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
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.