn’t Too Small, A Fact-Based Novel about Darkness and Survival had its opening event on May 26, 2016 at the Avon Public Library to a very large and interested audience. 75 persons were expected, and 145 showed up!

“Irene Levin Berman captivated and inspired a packed house at Avon Public Library this evening sharing highlights from her two Holocaust survivor volumes We Are Going to Pick Potatoes and Norway Wasn’t Too Small. Extraordinary evening.”

- Molly Rees Gavin

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May 16, 2016

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A tale of Holocaust darkness and survival… in Norway

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http://www.jewishledger.com/2016/04/art-survival-three-stories-mark-yom-hashoa-holocaust-commemoration-day-begins-sundown-wednesday-may-11/

Click the link above to read the story.  To return to this page, close the Jewish Ledger website and return to the Blog.

By Cindy Mindell

ireneIrene’s story of life during the settlement of Jews in Norway, the outbreak of WW2 resulting in persecution by Gestapo, deportation and annihilation of almost 40% of the Norwegian Jews. Her immediate family escaped to neutral Sweden. Many members of her father’s family were less fortunate.

For nearly 45 years, Irene Levin Berman had gotten used to the questions Americans would ask about her native Norway. Did Norwegian Jews suffer? Was there even a Jewish community in Norway?

A Bloomfield resident, Berman emigrated to the U.S. from Oslo in 1960 after marrying an American medical student. She became a translator, specializing in Scandinavian languages.

In 2005, after years of silence on the subject, Berman was asked to submit an article to an organization planning a book on Holocaust survivors who had moved to the U.S. Hers was the only story about surviving the war in a Scandinavian country.

“The publisher called and said that, as much as they loved my chapters, they were going to cut them because Norway was such a small country,” Berman recalls. “I became an activist.”

Two years later, Berman published We Are Going to Pick Potatoes: Norway and the Holocaust, the Untold Story, a portrait of the Jewish community of Norway, in Norwegian, sponsored by Norway’s Resistance Museum. The book was written in both Norwegian and English. Elie Wiesel, Noble Laureate, was kind enough to endorse the English version.

Later this month, Berman will introduce her second book at the Avon Free Public Library, co-sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford. A partially fictional account  together with fact-based reality that draws on her family’s wartime experiences, the book is titled in response to the publisher who rejected Berman’s first attempt at memoirs: Norway Wasn’t Too Small: A Fact-Based Novel about Darkness and Survival.

cover-norwayJews began migrating from Eastern Europe to Norway in the 1850s, when the country’s constitution was repealed allowing Jews to settle. When the Nazis invaded Norway on April 9, 1940, there were approximately 2,000 Jews living in the country. In 1942, four-year-old Irene was one of 1,200 Norwegian Jews who escaped to neutral Sweden to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. “We are going to pick potatoes” is what the Levin family housekeeper told four-year-old Irene when she was whisked away from her playgroup in an Oslo park to flee the Nazis. Some 771 Norwegian Jews were deported to the death camp. Only 28 Norwegian men survived. Among those murdered were seven members of the Levin family. Most of the Jews who had escaped to Sweden returned after the war to rebuild their community.

“The Norwegians use potatoes in every meal and it was very common during the war to grow your own potatoes or to go to the country to pick them,” Berman says. “It became a euphemism as we talked about my family’s escape.”

In 2010, the English translation of Berman’s book was launched at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford. It was translated into English for the Greenberg Center by the Oslo Jewish Museum. The book chronicles Berman’s family history before, during, and after the war, as well as a historic look at the Jewish community of Norway from 1854 on. The author also reconstructs the lives of her murdered relatives, with the help of interviews from surviving friends and neighbors who are now in their 80s.

The book sold 4,000 copies and launched Berman on a three-year international speaking tour.

“It really felt good having written and educated America about Norway and the Holocaust, so I decided that I would try to do something in fiction,” says Berman. “Then it dawned on me that I didn’t know how to write fiction.”

At the Wesleyan Writers Conference in 2013, Berman met teaching fellow Rebecca Makkai, who agreed to serve as writing coach. Berman constructed a novel that alternates between a Jewish-Norwegian extended family enduring the Holocaust, one branch in Oslo and the other in the small northern town of Aalesund – reflecting the real-life experiences of Berman and her parents and brother, juxtaposed with those of her father’s sister and brother-in-law and their two children. While the Oslo family survived by escaping to Sweden, the Aalesund family perished.

“I never knew them; my parents never talked about them,” Berman says. “When I was a little girl, there was a silence and the adults never told the children about the horrors of the war. They couldn’t speak about it, they didn’t want to speak about it, so they just moved it to the side.”

Berman reconstructed those lost lives by placing an ad in the local Aalesund newspaper and interviewing people who remembered the family and were eager to speak with the author.

“My mission now is to educate more people about the Holocaust in Norway,” Berman says. “The second book is to help people understand and remember what happened in Norway during the Holocaust by making it easy for them to digest the story.”

Berman hopes to get the book into as many hands as possible, by offering it at a discount to high schools, colleges, and synagogues.

For more information about Berman and the Jews of Norway: norwayandtheholocaust.com.

 

 

March 27, 2016

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CONCORDIA COLLEGE IN MINNESOTA IN MARCH 2016

The picture just below show to the right professor Kyle Ward and Kristin Thompson, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. These two persons were in charge of this successful event held at the Concordia College in Minnesota in March 2016.

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Above:  The woman in the middle started speaking to Irene together with Karin Stahl, Irene’s  close friend and  travel companion.  We had a sandwich at the airport in Minneapolis, while waiting for the next flight. She asked us where we were going etc.  It turned out she had been to a book club meeting the previous year where the group read “We are going to Pick potatoes”. On the way to Concordia College, March 2016..

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One of the lovely women in the audience insisted on Irene signing her book.

 

April 27, 2015

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Book Event in Scottsdale, Arizona, April 2015

Another successful event in Scottsdale, Arizona in April 2015. Scottsdale was wonderful, and so was our hostess Phyllis Bergo, Sons of Norway, Desert Fjord Lodge. A large crowd attended and the atmosphere was wonderful. Irene met two Norwegian-born women whose parents had been friendly with two of Irene’s families in Norway. The biggest surprise of the event was when a woman came over to Irene telling her that she and Irene had gone to the same school and in the same grade but not the same classroom. Scottsdale was magnificent and I’m still dreaming about returning.

 

January 11, 2014

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The OLD GUARD

The OLD GUARD in West Hartford, Connecticut is a group for retired executive and professional men

The following is a letter from H. David Crombie, M.D. that I received after my presentation to the Old Guard

The group listens to my presentation on Nov 19, 2013

The group listens to my presentation on Nov 19, 2013

On November 19, 2013, Irene Berman gave a one-hour presentation to the Old Guard of West Hartford, Connecticut under the same title as her 2010 book, “We Are Going to Pick Potatoes”: Norway and the Holocaust, The Untold Story”.  There were some in the audience who knew of Irene’s work as a translator of Norwegian writings, in particular as a consultant to the Hartford Stage Company in its presentation of works by Henrik Ibsen. There were others, like this writer, who became acquainted with Irene through her husband, Dr. Martin Berman, a cherished and scholarly medical colleague for many years, and a fellow member of the Old Guard.  Few of us were aware of her personal experiences with the Holocaust.

We were rewarded with a talk that was informative and beautifully articulated,  discussing some events of the World War II era that we previously knew little about.  These events included the migration of some Jewish families from Eastern Europe and the German-speaking countries to Scandinavia, particularly Norway, beginning in the late 19th century and extending into the decades preceding World War II.  Irene Levin Berman’s family was one of these; her father was a successful businessman in Oslo when she was born there in the late 1930s.

She described in her talk the loving Levin family, and the extended family that surrounded and nurtured her as a child.  The heart of her discussion, however, was focused on the Nazi invasion and occupation of Norway, the overt threats to the 2000 Jews there, the foresight and ability of some Norwegian Jews to escape to neutral Sweden, including four year-old Irene, her mother, father and brother, in 1942.  Other Norwegian Jews, less prescient, less able, less fortunate—perished in Auschwitz.  These circumstances qualify Irene as a Holocaust survivor; her presentation, however, did not contain any tone of bitterness, hatred or sense of victimhood.  She concentrated her spoken effort on conveying a message of what the Holocaust memory meant to a young child whose immediate family survived, experienced the joy of returning to their Norwegian home at the conclusion of the war, and who has since spent an enjoyable and productive adult life in America.  The Old Guard audience sat in rapt attention to the story—well-researched and well-told—and rewarded the speaker with resounding applause.

This review would be incomplete without commenting on Irene Berman’s book, “We Are Going to Pick Potatoes”, which I purchased and read after hearing her talk. The book is the product of a lifetime spent with sometimes vague and sometimes vivid childhood memories of the Holocaust. These memories were coupled with diligent research into recorded writings, and interviews with adults from her parents’ generation who experienced the threats and tragedies of the Nazi-perpetrated genocide, to produce a beautifully constructed human narrative.  It is a gripping story written by a literate, experienced and talented writer. For anyone who feels passionate about justice, eliminating prejudice, and preserving the enduring human spirit, it is a must read.

H. David Crombie, M.D.

 

October 20, 2013

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Fall 2013 Update

Dear Friends,

 

I suddenly woke up one morning and realized that we are now writing October. It is hard to believe that I have written nothing on my blog since last November. Where does time go? Did I stop traveling and promoting the book? Is the book “old news”?

 

Absolutely not! Not in your wildest dreams! The story of Norway and the Holocaust has taken over my life. I suddenly realized that what I set out to do is on the verge, or may even has reached “the verge” of reality. I was fortunate enough that Viking Magazine, which is the official magazine for Sons of Norway, was kind enough to publish an interview in their March 2013 issue. Even though the now popular Norwegian answer to John Grisham, Jo Nesbo, was featured in the same magazine, the interview with Irene Berman appeared to have generated a surprising interest in finding out more about the Untold Story of Norway and the Holocaust.

 

Article published in Viking Magazine, March 2013

Article published in Viking Magazine, March 2013

I cannot believe all the beautiful emails and letters that I have received over the past year with invitations to come to many major and many obscure places in the U.S. Unfortunately I live on the East Coast of the United States and 95% of the people that invite me live on the West Coast or in the Midwest. I am naturally flattered, thrilled and making every effort to visit these wonderful people while at the same time I am trying to coordinate at least two visits at the same time.

 

I have also started to write another book based on the same story. However, this book is fictional, which allows me creative freedom which I have never experienced before. I am working with a wonderful writer who is guiding me into the field of fiction opening a number of new doors to my dormant fantasy, which has allowed this newly revealed characteristic of mine to become rampant and wild. What I am trying to say is that I love writing fiction. Stay tuned, more to come…

 

United Brothers Synagogue, August 6, 2013

United Brothers Synagogue, August 6, 2013

I have spoken at a number of book events, the latter of which was a small, but highly emotional visit to Bristol, Rhode Island where the distribution of the audience was divided between 50% Jews and 50% Norwegian-Americans. The chemistry in the room of about 70 people was wonderful and emotional. United Brothers Synagogue, August 6, 2013

 

 

 

 

Jeannie Addison and her husband Brian, who was my wonderful hostess oin York, PA. .  Jeannie had incorporated 5 different Sons of Norway lodges to participate in this event together with the Jewish Community Center in that area.

Jeannie Addison, who was my wonderful hostess in York, PA, and her husband Brian. Jeannie had incorporated 5 different Sons of Norway lodges to participate in this event together with the Jewish Community Center in that area.

On September 29 I had the pleasure of traveling for six hours with a totally unknown couple from Connecticut to York, Pennsylvania. The woman had invited me to speak at her Norwegian Lodge and had convinced her husband that it was safe to pick up me, a stranger, on their way home from Vermont. We talked non-stop for six hours and kept on talking for another 24 hours. The event was similar to the one that I have described above and once again I was deeply touched by the interest displayed by the large crowd of Norwegian-Americans present who displayed an almost passionate interest in hearing this untold story. I was slated to return on Monday morning by two trains via Philadelphia and New York to Connecticut. It turned out that Amtrak, the railroad, was having electrical and functional problems and both my trains were cancelled. My hostess drove me from York, Pennsylvania to New York City after the event which gave us another chance to talk. I was able to get home from New York by myself. You could not ask for a better hostess than the one who invited me and went to great trouble to make me feel welcome.

 

The JCC in York, Pennsylvania features a magnificent sculpture on the wall in their lobby, which has fascinated me and stayed in my mind since I returned. Please see below.

 

Permission to include this wonderful sculpture which symbolizes the 6 millions Jews that perished during WW 2 is courtesy of the Jewish Community Center in York, Pennsylvania

“The Six Million”

It had been a long-held dream of the York Jewish Community Center to create a fitting memorial to those who perished in the Holocaust as a permanent reminder for generations to come. On May 4, 1997, that dream was realized with the dedication of our Holocaust Memorial Sculpture, “The Six Million.”

Designed by internationally-recognized artist Don Briddell, the 20′ x 9′ wall sculpture – fashioned in clay, then cast in resin and painted – portrays an endless sea of men, women and children as they step forward from the darkness and horror of the past into the light of our world today. Their faces are familiar, carved from photographic likenesses of those who died in the Holocaust. Hopeful and expectant, they portray the powerful strength of the human spirit – old relatives and friends coming to meet us again, after many long years of separation.

As we stand before them, we must ask ourselves whether we are ready to greet them in good faith. Has our world changed since the dark days of that terrible legacy? Have we abolished hatred, prejudice and intolerance? Can we say with confidence, “Never again”?

Before I close I want to remind all my friends and “old readers” and hopefully new readers that Norway will celebrate its 200 year Centennial of its Constitution on May 17, 2014.

 

Hopefully, I will have the pleasure of telling you more about this celebration in my next blog which I promise will appear soon.

 

 

I cannot close this blog without telling you what probably represents the most exciting event that I have experienced this year. Some of you may recall that at my book events or most certainly in my book I have mentioned the highly-respected Norwegian poet, Henrik Wergeland, who many people refer to as the Father of the 17th of May celebration. I had mentioned that my grandfather, Leif Levin, lived in Rjukan in Telemark, Norway and so did my father for many years as a young man. The family myth has repeatedly stated that my grandfather gave a speech on May 17, 1914 at Rjukan. I never knew the content of the speech. A couple of months ago I found out through the National Register of Norway that his speech delivered as a relatively young immigrant to Norway, was focused on his and other newly arrived Jews gratitude to Wergeland for repealing paragraph 2 of the Norwegian Constitution, allowing Jews to finally enter and settle in Norway.

 

The main focus of his speech was one sentence which read as follows: “Even if you are Jewish by religion, this will not prevent you from being Norwegian by nation.” In addition, for the first time I had the enormous honor and pleasure of reading the entire speech, which made me very proud. I have translated the speech into English and will probably introduce it in my blog at the beginning of 2014, one hundred years later.

 

Irene celebrating the Norwegian Constitution Day in her bunad (National costume).

Irene celebrating the Norwegian Constitution Day in her bunad (National costume).

 

I look forward to the next exciting months and to communicate with you again soon.

 

December 12, 2012

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FALL 2012: Where Does The Time Go?

Cindy Olsen, Sons of Norway, Danielle Kahane-Kaminsky, Tennessee Holocaust Commission, Irene L. Berman, and Karen Sizemore, The Music City Vikings, Sons of Norway, Lodge No. 5-681

Karen Sizemore, The Music City Vikings, Sons of Norway, Lodge No. 5-681, Irene L. Berman, Danielle Kahane-Kaminsky, Tennessee Holocaust Commission, and Cindy Olsen, Sons of Norway.

On October 20 I made my first visit to Nashville, Tennessee where I was the guest of The Music City Vikings, Sons of Norway Lodge No. 5-681. It is a relatively new group, with committed and energetic members. They had read about my book on the internet and contacted me directly. About 50 people attended, and provided a warm, interested focused audience. The chemistry was very, very good, and it made up for the fact that unfortunately my slide presentation never made it to the screen, or maybe just because of that! We will never know… I stood in front of the audience and just talked and talked freely, but the group responded and had a lot of questions. The talk was followed by a reception with a table covered with all kinds of goodies, most of which were Norwegian, including an enormous Kransekake prepared by a lovely lady in her nineties. Was the enthusiastic attendance due to my talk or having been pre-alerted to the enormous table of goodies? At the end of the Q and A, as I was leaving the lectern, one person called out “one more question, please”, and when I said “okay”, he said “where can we buy the book?” “A very good question”, I said, as I began signing books. Fortunately I was able to have a kind person smuggle a big piece of the Kransekake over to me before it was devoured. It was a lovely group of people. Present in the audience for that day only was Cindy Olsen, Foundation Director, Sons of Norway.

New York, New York!

The next day I flew directly from Nashville to New York City where I spoke at the Norwegian Seamens Church in Manhattan. Unfortunately it must have been a busy day for many people, because attendance was sparse. Even so, the presentation was well received and the group showed interest and participated in an elaborate dialogue. Not much to report, but I still enjoyed it very much. There was quality in the group, although we could have used a little more quantity!

Minneapolis, Minnesota

On November 1 I took off for Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had been invited to be the main speaker at Temple Israel on Friday, November 9, which this year coincided with the Kristallnacht commemoration which is held every year at Temple Israel. My contact person was Ms. Wendy Schwartz, the Adult Learning Coordinator, who was one of the nicest and most organized people I have ever met. It would take one whole page to enumerate everything she did to make me feel welcome. In addition she had arranged for a number of wonderful volunteers to pick me up at the hotel and take me home.

The annual Kristallnacht commemoration at Temple Israel is sponsored by the Grodnick family each year, in memory of their familys Holocaust survivors. A very touching and important educational message.

I had also volunteered to speak to students of their religious school, which I did on Saturday and Sunday mornings, in addition to a separate morning class at the Jewish Day School at the Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis.

 

Group of 6th grade students from Temple Israel.

Group of 6th grade students from Temple Israel.

 

On Thursday, November 8, I spoke to the students at Temple Mount Zion in St. Paul. It is one of my greatest sources of pride in that it seems that to get their attention, I have learned to adapt my talk to young students, ranging from eleven years of age up to high school students. It is vital that the story of the Holocaust is conveyed to this generation. I normally reach out to the youngsters by telling the details of my familys escape to neutral Sweden to allow the students to easily identify with real people in real danger-in this case the Levin family. I tell the story how we managed to escape from the German soldiers with the help of Norwegian resistance people, particularly when the author/speaker describes herself as a four-year-old sleeping in a backpack together with flashlights, snacks, a gun etc. while being carried by one of the resistance heroes while the rest of this small group walked through the woods in the middle of the night looking for the Swedish border to find a neutral country and safety.

Even if that is all that they will retain, perhaps this will one day help trigger their memory when they, as older students or adults, hear more about the Holocaust. I have received a number of lovely (and funny!) letters from this group. It is important to be able to connect to the Holocaust through a real persons story, as opposed to the report of a large mass of 6 million people which is almost impossible to comprehend.

Some time prior to my visit to Temple Israel which was scheduled to begin on November 7 I received an invitation from the Norwegian consul general, Gary Gandrud of Minneapolis to attend a luncheon given by Torske Klubben as a guest of the Norwegian consulate as early as November 2. The name of this renowned club means The Cod Club, in plain Norwegian. Torske Klubben, founded in 1933, is a Minneapolis luncheon club of men of Norwegian heritage who are deeply interested in Norway and Norwegian-American history and relationships.

Several of these clubs exist in the U.S. I had heard mention of this club for a long time, and found it hard to turn down the invitation. I took the liberty of responding to consul Gandrud by telling him that I would like very much to attend, and actually could extend my visit to Minneapolis. Might he perhaps have some ideas about a Norwegian group in the area which would be interested in my coming to visit? I therefore had illusions of staying at a hotel for a few extra days, reading, sleeping, writing, visiting with a group of old friends from my stay in Minneapolis many years ago, with whom I had reconnected, i. e. taking some “personal time”. However, within a few weeks the Norwegian consulate and their friends planned not just one major event, but actually several and I was picked up and taken to a variety of different lunches and meetings. I met a number of wonderful and interesting Norwegian-American people with whom I bonded. Time to relax and read, etc?…forget it, but I enjoyed every minute of it and was treated royally.

 

Nik Sten, Irene L. Berman and Thor Johansen, former consul general, taken at Torske Klubben.

Nik Sten, the Norwegian Club, Irene L. Berman and Thor Johansen, former consul general, taken at Torske Klubben.

The luncheon at Torske Klubben at Interlachen Country Club on the first day of my visit certainly lived up to its reputation; and what female wouldnt love the opportunity to be one of three women introduced to 100 polite, charming and articulate men! Most of the traditional speeches focused on humor, Norwegian in style and manner, in addition to the main speaker who delivered an interesting analysis of what might possibly happen to the U.S. election, about to take place in three days. In retrospect, he was fairly accurate in his predictions. The cod servings were large in volume, and so were the potatoes. The quality would make any Norwegian fisherman proud.

 

On Sunday I was invited to Sunday services at Minneskirken, which in Norwegian means The Memorial Church. The Norwegian pastor was friendly and interesting and most of the service was carried out in Norwegian. I found it fascinating in that much of it reminded me of my school days in Norway a long time ago, as I recognized both the hymns and some of the prayers. So there I was, reflecting and revisiting my childhood where I, for the most part, was the only Jewish child, and now in the same situation in some way feeling the same way so many years later, but as an adult. I assume it is a compliment to the richness of my own eclectic identity, because thanks to the beautiful service, the wonderful people who had invited me and a number of other factors, as well the generosity of my host, the president of the congregation Orlyn Kringstad, I found it to be quite an emotional experience. Everyone who I met was friendly and welcoming. The service was followed by a reception with open-faced sandwiches and heart-shaped waffles making me feel even more at home!

 

 Irene L. Berman and one of the interested woman from the audience during the book signing at the consulate-sponsored event at the Swedish American Institute.

Irene L. Berman and one of the interested woman from the audience during the book signing at the consulate-sponsored event at the Swedish American Institute.

On Monday, November 5, the Norwegian Consulate hosted their main event at the newly-built, beautiful Swedish-American institute, an extremely impressive building. A large number of people attended consisting as usual of a melange of people with a Norwegian-American background. Once again I found the group responsive, interesting and interested. I probably should think of an alternate way to describe the audiences that I met, as for the most part the rapport that I felt moved me deeply. The Q and As were diversified and provided a forum for unique questions. At a personal level I sometimes find the Q and A sessions the most enjoyable, in that people frequently ask questions that may perhaps have lingered in their minds for a long time, or in some instances questions that may have been generated directly as a function of my journey back in time. Book sales went rapidly. One woman told me she had driven from Iowa just to hear me…Wow…Once again the interest among the Norwegian-Americans never ceases to amaze me. I wonder if they realize how much this means to me, in that it has added a totally new dimension to the story. Another wonderful day.

 

Ham and Eggs” breakfast meeting and talk at Edina Country Club, Consul General Gandrud and Irene L. Berman.

On Wednesday, November 7, I was once again a guest of Gary Gandrud at the “Ham and Eggs Mens Breakfast” at the Edina Country Club(7.30 AM!) and once again the only woman present. At that point Gary Gandrud was so familiar with my material that he not only introduced me and asked me to speak for about 10-15 minutes, but he also made a point of telling me specifically what items should be included! The men represented a variety of businesses in the Minneapolis area and displayed tremendous interest. I had brought with me 8-9 books and they sold out within a couple of minutes. Once again, Gary Gandrud, it is impossible to express my gratitude for paving the way for me, welcoming me and introducing me to the people of Minneapolis making certain that I met and bonded with a large number of members of the Norwegian-American community.

 

The big event at Temple Israel took place on Friday, November 9 at 6:00 p.m. Just by chance, another coincidence was revealed, which seems to happen every time I turn around. One of the Rabbis at that synagogue, Simeon Glazer, happened to be a former Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, where my family and I were members for twenty years. He officiated at my eldest daughters marriage and I had not seen him for close to nineteen years. It was almost like another homecoming, in addition to my having lived in Minneapolis for a year when I first came to the United States, as well as to attending a seminar in the same city, which resulted in the inception of my book!

Once again this event was also attended by Gary Gandrud, the Norwegian consul general, who sat on the bima with yours truly, the three Rabbis, and the Cantor, as the four clergy initiated a meaningful and emotional Shabbat service. Following the regular traditional Shabbat prayers and music came the introduction of my book, after which the congregation sat down for a joint dinner. Thereafter I spoke to more than 200 people. A wonderful opportunity which brought me much personal pleasure.

 

Irene L. Berman with Consul Gandrud, three Rabbis and the Cantor at Temple Israel.

Irene L. Berman with Consul Gandrud, three Rabbis and the Cantor at Temple Israel.

 

Irene L. Berman with consul general Gandrud at the bima at Temple Israel on Friday night.

Irene L. Berman with consul general Gandrud at the bima at Temple Israel on Friday night.

I returned to Hartford on Sunday, November 11, and had about a day and a half to unpack, do some laundry, repack, answer some emails and make telephone calls before I had to take off…Who rests? Not I.

 

Washington, D.C.

invite2

Invitation to the event sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, George Washington University, November 14, 2012.

The next stop was Washington, D.C. on Tuesday afternoon for the big event the next day, November 14, at George Washington University which was sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. I had been told in advance that Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen had to attend another conference and could not be present. However, he was interviewed on video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbHTiWT_5nc] by Prof. Walter Reich representing the George Washington University. The focus was on a carefully produced and timely dialogue dealing with the fate of the Norwegian Jews, during the war years and to some extent by touching on the disturbing reoccurrence of anti-Semitism in todays Norway. Ambassador Strommen was straightforward and he stressed the importance of maintaining the presence of the Norwegian Jews in Norway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen and Dr. Walter Reich.

Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen and Dr. Walter Reich

Before the video my close friend and editor of my book, Carla Danziger, introduced the event and included recognition of the three Norwegian