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Dance to the Unknown 1

Freda Isaksen

I was just a typical average English girl of 21 with no particular accomplishments although I had been trained at a professional school of dress design and was employed in that field just a very short time. Most of my friends were my own cousins because we were a large family who were closely attached to one another. Our parents were very protective of their daughters, not one of us did anything memorable so I expected that I would follow the usual pattern with a life of mediocrity. We had all been raised with the expectation that a girl would end up being a housewife. I never imagined that a very commonplace act of opening a newspaper would evolve into a life of unexpected consequences.

Saturday evening can be traumatic for a young girl if there is no date or special activity to look forward to so she has to remedy the situation. This particular Saturday I searched through the weekly Jewish Chronicle and saw advertised a dance to be held at Boot’s Café in Regent Street in London. I called a school friend to ask if she would accompany me, she too was alone that evening, so we dressed in our best clothes suitable for dancing. Jeans and tee shirts were not customary in those days, girls wore pretty midlength dresses for an evening out. We boarded public transportation for the ride to the West End and to the dance hall.

The café was on the second floor and as we stepped into the elevator two young men followed us in, as the doors closed the two males and the two females eyed one another coyly. If we two girls had taken an earlier or a later bus, if I had chosen another event or even just stayed at home that day, my life would have turned out completely differently. Maybe it was fate that led me, whatever it was my life was set for the future in that one minute in the elevator.

One of the young men was tall and handsome, the other squat and round, not at all my type so of course I was attracted to the former. After a few minutes of standing alone with my girlfriend in the dance hall the less attractive man approached me and asked to dance. He was better than no partner at all so I accepted. As we danced he explained that he was visiting from Norway, after a few more turns on the dance floor he asked if I would accompany him for a few days and show him the sights of London. The only reason I agreed was because I was mercenary as he bragged that he had a fine business back home and had plenty of money to spend on this vacation. I thought I’d have a good time out of this encounter and let him spend his money on me. His companion ignored me completely much to my disappointment.

So the next days were spent visiting the well known historical places of London with my Norwegian escort. He was a pleasant companion, a perfect gentleman who spared no expense to have a good time, then we said goodbye as he had to return to his home in another country. I had no regrets at his departure and intended to go on with my everyday routine as in the past.

However very soon afterwards the other young man, Micael, telephoned me much to my surprise. He too was a Norwegian and said that his friend had told him that I was fun to be with and asked if I would meet him for a date. He explained that he was in London as a student at a school for men’s clothing design, he had no money for frivolities and would I consider just going for a walk and a cup of tea at Lyon’s Corner House. I assumed that his friend had told him I was an expensive date so he was protecting his pocket-book. Because I had been attracted to him in the elevator I agreed to meet him.

There followed several days of walking around the city with only an occasional cup of tea for refreshment. I thought he was probably hungry so I invited him to my home for a meal cooked by my mother who tried to fatten him up with lokshen kugel and chicken soup. He walked to my house several times, a distance of a few miles from where he was living in a boarding house. It was obvious that his monetary resources were very low.

He was charming and well liked by my family who felt compassion for a lonely foreigner so we were all sorry when he said that his course at the school was completed and he would return to Norway. I must admit I was more sorry than anyone else, I had enjoyed his company although I could foresee no future with him because of his unstable financial position. As a temporary diversion it was enjoyable. He explained that he had a business of his own which was being neglected while he was in London learning how to improve it. The reason why he was short of money was because his brother was sending a monthly sum from the business resources and sometimes it was late coming from another country. My family were somewhat skeptical of this information.

The two of us parted and I never expected to see him again, but shortly thereafter I received a letter inviting me to come to Norway for a vacation. He offered that I could stay with his mother and wrote that he was sure his large family would welcome me. I thought this would be a great adventure and announced my plan of travel to my parents. My father and mother were shocked and adamantly refused to give permission. From their point of view I had befriended a penniless young man who could be telling a bunch of lies and luring me into undesirable possibilities. No way would they allow me to accept his invitation.

Possibly I didn’t understand my own adventurous nature, I had led a very sheltered life, but I was equally adamant that I would seize this opportunity and I would go. When my father finally understood that I was determined to disobey him he insisted that he would accompany me. I was not pleased to have him as a chaperone but I was forced to consent. Otherwise I was not allowed to go.

At that time travel was not as prevalent as in later years so this turn of events was the surprise and gossip of my whole large family. How could I be influenced by a foreign stranger?

My father and I left England and crossed the stormy North Sea by ship, no airplane travel was available then to Norway, he was furious the whole journey as we both suffered with seasickness, he threatened me with dire punishment if we should ever get back home again. The only thing that pleased him was seeing the twenty-four hours of daylight on the train ride from Bergen to Trondheim. Otherwise the constant scowl on his face scared me as I thought of the disappointment and shame if this venture turned out to be a disaster and there was no young man with an established business at the end of our journey.

When we arrived at our destination everything was as Micael promised, there was a family of nine brothers and their wives and children, two sisters, and a widowed mother who did indeed welcome us and urged me to stay the whole summer. After one week when my father was assured of my safety he returned to England after speaking to the local rabbi and urging him to keep an eye on me. I was left to reside with that wonderful lady who became like a mother to me. Although we could not converse as I spoke no Norwegian, I lived in her home for three months and of course by that time her son and I had become more than just good friends, so when he proposed marriage I was glad to accept.

I sent a letter telling my family that I had decided to make my home in Norway and would be married there, they immediately replied by cablegram that they had arranged for our wedding in London for a specific date and they insisted that I return to be married with my family in attendance and from my own home. I felt an obligation to please my parents, besides the fact that it would be to my advantage materially. So I obeyed their wishes and made the return journey to England, then a few weeks later my husband to be, some of his brothers, and his mother came for the wedding. I became a Norwegian citizen upon my marriage as I expected to live in that country for the rest of my life. I had come to love Norway, the beauty of the scenery, and the people I had met.

After my marriage I adjusted very well to my new circumstances and learned the language in a very few months and was very happy.

Unfortunately for myself, my new family, and for thousands of my fellow countrymen, our lives were not to continue as the peaceful years we had anticipated. Who could have foreseen the tragedy and horror that war and the invasion of our country by Germany would bring to us?

As a young girl I had been loved and surrounded by two good families, then I became estranged and sometimes alone in yet another country Sweden until I was able to emigrate and make a new home in America with my husband and baby son. But we had survived the holocaust, we were alive and never despaired. We looked forward because the possibilities are always there to start over again.

Footnotes

  1. For the context of this story, see Freda's Autobiography.


Copyright Freda Isaksen 1986–2006. Permission to reuse for non-commercial purposes is granted, provided that the text is unaltered and the original source is acknowledged. For more information, contact isaksen at math.wayne.edu.

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