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Where Did They Come From? Why Did They Leave? Who Are We?

Liv Bakken

Translated by Freda Isaksen

Bernhard and Minna: One Hundred Years 2004 and 2005

On 11 August 2005 my mother Minna would have been 100 years old and on 19 August 2004 my father Bernhard would have been 100 years old.

We, their three children, Arve, Harriet and Liv, want to remember them and write about their lives and personalities as well as we can to be correct.

The times and traditions they grew up in and continued in their own way do not exist today. Nevertheless we will stress that the values they gave us through their Jewish faith are important for us in general and are valuable during a time when many different cultures live together.

This is written for children and grandchildren to remember their grandparents and great grandparents from Trondheim.

Where Did They Come From?

Jews did not have permission to live in Norway before 1814. Thanks to the intense interest and work of Henrik Wergeland the so-called Jewish antagonism was eliminated in 1851. But it took decades before a significant number of Jews emigrated to Norway.

But in the 1880’s many Jews came to Norway. They settled in Christiania and Trondheim. They existed by trading goods and many started commerce in Northern Norway.

We believe that our father and mother’s relatives came from places in Poland and Lithuania. There they lived in small villages where other Jews lived. They were handworkers or tradesmen and they grew vegetables for their own use. Maybe they also had small animals.

But why did they leave Poland and Lithuania? How long did they live there? We cannot have an answer to these questions. We only know what history tells us.

The following is taken from A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson.

Even before the year 0, the Jews left Palestine. Many settled in the Middle East countries. Later on they were called Sephardic in contrast to those who went to Germany and Eastern Europe who were called Ashkenazi and joined the Jewish people in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. In Spain the Jews had good relations with both Muslims and Christians. A rich cultural life existed in the Middle Ages and it continued until the Inquisition at the end of the 1400’s. Those who were not killed either converted to Christianity or left for other countries in Europe. In South and West Europe the Jews received special privileges because they could loan money to the local citizens or they paid special taxes to the government. But very often they were forced to live in ghettos or special districts with restrictions and reservations for their livelihood, and from time to time because officials changed, their privileges changed. And they had to move away. They also had to wear special clothing. Their existence always depended on moneylending and business. They were not allowed to enter any other means of working. Therefore they developed a talent for economics and business.

As far back as Hellenic times Jews were drawn to countries around the Black Sea. Therefore they came to Eastern Europe, especially to Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania. In the Middle Ages Jews were instrumental in the colonising process in these countries (especially Poland) where the population and rural growth was taking place, including the Jews. During the 1500’s and 1600’s a great economic expansion in Europe was developing which had a big influence for Jews.

In the year 1500 there were twenty to thirty thousand Jews in Poland in a total population of five million. Seventy-five years later there were 150,000 Jews in a total population of seven million.

Our ancestors could have come from the Black Sea through Central Europe. They had no protection from laws concerning their religious rights but they observed their religion even though they had always lived under difficult circumstances because of their religious beliefs. The rabbis were their lawgivers and judges.

Why Did Our Ancestors Go to Norway?

In the 1880’s there were many pogroms instigated by the Russians against the Jews in Poland, Lithuania and Russia. It was an uncertain situation. Besides there was bad feeling amongst the populace and bad economic conditions that made it wise to leave for America, Western Europe and Scandinavia.

They came to Norway through either Sweden or England and had nothing with them of any monetary wealth. But they managed, learned the language and traded, at first with needed goods. It helped to have children in school, children who quickly learned the language. At home they spoke Yiddish, but as time elapsed they spoke Norwegian.

Our grandparents’ friends were families like themselves. So they felt secure. They ate kosher meat, especially slaughtered, imported from Sweden and Denmark. In Norway it was not allowed to slaughter animals in accordance with Jewish laws. As minorities it was important to observe Jewish traditions. To marry out of the faith was the same as to abandon the family, at least until the Second World War.

Bernhard’s Background and Youth

Our ancestors on father’s side came from Russian Poland. Our great grandfather came from Suwalki. His name was Samuel Sarach Krasnapolsky (1857-1914). Our great grandmother Josefina born Dworsky (1857-1935) was born in the little town of Ratskij in the same state as Samuel. It is unknown when Samuel came to Norway but in the registrars office it states that Josefina came to Norway in 1886. She had Rebekka with her (1873-1935). Samuel was a mechanic, watchmaker and inventor and became a businessman. He is listed in the archives as a watchmaker in 1890. He received a business license in 1891. The couple lived in Bergen for some years then moved to Trondheim where Rebekka attended a private girls school.

Rebekka married Leonard in 1891. Leonard (1870-1927) came to Norway in 1886 and settled in Steinkjær with his half brother Mikael Savosnick. We believe that he changed his name to Isaksen. In the archives of 1890 he is listed as a businessman.

Rebekka and Leonard were the first Jews in Northern Norway to be married, but they had to go to Gothenburg, Sweden to be married. They bore eleven children, nine boys, two girls. Bernhard was born 19 August 1904. He was the seventh son. Isak, Wulf, Isidor, David, Rudolf and Karl were older than he. Bernhard had four younger siblings namely Micael who emigrated to U.S.A., Rosa, Hirsch and Golda. Wulf and David were shot by the Germans in 1941. Isidor was deported to Germany and died in Auschwitz in 1943. Rosa died in Oslo in 1941. She was married to Jack Meieranovsky and had a daughter who died with her father in Germany. The family lived in Innherredsveien 25. The area was demolished in 1950 to widen the street. The building was a three-story house with stores in the front on the first floor and apartments on the second and third floors. In the back of the house was a little courtyard with a wash house and apartments on three floors, including an attic. The Isaksens owned the house and lived there on one floor. The Steinfelds lived in the back house. They were the parents of Hans-Wilhelm Steinfeld (NRK) 1.

Grandfather Leonard Isaksen was a businessman. At first he sold clocks, but later on he started a mens clothing business. His sons followed in his footsteps at first in their father’s employ and then went on to open their own stores. Only one at a time ever worked with their father.

When Liv and Harriet were children these brothers had their own individual stores in Trondheim: Isidor, David (Wulf worked with David), Rudolf, Karl, Bernhard, Micael. Micael was a master craftsman tailor. The only son who had an academic education was Herschel. He became a dentist.

Freda has written that the Isaksen family lived in different locations in Trondheim. Liv lived her first ten years in Innherredsveien 27 so she remembers the location. Bernhard grew up in a big family. There was plenty of life and action around the big table.

In the bedrooms that the boys shared there was fighting and fun and noise around. Then came Mutter, as Rebekka was called. She was authoritative and strong when necessary, and it was often necessary. Freda writes that Rebekka was a friendly and warm-hearted lady, and the boys had great respect for her. Grandfather Leonard was a quiet and friendly man. He died in 1927 so we never knew him.

It is said of the couple that it was she who kept control of the boys. Papa Leonard would take his hat and go for a walk when there was quarreling. The two girls became somewhat spoiled among all the boys.

Most of the children went to Bispehaugen public school, it is built on a hill and is easily recognizable in pictures of the city. Bernhard attended the school for six years then began in another and had eight years of schooling before he started as an errand boy with his father in an atmosphere of mens clothing with woolens, cotton underwear and shirts. I am sure he had a knowledgeable background in that trade as did all of his brothers. After ten years of learning he opened his own store in 1930.

Rebekka’s mother Josefina (Jospa in Yiddish) lived with her family. The boys called her Gamle [the old one]. She was surely a big help to Rebekka. Liv remembers her very well, a little grey haired lady who wore a wig. It was customary for Orthodox Jewish women to do so. She was happy and loving and meant a lot to the children.

Bernhard was a likable and congenial boy. We think he did well in school. He played the horn in Bispehaugen school band which was well known in the city. He only played while at school, he did not continue after his school years. Freda says that Bernhard was a lovable and helpful person. We also like to think of him as a caring man with family and friends.

Bernhard’s closest friends were Moses Kahn and Heiman Abrahamsen and Joseph Klein. They were the same age and remained friends throughout their lives. The Bridgeclub B12 was an important part of their social life. There were many evenings of playing bridge and parties with celebrations of awards. We think that the 1920’s were happy days for the boys. They were up to date young men and drove cars and motorcycles. Bernhard got his license in his twenties. He did not have his own car, but in old photos we have of before the war, Liv has seen pictures of young men and women in open cars. Cycling and skiing were popular. Unfortunately the photo albums were lost during the war, but Inge and Islin have some pictures.

Bernhard and Minna were neighbors. Minna grew up in number 27. We do not know how long they were sweethearts before they became engaged. We have some photos of them during their engagement.

As has been previously stated Bernhard opened his men’s clothing store in 1930. He rented the location in Søndre gate 22 on the corner of Carl Johans gate. It was a fine and light store. Liv remembers the store. From the age of five she took the bus by herself to the store. They were not always glad that she came there, but it was exciting for her to be there and now and then she was allowed to sell handkerchiefs.

Minna’s Background, Childhood and Youth

Minna’s father Abraham Fischer was born 14 August 1867 in Latskova. His father Emmanuel came from Sagaron and his wife Assne was born in Dorpat.

Emmanuel was a bath-attendant [Manner der Badder] in Latskova, Minna tells us. Manne and Assne were part of a large family who lived in Trondheim after the 1890’s. Abraham was the eldest of the family of two brothers and five or six sisters and they all had large families. Abraham came to Trondheim in 1893 with Dina and two children in 1896. Later on they bore more children, seven survived. Minna had four brothers and two sisters. She was the youngest of the girls born to Abraham and Dina. Minna’s siblings were Herman, Martin, David, Rachel, Eva and Samuel. Of these only Rachel and Minna were not sent to Germany.

Abraham was a businessman for many years including in Lofoten. He was issued a license in Trondheim in 1904.

The Fischer family lived in different locations in Trondheim before they moved to Innherredsveien 27 which was exactly the same as the neighboring no. 25 where the Isaksen family lived, but there was a shared yard between 25 and 27. The gates to both houses were closed at 9 o’clock. It is told that many times Bernhard had to climb over the gate because he had forgotten his key.

Minna grew up in Innherredsveien 27. The family was large and welcoming to guests, and the many uncles and aunts and their children often visited in the evenings. Abraham was a generous and kind-hearted man. He always had candies and diverse camphor drops in his pocket. He was a great comic and constantly told amusing stories. He had a little kitchen garden in the backyard where he grew radishes and turnips and flowers. Dina was lovable, clever, and was able to undertake everything in her quiet manner. I believe that many of the family inherited this trait. She was a small, chubby lady with a warm and soft look to her. She laughed a lot, sometimes when it was unsuitable.

Abraham sold manufactured clothing in no. 27 and the daughters helped in the store. The children of the Fischer family went to Lademoen school or to Bispehaugen. Minna’s friend was Gunuor Gundersen, who lived around the corner in Wessels gate. They were friends during all the years that they attended school and took the entrance exams to the university together. Gunuor became a music teacher and both Liv and Harriet took lessons from her without any worthwhile conclusion.

Minna and Samuel went to the middle school and to high school, Minna to Katte and Samuel to business school. Minna received her degree in Latin language in 1924. She wanted to study pharmaceuticals at the University of Oslo but she was not allowed to partly because of economic reasons and also because one didn’t send a young daughter to the capital city. Instead she was allowed to go to Narvik where her brothers David and Samuel and later on also Martin had stores. She worked as a saleslady in the stores. She worked in Narvik for about two years. It was a joyful time with many new friends and parties and fun. When she returned to Trondheim she worked in her father’s store and elsewhere. Although Minna kept in contact with her previous school friends she was mostly with her cousins both male and female. Sara Bodd, Fanny Kahn, and Ida Klein were her good friends.

Her parents did not object to her friendship with her male cousins, from the Mendelsohn, Buchmann or the Abrahamsen families. Minna was a happy and pretty young woman with a great interest in fashion which was surely a result of her work in the clothing stores. She was constantly at the dressmaker’s and continued this interest throughout her life (her daughters inherited this same interest). We see in old photographs that Minna was a sweet and smart woman. She was interested in joining organizations and during many periods she was active and leader in the affairs of youth clubs and in Wizo, the Women’s International Zionist Organization.

Minna and Bernhard

Minna and Bernhard became engaged in the summer of 1930. That was the year that there was an exhibition in memory of the war at Stiklestad. It was an exceptionally good summer, with sunny days and a little rain at night. There were many strawberries that year, so many that they had to feed them to the pigs. Mother spoke very often about that summer. We believe that it was a happy time. Minna and Bernhard loved to dance and went often to the Brittania Hotel’s popular dances where they mastered the tango — almost perfectly.

As already mentioned Bernhard opened his own store in 1930 and Minna helped him. Her experience in the business became very useful. We believe that they worked well together. This was evident throughout their whole lives. It was Bernhard who did the buying and had the main responsibility. Minna was a clever saleslady and had good customer relations, as we would say today.

Minna and Bernhard married on 30 August 1931. The marriage took place in the synagogue and the reception was in Harmonien. There were 120 guests at the wedding.

They moved into the third floor of no. 27, which was a four-room apartment where they rented out one room at first. They had in-laws below them and in the house next door. It worked out very well.

Minna was a well endowed bride with linens, table wear and kitchen utensils. That is how it was in those days, 12 of everything. The apartment had a large kitchen, a family room, a salon that was only used when they entertained, and a bedroom. A WC and shower were installed in 1935–6. Before they had the shower the women of the family went to Østkant badet every week (probably the men went another day). It was called a vapor bath.

The first child Liv was born in 1932, Harriet in 1937 and Arve in 1948.

Minna was in the store a lot, so they always had help in the house. At that time the household help stayed a long time, so before the war we had only three, Alida, Alfhild and Mary.

Many people came to visit Minna and Bernhard, and they always sat around the big black coal heating oven in the dining room. The oven was polished black and burned coal and wood. For Liv it was unbelievably exciting to listen to the adult conversation. The talk was often about the Nazis and Hitler who had come to power in Germany. Liv often had nightmares and dreamed about Hitler wearing a green uniform.

Often they spoke about how others of their faith were faring in Germany. Very few of them were allowed to enter Norway. A few children from Czechoslovakia were being adopted by Jewish families in Trondheim. One of them was Eva Taglicht who was in Liv’s class in Bispehaugen. Unfortunately she and her brother were sent to Poland in 1942. Another was Berthold Grunfeldt, a well-known psychiatrist in Oslo.

When we look back to the childhood years of Liv and Harriet (and later also Arve) with Minna and Bernhard they were full of love and security with many relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The Jewish traditions were observed. Every Friday the Sabbath meal was prepared. There was always a special atmosphere on Friday evenings, often with guests. Holidays such as New Year–Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Chanukkah–the festival of lights, and Pesach. Pesach was celebrated with Bestemor (mormor) [maternal grandmother] downstairs or Bestemor (farmor) [paternal grandmother] in the other house.

War Comes to Norway

The morning of 9 April we heard on the radio that Germany had invaded Norway. We decided to evacuate to our summerhouse in Hundhammer. It was just newly built. The whole family from both sides came with us. Nobody knows how many we were, there were people everywhere, at least two in each bed and the rest on the floor. Most of the Isaksen family went to Jämtland in Sweden on 13 April. Uncle Isidor and his family went first and rented a large house on a farm. He took charge and designated the household chores. It was not easy for so many to live together in close quarters and there was some quarreling amongst the sisters-in-law. After some months Isidor and David went back to Trondheim, the rest of us went to Stockholm because we were not allowed to live so close to the border. We lived in an apartment at Roslagsgatan 7 together with Bestemor and Golda who became sick with polyps in her intestines, and Freda and Micael. Bernhard got a job in a store and that was good for us all. He was very depressed about our situation and could not sleep. The news from Trondheim informed us that life was continuing normally and that the stores were open, therefore Minna and Bernhard decided to return to Trondheim. Bestemor, Golda, Freda, and Micael stayed and went to the U.S.A. through Russia after Leif was born in August.

The years of 1940–1942, when we escaped to Sweden, were full of unrest and insecurity. Many members of the community were arrested. Jewish stores were closed by the Nazis, and many had to move from their homes. We were fortunate, we were able to stay in our apartment, and father was not put in prison. He got work in the law office of a friend J. A. Eggen Trelast.

Eggen was with the home forces, but was arrested and imprisoned until peace came. We have to thank him for his help in planning our escape route when we escaped to Sweden in 1942. Our escape is written about in another story so will not be repeated here. It was a difficult choice to decide to leave for Sweden. It was dangerous in case we were captured and also it was difficult to leave Bestemor and the rest of the family. We were afraid of reprisals. Bestefar [grandfather] Abraham died of natural causes in the hospital in 1942.

We arrived in Sweden in October 1942, one month before all the Jews in Norway were arrested and deported to Poland. We came to Kjesaeter refugee camp where all the refugees were assembled before they could be dispersed. Afterwards we went to Stockholm to Bestemor. Karl, Golda, Rudolf and Inge were there, Adele came later, she was David’s wife, with Kurt and Irene. We could not get permission to stay in Stockholm. Two or three months later Bernhard got a job in a textile factory in Norrköping, so we moved there in January 1943.

Norrköping was a pleasant industrial town about the same size as Trondheim. There were many refugees there and we quickly found friends amongst them and our Swedish neighbors.

Bernhard did spells of work. There were many restrictions but after a while there was established a Norwegian political circle and Bernhard applied to join them. He developed high blood pressure so his application was denied. It was a blow for us all. But after a while a suitable job was found for him as postmaster in Mauritzberg near Norrköping.

Minna was a homemaker and had a difficult time to make the resources stretch a long way.

Liv went to school in Norrköping from the fourth to the sixth grade. Harriet began school in 1944.

In many ways it was a good time. As Norwegians we were respected. The educational opportunities were good and the cultural experiences were such that we became interested in art, theatre and classical music.

Peace

To come home to Norway after the peace settlement in May 1945 was an adventure. We never forget the train journey from Hell into the city along the fjord in the light summer evening. But it was also painful to come home to find that many were gone during the war, including Bestemor, aunts and uncles on Mother’s side.

Minna lost four brothers and one sister, many nieces and nephews. Bernhard lost three brothers, the wife and three children of one of them. The rest of the family returned after the war, Isak, Rudolf and Inge and Idar, Grandma Isaksen, Golda, Karl, and Hirsch who married Anna.

So began the peace process in the country and in the Isaksen family. Bernhard and Rudolf began the business in the locality that Isidor had his store. The firm was named Brødrene Isaksen. Karl reopened Leonard Isaksen and Sons. In the 50’s, Kurt, David’s son, opened his father’s store in Brattørgata.

It took a long time before our apartment in Innherredsveien became available, but in November we were able to move in. In the meantime we lived in the summer house in Hundhammer.

The following year we moved to Veimester Kroghs Gate 33, a duplex that the family purchased. It was a good location with a fantastic view over Trondheim fjord.

The first years after the war many things were rationed including food and clothing, but gradually rationing was lifted. We purchased a car in 1940.

17 April 1948 Minna and Bernhard had a son, Arve. There was great excitement because it was a boy. The same year the State of Israel was declared and that was a big occasion for the Jewish people.

Liv graduated in 1951 at Strinda high school and Harriet began middle school in the fall semester. So the time came for Liv to travel away for her best interests. The textile interests in the family were strong. With advice from Bernhard and Minna, she chose to study textile engineering in Manchester, England. This was considered satisfactory. Bernhard and Minna decided that Harriet should study physical therapy in Lund in Sweden in 1956, a choice that Harriet was very satisfied with. She graduated in the fall of 1958.

Bernhard had a great desire that his children should have a good education. His children should not have to endure, as he did, without education as a refugee. He always said that we could choose our future, but he insisted on education. He also paid our school expenses. So the big girls left home and the one boy became the only child at home.

Bernhard’s health was affected because he had high blood pressure which affected his heart. In 1951 he spent a month at Skodsborg in Denmark. He was advised to lose weight and stop smoking. He managed that very well. While he was at Skodsborg we had a photograph taken at Scroder [the picture is in the original script].

Bernhard’s fiftieth birthday was well-celebrated. Neither Liv nor Harriet were present at that party because Harriet was attending a course in Felixstone, England and Liv was in Israel working at a clothing fibre institute in Jerusalem. The photo [in the original copy] shows Bernhard being congratulated by Hershel and Anna at Hundhammer.

The year after on 11 August 1955 it was Minna’s turn to celebrate. This time at the summer house in Hundhammer with open house and many guests. It was a fantastic August evening, warm with a star-filled sky that can only happen in August. It is seldom that one can observe such an evening in Trondheim.

In the kitchen our steadfast cook, Fra Berg, was in charge. She had been like an institution for the family and for friends for many, many years.

In 1956 Liv married Tore. There were arguments in the family because she married a non-Jew. In time the bad feeling about intermarriage changed and many in the family married non-Jews. When Harriet 22 years later married Bengt and Arve in the 50’s married Birgit it was more readily accepted. When one lives in a secular and western world where anti-Semitism and contact with the outside world is small, the tendency towards intermarriage is strong. Because of that it is our obligation to tell the next generation of our roots, where we came from and how and why they came to a new country and stayed together.

Bernhard died on 10 April 1959. He died of a heart attack while he was giving a speech at his nephew Lennart’s bar mitzvah. Minna died 23 October 1996. She had been living in Oslo since 1988. Both are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Trondheim.

Oslo, August 2004, Arve, Harriet and Liv

Footnotes

  1. NRK is Norsk rikskringkasting, a Norwegian broadcasting company.


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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