The Children of Bullenhuser Damm, Pt. I

From Odd Nansen’s diary, Tuesday, April 10, 1945:

“Today I went to see a band of Jewish children who are kept here [in Neuengamme concentration camp], as they were in Sachsenhausen—as guinea-pigs.  At one end of the Revier [infirmary] hutments, with a concealed entrance, they live in a little room.  There are ten boys and ten girls, from four to twelve years old.  First one enters a small backyard, where there’s a big cage of actual guinea-pigs—for the same purpose as the Jewish children. The yard also contains a heap of coal and a rubbish heap.

There were hardly ten square meters [108 sq.ft.] to move about in. That was the only place where the children could get outside into the fresh air.  Otherwise they lived in the small room inside; it was almost filled up by their beds, which were in two stories, and where they slept two in a bed.  They were attractive little things, French, Dutch, Belgian and Polish. All of them came from Auschwitz. A boy of eight had spent four and a half years in concentration camps.

When I asked what kind of experiments were made on these human children, the Häftlingsarzt [prison doctor] who was “showing me around” put a warning finger to his lips: it mustn’t be talked about, but the children had had injections.  What kind of injections?  Again the finger on his lips, and out it came in a whisper: Tuberculose!  Were the men who had conducted the experiments really competent scientists?  Ach—ja—a German professor with some name like Wiesmeyer or Biesmeyer!  But the children didn’t look as if they had taken any harm, and none of them seemed to have tuberculosis. None of the children who had been there were dead, nor had there been very much sickness.  At the moment one of them, a son of the head of the Rothschild Institute in Paris, had pneumonia.  But he was well cared for and apparently improving already.  And they were obviously getting enough to eat and led a carefree life in a way, with no understanding of what was happening to them and around them.

My friend the Häftlingsarzt, who had obviously grown fond of the little ones, answered with a worried shake of the head when I asked what would become of them if the camp were evacuated.  He wanted me to ask the Swedish commission if they couldn’t do something for them!  I will—but am prepared in advance for that also being in vain, like most of what one tries to do for other fellow-prisoners.

As a matter of fact it isn’t only these children who are experimented on.  The whole block at the end of which they lived turned out to be full of wretched creatures of the usual Muselmenn type, and they too are the objects of different kinds of experiment.  Whether they die of these experiments or of something else, really in a sense doesn’t matter.  For die they must!  Indeed, if any good came of the experiments they wouldn’t have died in vain. And that’s more than one can say of million after million.”

Odd Nansen was uncertain about many things on April 10, 1945: when would the war end?  would he survive?  when would he be freed?

But after 39 months of captivity, Nansen was absolutely certain about the fate of the children he just met: “Die they must!”  In this he was not mistaken.  In fact, these children, leading “a carefree life in a way,” had only ten more days to live.

The Nazi doctor conducting the experiment, Kurt Heissmeyer, believed that “racially inferior” patients [i.e., Jews] had lower resistance to illnesses such as tuberculosis than did racially superior ones [i.e., Aryans].  With no training or expertise, he set out to prove that tuberculosis of the lungs could be combated by artificially inducing live tuberculosis cultures into the skin.  Had Heissmeyer the requisite expertise, he would have known that this thesis had already been discredited, and thus—contrary to Nansen’s hopes—his experiments were, in the later judgment of a medical panel, “useless for scientific research and . . . they in no way enriched it.”

The children were cared for by two Dutch orderlies, Dirk Deutekom and Anton Hölzel, as well as two French doctors, René Quenouille (age 60), a radiologist arrested for hiding British paratroopers, and Gabriel Florence (age 58) a professor of biology and a member of the resistance.  A renowned scientist, he had previously been nominated for a Nobel Prize.  I believe that Florence was the Häftlingsarzt to which Nansen refers—he spoke German well enough to be used in the camp as an interpreter, and Nansen spoke German as well (but not French or Dutch).

On the night of April 20, upon orders from SS headquarters in Berlin, the twenty children, as well as their orderlies and doctors, were driven from Neuengamme into downtown Hamburg, to a school on Bullenhuser Damm Street that had been converted into an auxiliary SS camp.  All were taken to the basement.  The adults were hanged in one room; the children taken to an air-raid shelter in another part of the basement, each given an injection of morphine, and hanged, two at a time, from hooks affixed to the wall.  Those whose body weight was insufficient to do the job were grabbed around the waist and pulled down.  Their names:

 

Alexander Hornemann, age 8, Holland

Eduard Hornemann, age 12, Holland

Marek Steinbaum, age 10, Poland

Marek James, age 6, Poland

W. Junglieb, age 12, Yugoslavia

Roman Witónski, age 7, Poland

Eleonora Witónski, age 5, Poland

R. Zeller, age 12, Poland

Sergio de Simone, age 7, Italy

Georges André Kohn, age 12, France

E. Reichenbaum, age 10, Poland

Surcis Goldlinger, age 11, Poland

Lelka Birnbaum, age 12, Poland

Ruchla Zylberberg, age 10, Poland

H. Wassermann, age 8, Poland

Lola Klingermann, age 8, Poland

Rywka Herszberg, age 7, Poland

Blumel Mekler, age 11, Poland

Mania Altman, age 5, Poland

Jacqueline Morgenstern, age 12, France

Jacqueline Morgenstern as a seven year-old in Paris

Jacqueline Morgenstern as a seven year-old in Paris

During the war Nazi doctors conducted experiments on more than twenty thousand prisoners; several thousand died in the process, or shortly thereafter, others, like the children of Bullenhuser Damm, were murdered to hide the crime, and still others suffered lifelong disabilities as a result of their experience.

Some, but not all, of those responsible for the murders at Bullenhuser Damm, were apprehended, tried by a British Military Court soon after the war, convicted and sentenced to death, including the Commandant of Neuengamme, SS Obersturmbannfϋhrer Max Pauly.  While on death row Pauly wrote to his son: “I want to emphasize today that I am not aware of any fault of mine, and that I always acted in the interests of the prisoners, doing my duty to the end.”  Apparently acting in the interests to the prisoners did not extend to trying to keep them alive—it is estimated that at least 43,000 of Neuengamme’s 100,000 prisoners died by the end of the war, due to exhaustion, malnutrition, disease and violence. Here’s how Nansen described his new living quarters when he arrived at the camp: “The misery passed all bounds and baffled all conception. In every bed there were three or four, indeed some­times five or six men. It sounds incredible, but I saw them. Certainly they were lying on top of each other, but most of them were nothing but skeletons and didn’t take up much room. . . . The whole interior of the building was one inferno, a waiting room of death worse than could be conjured up in the wildest fantasies.”

Much of the above story comes from The Murders at Bullenhuser Damm, written by German journalist Günther Schwarberg (trans. Erna Baber Rosenfeld with Alvin H. Rosenfeld, Indiana University Press, 1984).  There is also a website maintained by The Children of Bullenhuser Damm Association, with more information, here.

Sometimes in a book there is a turn of phrase, a description, a contrast, that simply stabs one right in the heart.  In Schwarberg’s book, in addition to the truly tragic story of these young children, it is a juxtaposition that jumped out at me.  On page 104 of the book, Pauly, again writing to his son from death row, reminisces:

“Please remember my favorite dish—pancakes and chocolate pudding.  If I could only eat my fill once more!”

Earlier in the book the author, in describing life for children in Auschwitz [where all the Bullenhuser Damm children came from] quotes a prison doctor’s conversation with a nine year-old shortly before the boy was to be sent to the gas chamber.  The boy explains:

“My shoes are still very good.  Maybe you can find someone who wants to exchange them with me for a bread ration.  I won’t need them anymore.  I’m sure I won’t.  And I would really like to eat my fill once more before I die.”

Discussion at Main Street Books

Professor Scott Denham (holding breadboard) and Timothy Boyce with book

Professor Scott Denham (holding breadboard) and Timothy Boyce with book

Audience at Main Street Books

Audience at Main Street Books

On Tuesday evening I shared the stage at Main Street Books, Davidson, NC, with Scott Denham, Charles A. Dana Professor of German Studies at Davidson College, to discuss Odd Nansen’s From Day to Day and the larger issue of representing the Holocaust.

Scott observed that the Holocaust was a highly documented event.  The Nazis were meticulous record-keepers, and most of those records survived the war.  The sheer preponderance of such records meant that much early postwar historiography was skewed toward the perpetrators’ viewpoint.  Thus, it is all the more important that testimony for and by the victims of such violence also be disseminated and studied.  Odd Nansen’s diary is a step in such direction, and Professor Denham complimented the professionalism with which Vanderbilt University Press re-published the newly edited, annotated and introduced edition of From Day to Day.

I enjoyed the stimulating discussion and the attentive audience.  Thanks to Adah Fitzgerald, proprietor, and Eleanor Merrill, event coordinator, for their help and hospitality.

Dan Mask, a friend and enthusiastic supporter of my journey, provided the photos.

Interview on iHeart Radio

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dean Karayanis of The History Author Show, which broadcasts on iHeart Radio.  Dean, who has a special fondness for Norway, was impressed with Odd Nansen’s diary, and our interview covers a wide range of subjects related to the book, to Odd Nansen, and to my story of discovery and re-publication.  Dean has also done a fabulous job of interweaving real radio clips from the era, starting with a description of the Nazi invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940 (the seventy-seventh anniversary of which will be in less than two weeks).

I highly recommend you listen to this interview; a complete podcast can be found here.

UPDATE: Tusen takk (A thousand thanks) to Dean for offering to donate the proceeds he earns from the sale of From Day to Day through his website to charity, following my example.  That is extremely generous and thoughtful, Dean, and I had forgotten your offer until I listened to the entire interview again.

First Royalty Checks Go Out

Those who have been to my presentations, or have read my previous blog on the subject (here), know that I have always intended to give away any royalties from the sale of From Day to Day to a charity or charities that Nansen would have approved of.

Without repeating all of my earlier blog, I feel that the “intellectual property” involved is Nansen’s words, not my annotations, and over which I have no moral claim.  More importantly, perhaps, is the example set by Nansen and his father Fridtjof Nansen.  Odd Nansen gave away the royalties from the sale of the German translation of From Day to Day to German refugee agencies.  His father Fridtjof, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922, donated nearly all the significant cash stipend that accompanied the award to reconstruction work in the Soviet Union, then recovering from a significant famine.  How could I do less?

Recently I received my first distribution from Vanderbilt University Press, and forwarded 50% of the sum to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, and 50% to HL-Senteret, the Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities, in Oslo, Norway.  [This latter organization represents a slight change from my original intentions, which did not prove feasible, but was only done following consultations with Nansen’s daughter Marit Greve.]

The sum distributed was rather modest; it related only to sales from April 23, 2016, the book’s publication date, to June 30, 2016, the end of Vanderbilt’s fiscal year.  In the course of my travels, two patrons also elected to me pay $10 more than the book’s sticker price, with the express stipulation that these monies also be sent along with my royalties, and I was happy to comply.  Thanks to my two anonymous donors for your extra generosity.

With anti-Semitism on the rise throughout the world, and mindful of Primo Levi’s admonition: “It happened, therefore it can happen again,” I hope and pray that both the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Center for Studies of the Holocaust continue their fine work, aided, indirectly, by Odd Nansen’s eloquent diary.

Ilse Weber (1903–1944).

Oh, I wish you all will be children again,
with the right to love, to feel shining sun,
to the joy each child can claim at birth,
round cheeks and glances bright with mirth,
the chance to eat, some this, some that,
you poor children of Theresienstadt.
(from Blue Hour at the Children’s Ward)

Ilse Weber (nee Herlinger) was born January 11, 1903, into a prosperous German-speaking Jewish family in Ostrava, a city in the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, Austro-Hungarian Empire that ultimately became Czechoslovakia after World War I.

Ilse was musically talented, and could play the piano, guitar, lute, mandolin, balalaika and the concertina. She was also quite literate, and growing up was always immersed in a book.

At age sixteen Ilse completed a personal questionnaire, revealing that her favorite occupation was “writing letters, stories and poems,” and that her “little passion” was “children.”

She was able to combine her various passions, and wrote children’s poems, songs and plays. By age 26, Ilse could boast of having published three children’s books, written a series of audio plays for the radio, and published numerous poems and articles.

As a young teen, Ilse advertised for pen pals. While she developed a network of correspondents, her closest relationship developed with Lilian von Lowënadler, the daughter of a Swedish diplomat.  This correspondence ultimately flowered into an intense friendship.

In 1930, Ilse married Willem (Willi) Weber, also from Ostrava, a successful small businessman. Shortly thereafter their first child, Hanuš, was born (December 31, 1931). Following Hanuš’ arrival, life for Ilse looked unquestionably good—a home, a son, a husband.

Then came Hitler.

Some of Ilse’s letters to Lilian were miraculously preserved [more on that later] and have just been published in a new book: Dancing on a Power Keg, (Bunim & Bannigan/Yad Vashem, 2016).  They cover the period from February 6, 1933 (one week after Hitler seized power), through Ilse’s deportation to Theresienstadt in 1942, until September 29, 1944, when she was transported to Auschwitz.  As such, they constitute a compelling window into the life of a typical Jewish family in Czechoslovakia as they gradually and remorselessly fall victim to the humiliations, torments and persecutions of The Final Solution.  In the words of Peter Fritzsch, writing in An Iron Wind: “Victims steadily lost the ability to make themselves at home in the world.”

In 1933, the start of the correspondence, of course, all of these dangers were no more than a cloud, the size of a man’s fist, on the horizon. Ilse’s letters are chatty, and filled with news of her children’s illnesses, her radio work, the family’s travels, etc.  A second son, Thomas, followed on March 3, 1934.

By 1937, the idyll of living in Czechoslovakia had long since vanished. Ilse writes: “I laugh very little these days.” (April 29, 1937).

Worse was to come in 1938, as the Munich Crisis heated up. Hitler, determined to incorporate Czechoslovakia’s Sudeten Germans into the Greater Reich, threatened war, while encouraging the Sudeten Germans to foment unrest.  March 28, 1938: “I no longer know here any one of my, until recently, German friends, who doesn’t ogle Germany. . . .   And the worst is for us Jews.  How Hitler must fear us that he persecutes us so!  Up to this day I have believed in God; but if he doesn’t give us a token of his existence soon, I can no longer.  This persecution of Jews is inhuman.”

By the end of 1938, learning that Lilian had lost a newborn daughter who was born prematurely, Ilse’s attempt to provide some comfort reveals her state of mind: “You will probably not be able to forget this little girl for the rest of your life. But perhaps one day you will be happy that it parted from you without having to know the cruelty of this ugly world and its despicable people.” (December 1, 1938).

So also my mother goes
along strange ghetto lanes,
hunched by age and duress,
eyes blank with loneliness,
of all she loved, nought remains.
(from Remembrance)

By mid-1939, Ilse concluded that Hanuš would be safer away from Czechoslovakia’s increasingly dangerous atmosphere, and so she arranged for his inclusion in a “kindertransport” organized by Nicholas George Winton (later knighted), which ultimately rescued 669 children (most of them Czech Jews) by bringing them to England.   From England, Ilse’s friend and pen pal Lilian took Hanuš to Sweden, where he spent the war years, initially in Lilian’s custody, and later in the care of Lilian’s mother, Gertrude von Lowënadler.

In my thoughts and dreams I hold you near
and yet it’s a blessing to me you’re not here.
Life has taken so much away,
all my joy gone since you left that day.
Oh yes, the burden is hard to bear,
but at least I know that you are spared.
A thousand torments to be endured,
if your happy childhood is ensured.
It’s getting late and I must lie down.
If I could rest eyes on you again!
Dear son, no matter how strong my need,
I can only write letters you’ll never read.
(from Letter to My Child)

Ilse’s letters, first to Lilian, and then to Gertrude (and often jointly to Hanuš) are filled with typical motherly exhortations, to wash up, to study, to obey. At the same time, they reveal the worsening situation in Czechoslovakia.

By the end of 1940 the Webers, who had moved earlier that year from Ostrava (because “one had to fear for one’s life in the streets”) to a three-room apartment in Prague, were forced yet again to move, this time to a single room in an apartment owned by a certain Dr. Weidmann, a pediatrician “though now without a practice,” a euphemistic way of explaining that he, like all Jewish doctors, had been barred from his previous profession.

In the same letter (December 1940), Ilse expressed thanks upon learning that Hanuš had received some clothes from the Red Cross: “We’re no longer used to kindness by anyone. You know, all it takes is for someone to say to me a sympathetic word and I already cry. My nerves are so kaput.”

And it only got worse. By April 21, 1941, Ilse observes, “In the last two years I aged a hundred years, and almost everyone with me.”

Even the simplest pleasures were increasingly hard to come by. That summer Ilse described one of her favorite pastimes, a walk down to the Vltava River that flows through Prague: “[B]efore me the wide river with its beautiful arched bridges and small boats, in the background wooded hills.  It is beautiful, even when you can only look at it, not being allowed to go there.  Sometimes it really surprises me that we’re not forced to wear black glasses.  So we caress the green splendor with our eyes and remember past days when the trees still turned green indiscriminately for all people.” (July 6, 1941)

One month later Ilse writes she is “not good for anything anymore. I’m unable to write even one poem. Inside, I’m like dead.” (August 31, 1941)

From the distance I could
hug you only with my eyes,
too cowardly to run to you
to slip by your side.
I saw you and the others
pass through the barracks gate
tormented and without a home,
off to an unknown fate.

I didn’t say goodbye to you,
and you may never know
that even as I deserted you
I never felt so close.
(from Goodbye Mother)

By January 1942 Ilse had hit rock bottom, missing Hanuš and worn down by her daily struggles. “I can’t imagine that I will see my child again.  Last night I was so desperate that I seriously suggested to Willi to end it all and rather commit suicide with me and Tommy.  Luckily, Willi is a rational, calm man and knows how to handle me.  Fact is that mentally I simply can’t go on.”

One month later (February 6, 1942), Ilse, Willi and Tommy were deported to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp located in Terezin, Czechoslovakia. Upon arrival Ilse started a children’s infirmary.  Oddly enough, she thrived in her new role—she even began composing poems again, many of which she also set to music.  As a contemporary of Ilse’s later wrote: “Ilse’s indescribable sense of duty for her family and children–patients never let her rest.  She allowed herself only little sleep. She took advantage of every free moment to draw images with words that captured everyday life in Theresienstadt.”  Willi even concluded later that Theresienstadt was the peak of Ilse’s career as a writer.

Someone with a sympathetic heart
for others’ sorrows, tears and hurt,
who possess to the full
determination, who can hide her fear:
this is what is needed here,
essential to survival.
I cannot pity those who lack
these qualities, who keep looking back,
who to their fancied pasts succumb.
They are clueless who think this way.
Here only inner value holds sway,
our only asset in days to come.
(from A Conversation in the Alley)

In September 1944 Willi received a transport notice to the dreaded “East”—Auschwitz. He immediately filled a sack with Ilse’s poems and sketches and buried them in a hole beneath a shed in Theresienstadt to which he had access by virtue of his job as a gardener.

“Today,” a little boy with a head bandage says,
“I dreamt I lived under a tree. I was
in cloud-cuckoo-land that
offered nothing to do but eat.”
“What did you eat?” asks a girl with round eyes.
“Cakes, sausages and all kinds of pies,
all in cloud-cuckoo-land, all to enjoy.”
“Cakes!” grumbles a yellow-jaundiced boy
whose hungry hopes have just been dashed,
“What I want is potatoes, mashed.”
“And I,” calls out a shrill wee voice,
“a scrambled egg would be my choice.”
Young voices echo through the hall:
“An egg! Just this once! Eggs for all!
For ten months not one egg eaten,
and how it tastes we’ve long forgotten.”

Shortly after Willi’s transport, the entire children’s infirmary was ordered onto a transport to Auschwitz as well. Rather than abandon her young charges, Ilse voluntarily registered herself and Tommy so as to accompany them, even though she had previously pledged to Willi that she would “under no circumstances” do so.  On October 4, 1944 she began her journey to Auschwitz.

A hoarse voice rises jovially:
“At home we had an apple tree,
if I could have an apple, just one. . .”
Then from a dim corner a wail’s begun,
Heinzi, tubercular and lame,
his cheeks, pale, white as snow, says “Home . . .
if I could only . . . how I wish . . .
to have what I left on my dish.
I ate no soup, no potatoes, no meat.
They yelled at me each time I didn’t eat,
now mother is sick and father is dead,
and all I want is a piece of dry bread.”
(from Blue Hour at the Children’s Ward)

After the war, Willi (who survived) returned to Theresienstadt and miraculously retrieved the cache of poems, which are also included in Dancing on a Powder Keg, several of which are reproduced in part here. [Willi, who was born in 1901, the same year as Odd Nansen, died in the summer of 1974, one year after Nansen.]

In 1977, thirty-three years after Ilse’s death, the husband of Lilian Lowënadler (Lilian had died during the war of complications after contracting pleurisy) was cleaning out his London apartment when he discovered a trunkfull of Ilse’s letters covering 1933-1944. He delivered them to Hanuš, who then left them unread for another twelve years, so fearful was he of revisiting his mother’s trauma.  Only in 1989 did Hanuš (now aged 58), in response to a request from his uncle (who was writing a family history), read their contents for the first time.

I could not protect you from
your hunger and privation.
Illness found you helpless;
death was your salvation.

Your coffin has been carried off.
Oh to feel grief, to even sigh.
Dead inside,
I’ve forgotten how to cry.
(from Burial)

Ilse (and Tommy) did not survive the war. It was not until 1999, over a half-century later, that Hanuš learned the details of their death from a friend from Ostrava and Theresienstadt who had been employed in Auschwitz’s “Leichenträger” [corpse carrying] commando:

“Sometime in autumn 1944 I noticed a group of ten or fifteen children that had arrived with a transport. Ilse stood in their middle trying to comfort the little ones.” [Despite the danger, the worker went over to Ilse, who immediately recognized him.]  “’Is it true that we can take a shower after the journey?’ she asked.  I did not want to lie and so I answered: ‘No, that is no shower room, it is a gas chamber, and I will give you a piece of advice now.  I have often heard you singing in the infirmary.  Go as quickly as possible into the chamber.  Sit with the children on the floor and start singing.  Sing what you always sing with them.  That way you will inhale the gas quicker.  Otherwise you would be trampled to death when the panic breaks out.’  Ilse’s reaction was strange.  She laughed, somehow absently, hugged one of the children and said: ‘So we will not be taking a shower. . . . ‘”

One month later (early November, 1944), all gassing ceased at Auschwitz, per order of Heinrich Himmler.

The best things of the world are these:
A little home full of luck and peace,
Without the neighbors’ envious looks,
With silent hours in homely nooks.
A sound of music, a children’s song
And far away are hate and wrong.
No one is there who grieves my heart,
But You shall come and never part.
(Written to Lilian von Lowënadler, February 3, 1939)

Presentation at Nassau Presbyterian Church

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On February 23 I had the good fortune to address an audience at the Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, NJ.  The event was co-sponsored by the church, the Princeton Public Library, the Princeton Clergy Association and The Jewish Center of Princeton.  The audience was wonderful, and from varied backgrounds, including old classmates from Georgetown, the retired headmaster of my sons’ prep school, Westminster, the mother of one of my earliest book supporters, colleagues from my former law firm, Dechert, and even the granddaughter of a Norwegian resistance fighter who died in February 1945 in the Gross Rosen concentration camp.  It was certainly a night to remember.  The  entire event was the brainchild of Kathy Ales of Princeton, herself a child of two Holocaust survivors.  Kathy’s energy and organizational skills (to say nothing of her hospitality) are a wonder to behold, and I owe a debt of gratitude that I can never fully repay.  Thanks to Nassau Presbyterian for their lovely venue (the photo is of me in their Sanctuary), to my other co-sponsors, to everyone who attended, and most of all, to my dear friend Kathy Ales.

Eigil Nansen (1931-2017)

Eigil Nansen, the second child of Odd and Kari Nansen, died last week, age 85.

Eigil followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming an architect, and worked in his father’s architectural firm.

More importantly, Eigil also followed down the humanitarian path his father (and grandfather Fridtjof Nansen) had blazed.  In 1991 he was awarded the Lisle and Leo Eitinger Prize, given by the University of Oslo to recognize the beneficiary’s “personal effort and active involvement in human rights.”  [It is altogether fitting that Eigil receive such recognition.  Leo Eitinger was a Czechoslovakian Jew who was assisted by Nansenhjelpen (set up by Odd Nansen) to emigrate to Norway in 1939.  One of only a handful of Jews from Norway to survive his subsequent deportation to Auschwitz, Leo Eitinger later pursued a distinguished career in psychiatry.]

Finally, Eigil played an important role in the Olympics.  In the 1952 Winter Games, held in Norway, Eigil was selected to light the Olympic cauldron, officially inaugurating the games.  The pictures here show Eigil skiing into the stadium, lighting the flame and holding the torch aloft.

I had the honor and privilege of meeting Eigil during my several trips to Norway.  Our final get-together was in a restaurant in Oslo in October 2015, where family members, including Eigil’s sister Marit, Marit’s children, Kari and Anne, Anne’s husband Preben, friend (and Sachsenhausen survivor) Robert Bjørka, Thomas Buergenthal and his wife Peggy, and Nansen’s biographer Anne Ellingsen, had all gathered.  At one point during the festivities Eigil raised his glass, looked me in the eye, and gave the traditional Norwegian toast: “Skal!”

Skal to you, Eigil Nansen, and may you find peace in the halls of your ancestors.

Eigil Nansen 3 Eigil Nansen 5 Eigil Nansen nansen 2

Nansen Talk at East Tennessee State University

TimBoyce 5TimBoyce and Tese 1

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Recently I had the pleasure of addressing students,  faculty and administrators at East Tennessee State University (ETSU) regarding Odd Nansen’s diary.  The talk was co-sponsored by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.

Doctor Theresa (Tese) Stephens, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, organized the talk in conjunction with a research project she has been undertaking with her PhD nursing students to better help both nurses and their patients to become more resilient.  By examining the lives of those who have undergone severe trials and emerged to lead healthy, productive lives, Stephens and her students hope to identify their core characteristics.  Once identified, nurses can focus on enhancing these characteristics in themselves and in others.

Odd Nansen’s magnificent diary offers a perfect window into a resilient life, and so From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps has been used in Stephens’ class as one of its key textbooks.  An interview with Dr. Stephens, describing her extensive research, can be found here.

The audience at ETSU was very attentive, and following my presentation asked many good questions about Nansen, his diary, and his life.  All in all, it was a delightful afternoon, and I appreciate the opportunity to share Nansen’s story with such an engaged and thoughtful group.  My entire presentation, which was recorded on Facebook Live, can be viewed here.

 

Odd Nansen’s Arrest and Miguel de Cervantes

Odd_Nansen

Seventy-four years ago today, at 7:30pm, Odd Nansen was arrested.   Held hostage for the ensuing forty months, he was only freed on April 28, 1945, ten days before the war ended.   Nansen was arrested on a Tuesday, not a Friday, but he was well aware of the superstition.  In his diary, commenting in 1944 that wife Kari’s birthday (November 13) fell on a Friday, he observed:

“[Your birthday] has come on a Friday this year.  Friday the thirteenth; what else could one expect?  In this landslide of disaster and misery old superstitions have their place.”

It is worth noting that Miguel de Cervantes (whose death 400 years ago we will commemorate this April 22) observed in the prologue to his masterpiece, Don Quixote, that it was “begotten in prison, where every discomfort has its place, and every sad sound makes its home.” Prior to his incarceration—for mismanagement—Cervantes had also once been a hostage of sorts, captured by the Barbary pirates in 1575 and held captive for five years awaiting his ultimate ransom.  Indeed, Ariel Dorfman recently wrote in an essay in the New York Times Book Review that these five years may well have been the defining experience of Cervantes’ life, forcing him to realize that “if we cannot heal the misfortunes that assail our bodies, we can, however, hold sway over how our soul responds to those sorrows.”

During every one of the 1,201 days Odd Nansen subsequently spent in captivity following his arrest, he undoubtedly wished for nothing more than to be with his wife and family, to be working on his architectural projects, to be free.  But the diary he created in prison is an eloquent depiction of how we too can “hold sway over how our soul responds to . . . sorrows,” and forty-three years after Nansen’s death we remain its grateful beneficiaries.

Interview with Teresa Stephens regarding Odd Nansen’s Diary

Professor Teresa Stephens of East Tennessee State University is using From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps in a PhD Nursing program focusing on the subject of resilience.  Recently Teresa was interviewed on WJHL News Channel 11 (ABC-Tri-Cities) regarding her interest in Odd Nansen’s diary, her use of Nansen’s work in her research, and my forthcoming presentation at ETSU with her nursing students.  The full interview is here.

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Book Signings

  • September 3, 2017: Scandinavian Fest, Budd Lake, NJ (10 am–6 pm)
  • September 8, 2017: Sons of Norway, Media, PA
  • September 9, 2017: Sons of Norway, Philadelphia, PA
  • September 15, 2017: Sons of Norway, Lancaster, PA
  • September 16, 2017: Sons of Norway, Marlboro, NJ
  • September 18, 2017: The Adult School, Madison, NJ
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  • October 5, 2017: Wofford College Lifelong Learning (5:00 pm)
  • November 14, 2017: Clemson University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
  • March 9, 2018: Furman University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (1:00 pm)

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“Our lodge members greatly enjoyed the presentation and are still talking about it! As a matter of fact, we enjoyed the presentation so much that we requested an encore so that even more of our members could hear about this topic.”

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Norsk Carolina Lodge, Charlotte, NC

On This Date

< 2017 >
July
SMTWHFS
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
  • Deportations from Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka begin; 250,000 Jews murdered within seven weeks.
23242526272829
3031     
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history

Recent Posts

< 2017 >
July
SMTWHFS
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
  • Deportations from Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka begin; 250,000 Jews murdered within seven weeks.
23242526272829
3031     
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history

Upcoming Events

Book Signings

  • September 3, 2017: Scandinavian Fest, Budd Lake, NJ (10 am–6 pm)
  • September 8, 2017: Sons of Norway, Media, PA
  • September 9, 2017: Sons of Norway, Philadelphia, PA
  • September 15, 2017: Sons of Norway, Lancaster, PA
  • September 16, 2017: Sons of Norway, Marlboro, NJ
  • September 18, 2017: The Adult School, Madison, NJ
  • September 27-30: Norsk Hostfest, Minot, ND
  • October 5, 2017: Wofford College Lifelong Learning (5:00 pm)
  • November 14, 2017: Clemson University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
  • March 9, 2018: Furman University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (1:00 pm)
< 2017 >
July
SMTWHFS
      1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
  • Deportations from Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka begin; 250,000 Jews murdered within seven weeks.
23242526272829
3031     
Legend
  Previous/Upcoming Engagements
  This day in history