International Holocaust Remembrance Day

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Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is appropriate for each of us to remember the millions of innocent men, women and children slaughtered in pursuit of a crackpot racial idea.

The Nazi’s murderous scheme did not originate full blown from Adolf Hitler’s fevered imagination. The history of anti-Semitism is long and tortuous, nor was it exorcized with the utter destruction of the Nazis more than seventy years ago. As Primo Levi once observed:

It happened,
Therefore it can happen again. . .
It can happen everywhere.

So, as we remember the dead, let us all dedicate ourselves to insuring that it never does happen again, confronting injustice and intolerance wherever we see it.

The final paragraph of Odd Nansen’s Postscript to his diary reads: “The worst crime you can commit today, against yourself and society, is to forget what happened and sink back into indifference. What happened was worse than you have any idea of–and it was the indifference of mankind that let it take place!”

As true today as when wrote the Postscript in 1946.

The foregoing first appeared in a slightly different form in January 2016

January 13, 1942

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Eighty years ago today,  three officials—two German, one Norwegian—approached a small cabin in snowy East Gausdal, Norway, and informed Odd Nansen that he was wanted for questioning in Oslo.  In fact, he was part of a round-up ordered by the German overseer of Norway, Reichskommissar Josef Terboven.

That very night Nansen began his prison diary.  His first entry concludes:

“I heard about the new actions against special officers and against friends of the royal family, who were all arrested at this time.  I supposed I must come under the latter heading, and if so I should probably be ‘inside’ until the was was over?”

As a hostage, Nansen was indeed ‘inside’ until the war was virtually over–almost 40 months later.  The record of his incarceration became From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps.  The diary has been hailed as a masterpiece—both upon its initial publication in English in 1949, and its subsequent re-issue by Vanderbilt University Press in 2016.

On the very same day as Nansen’s arrest, the governments-in-exile of nine German occupied nations, including Norway, issued the St. James Declaration, which set as one of their principal war aims the punishment of criminal acts perpetrated against their civilian populations by the Germans.  The U.K. and the U.S. were present at the St. James Conference, but as non-occupied countries, did not sign the Declaration.

Whether all those “guilty of, or responsible for, these crimes, whether they have ordered them, perpetrated them, or participated in them,” were ever fully punished is debatable. Nevertheless,  Nansen’s diary serves as a damning indictment of Nazi policies, and a roadmap for war crimes.

William L. Shirer, bestselling author of Berlin Diary, and future author of  the blockbuster The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, reviewed Nansen’s diary  in 1949 for the New York Herald Tribune.  He, too, recognized the historical importance of  a diary which showed “how the Germans behaved when they had a large part of civilized Europe at their feet.”  And yet, he noted, “and this is what makes this record unique—Nansen never gave in nor did he lose his faith in mankind.”

Now, that’s something worth remembering on this day in history.

The preceding first appeared, in slightly different form, on January 13, 2018.

The Cinnamon Cruller

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Yesterday, as is my custom, I took my dogs Trina and Joni out for their morning constitutional as soon as I got up. (Actually, it’s the dogs’ custom—they’ve trained me, not the other way around.)   The air was crisp, the sky a deep blue, the sun just peeking over the horizon, a frost lay on the grass.  In a word, glorious.

That morning reminded me of another morning long ago when I was a paperboy.  I had inherited my paper route from my older brother Tom, who had outgrown it. [Translation: My parents told me I was now the new paperboy, and my indentured servitude would last until they decided otherwise.]  When one has no say in the matter, it’s best to simply submit and try and make the best of a bad situation.  And there were plenty of downsides: the less time I would have playing with my friends; the pouring rains; the freezing snows; the miscreant dogs. And fickle customers too: one afternoon, at the usual time, I saw one of my customers waiting by their mailbox about 100 yards ahead.  I quickened my pace, then broke into a trot, and finally a dash, all the while with a 35-pound bag banging against my right hip.  Out of breath, I hand-delivered the paper, expecting, perhaps, a word of thanks or encouragement.  What I got was: “Well, better late than never.”

Having a fairly large route—about 85 households—the size of the paper also affected my well-being.  Wednesdays were the worst.  All the merchants placed their advertisements in the Wednesday paper, swelling its size (those were the days).  Even with bags on both hips, I would still need to return home for a new load—meaning even less time for play.  Sunday morning was in a league of its own, but my parents stoically agreed to load the entire backseat of the car with the papers, allowing me to simply reach through the rear window as they drove and I walked alongside.

Conversely, Saturdays were the best day.  Now, I am congenitally against getting up early, and it seemed a crime against nature to miss sleeping-in on the only non-school, non-church day of the week, but once I was out and about, I was fine.  The paper was so thin I could easily carry my entire route in a single bag.  And at 7:30 am the neighborhood was all mine: no kids playing in the street, no adults making a racket with lawn mowers; no pesky dogs about.  I could daydream, and look forward to that second bowl of Cheerios waiting for me at home when the job was done.

One crisp late fall/early winter Saturday morning, my reverie was interrupted when Mrs. Kozolewski, one of my customers, pulled up alongside me in her old-model, two-tone Chevy. [I can no longer be sure her name was precisely Kozolewski, but I know it was 100% Polish.  My neighborhood consisted almost exclusively of Italian, Irish, and Polish surnames, with an occasional “Smith” or “Jones,” and one Jewish family, thrown in for good measure.] Mrs. K. rolled down the window, flashed me a friendly smile, and asked, “Would you like a donut?  I just came from the bakery.”

Well, what could I say?  Here was an offering featuring two of my favorite food groups: dough and sugar.  (Readers may remember my ode to the oatmeal raisin cookie, here).

I nodded, and she reached into her bag and handed me a cinnamon cruller.  A warm cinnamon cruller.  I had never had a cruller before, being something of a jelly donut devotee at the time.  One bite and I was transported, to a new and higher plane of existence. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better donut before, or since—and I’ve had my share.

I guess it all goes to show that even the smallest act of kindness can reverberate down through the years, long after the event itself.  Mrs. Kozolewski, wherever you are, thank you again, and Happy New Year.

PS: For a more contemporary story of a kind gesture, and what it can do, read this story.

A Year-End Potpourri

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Let’s face it: 2021 was not the year most of us will remember fondly.  The fears, the disrupted plans, the false dawns.  Yes, 2021 is best left behind as soon as possible.

But even at the end of a bad year there are always a few bright spots worth noting.

I. A Mother and Child Reunion

Thomas and Gerda Buergenthal

Seventy-five years ago today Tom Buergenthal, age 12, set eyes on his mother for the first time in over two years—two years during which he had no idea whether his mother was even alive.  A simple boy’s faith had sustained him when the war finally ended:

“Of course, I was happy the war was over and that we had been liberated.  But when the soldiers spoke of their families and of home, I was reminded that I did not know where my home was.  I had no home without my parents, and I did not know where they were.  I was sure that if I had survived, they must have survived too and that they would find me!”

But as time passed, that hope became less and less tenable; if his parents were still alive, where were they, and why hadn’t they found him yet?  His mother, for her part, hadn’t given up looking for Tom—after all, wasn’t he ein Glückskind, a lucky child?  But the challenge of locating one small boy in war-ravaged Europe was almost insuperable.

As I have recently written (here), it was Tom’s decision to emigrate to Palestine, born of despair over his parents’ unknown status, that provided the key to his ultimate discovery and reunion with his mother, on December 29, 1946.

When Tom first learned that his mother was alive, earlier in the fall of 1946, and that the two would soon be reunited, he wrote those most poignant words:

“’She is alive!’ I kept repeating to myself.  It was the happiest moment of my life.  I began to cry and laugh all at once, casting off the self-control and tough-guy attitude I sought to cultivate at the orphanage.  I had a mother, and that meant that I could be a child again.”

II. It’s a Wonderful Life.

Clarence and George Bailey

This December also marks the 75th anniversary of one of my favorite movies: “It’s A Wonderful Life.”  I’ve written about the movie, and the power of serendipity, before (here).  It took George Bailey a visit from the angel Clarence to finally realize the important impact he had had on the lives of others.  I’m not sure if Odd Nansen ever wondered what impact his life—now perpetuated through the words of his inimitable diary—had on others.  I hope not.  His humanity in the crucible of a concentration camp has undoubtedly inspired others—myself included—to follow his example.  As Tom Buergenthal once told me, Nansen “not only saved my life, but also taught me to forgive.”

III. Sixth Distribution Goes Out

Recently, as is my yearly custom since From Day to Day first reappeared in print, I donated all my 2021 royalties and speaking fees: 50% to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and 50% to HL-senteret, the Norwegian Center for Holocaust and Minority Studies in Oslo.  To date these donations cumulatively total $22,369.04.

IV. Looking Ahead

Back on March 15, 2020, at the start of the pandemic, I compared the (rather minor) dislocations to our everyday life caused by COVID to the infinitely more terrible experiences of people like Odd Nansen and Tom Buergenthal (here)—and hoped their experiences could inspire us to overcome whatever challenges we might face.

Thus I think it appropriate to end this blog with the words Odd Nansen wrote on January 2, 1944, and the hope he was able to muster in a much darker place:

“[W]e bid it welcome, and once more fix our hopes, our burning wishes, and our ache of longing on the new year. . . .  [A]ll things considered there seems every reason to take a rather more cheerful view of things after all.”

Postscript: For all of you assembling your list of New Year’s Resolutions (lose weight, read more, argue less, look younger, exercise more, be smarter, etc.) let me suggest one more: “I’ll write that review of From Day to Day on Amazon that I promised Tim back in. . . .“  You’ll be glad you did! And for those who have already done so—Tusen Takk! (A Thousand Thanks!)

Cassin Young: Pearl Harbor Hero

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Pearl Harbor Memorial at Boston Navy Yard

Eighty years ago today the Empire of Japan attacked American forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Even today, eighty years later, the words “December 7” and “Pearl Harbor” generate strong emotions.  To use the words of one of my favorite authors, William Manchester, it was an event “which, in retrospect, seems to have been a kind of historical hinge; everything that been, no longer was, and everything that was to be, became.”

Ten years ago today I had the honor to be at Pearl Harbor at 7:55am, under a cloudless blue sky and a bright morning sun, when the tocsin tolled for those who were lost that day. The event was attended by many survivors who were eager to tell their stories—of exactly where they were, and exactly what they did on that fateful day—the memories still burned bright.

The highlight was a visit to the USS Arizona memorial.  At the far end of the memorial is a wall with the names of all the sailors on the Arizona who were killed on December 7, all inscribed on marble slabs.  Particularly poignant is a marble slab which was added later.  On it are engraved a handful of names as well.  These represent survivors of the attack on the Arizona who, fifty, sixty, even seventy years after the event, having lived a full life, still insisted that upon their death their ashes be added to the remains of their fallen comrades who lie entombed below.

December 7, 1941 produced many heroes.  Many of you know about Doris (Dorie) Miller, featured in the 2001 film, “Pearl Harbor.”

Cassin Young

I want to write about another hero of that day: Cassin Young.  Young, born in 1894 and a 1916 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was in command of the repair vessel USS Vestal, which was moored next to the Arizona on December 7, 1941.  Here’s what Richard Ketchum relates in his book, The Borrowed Years 1938-1941:

“The repair ship Vestal, with a complement of some six hundred men under Commander Cassin Young, was tied up alongside the Arizona.  The Vestal had already been hit by two bombs and was afire when the battleship blew up; the vacuum created by the explosion put out the fires on the repair vessel, but the concussion blasted overboard nearly one hundred men, including the skipper [Young].  Debris of every description—huge chunks of metal, unexploded shells, parts of human bodies—crashed down on the deck, and finally someone gave the order to abandon ship.  Before anyone went over the side an apparition appeared—a furious Commander Young, coated from head to foot with diesel oil from the water—demanding of the officer of the deck, ‘Where the hell do you think you’re going?’

‘We’re abandoning ship,’ the man replied.

‘You don’t abandon ship on me,’ Young announced, and the crew returned to battle stations.”

The citation for the Medal of Honor Young subsequently received further states: “Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Commander Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save the ship.”  This helped insure its ultimate salvage.

Less than one year later, on November 9, 1942, Cassin Young took command of the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco, which, interestingly, had also survived the attack on Pearl Harbor.  His command was short-lived: only four days later, during the naval battle of Guadalcanal, the San Francisco engaged with a superior Japanese force and Young was killed by enemy fire, one of 77 killed aboard the ship.  He was 48 years old.  In addition to his previous Medal of Honor, Young was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, the country’s second highest honor.  His Medal of Honor is now on display at the Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis.  I visited the museum several times while my older son, Owen Boyce (USNA 2003) was a Midshipman at the Naval Academy, but never saw it.  Now I have a reason to return.

USS Cassin Young

On December 31, 1943, a newly commissioned Fletcher-class destroyer was named after Cassin Young.  The ship saw action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and the Battle of Okinawa, where she was twice struck by kamikazes. Following her decommissioning she was permanently loaned to the National Park Service to be preserved as a floating memorial ship.  Since then she has been berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, part of the Boston National Historical Park, across from the USS Constitution.  In 1986 she was designated a National Historic Landmark, one of only four surviving Fletcher-class destroyers still afloat.

Today, one of the US Navy shuttle boats taking visitors to the USS Arizona Memorial, hull designation 39-3, is also, appropriately, named for Cassin Young.

My younger son, Patrick Boyce, is a US Park Service Ranger at the Boston National Historical Park, and regularly gives tours of the USS Cassin Young.  He has also prepared several fascinating and informative videos on the Cassin Young and its many components: Coming Aboard; Berthing; Meals and Water; Weapons Systems; Navigation and Communications; and Engineering and Propulsion.  Check them out, and please be sure to ask for him if you are ever visiting the Boston Navy Yard!

 

December 6, 1901: Odd Nansen’s Birthday

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Odd Nansen: Self-Portrait

Today is Odd Nansen’s 120th birthday.

Nansen has been described in many ways: humanitarian; architect; diarist; man of character.  In my Introduction to From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps, I use the same words Primo Levi used to describe his friend Alberto Dalla Volta, whom Levi credits with saving his life while Levi and Dalla Volta were together in Auschwitz: “I always saw, and still see in him, the rare figure of the strong yet peace-loving man against whom the weapons of night are blunted.”

Happy Birthday, Odd Nansen

(The preceding first appeared, in slightly different form, on December 6, 2015)

Happy Birthday, Fiskerjente

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Odd Nansen and Marit, 1930s

Today is Marit (Nansen) Greve’s birthday.  She would have been 93 years old.

Odd Nansen wrote about Marit in his diary on November 8, 1944, while in Sachsenhausen, using “fiskerjente,” meaning “fisher girl” as a term of endearment.  After all, she had often accompanied him in the prewar era when he went out fishing, something he greatly enjoyed.  Nansen worried in his diary that their long separation, and those crucial years in Marit’s young life—from age 13 to age 16—without her father, would cool her affection for him.

Nansen needn’t have worried.  Marit was the keeper of the flame, and throughout her long life worked diligently, but unobtrusively, at the Grini Museum and the Fram Museum, to ensure that her father’s and grandfather’s legacies would endure.  Without her help, the current edition of Odd Nansen’s diary would have been significantly poorer.

Marit passed away last March 26.  She had lived a long and full and productive life, spanning so many important years in the life of her country and her family.  She had left nothing undone.  It was her time to go.

Nevertheless, to borrow the same words her father wrote 77 years ago today: “But all the same I miss you badly, my little “fisher girl.”

Rare Archival Footage of Young Tom Buergenthal Located

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Otwock Orphanage

Seventy-six years ago today, Tom Buergenthal arrived at a Jewish orphanage in Otwock, Poland.  [Located 14 miles southeast of Warsaw, Otwock had been the site of a Jewish Ghetto earlier in the war.  By September 1942 the Ghetto’s inhabitants, numbering 12-15,000, had all been murdered.].  Tom had just spent the better part of 6+ months, since his liberation, traveling with the Scout Company of the 1st Kosciuszko Division, a Polish army division formed under Soviet auspices which had fought for months and participated in the fall of Berlin.

With his own cart and pony, and specially tailored military uniform, Tom was the division’s de facto mascot.  But with the war’s end, and the division back in Poland waiting to be demobilized, it was obvious that Tommy had no place, long-term, in such an organization, no matter how much they doted on him.  A sympathetic soldier, aware that Tom was Jewish (a fact which Tommy, understandably, was loath to publicize) located the orphanage in Otwock and made all the arrangements for Tom’s transfer to their care.

Tom was 11 years old.

In the preceding five years he had endured: the Kielce Ghetto; an Arbeitslager (a work camp) in Kielce; the Henryków work camp outside Kielce; Auschwitz Concentration Camp;  the Auschwitz Death March; and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp.

He had last seen his parents over a year ago; he had no idea of their whereabouts, or if they were even still alive.

He could neither read nor write.

Can anyone of us imagine—even for a moment—what it could have been like to be in his shoes at that point?

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting with Tom and his wife Peggy (our first post-COVID meeting).  As we talked, our subjects ranged over a wide variety of topics.  At some point Tom began to talk about life at Otwock, and how the orphanage tried to create a normal life for its young inhabitants, some of whom had survived in the camps; some of whom had survived in hiding; some of whom had survived under false identities; and some of whom simply had survived on their own when their parents were taken away or killed.

As Tom writes in his memoir A Lucky Child:

“It was here that I underwent a gradual transformation from being a perennially frightened and hungry camp inmate struggling to survive to an eleven-year-old child with a relatively normal life.  I enjoyed almost every minute of my stay at the orphanage.”

I asked Tom a simple question: did the orphanage still exist?  This question prompted Peggy to do a Google search.

What she found was nothing less than amazing.

An archival film, apparently shot in the summer of 1946, and now in the possession of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, showing life at Otwock.  Narrated in Yiddish and Hebrew, it shows clips of young children singing, being entertained by dancers, etc. And there was young Tom, now age 12, staring intently at the camera.

 In retrospect this is not altogether too surprising.  As Tom also relates in his memoir:

“Since I was the only one in the orphanage who had survived Auschwitz, I was frequently interviewed by journalists and trotted out to meet important visitors.  I even appeared occasionally in the newsreels that were shown in Polish movie houses in those pretelevision days.”

Here is the film.  Tom can be seen at 0:44; at 1:39 (he is in the second row, behind the girl with the hat); and at 2:22 (same).

We see shots of young Tommy, shirtless, looking healthy.  But one can’t help but notice that Tom is not really smiling, merely looking intently and seriously at the camera.  After all, it was not until September 1946—probably soon after this film was shot—that Tom finally learned for the first time that his mother was still alive (in fact he was mistakenly informed at the time that his “parents” were alive).  By the time this film was shot Tom had just about given up hope that he would ever be found and reunited with his parents, and had thus agreed to emigrate to Palestine.

Ironically, it was this decision—born of despair—that led to his name appearing on a list at the Jewish Agency of those wishing to emigrate.  In turn, this fact somehow—miraculously—caught the eye of someone at the Agency who had another list—a list of missing persons—with Tom’s name on it as well.  And that was how Tommy was finally found, and reunited with his mother.

It was then, and only then, that could he write: “[T]hat meant . . . I could be a child again.”

Before I left Tom and Peggy for the day, we played the film over and over several times.  In some of the images Tom could spot faces he remembered.  Even the words of the some of the songs came back to him.

Needless to say, it made for a very special, and very emotional, afternoon.

Thomas Buergenthal, Age 12

October 10, 1861: Fridtjof Nansen’s birthday.

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The following is an updated version of a blog I first posted in 2018.

Fridtjof Nansen

Today is Fridtjof Nansen’s 160th birthday.  I recently revisited the incredible account of his quest for the North Pole, Farthest North, in anticipation of a lecture I gave on the same subject.  The first time I had read it was back in 2010, soon after I discovered Odd Nansen’s diary and decided to get it re-published.  At the time Fridtjof Nansen’s exploits were totally new to me.

During my years of research on Odd Nansen I was frequently struck by the amazing similarities between Odd Nansen’s use of words and his father’s.  In my introduction to From Day to Day I wrote, “both father and son shared similar ideas and often used eerily similar language to express themselves.”  Throughout the text I highlight those instances of shared expression.

What struck me much more forcefully during this second reading of Farthest North was the growing sense of desperation Fridtjof Nansen experienced during his expedition, especially when he abandoned the safety of his ship, the Fram, and attempted, with only one other companion, some sled dogs, sledges and kayaks, to not only reach the North Pole, but then to return on the much longer trip back to civilization. After traveling for less than one month, Nansen concluded that his slow progress over rough ice and snow meant that he could not reach his goal with the food and daylight remaining, and he turned south.

This is when the real challenge began.  Heading toward “the recently discovered and sketchily mapped” Franz Joseph Land, Nansen and Hjalmar Johansen encountered all sorts of difficulties.   Here’s what Nansen confided to his diary on May 17, 1895 (May 17 being a particularly important date in the Norwegian calendar):

“And here we are in drifting ice, not knowing exactly where we are, uncertain as to our distance from an unknown land, and where we hope to find means of sustaining life and thence carve our way on towards home, with two teams of dogs whose number and strength diminish day by day, with ice and water between us and our goal which may cause us untold trouble, with sledges which now, at any rate, are too heavy for our own powers.  We press laboriously onward mile by mile; and meanwhile, perhaps, the drift of the ice is carrying us westward out to sea, beyond the land we are striving for.”

Almost two months later (July 11, 1895), nothing had improved:

“No sign of land in any direction and no open water, and now we should be in the same latitude as Cape Fligely, or at most a couple of minutes farther north.  We do not know where we are, and we do not know when this will end.  Meanwhile our provisions are dwindling day by day, and the number of our dogs is growing seriously less.  Shall we reach land while we yet have food, or shall we, when all is said, ever reach it?  It will soon be impossible to make any way against this ice and snow.  The latter is only slush; the dogs sink through at every step, and we ourselves splash through it up above our knees when we have to help the dogs or take a turn at the heavy sledges, which happens frequently.  It is hard to go on hoping in such circumstances, but still we do so; though sometimes, perhaps, our hearts fail us when we see the ice lying before us like an impenetrable maze. . . .”

Nansen would ultimately reach land in the Franz Josef archipelago before winter began—but too late to reach civilization.  The setting sun necessitated overwintering for another eight months, enduring sub-zero temperatures in a hastily constructed, primitive hut fashioned of rough stone walls and a roof made of polar bear and walrus hides.

In June 1896, just days before Nansen accidentally stumbled upon Englishman Frederick Jackson, and rescue, he had one final, terrible ordeal—jumping into the frigid waters to retrieve the kayaks which had drifted away from shore.  Nansen wrote: “when the gusts of wind came they seemed to go right through me as I stood there in my thin, wet woolen shirt.  I shivered, my teeth chattered, and I was numb almost all over.”

Forty-seven years later, Odd Nansen stood out on the appellplatz—the roll call square—of Sachsenhausen, observing Christmas Day.  He wrote: “I stood there [in the square] a long, long time; how long I don’t know. . . .  Certainly I shed a few tears, pitiful and lost in my rags, out there in the dark.”

I have often wondered how Odd Nansen kept going when things seemed to be at their bleakest, and the war dragged interminably on.  What resources did he draw upon?  He must have been well aware of his father’s exploits, and undoubtedly knew the story of Farthest North quite well.  When his heart failed, did he recall his own father’s struggles–against doubt, uncertainty, the unknown, the long odds facing him, and find the inspiration he needed, like his father, to prevail?

Farthest North and From Day to Day, both based on diaries, together show how a person can prevail against even the toughest challenges, one created by Mother Nature, the other by the evil nature of man.  They both need to be read, and re-read, for their inspiring lessons.

Wow! A New Play Based on Nansen’s Diary!

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No sooner than I had just finished posting a new blog describing my recent article in the Scandinavian Review about Odd Nansen and his art world, featuring fellow Grini prisoner Per Krohg, among others, I learned yesterday about a new play called “The Bøyg,” written by A.J. Ditty.  According to Ditty, the ostensible protagonist in the play is the very same Per Krohg, and the play’s action is derived from diary entries in Odd Nansen’s From Day to Day: One Man’s Diary of Survival in Nazi Concentration Camps.  Ditty calls Nansen’s diary “an extremely important primary text for this play.”

The Bøyg will be performed tomorrow, September 26 at the Stockbridge Theater in Derry, NH at 2pm.

Ditty describes his play as “a lot about making art in isolation.” It focuses on events described by Nansen in his diary in late December, 1942.  At the time the prisoners were preparing to celebrate Christmas—the first Christmas many of them will have ever observed in prison, and they struggle to preserve a sense of home.

The Bøyg is an amorphous character (really, just a voice) in Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt.  Published by Ibsen in 1867 and first performed in 1876, with musical accompaniment by Edvard Grieg, it remains one of the most widely performed Norwegian plays.

Henrik Ibsen

Ibsen based his verse play loosely on an earlier Norwegian folktale, Per Gynt.  In my article in the Scandinavian Review, I focus on Norway’s “tightly interconnected web of artists.”  That web—and the Lysaker Circle I describe—also included writers as well.  The Per Gynt folktale was first recorded and collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen.  Asbjørnsen also collaborated with Jørgen Moe in a collection of Norwegian folktales which became so famous it was simply referred to as “Asbjørnsen and Moe.”  Who illustrated Asbjørnsen and Moe?  None other than Erik Werenskiold, Fridtjof Nansen’s friend and neighbor, and a leading member of the Lysaker Circle.  Tightly interconnected indeed.

Ditty was recently interviewed by New Hampshire Public Radio about his play, which interview can be heard in full here.

Serendipity strikes again!

Upcoming Events

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Book Signings

  • May 19, 2022: Bat Shalom Hadassah, Jackson, NJ
  • October 18, 2022: Shalom Club, Great Notch, NJ

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On This Date

< 2022 >
January
  • 10

    All day
    Jan 10, 2022-Jan 03, 2023
    All identification cards of Jews in Norway ordered to be stamped with "J"
  • 13

    All day
    Jan 13, 2022-Jan 06, 2023
    Odd Nansen arrested, sent to Grini Prison
  • 17

    All day
    Jan 17, 2022-Jan 10, 2023
    Thomas Buergenthal starts Auschwitz Death March
  • 20

    All day
    Jan 20, 2022-Jan 13, 2023
    Wannsee Conference to coordinate "the Final Solution to the Jewish problem"
  • 30

    All day
    Jan 30, 2022-Jan 22, 2023
    Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany
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