The parallel lives of Thomas Buergenthal and Anne Frank

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Seventy-five years ago today (August 2, 1944), Thomas Buergenthal, age 10, entered Auschwitz, the largest and most lethal concentration camp the Nazis ever built, and the symbolic heart of the Holocaust.  Tom was immediately separated from his mother Gerda—thereafter he was to see her only once, through the wire, before she was transported to Ravensbrück, and they were not to be reunited until December 1946.  Buergenthal lived in Auschwitz for a time with his father Mundek until he, too, was transported—first to Sachsenhausen (there is no record that he ever crossed paths with Odd Nansen) and then to Buchenwald, where he succumbed to pneumonia in January 1945.

Tom Buergenthal with his parents

There are a number of striking parallels between the lives of Tom Buergenthal and Anne Frank

It was two days after Tom’s arrival at Auschwitz (August 4, 1944) that Anne, age 15, was arrested along with her family and four others who had been in hiding for over two years in Amsterdam.

Anne Frank

Although Anne lived most of her childhood in Holland and Tom in Czechoslovakia, Anne’s parents and Tom’s mother were all German, all (along with Tom’s father, born in Galicia) having fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

Within a month of Anne’s arrest, she was also transported to Auschwitz, arriving September 3, 1944.  Upon arrival, she was separated from her father. Again, there is no knowing if Tom and Anne were ever even close to each other in the sprawling camp that held more than 150,000 prisoners at its height.  What we do know is that Anne contracted scabies in Auschwitz, and Tom, having been selected for the gas chamber, was temporarily housed with others in a barracks for prisoners with scabies until a sufficiently large group could be assembled for the crematorium.  (Miraculously, he survived this experience, another instance when he would prove to be “ein Glückskind,” a lucky child.)

In late October or early November, 1944, around the time Tom lost his father to the transports, Anne, along with her older sister Margot,  was also transported, to the Bergen-Belsen camp, located approximately 40 miles south of Hamburg.  Bergen-Belsen was unsanitary and overcrowded, subject to epidemics of infectious diseases like typhus and typhoid fever.  When Auschwitz was finally evacuated in late January, 1945, Tom was among the 60,000 or so prisoners involved in the infamous Death March.  In late February or early March, 1945, around the time Buergenthal and Odd Nansen were first meeting each other in the infirmary in Sachsenhausen, Anne died in Bergen-Belsen.  The exact date and exact cause of death will never be known.

Recently I addressed the students of my high school alma mater, and posed the counterfactual question: What if Odd Nansen had been in Bergen-Belsen instead of Sachsenhausen, and had met Anne Frank instead of Tom Buergenthal?  Or, conversely, what if Anne Frank had been sent to Sachsenhausen, and Tom sent to Bergen-Belsen instead? Could Odd Nansen have saved Anne Frank’s life the way he saved Tom’s?  Would Tom have been able to survive in Bergen-Belsen?

Certainly there were factors that helped Tom, not the least being the fact that, having lived first in a Jewish ghetto in Kielce, and then in various work camps before arriving in Auschwitz, meant that he had “a relatively long period of survival training. Who knows whether I would have survived had I arrived in Auschwitz from a normal middle-class environment and immediately had to face brutal camp conditions.”  Anne, on the other hand, was spared Tom’s “gradual immersion into hell.”

But the key difference, I believe, was Odd Nansen.  Tom writes: “I realized that Mr. Nansen had probably saved my life [in Sachsenhausen’s infirmary, where Tom was convalescing following amputation of frostbitten several toes] by periodically bribing the orderly in charge of our barracks . . . to keep my name off the list of ‘terminally ill’ patients, which the SS guards demanded every few weeks ‘to make room for other prisoners.’”

Anne had no such person in Bergen-Belsen to help her through her crucible.  Had she survived, we might have celebrated her 90th birthday this past June 12.  Anne was bright, perceptive, and an extremely talented writer.  What more might she have accomplished during her lifetime? We’ll never know.  On the other hand, we do know that Tom Buergenthal had a wonderfully productive career promoting human rights, a career that culminated as a judge on the International Court of Justice at The Hague (2000—2010).

Buergenthal at the International Court of Justice at The Hague

If nothing else, Odd Nansen’s life shows us how just one humane person can help in tikkun olam–repairing the world.

July 12, 1845: Henrik Wergeland dies.

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Henrik Arnold Wergeland, variously described as “Norway’s Byron,” “Norway’s Pushkin,” and “Norway’s Victor Hugo,” died 174 years ago today, on July 12, 1845, age 37.

Henrik Wergeland

Despite his brief life, Wergeland was a prolific writer, poet, playwright, polemicist, historian and linguist.  Today, however, he is probably best known for his work on behalf of Norway’s Jews.

When Norway’s constitution (the second oldest in the world in continuous force, after America’s) was adopted on May 17, 1814, Clause 2 banned virtually all Jews from entering the country. As an equal opportunity discriminator, the drafters of the Constitution for good measure also banned Jesuits (so much for my Georgetown education!) and all monastic orders.  One of the three delegates behind the so-called “Jew clause” was none other than Wergeland’s father, Nicolai Wergeland.

For years Wergeland considered Clause 2 to be a national disgrace, contrary to all the values otherwise contained in the Constitution, and he worked tirelessly for its repeal.  In that effort he published two collections of poems, The Jew (1842), the most famous poem of which is “The Army of Truth,” and The Jewess (1844).

Wergeland did not live to see the successful conclusion of his efforts, which occurred on June 13, 1851, six years after his death.   In 1849, following his death, but before the repeal of Clause 2, Jews living outside of Norway obtained special permission to enter and erect a monument at Wergeland’s graveside.   On it are engraved the following words: “Henrik Wergeland, the indefatigable advocate of freedom and justice for humanity and all citizens.”  Wergeland was also one of the moving forces behind the popularization of Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day, which today always includes a ceremony at his grave site. (During WWII the Nazi’s forbade any celebration of Wergeland. Also during the war Vidkun Quisling ordered the reinstatement of Clause 2.)

May 17 ceremony. Wergeland’s monument is on the right.

One might think the story ends there, but this is Norway, which is a very small country.  One of the Wergeland’s strongest literary critic was Johan Sebastian Wellhaven, another giant of Norwegian literature.  Wellhaven’s niece was none other than Eva (Sars) Nansen, Odd Nansen’s mother.   In addition, Wergeland’s complete works were published in 23 volumes between 1918 and 1940, edited in part by Didrik Arup Seip, Rector of the University of Oslo.  Siep was also a fellow prisoner of Odd Nansen’s in Grini and Sachsenhausen.  A small world indeed!

“Words? Those sounds the world despises.
Words in poems?
Even more to be disdained!
Ah, how feeble are your powers
to defend
all the truth that man denies!
. . . .
Forward, though, you feeble lines!
Words are armies!
On this earth your victory
was promised by the Lord, Light’s father,
when you serve
Truth itself, his child, alone.”

From The Army of Truth.

Fun in Minnesota!

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I’ve just recently returned from a five-day sojourn in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” otherwise known as Minnesota (with an emphasis on the third syllable).  I had never visited Minnesota before, unless one counts making airline connections at the Minneapolis—St. Paul International Airport. The experience was delightful from beginning to end.  Coming home last Saturday night I even saw some of Cincinnati’s fireworks display from 35,000 ft.

I first flew to Duluth (explored by Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, in 1679) at the invitation of Lise Lunge-Larsen of the Nordic Center.  Lise, a noted children’s author and storyteller, was a delightful host, showing me about the town.  I got an up close and personal view of its watery neighbor—Lake Superior.  You probably already knew that Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and the third largest by volume.  If Lake Superior were emptied out, it would cover ALL of North America and ALL of South America to the tune of 12 inches.  What you probably didn’t know is that Superior boasts some of the best drinking water anywhere—many breweries and distilleries utilize its pure water for a “superior” taste.  In fact, Lise’s daughter and son-in-law founded Vikre Distillery in town, which was voted the Best Craft Specialty Spirits in the country by USA TODAY in 2016. That water must be doing something right!

Nordic Center, Duluth, MN

On June 25 the Nordic Center was packed with an attentive crowd, including several people interestingly enough named Boyce.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find any connection to my grandfather Dennis Boyce, who ran away from Donegal, Ireland, as a teenager to come to America in early 1900s. It was a great crowd, and a wonderful evening.  We celebrated afterward at Vikre and even got to see Duluth’s famous Aerial Lift Bridge in action— locals who are stuck on either side waiting for the enormous cargo ships to pass through are said to have been “bridged.”

From there I traveled to Minneapolis for a series of talks, the highlight being at the Norway House on June 27.  Again, another large audience.  While I usually preface my remarks by asking if anyone in the audience has any Norwegian ancestry, here I asked if anyone did not (and there were, but only a handful).  As the guest speaker I was treated to some delectable Norwegian desserts from the kaffebar in the lobby.

Norway House, Minneapolis, MN

The Gallery where I spoke was hosting a photographic exhibition by Judy Olausen entitled “Mother: a vision of the Eisenhower-era mother; eager to please, ready to serve, and blissfully sweeping the unmentionable under the rug.”  The photos were quirky, zany, tongue-in-cheek send-ups of 1950’s era homemakers.  Interesting for their own sake, they provided a unique backdrop to my talk, resulting in some unforgettable juxtapositions.  Here’s my favorite:

Norway House, Minneapolis, MN

Is the woman in the photo aghast at the point I’m trying to make?  Is something horrible crawling up the back of my shirt? Or is it simply a case of underarm odor?

The only way to know is to visit the exhibit yourself (and don’t forget to try the pastries).

Nordic Center photo courtesy Nordic Center Facebook page; Norway House photos courtesy Mike Wick. 

Odd Nansen: Dec. 6, 1901–Jun. 27, 1973

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Odd Nansen

Odd Nansen died 46 years ago today, on June 27, 1973, age 71.

Each year on his death I like to draw from literature a description that I feel aptly describes some aspect of Nansen’s character (which I’ve done here, here and here).

Last year’s blog made a passing reference to Ernest Hemingway in my tribute to Odd Nansen, so perhaps it is only fitting that this year I draw from Hemingway’s third (of four) wives, Martha Gellhorn.  Gellhorn was one of the first, and most widely read, female war correspondents of the Twentieth Century.  She was the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day, and among the first correspondents to report on the Dachau concentration camp following its liberation by American forces in April 1945.

Gellhorn was a prolific writer, but her greatest novel is A Stricken Field.  Based on her own experiences in Prague, Czechoslovakia immediately before the war, A Stricken Field follows the experiences of one Mary Douglas, an American correspondent.  We watch Douglas’ frustrating and ultimately futile efforts to help Prague’s refugees (much like Nansen tried to help Prague’s refugees, 1936—39) while she tries to report on a Czechoslovakia that has been callously abandoned by the western Allies as the price for “peace in our time.”  Gellhorn quickly wrote her novel at the famous farm she and Hemingway shared in Cuba, Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm”), and published the work in 1940.

In one of the final scenes of the book, Mary Douglas, in a funk over her bitter experience, nevertheless finds some reasons for hope:

“I’ve seen enough in the last five years, Mary thought, to make anyone despair.  But disaster doesn’t harm the really good ones: they carry their goodness through, untouched, and nothing that happens can makes them cowardly or calculating.  I’ve seen some fine people in these disaster years.  I’ve seen one tonight.  There’s that to remember too, when despair sets in.”

I’ve known, indirectly, one such person, who carried his goodness through, untouched, during the disaster years of World War II:  Odd Nansen.  His example is always worth remembering whenever despair sets in.

 

Odd Nansen’s grave marker

A Churchillian Postscript

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Winston Churchill

 

I am always overjoyed when I receive feedback from my blog subscribers regarding a recent post—especially if they have some personal connection to the story as well (this was a good example).

Last month I published a blog discussing both Churchill and Fridtjof Nansen, and the importance of May 13 in their lives.  As part of my blog, I included a photo of Churchill.  Just about everybody who knows anything about Churchill has seen it.  It has graced the book jackets of more than one Churchill biography.  In fact, it has been called one of the most iconic photos ever taken; according to The Economist magazine, it is the “most reproduced portrait in the history of photography.”  To many it epitomizes all the characteristics we associate with the man who led the British through World War II: truculence; doggedness; pugnacity; defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

Well, like all good stories, there is a backstory to this one as well, as I recently learned. The photo was taken by an Armenian-Canadian photographer named Yousuf Karsh.  Born Hovsep Karsh in 1908, he and his family escaped the Armenian genocide to Syria in 1922.  From there he was sent to Canada by his family, arriving in 1923.  He lived in Quebec for five years with an uncle who was a portrait photographer, and who taught him the trade, starting with a Box Brownie camera.  From 1929—1931 he apprenticed with another Armenian photographer in Boston, John Garo.

Returning to Canada in 1932, Karsh set up his own studio in Ottawa.  He managed to capture the attention of Mackenzie King, Canada’s Prime Minister, who helped arrange portraits of visiting dignitaries.

Yousuf Karsh

On December 30, 1941, one of those visiting dignitaries happened to be Winston Churchill, in town taking a break from the Arcadia Conference talks in DC.  Following an address to the Canadian Parliament, Karsh arranged to photograph Churchill.  The first shot was quite standard, showing a smiling, jovial Churchill. Prior to the second shot, Karsh snatched the trademark Churchill cigar from him.  Churchill was miffed, and showed it.  Thus is history made, and thus we remember England’s feisty wartime leader.

Now, how do I know all this?  Much of it is available on-line and in various history books.  But the person who brought it to my attention was Pamela B.  I met Pam while giving the Wallenberg Memorial Address to the Nordic Museum in Seattle last June (here). After my Churchill blog was posted last month, Pam wrote me about Karsh, and revealed that she knew the great Karsh: looking for a summer job following high school graduation in Ottawa, Pam was hired on as the cook and housekeeper.  She writes “it was an interesting experience to work for someone so famous with a home full of mementos from his decades of hanging out with luminaries across the US and Europe.”  Pam was even interviewed by Karsh’s biographer for any telling insights.  She had none to relay, probably because, as she informed me, she was fired within three weeks (whether for deficiencies in housekeeping or cooking is not known).

There is yet another connection.  Pam’s husband Gary is the “world’s leading expert in the artistic depiction of facial expression” and writes a blog about such matters, including one on Churchill’s famous scowl (here).

“Wait,” as they say on some TV commercials, “there’s more!”

Yousef had a younger brother Malak who was also a talented photographer. He developed in to a premier landscape photographer (so as not to compete directly with his brother).  The Canadian $1 dollar bill (no longer in use) once depicted Queen Elizabeth on one side (photo by Yousuf) and a logjam on the Ottawa River just below Parliament on the obverse (courtesy of Malak).  Not too surprising that Pam would know Malak’s story as well—she dated Malak’s son Laurence in high school!

Now, back to Yousuf.  By the time he died in 2002, age 93, he was regarded as one of the leading photographers of the Twentieth Century.  More than 20 of Yousuf’s photos graced the cover of Life magazine, including the Churchill shot.  The picture did not actually appear until May 21, 1945, almost four years after it was taken.  That was shortly after VE Day, a victory Churchill did almost as much as anyone to help accomplish.

Are there any other connections we can pack into this blog?  Well, my May 13 blog spoke about both Churchill and Fridtjof Nansen.  The Armenians (which Yousuf always thought of himself) still revere Fridtjof Nansen for all the work he did following World War I to assist them.  Every April 24, the date commemorating the start of the Armenian Genocide, they have a ceremony at Fridtjof’s gravesite in Lysaker, Norway.  In 2011 the Armenian Government flew Nansen’s granddaughter (and my dear friend) Marit (Nansen) Greve to Yerevan,  their capital city, so she could witness the unveiling of a new memorial to Fridtjof.

Flowers on Fridtjof Nansen’s grave, April 24, 2019. Courtesy Anne Greve.

It’s amazing what one little blog can unleash!  I hope some future subject causes you to reach out to me as well with your story!

A Memorial Day Remembrance

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Capt. Robert M. Losey

I don’t generally recycle old blogs I’ve previously written, but in some cases I will make an exception.  Two years ago on Memorial Day I wrote about Capt. Robert M. Losey, the first U.S. serviceman to be killed in World War II—it happened in Norway.  The full story can be found here.

Syttende Mai (May 17)

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Syttende Mai Celebration*

Syttende Mai, or May 17, is Norway’s Constitution Day, and its most important national holiday.  Norwegians everywhere celebrate the signing of the Norwegian Constitution on May 17, 1814, by the Norwegian Constituent Assembly in Eidsvoll, Norway.  The Norwegian Constitution is now the second oldest in continuous force (after the United States).

I can’t think of a better way to observe the day than to quote Odd Nansen’s own words written 77 years ago:

Sunday, May 17, 1942

It’s best to forget the 17th of May when you are a Norwegian shut up in a German concentration camp and struggling to make the time vanish, so that it may be the 18th as quickly as possible. So in a way it was no bad thing to have a working day today. But work as I might, and struggle as I might to get the time, the confounded time, to pass, it wasn’t possible to forget that it was May 17th.  It was in the air, the clear, fresh spring air blowing from the southwest. The sun shone from early morning; the birds were singing, the birches sprouting so that one could absolutely stand and watch how their pale green tops became denser and more copious hour by hour. They flamed against the dark wood behind, which hasn’t rightly awakened yet.

Southward the landscape opens out; there is no dark, grave forest barrier. The sallows too are beginning to dress for the party, as they stand by the spring becks winding down between the fields toward the sea—far, far out yonder. I truly believe we can make out a streak of that too, a silver streak just under the light blue ridge on the horizon. And the mind goes on to seek the glittering fjord, with its islands one behind another, right out to the last skerries and then still farther out, to the open sea.

And behind rises the blue landscape, up from the ocean and from ridge to ridge with green floes in among them, and with dark and light brown fields like patchwork between the copses and rocky outcrops, and at the back of all, the mountains stand against the spring sky, pale blue with shining flecks of white. It is as though the eye were following the mind upon its free journey. And one sails on along the coast, gazing in rapture at the wonderland within. A rush of warmth goes through one. This is all Norway. . . .

That is the content of the 17th of May; so it has always been, and so it will always be. No one can change it, least of all these Germans, who have no conception of it.

And no one can deprive me of today’s tour of Norway; I’ve been round the whole country and absorbed it with the spring air. I saw it bathed in spring sunshine, beautiful as never before. No, I take it back that one should forget the 17th of May because one’s in a German concentration camp. On the contrary, one should remember it and keep it more intensely and fervently than ever.”

Skål, Norway!

*By evelinagustafsson@live.se – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10407995

 

May 13: Winston Churchill and Fridtjof Nansen

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I don’t know if Winston Churchill and Fridtjof Nansen (about whom I’ve written before here and here) ever knew each other or knew of each other.  I’ve never yet come across a reference to the other in either of their writings.  But then again, I’ve only scratched the surface of their respective output—both left prodigious written records.

Nevertheless, I find it hard to believe that they were not at least aware of each other, if not personally acquainted.  They both loomed so large over their respective stages in Europe that it’s almost impossible to think they hadn’t somehow crossed paths.

While Churchill may have missed the 1897 lecture Nansen (thirteen years his senior) gave to the Royal Geographical Society following his attempt at the North Pole (Winston was serving with the British Army in India at the time), they were both in London in 1906, when Fridtjof Nansen was appointed newly-independent Norway’s first ambassador to Great Britain and Churchill was re-elected to Parliament.   Both men were active during World War I; Nansen negotiating with the Wilson Administration for liberalized food trade; Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty

After World War I ended, Fridtjof Nansen was one of the most prominent figures in the newly created League of Nations, an organization strongly supported by Churchill.  With the approach of World War II, Churchill participated in the Focus Group, a loosely-allied group of British politicians alive to the threat of fascist Germany. Philip Noel-Baker, an old League friend of Fridtjof’s, was part of this select group.

Whether or not the two were acquainted, personally or by reputation, May 13th was a critical anniversary in both their lives.

Fridtjof Nansen

On May 13, 1930, Fridtjof Nansen passed away, age 68.   As I have explained in an earlier post, while the medical report may have listed the cause of death as heart failure, in reality I believe it was simply a case of his having done more work than most ten men.  If there was one word that encapsulated his personality, it was forward (in Norwegian the word is fram which happened to be the name of the ship he built for his expedition to the North Pole).  As he once explained, there should be no thought or plan of retreat: “Then one loses no time in looking behind, when one should have quite enough to do in looking ahead—then there is no chance for you or your men but forward.  You have to do or die!”

Winston Churchill

Exactly 10 years later, on May 13, 1940, that same philosophy inspired Churchill’s famous “blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech to the House of Commons.  At the time of the speech, Churchill had been Prime Minister for all of three days, assuming the position “on the eve of the gravest crisis which any British Government ever faced,” in the words of one historian.  Austria had been annexed; Czechoslovakia occupied; Poland crushed; Denmark overrun; Holland would capitulate 2 days later; Belgium in 18 more; France was slightly more than a month away from surrendering; Norway was fighting gallantly against impossible odds.  Many in Great Britain advocated negotiating with Hitler.

Nevertheless, Churchill marked out his own position unmistakably.  After informing his countrymen that he had nothing to offer them but blood, toil, tears and sweat, Churchill continued:

“We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.   We have before us many, many long months of struggle and suffering.  You ask, what is our policy?  I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.  That is our policy.  You ask, what is our aim?  I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”

As one historian described Churchill’s spellbinding speech, and its effect on both his country and the worldwide audience that it was also intended for: “If this was Britain’s ‘finest hour,’ it was also Winston’s.”

No doubt if Fridtjof Nansen were still alive, he would have wholeheartedly agreed.

May 2: Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

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Last week, while on a book tour through CT and NY, I was privileged to spend May 2—Yom HaShoah—at my high school alma mater, Notre Dame of West Haven, CT. In the morning I taught  23 Seniors in the school’s Holocaust class.  Notre Dame, a boys school run by the Brothers of the Holy Cross, has had a Holocaust course as part of its curriculum for over 30 years. The teacher, Matt Milano, had his students read selected diary entries from Odd Nansen’s From Day to Day, choose the most powerful sentence in the excerpt, and then come up with three questions based on his reading. I enjoyed spending time, however brief, discussing Nansen’s diary with the young scholars.

Addressing the Seniors and Juniors

 I then addressed the entire Junior and Senior classes. I drew a comparison between Anne Frank and Thomas Buergenthal, two children caught in the vortex of the Holocaust. Both arrived in Auschwitz at roughly the same time (August 1944). They never met so far as we know, which is not surprising considering that Auschwitz’s population at that point exceeded 60,000, or more than the entire population of West Haven, CT.

Anne was soon sent on the Bergen-Belsen, where she died in early 1945.  Tommy was later evacuated to Sachsenhausen, where he survived through the intervention of Odd Nansen. I compared the “what might have been” of Anne’s life—a gifted writer whose diary, composed when she was younger than many in the audience, has sold millions of copies and been translated into 60 languages, with the reality of Tom’s life and career—a distinguished career dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of human rights everywhere.

I challenged the students to follow Nansen’s example, and change a life for the better.  I reminded them that Notre Dame’s motto is “Character, Confidence,” and most importantly, “Compassion.”

Evening Presentation

Later in the evening I addressed parents, alumni (including some old classmates from ND ’72) and interested third parties. The evening began with a welcome by school President Robert Curis, and a prayer by Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus of Congregation Or Shalom.  Along with my many memories of that special day, I will cherish the yahrzeit candle that was lit for the duration of my talk.

yahrzeit candle

April: Anniversaries and a Reckoning

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The revised hardcover edition of From Day to Day was re-published exactly three years ago this week.  I don’t think I ever realized the significance of this week in any of my previous reflections.  Monday, April 22, represented the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Sachsenhausen, and with it, freedom after almost six years for Thomas Buergenthal.  Similarly, April 27-28, 1945 represents the final entry in Nansen’s diary.  Nansen’s agonized, brutally honest words from that entry, when he is on the cusp of freedom, are worth repeating:

“What on earth am I to write?  It’s as impossible today as on all the other days that have passed in one long whirl of unreality and fairy tale. . ..   The day before yesterday I was to scribble a message to Kari, only a hurried greeting, a few words on a scrap of paper, with the mudguard of a truck to write on. . .. But no, it seemed to me impossible, insuperable! . . .   I felt like crying with despair and rage. . ..  Dear, darling Kari! .. . .  I don’t know what more I got down.  I had to write something, couldn’t say I found it impossible.  Only a little message—I’ll be soon be home!  Surely I could write that much! And so I wrote that. . ..   And here I am, as bankrupt, as confused, and as stupefied as ever, out of contact with reality, because it is in fact unbelievable.”

Anniversaries are also a time for stock-taking.  Here are some of the highlights of my three-year journey (cumulative through 12/31/18):

Miles traveled: 51,807

Website visitors: 7,301

Presentation audiences: 5,000+

Presentations made: 137

Blogs written:  105

Speaking of blogs, several friends have wondered at the recent dearth of blogs from me.  I can only plead a busy travel schedule, which has prevented me from collecting all my thoughts.  But the travels have certainly been worthwhile.  The following represents just a few of the highlights in the first quarter of 2019, (but which nevertheless are emblematic of the entire experience with this book since the start):

  • Before speaking at the Providence Athenaeum in February I was shown the library’s rare book collection, which is rare indeed: a first edition, signed copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a first edition Moby Dick, and a library charge-out book signed by library patron “E.A. Poe.”

 

  • In Barrington, RI, an audience member that his own grandfather had spent time in Grini, the Norwegian camp where Nansen spent almost 18 months.

 

  • In Baltimore, I met a 92 year-old patron named Joel. Joel returned to the room where I had spoken just as I was packing up to leave.  He told me that my recitation of Nansen’s dairy entry for August 27, 1944, wherein he relates that his love for Kari is of eternity, and will never die “even though we should never meet again,” had struck a nerve with him.  Joel explained that he fought in the Italian campaign during WWII, and had lost a brother in the Battle of the Bulge, and had another brother injured in the same battle.  With tears in his eyes, he confessed that while fighting in Italy he never thought he would make it home alive himself.  Joel then confessed that, until that very day, he had never mentioned this crippling fear to anyone else in his entire life.

 

  • In York, PA, I learned about the famed “Four Chaplains,” sometimes also known as the “Dorchester Chaplains.” Four chaplains (Alexander Goode, a rabbi; John Washington, a Catholic priest; George Fox, a Methodist minister; and Clark Poling, a Reformed Church minister) were sailing with the troop transport SS Dorchester when it was torpedoed on February 3, 1943. When the supply of life jackets ran out, each of the chaplains gave his away, and remained with those unable to escape the sinking ship.  The Dorchester sank in 27 minutes, with 672 men still on board.  The four chaplains were last seen on deck, arms linked, praying together.  The town of York, where Alexander Goode once served as a rabbi and scout leader, commemorates the memory of the Four Chaplains with a prayer breakfast annually around mid-May, close to Rabbi Goode’s birthday of May 10.

 

  • In Milwaukee, a guest brought with her a framed photo from Life Magazine showing the liberation of Dachau [which incidentally occurred April 29, 1945–another April anniversary]. The photo shows four GIs at Dachau’s gate.  The one with the cigarette in his mouth was her brother.

Dachau liberated

 

  • In Lincolnwood, IL, I met a relative of Michael Bornstein, probably the youngest survivor of Auschwitz, and I learned about his moving memoir, Survivor’s Club—I highly recommend it.

 

  • Finally, in Lisle, IL, I met Margaret Roth, a survivor of a different sort. She was born in Germany in 1938 and grew up in the shadow of the war, emigrating to the U.S. in 1968.  She inscribed her family memoir, An Ordinary Family in Extraordinary Times, to me as follows: “To Timothy Boyce/For a wonderful talk that showed that human love and compassion can overcome the greatest evil.”

On that positive note, I am excited to begin the fourth year of From Day to Day’s new lease on life, and see what fresh developments and experiences the next 12 months will bring.

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Upcoming Events

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Book Signings

  • September 15, 2019: Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies, Oslo, Norway
  • September 25-28, 2019: Norsk Hostfest, Minot, ND
  • October 14: Sage Academy for Lifelong Learning, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD
  • October 14, 2019: Charlestown Sr. Living, Catonsville, MD
  • October 15, 2019: American Scandinavian Foundation, New York, NY
  • October 17, 2019: 55-Plus Club, Princeton, NJ
  • October 17, 2019: Heritage Point, Barnegat, NJ
  • October 17, 2019: Westlake Golf and Country Club, Jackson, NJ
  • October 18, 2019: Somerset Run, Somerset, NJ
  • October 18, 2019: VASA/Lodge Linne, New Providence, NJ
  • October 19, 2019: Stonebridge at Montgomery, Skillman, NJ
  • November 1, 2019: Osher Lifelong Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • November 14, 2019: Maven’s Club/Temple Emanuel, Winston-Salem, NC
  • January 23, 2020: Shalom Club/Carolina Preserve, Cary, NC
  • January 31, 2020: Osher Life Long Learning, Furman University, Greenville, SC
  • April 26, 2020: Temple Sinai, Chicago, IL

People are talking


"Timothy Boyce captivated a larger than usual, attentive and appreciative audience with his spellbinding presentation of Odd Nansen and his World War II diary. He brilliantly demonstrated Odd Nansen’s will to survive while also helping others. A remarkable tale presented in an informative and fascinating way by a truly engaging speaker."

- Audun Gythfeldt, President
Sons of Norway Nor-Bu Lodge, Rockaway, NJ

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