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The Isaksen Family History

Freda Isaksen

Contents

Foreword
Ancestry of the Isaksen Family
The Next Generation
History of Leonard and Rebekka’s Eleven Children
Postscript
Footnotes

Foreword

Now in 1986 I have come to Norway for the fourth time since I left the country in 1940. As I sit and talk to the family it comes to mind that it is just fifty years ago that I first came to Trondheim in 1936 and exactly one hundred years since the first ancestor of the Isaksen family came to Trondheim.

We realize that our time on this earth is limited, and when we are gone, who will know of the family history? Who will tell of the events that led up to the present time? Someone must leave our story for posterity. Maybe the task is mine. At least I will try with the help of Rudolf, the eldest living Isaksen at this time, who remembers most of the family. It is my wish that this saga of the Isaksen family shall be dedicated to Rudolf Isaksen.

Ancestry of the Isaksen Family

There was a large Dworsky family living in Ratstig in Suwalki, Poland in the 1800’s. At that time world history tells us that the boundaries between Russia and Poland were constantly changing. Therefore, it is uncertain whether the Dworsky family actually left Russia or Poland. Either way, there was compulsory conscription into military service, and when a Jewish boy was called to serve in the army, it meant twenty-five years of service if he ever returned alive. Because of pogroms, no Jew loved his country enough to be inducted willingly, so many of the Dworsky family emigrated in order to escape conscription and persecution. It is known that some went to America, and there is evidence of the Dworskys in New York today who bear the same names as the present generation in Norway. But our main interest is of those who emigrated to Scandinavia.

Two brothers, Hirsh and Asriel Berl, chose to go to Sweden in approximately 1870 because they had very little money, and Sweden was close and rather inexpensive to reach from Poland. They were accompanied by two sisters, Jospa (b. 1850, d. 13 December 19351) and Sarah, and their husbands.

Jospa had married Samuel Krasnipolsky (b. 1855, d. 22 March 1914) in Poland. Evidently the name Krasnipol means red meadow, named for the red poppies which grow in that area. There is still a town today near the Russian border called Krasnopol. It is believed that the town stems its name from the owner of a large estate on that site named Krasnipolsky. It was the custom for the tenants of the estate to retain the owner’s name, so the family of Samuel Krasnipolsky must have worked on the estate.

Samuel was several years younger than Jospa and only about fifteen years old when they were wed. It was undoubtedly an arranged marriage, and the story is told that after the marriage ceremony, he went out to play marbles with his young boyfriends. However, he was mature enough to father two children, Rebekka (b. 1873, d. 27 December 1950) and a son who died in infancy.

The Dworsky family settled in Karlstad, Sweden, and earned a living as peddlers. There the two brothers married Shana Rachel and Marie Klein who were also both immigrants from Poland. In 1886 they moved to Trondheim, Norway because they had heard that during the fishing season in central and northern Norway the fishermen prospered and were anxious to buy merchandise. They opened a store on Olav Tryggvasons Gate. As other immigrants came to settle in Norway the Dworskys prospered as they gave the newcomers merchandise on credit to enable them in turn to become peddlers. So Trondheim became the permanent residence of the Dworsky family. Another brother Moses immigrated to Norway about the turn of the century.

Until 1881 no Jews had been allowed to reside in Norway, but in that year the constitution was changed. This change was largely due to the efforts of Henrik Wergeland in behalf of the Jewish populations who were being persecuted in Europe.

The Jews were a new phenomenon in Norway. Most people had never seen a person of that faith. Their appearance was strange to this Nordic country, and people thought that the peyes or forelocks were horns. In fact, stories were told of Norwegians approaching the Jews and asking to see their horns.

There is a book in publication by Judith Vogt that depicts caricatures printed in the 1500’s. Jews are shown with horns and associating with the devil. Undoubtedly these caricatures were in circulation in those days and gave rise to the superstition. These prints were again reproduced in Germany by the Nazis in the 1930-40’s.

The Jewish newcomers did, however, provide a service that was needed. They travelled around with their wares to the outlying villages. Because it was difficult to obtain clothing and necessities in these distant villages, the villagers welcomed and accepted the Jews. The Jews gladly sold while the villagers gladly bought. At this time there was virtually no anti-semitism in Norway.

Our story concerns and continues with Jospa, who became known as Josefina, and Samuel Krasnipolsky and their offspring. Samuel had earned a living in Trondheim as a mechanic. He was also a craftsman, inventor, and clockmaker. The family tells of his efforts to build a perpetual motion wheel. He invented a drill which was accepted and used in the drilling and dynamiting of the tunnel built between Oslo and Bergen. He was undoubtedly a multi-talented man, but all of his efforts did not bring financial success. He eventually became a peddler and merchant.

Their daughter, Rebekka, was born in Sovalka, Poland 2 and was four years old when she left with her parents. She remembered and told of their poverty in Poland and recalled the dirt floors of their cottage. It was her duty to sweep out the loose soil that accumulated there. Rebekka was of the first generation of Jewish children to receive an education in a Norwegian school. She attended Trondheim’s private girls school. She met Leonard Isaksen (b. 1869, d. 3 December 1927) in Trondheim.

Leonard had emigrated from Poland 3 as Leonard Savosnik, but there were already several Savosniks in Norway, so to avoid confusion he changed his name to Isaksen because his father’s name had been Isak. Little is known of Leonard’s background except that he was a half-brother to Micael Savosnik. He could not read or write Norwegian. He conversed mostly in Yiddish, so Rebekka took him under her wing and taught him the language. They married, but because they were both very orthodox, they travelled to Göteborg in Sweden so that their marriage could be performed by an orthodox rabbi. They were the first Jewish couple to wed in Northern Norway. The year was 1891.

Leonard was a peddler, and when Gravhals tunnelen was completed and the railroad built to connect Oslo and Bergen, they moved to Bergen where they opened a store. Their son Isak and Josefina and Samuel accompanied them. The family was very unhappy in Bergen because there were no other Jewish families there for them to associate with. It was very important for them to live as orthodox Jews. So after four years elapsed, they returned to Trondheim where many Jewish families had settled.

Isador, Rudolf, Wolf, and David were born in Bergen. Karl, Bernard, and Micael were born after their return to Trondheim. Rosa was the first daughter. Micael tells that when Rosa was born, he was sent to tell the friends and neighbors of the birth of a daughter. No one could believe that finally a girl had arrived, so he was sent back to be sure that the news was correct. 4 Then came Hirsh and lastly Golda. In all, fifteen children were born to Rebekka and Leonard. Eleven children grew to adulthood.

Leonard again returned to peddling but later opened a store on Søndre Gate 25 where he sold men’s clothing. He had been successful peddling in Meråker so they purchased a piece of land there and opened a store. All of the brothers travelled back and forth to attend this store in the summer months. Rebekka also tended the store in Meråker. There was an American copper mining company close by so there was plenty of business. When the railroad built a station in Meråker, extra opportunity was provided for Leonard and Rebekka to support their large family.

Leonard and Rebekka had many residences in Trondheim until they purchased a building at Innherredsveien 25. It had housing adequate for them all in the front, and some of the apartments in the rear they rented out. There was also a store below. It had no bath facilities, and the toilet was an outhouse in the rear. The family took weekly baths in a communal bathhouse in the city. The children remember when an electric water heater was installed in the kitchen to make life a little easier. In the late 1930’s, an indoor toilet and bathroom were installed mostly for the comfort of Rebekka. By then, most of the family had married and moved away.

As the eldest sons of Leonard and Rebekka grew to adulthood, no one considered giving them an education other than the seven years of public school. Only the youngest son Hirsh would attend the university. All of the boys started to work and help their father in his store, and as the years went by, they opened their own stores selling men’s clothing.

Samuel died in 1914, his wife Josefina in 1935, Leonard in 1928, and Rebekka in 1951. Rebekka was a very kind and warm hearted women, and all her children treated her with great respect and love. After the death of her husband Leonard, she always, until her death, wore only black mourning clothing. Their marriage was truly a love match. It is terrible to think that after such a hard and toil filled life as hers, she had to endure in her old age the agony of leaving her home because of persecution and to know the distresses and deaths of her children and grandchildren through persecution.

The Next Generation

In those days there was a large number of Jewish youth because mostly all of the settlers had large families. Today it seems hard to believe that there was an all-Jewish soccer team in Trondheim. There were also ski competitions held yearly between Jewish teams in Trondheim and those in Oslo. These were held alternately in the two cities.

Micael Isaksen was one of the organizers of the sports teams. He held the position of president of the Youth Club.

Approximately three hundred Jews lived in Northern Norway before 1940. This is not including Oslo. After the war and the holocaust, many were killed. After 1945 the youth had the desire to leave for the larger cities of Scandinavia. Today only about one hundred Jews live in Northern Norway.

Many recollections are brought to mind by the sons, enough to write a book in itself. Some events are worth mentioning to help understand the growth of the family.

It was Rebekka who disciplined the family. Leonard was soft-hearted, and when his wife was about to inflict punishment, he would put on his hat and leave the house. One night the teenage Micael came home well past midnight against his mother’s orders and found her waiting in his bed, ready to reprimand him. Another time she met David in the street accompanied by a girl who she deemed unsuitable. So she hit the girl over the head with an umbrella.

The methods and rituals of preparing the kosher meals are also worth mentioning. Chickens had to be slaughtered according to religious custom in order to be kosher. They purchased the live chickens and kept them in a kitchen closet until the rabbi came to kill them. Med, which was a type of alcoholic drink resembling beer, was made by Rebekka and Josefina to be used at the Passover seder. It was made of a grain called hops, and the preparation started months before Passover in order for it to ferment. It was quite potent. Eingemacht was constantly on the table. It was a very spicy preserve made of beets in large pots. Kosher meat was brought in by the rabbi from Sweden and Denmark where the ritual slaughtering was allowed. It was ground at home to make sausages. The grinding machine was operated manually by the boys, and various spices were added to help preserve the meat. They also pickled cucumbers in large vats, but Josefina supervised that no woman would touch the vegetable while she menstruated as she believed that this would cause the brine to curdle.

History of Leonard and Rebekka’s Eleven Children

Isak (b. 19 April 1893, d. 30 November 1956) left Trondheim and lived in Stockholm, Sweden where he married Bloma Lindenthal. They begot five children named Samuel, twins Maurice and Joseph, Rakel, and Jenny. It was hard for Bloma to raise such a large family so the children would often be sent to Trondheim where they stayed with their Grandmother Rebekka. This allowed the children to gain a strong family bonding. The marriage was however unfortunate, and they separated. Isak returned to Trondheim alone, becoming somewhat shiftless for the remainder of his life. His children remained with their mother and still live in Sweden. Rakel married Dr. Leif Hirsh of Trondheim.

Wolf (b. 14 May 1895) was employed by his father and later by his brothers. For a short time he was in partnership with Karl. There were different types and personalities amongst the brothers. Wolf was one of the kind and helpful-natured sons. He did not marry and was not able to escape from Norway during the occupation. He was shot by the Germans at the same time as his brother David.

Isidor (b. 2 November 1896) was at first employed by a firm of textile manufacturers. He married Rosa Dworsky, his cousin, and worked for the Dworsky family. This business went bankrupt, and Isidor bought a store on Søndre Gate 27. His children were Gerd (b. 25 August 1925), 5 Leonard (b. 11 November 1928), and Harry (b. 5 July 1932). He was at one time foreman of the Jewish congregation. When the Nazis entered Norway, Isidor and his family left and lived a short time in Stockholm. They unfortunately made the terrible mistake of returning to Trondheim. All of the family was deported and did not survive. They died at Auschwitz.

David (b. 7 May 1896) started his own store in Brattørgata. He married a girl from Oslo whose name was Adele Isachsen but of no relation. They resided in an apartment over their store. They bore two children, Kurt and Irene. David and his family also went to Stockholm at the start of the occupation and mistakenly returned to Trondheim. He was shot by the Germans for the crime of listening to short wave radio. Adele and the children escaped to Sweden. After the war she married Alfred Rimberg, a refugee from Europe. The two children never married. Kurt reopened his father’s store but converted it to a music store where he sells records, tapes, etc. He and his sister have retained their parents’ summer home in Hundhammeren near Trondheim. Irene’s home is in Stockholm.

Rudolf (b. 10 April 1900, d. 13 July 1986) opened his store on Søndre Gate which he operated until his flight from Trondheim during the Nazi occupation. He later returned to Trondheim and married Inge Epstein. When life became disastrous for the Jews, he left again for Stockholm. In the middle of the winter he and Inge travelled across Norway on skis to Storlien. They had to hide several times in open freezing weather to escape detection by the Germans. It was in Storlien that they heard the shocking news that Wolf and David had been shot. After the war, they returned to Trondheim with their son Idar who was born in Sweden, and Wencke was later born in Trondheim. Both children later moved to Oslo where they married.

Rudolf like Wolf inherited a kind nature. He was active in Jewish affairs and also became foreman of the synagogue in Trondheim where he helped to teach the younger generation in religious education. To this day he and Inge observe orthodox rituals in their home including the dietary laws.

Karl (b. 9 December 1902, d. 29 June 1987) also opened a store on Søndre Gate. He remained unmarried and took over his father’s store after Leonard’s death. He was in partnership with Wolf for a time, and they renamed the store Leonard Isaksen’s Sonner. He survived the war by escaping to Sweden. Karl returned to Trondheim after 1945, but suffered ill health most of his life. He is now living in a pensioners home in Trondheim. He once had a summer home in Vikhammer which he sold. Much of the family had at one time owned summer homes in Vikhammer, now a part of Trondheim, where they spent the summer months together.

Bernard (b. 19 August 1904, d. 11 April 1959) owned yet another men’s outfitting store. He married Minna Fisher (b. 11 August 1905, d. 21 October 1996), and they had three children named Liv, Harriet, and Arve. They too left Trondheim for Sweden in 1940 with their two daughters, but returned during the occupation and later escaped again to Sweden. Arve was born after the war. Bernard, although he survived the war, died at an early age in 1959. The children live in Oslo except for Harriet who lives in Sweden with her husband.

Bernard was a most lovable and helpful person. Also he was foreman of the synagogue at one time in Trondheim. He and Minna always kept a kosher home. Like some of his brothers, he owned a summer home in Vikhammer.

Micael 6 was probably the most restless of the Isaksen sons. He learned to become a master tailor and was in fact one of the first Jews in Norway to earn a certificate as a master craftsman. In Norway the law requires that a person be proficient in their chosen craft. He wished either to learn more or to know more about life so he travelled to Germany in 1928. He worked there for six months. When he returned to Trondheim, he opened the store in Innherredsveien 25 which was part of his parents’ building, but again he felt dissatisfied and went to England to learn more about his trade.

In England he met and married Freda Trachtenberg, Rebekka, Isidor, and Rudolf attended the wedding in London. Because of her religious beliefs, Rebekka never in all her life ate anything but strictly kosher food. It was a major undertaking for her to travel to London in 1936 to attend her son Micael’s wedding. Although the Trachtenbergs were also orthodox and no non-kosher foods were served, Rebekka would only partake of a glass of water. They returned to Trondheim, and Micael opened a store on Olav Tryggvasons Gate called Engelsk Skredderi [English Tailoring]. This venture was not too successful so he reopened the store in Indherredsveien 25, and they lived in an apartment on Stadsing Dahls Gate.

Freda left Trondheim with the family in 1940 when the Germans invaded. She, along with Rebekka and Golda, took the last train which the Germans allowed to cross the border at Storlien, Sweden. When it was apparent that Norway would remain occupied, Micael also left. He had to cross the country on skis with his brother Rudolf who was single at the time. They met up with the family in Haland near the border.

The brothers tell that when they were close to the border they saw troops on skis coming towards them. From the distance they could not tell if they were German soldiers. The two brothers realized that if these men were German soldiers, they would be arrested and probably shot for the illegal act of trying to leave the country. As they came closer they recognized the Swedish military uniforms, and they were escorted across to safety.

Micael became employed in Stockholm and did not return to Norway. Instead he and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1941. Micael was inducted into the United States Army in 1944 and, therefore, became an American citizen. He was with the American forces in the Philippine Islands.

Three sons were born to Freda and Micael. Leif was born in Stockholm and Leonard and John in Los Angeles. All of them now reside in California and are married.

Rosa (b. 7 July 1896) grew up in Trondheim as the first girl in a family of eight boys. She married Jack Meiranofsky, lived in Oslo, and bore Elinor, her only child. When the Germans invaded, they remained there. Rosa died at the age of thirty-two of a brain cancer undoubtedly aggravated by the war. Jack and Elinor were deported.

It is sad to relate that upon Rosa’s death Jack left Elinor in the care of a friendly policeman. This friend warned Jack that there were orders to arrest him. He urged him to escape and assured him that he would care for the child, but who could understand the cruelty of a Nazi? Jack did not leave, his mother took Elinor to her home, and all were sent to the German concentration camp.

Hirsh (b. 23 August 1911, d. 30 March 1990) was the only child of Leonard and Rebekka to attend the university. He began his education in dentistry in Germany but was forced to leave there when the Nazis came into power. He returned to Norway and attended medical school. He then was able to receive his degree in dentistry.

In 1940 he left for Sweden where he married Anna Fink (b. 5 June 1919, d. 8 December 1979). He went to England without her as a Norwegian officer in the armed forces. Upon his return after the war, he and Anna settled in Trondheim where two sons were born. Lennart and Rolf were their names. Hirsh practiced dentistry there, later extended his education in Sweden, and finally became a dental surgeon. He then returned to practice in Trondheim. Anna later took courses in dentistry in order to help her husband in the office.

Anna died in 1979 after a lengthy illness. Hirsh (always called Hershel) also inherited a kind nature which was evident in three brothers, and like them he owned a summer home in Vikhammer which he has retained.

Golda (b. 14 August 1918, d. 2 March 1998), the youngest child, escaped with her mother to Stockholm at the start of the occupation. They remained there throughout the war because Golda was unwell at the time. This fact probably saved her life as well as Rebekka’s. They probably would have returned home, otherwise, to follow the family.

She married Oskar Abrahamsen (b. 20 August 1913, d. 25 March 1991) who was a widower with one child, Tova. Two children were born to them, Stieg and Iselyn. Both of them live in Oslo.

Postscript

I came to Trondheim as Micael’s wife in September of 1936 and lived amongst the Isaksen family until April 1940. After our flight from Norway, I actually lived under the same roof with many of them for several weeks in Sweden. As can be expected, they had their arguments, quarrels, disagreements, and faults, but they were always together as a family. During happy times they celebrated together, and throughout adversity and sorrow they gave one another help and comfort.

Because of war time conditions, Micael and I became separated from the family. I regret that we were not able to continue to live amongst them. The loss of their companionship has created a vacuum in our lives. Yet I know that any time I return to visit them I will be welcomed with great love, and as long as there are Isaksens living in Trondheim, there will continue to be family assemblies.

Footnotes

  1. These birth and death dates, as well as all other such dates in this story, are taken directly from inscriptions in the Jewish cemetery in Trondheim.
  2. According to Norwegian census data from 1900, Rebekka was born in Luvalki in Rus Polen in 1869.
  3. According to Norwegian census data from 1900, Leonard was born in Ragki in Rus Polen in 1869.
  4. For a more lively account of this incident, see A Small Tribe.
  5. Gerd’s fate is the subject of There Is a Secret Corner in My Heart.
  6. For more about Micael and Freda, 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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