Book Reviews

English Version Reviews, "We are Going to Pick Potatoes", Norway and the Holocaust, the Untold Story

 

 

The most exciting news of 2011 was the following endorsement from Nobel Laureate, activist and probably the most renowned Holocaust survivor in the world, Elie Wiesel, who stated the following:

This "untold story" about what happened to Norwegian Jews
during the Holocaust deserves to be told – and now it is.
                                        Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate

 

 

Review for Amazon.com
Norway Wasn’t Too Small. A Fact-Based Novel about Darkness and Survival

 

I discovered the author's original work, WE ARE GOING TO PICK POTATOES, when seeking reliable writing resources for the years of occupation of Norway. Among the many titles I read very little was told about the small population of Jews in Norway during that time, except to indicate that there, too, propaganda, persecution, and eventual deportation to concentration camps eradicated the population completely during those years. Berman survived that time at age four by escaping Norway to neutral Sweden with her family. She wrote her original work as a thoroughly accurate and authenticated documentation of those in her family who survived and those who did not. Her recent release of this "realistic fiction" allows her to portray those times and places even more dramatically and compelling for teens and older.

I couldn't be happier to see that this story reads like an action-packed drama but brings to life the actual people (or fictional versions of them) whose stories and history were preserved in the original work. I loved being able to reference further details about each character in "Norway Wasn't Too Small" and then consider which people and details were real. It all reads as if it is. In fact, as accessible as the original nonfiction work is, this reads convincingly because it adheres so closely to real people living and surviving (or not) through very dangerous times. I wasn't sure, with name changes, who/what was really real. I suspect others who read it will want to read the family details in her original work, and I urge you to do so.

Sadly, it's all tragically real, but this book will at least let the story be told more widely and also make everyone feel much more engaged in Norway's overall and Jewish history.

The idea of the role of that her mother's necklace played made me imagine that it was a fictional device but it is even more impressive that it was true. What a heritage her family has- strong and brave people overall, but especially the women!

Any number of scenes and events feel as if they might have been created for dramatic effect, but the original work makes it clear that wasn't necessary. The surgery really struck me during the family history book and the fictional aspects played out very convincingly with the entirety of the episode ringing totally true. What a gift Berman has given to her own extended family and generations, and to the rest of us. In years to come we'll all be able to access the truth about Norway's forgotten history in ways that come alive and convey the pride their descendants should rightly feel.

I had chills reading that a postcard from a young and gifted cousin sent to her boyfriend in Norway sent from a three day forced stop at a synagogue in Berlin before being deported a few days subsequently in Auschwitz. Her friend received the cars, saved it for the rest of his life and is now in the Holocaust Museum in Oslo. These postcards from deported Jews were mandated so that the hidden nature of their destination would not be suspected by those who cared for them. The layers of detail and deception to which the Germans stooped are both astonishing and repulsive. Literally. We should all take time for such powerful reflections, especially amid the horrifically hateful venom that is being spewed in public and across all media these days. I am neither Jewish nor Norwegian, but both books served as invaluable research resources for my writing. I urge anyone to read this book and help keep history alive.

-By Sandy Brehl on August 7, 2016
 

 

The below comment is the first one that I received after the book was published. I had sent it to my friend, Eleanor White, the wife of the former American Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, who has become my close friend and support with both We Are Going to Potatoes and this new book. She wrote to me within two days’ of the book’s arrival and told me how much she enjoyed it. I was deeply touched by her immediate and emotional message.

June, 2016, By Eleanor White
I have read many books about the Holocaust, including this author's "We're Going to Pick Potatoes", which is nonfiction. Norway Wasn't too Small is fiction, but based on the same factual story. The book just gets better the farther you get into it, with some degree of suspense (especially if you're not aware of Norway's World War II history) and great delineation of characters and their growth over the course of the story.

I lived in Oslo recently for 4 years, so I had the added pleasure of knowing Oslo and the West coast city of Aalesund--Irene Berman brings back all of the charm and incredible beauty of Norway. She also makes it clear that not all Norwegians were on the side of the Nazis, although many were, a fact for which the modern Government of Norway has taken full responsibility. But there were many kindnesses shown to the Jews, and the reader feels all of that--as well as the considerable pain of the hardships--throughout the book.

The following reviews are from my friends and readers...

Terror is never small July 20, 2016
How do you keep going when your life becomes full of uncertainty and fear of the future? This is a gripping tale told by a masterful storyteller. The facts are true and important: Norway had the smallest Jewish population, but the largest percentage of fellow Jews lost to the holocaust. But this is also a universal story of family, of love, of courage and relationships and what escape to freedom looks like for those who did and those who were left behind - never to be forgotten. Cousins, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, resistance - all there and part of the story. This book makes you care about the terror and fear they endured while carrying on their lives, without being preachy. Irene Levin Berman pulls you into their lives and you live their changed lives with them. I couldn't put this book down and you won't be able to, either.

I especially liked the way the chapters alternated between the two families
July 11, 2016
I especially liked the way the chapters alternated between the two families. One family lives in Oslo and the other in a small town, AAlesund, Norway. The two families are related and the contrast and similarities are very interesting. The Aalesund family were the only Jewish family in their town which made their situation very different from the Oslo family and how they reacted to the invasion of the Germans.

I found the characters to be very clearly defined and well defined
June 20, 2016
I found the characters to be very clearly defined and well developed. The story definitely gives the feelings of fear and disbelief of the Norwegian Jews as they were suddenly faced with Hitler's atrocities in their own country. Although Norway was small, the experiences of the people mirrored those of Jews all over Europe. It is really appropriate reading for young and old today! Well done!

Another successful book written by Irene Levin Berman
June 2, 2016
Irene Levin Bermans new book is a real page turner. Her fact based novel is written in a way that makes you feel you are a part of this sad and tragic story that unfortunately is true. Norway Wasn't Too Small is a tribute to more than the 700 Norwegian Jews that was killed during the holocaust and those who survived left with scars that will stay there for generations to come. Thank you.

A beautiful, warm and thought provoking story
July 10, 2016
A beautiful, warm and thought provoking story. The Norwegian experience during World War II comes alive in a most compelling, human form. A good read to be warmly recommended.

Very Interesting perspective on the Holocaust.
August 4, 2016
Very Interesting perspective on the Holocaust.

 

 

The story of the effort and extent to which the Nazi war machine would reach out in order to annihilate even the most remote Jewish family. The story of indifference and courage, of despair and hope, of silence and action. A very Jewish and very human story which should be told and listened to.

-Michael Melchior, Chief Rabbi of Norway, Former Cabinet Minister of Israel
 

 

Irene [Levin] Berman tells an important and-for most Americans-unknown story about the destiny of the Norwegian Jews during WW II. Being herself a Holocaust survivor, her style is emotionally very strong, though factual and sober. This comprehensive, moving and heart-rending book, with a welcome underlying optimism in spite of traumatic experiences, deserves a wide circle of readers in the U.S.A, far beyond those of Norwegian descent.

-Arnfinn Moland, Director, Norway's Resistance Museum

 

Irene Levin Berman has written a powerful, deeply moving book about a people, a place, and a time unfamiliar to many Americans. It is a story that should be widely known and remembered by all.

-Edward P. Gallagher, President, The American-Scandinavian Foundation

 

We Are Going to Pick Potatoes is a moving and courageous account of the Holocaust, its antecedents, and its legacy, and it illuminates a neglected side of European history. One might not associate Norway with the Holocaust, but the country’s story during this era is fascinating and devastating. In concise and vivid prose, Irene Levin Berman makes Norway’s story—and her own—come to life. We Are Going to Pick Potatoes is both excellent history and compelling memoir. It deserves a large audience.

–Mark Brazaitis, author of “The River of Lost Voices:  Stories from Guatemala," winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, and “An American Affair: Stories," winner of the George Garrett Fiction Prize

 

"We Are Going to Pick Potatoes" Norway and the Holocaust, The Untold Story by Irene Levin Berman (Hamilton Books) fills in a little-known chapter in Holocaust history. While in recent years, the story of the rescue of Danish Jews has come to light, little has been written about the Jews of Norway. Berman, who was born in Norway, escaped as a young child in 1942 - just days ahead of Nazi arrests - with her immediate family to Sweden, with the help of the Norwegian Resistance movement.  A pilot carried the 4-year-old girl in a knapsack through the forest and across the border.  Members of her extended family did not manage to escape and were among the more than 700 Norwegian Jews deported to Auschwitz. Based on extensive research into her own family's history and that of the Jewish community, she writes about Jewish life in Norway, before and after the war. She tells of those who returned to Norway to rebuild their lives and surrounded their wartime experiences with silence.

-Sandee Brawarsky, The Jewish Week (New York), April 15, 2010

 

Levin's narrative is poignant . . . Yet her story rings true when she describes how groups of Jews were smuggled out of the country, referred to euphemistically as "potatoes," whence comes her book's title. Levin is also acute in describing the story of Denmark's King wearing a Jewish star out of sympathy with his Jewish subjects -- a total myth, albeit a beloved one.

-Benjamin Ivry, "The Arty Semite." The Jewish Daily Forward. June 4, 2010.
http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/128563/

 

Since I was about nine or ten years old and saw a documentary on the liberation of Auschwitz, I have been fascinated by the Holocaust. Seeing those scenes at that time was more than I could imagine or process. Despite months of nightmares and so forth, this experience ignited in me an enduring interest in this period in history, primarily to answer the question of how and why such a human catastrophe could occur. When I was a child I had no exposure to Jews and when I asked for explanations in the wake of my TV trauma, no answers to any of my questions helped me understand why. Despite this interest and my studies, I knew nothing about the experience in Norway. Your book was truly one I could not put down. Of course, this story had to be told. The fact that the Jewish population of Norway was small does not diminish the human tragedy of the Norwegian Jews. I often wonder what my interest in and knowledge of the Holocaust is worth. What good does it do is the question. After all, it happened and cannot be erased from history. In addition to my ignited interest at that young age I also became determined to be a doctor. I was driven throughout my young life to make that a reality and it came to pass. It has been my firm goal since to be kind and comforting to those who are sick or in need, to be tolerant and not judgmental. Holding to that is much harder than I would ever imagine but I believe that early experience has informed my life and, at least, has made those priorities for me. Thank you for your wonderful book. You have truly done the world and your childhood family and friends who did not survive a wonderful service.

-Mike Moore

 

 

Norwegian Version Reviews, “Vi skal plukke poteter”, Flukten fra Holocaust

 

Review by Jon Terje Groenli
Gjengangeren.no

In this powerful and extensive book the author tells us about her extended family’s destiny during the war – and she does this thoroughly – with a detailed story of several other members of her family –

The book contains self-experienced– despite her age – scenarios, but also a number of conversations with others who survived in Sweden and in the most dreaded concentration camps.  Most of all it deals with people’s self-experienced dramatic experiences, but the author is able to draw logical conclusions – and therefore the text to a great extent acquires an “internal” cohesion.


Review – Norsk Telegrambyraa (Similar to the Associated Press, which gives newspapers in the entire country access to the material.  63 papers took advantage of this)


She was never in Hitler’s extermination camps.  Still she calls herself a survivor from the Holocaust –she got away.  A large part of her family was not that fortunate.

This has finally – sixty-three years after the end of the war – resulted in a captivating story about her family, which to a great extent was exterminated during the war.  The dramatic, but simultaneously human story is being published by Orion Publishers.


Review – Nytt i Uka
Aalesund, October 2008
Reidar Skarboe

Powerful, important and pertinent.

"In this powerful and extensive book the author writes about her extended family’s destiny during the war – and she does this thoroughly – with a detailed story of several other members of her family –"

She was never in Hitler’s extermination camps.  Still she calls herself a survivor from the Holocaust – she got away.  A large part of her family was not that fortunate.

One asks oneself if there really is anything more to write about, when a new book comes out. It does turn out that there is indeed.  This author really has something to tell.

Most people are more or less familiar with the destiny of the Jews during the Third Reich so it should be superfluous to say that the material which the writer conveys is powerful.  In this book it seems even more powerful, since Irene Levin Berman expresses herself to such an extent in a matter-of-fact and down-to-earth manner.  The almost total absence of powerful adjectives places the horrendous events, for that reason, in an even more evident depiction.  It might be interesting to find out if this is done deliberately or if this quite frankly is the author’s way of expressing herself.  Regardless, it is extremely effective.

We owe Irene Berman a thank you for taking on and completing this impressive project.  She has written an important book – a book that we can learn from and gain wisdom, especially in a world where it appears that more and more people are forced to be on the run, and thereby looking for new places to establish a life for themselves.

And dramatic is exactly the word to describe the story by Irene Levin Berman, a Norwegian-American Jew who this week presented the book "We are going to pick potatoes", The Escape from the Holocaust.

But when Berman tells us a story about her close relatives, the Steinfeld family in Ålesund, then the victims get faces and identities, that’s when we realize that some of them were Norwegians just like you and me, only with a minor difference that they were also Jews.

Lea and Israel Steinfeld and their two children, Reidun and Morten were brutally murdered in Auschwitz.  Irene Berman can only remember that they were mentioned one time, it was said that they “disappeared”.  That was the expression that was used, that they "disappeared" – nothing more was said – it was too painful.

 

Verdens Gang, Versto on a Saturday

(The largest newspaper in Norway with the largest circulation)
– SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2008
By Olav Versto

Dramatic story
It’s extremely important that we also document the destiny of the Norwegian Jews during the war and that we are given books of great value like the one Irene Levin Berman has written.

When I read stories like the one Berman has given us, I quiver in rage over those eccentric hermits who have the audacity to claim that the Holocaust never took place and that they whole story is thing is fabrication.

But why didn’t more people try to get away?  Many felt that something horrendous was about to happen, even if no one could imagine annihilation, but who can?  Many met this threat with silence.  The author describes the silence in this way:  By failing to say anything out loud to other people they perhaps felt that they could avoid accepting the reality.  They managed to a certain extent to postpone this intense pain by quite simply not allowing it to get too close.

The library which accommodates the stories about the survivors of the Holocaust has gradually taken on enormous dimensions and continues to grow each year.  But the book written by Irene Levin Berman does not fit totally into the survival genre, even  if the primary title is “The Escape from the Holocaust.


Gudbransdoelen Dagningen, Lillehammer –
Egil Ulateig
(this reviewer is also a well-known author of Norwegian books)
Problems related to survival


Irene Levin Berman’s book is just about free of horrendous descriptions.  It’s a chase – a sort of a detective story where she attempts to find relatives who have survived – and who did not survive, and at the same time, she finds herself.

Her family history is just as rich and swarming as a Russian novel, but the center of the book is her father, Marcus Levin, who in the 1930s had confronted discriminating Norwegian refugee politics and who after the war contributed with an enormous amount of work in trying to save the surviving Jews who were floating around Europe as shipwrecked sailors from a sunken ship.

The book is actually surprisingly free of hatred, revenge and accusations against Hitler’s many volunteers or involuntary helpers.  It also divulges an open and refreshing view on the Jewish environment, both in Norway and the USA where Irene Levin Berman now lives.  But she has gained insight into how important it is to hold on to the uniqueness, even the rituals that perhaps seem anachronistic and contribute to create divisions.

This is a family chronicle based on the annihilation which also affected her own family greatly – indeed what Norwegian Jew avoided this destiny?  I feel that I’ve come close to a tragedy and an environment as well as a vision of oneself which has given me additional insight.

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