Readers Respond


Surprise casual email from a friend who had read Norway Wasn’t too Small

What a book! I am so glad that I read “Potatoes” first. This book put flesh and blood on all the people, especially the children. I think you were inspired to do a more personal book. At least for me, I could relate to all the people. In the first book, I sometimes lost the train of thought with so many different relatives. Having the youngsters and their parents do everyday things made the whole impact more vivid and poignant. Progress, identifying gifts, denial, and ultimate realization was really scary and touching. The last chapter still tugs at my heartstrings.


On November 19, 2013, Irene Berman gave a one-hour presentation to the Old Guard of West Hartford, Connecticut under the same title as her 2010 book, “We Are Going to Pick Potatoes”: Norway and the Holocaust, The Untold Story”. There were some in the audience who knew of Irene’s work as a translator of Norwegian writings, in particular as a consultant to the Hartford Stage Company in its presentation of works by Henrik Ibsen. There were others, like this writer, who became acquainted with Irene through her husband, Dr. Martin Berman, a cherished and scholarly medical colleague for many years, and a fellow member of the Old Guard. Few of us were aware of her personal experiences with the Holocaust.

We were rewarded with a talk that was informative and beautifully articulated, discussing some events of the World War II era that we previously knew little about. These events included the migration of some Jewish families from Eastern Europe and the German-speaking countries to Scandinavia, particularly Norway, beginning in the late 19th century and extending into the decades preceding World War II. Irene Levin Berman’s family was one of these; her father was a successful businessman in Oslo when she was born there in the late 1930s. She described in her talk the loving Levin family, and the extended family that surrounded and nurtured her as a child. The heart of her discussion, however, was focused on the Nazi invasion and occupation of Norway, the overt threats to the 2000 Jews there, the foresight and ability of some Norwegian Jews to escape to neutral Sweden, including four year-old Irene, her mother, father and brother, in 1942. Other Norwegian Jews, less prescient, less able, less fortunate—perished in Auschwitz. These circumstances qualify Irene as a Holocaust survivor; her presentation, however, did not contain any tone of bitterness, hatred or sense of victimhood. She concentrated her spoken effort on conveying a message of what the Holocaust memory meant to a young child whose immediate family survived, experienced the joy of returning to their Norwegian home at the conclusion of the war, and who has since spent an enjoyable and productive adult life in America. The Old Guard audience sat in rapt attention to the story—well-researched and well-told—and rewarded the speaker with resounding applause.

This review would be incomplete without commenting on Irene Berman’s book, “We Are Going to Pick Potatoes”, which I purchased and read after hearing her talk. The book is the product of a lifetime spent with sometimes vague and sometimes vivid childhood memories of the Holocaust. These memories were coupled with diligent research into recorded writings, and interviews with adults from her parents’ generation who experienced the threats and tragedies of the Nazi-perpetrated genocide, to produce a beautifully constructed human narrative. It is a gripping story written by a literate, experienced and talented writer. For anyone who feels passionate about justice, eliminating prejudice, and preserving the enduring human spirit, it is a must read.

H. David Crombie, M.D.

I have just finished your book and I find that I cannot quite stop thinking about it. Until a few years ago, when my daughter went on a March of the Living trip to Poland (visiting the KZ camps) and Israel, I had begun to feel saturated with respect to the Holocaust. I thought it was time to move on...then my daughter arrived from the trip, unable to speak for days. When she began to speak, sharing the devastating details of what she had seen, smelled and felt, I knew the story has to be told again and again. There are as many stories as the number of souls who went into the camps and each story deserves to be heard. Your story is amazing on several levels; it lets the reader become acquainted with your wonderful family (you were blessed with a really remarkable family!) while it tells the story of the Norwegian Jews and Jewish customs and traditions in general. It also tells the story as experienced by a frightened little girl, trying to make sense of disturbing details. I can only begin to imagine what a difficult journey it must have been to re-experience all of it; coming face to face with that little girl forever locked inside of you. As I set out reading, I at first wondered about the simple unpretentious tone: you are a strong, well-educated woman and yet you chose to write in this simple, gentle way, rather than in a more intellectual style. Now I know that this is exactly the power of the book; the voice you had to have in order to come to terms with it all because the little girl's story, the questions and repressed feelings, had to be honored. Thank you also for enlightening me on details regarding Denmark!


What a tremendous blessing to read this extraordinary book. Contemplating such a stomach-turning subject matter alongside the endearing intimate family details is not easy, but the opportunity to learn a little about this remarkable family is a blessing to cherish. It is unimaginable to me the incredible courage, commitment, wisdom, and fortitude Ms. Berman had to muster to start and complete this work, and to render its content so thoughtfully and effectively.

NS, Norwegian Club of San Francisco

You made alive what most of us have only read in history books.  I shed tears over the “disappeared Steinfelds.”


I did enjoy your book very much.  The timing of your escape reminds me of suspenseful fiction--only it was real.


Thank you for putting so much work into making this contribution to Hartford and our combined cultural Jewish history.


One locomotive cheer for Irene Levin Berman...I quickly became absorbed in your book and have read it from beginning to end in 24 hours. It is clear that much labor went into its production and it is clearly a labor of love...I have always felt that life was a series of "what ifs"...what if Sweden and Norway didn't share a common border? What if Sweden had not been a neutral country?...Your ancestors fled persecution elsewhere and ended up in Norway; My ancestors, in an earlier generation, fled Eastern Europe and Russia and ended up on the lower East Side of NYC.....Seems the Jews were always fleeing somewhere...very nice work, very well done...


Irene, I have just finished reading your book and I think it’s wonderful!  What a warm, personal and totally engaging (although awfully sad) story.  We understand a lot more about Norway as a result.


It's hard not to sound trite, but Pick Potatoes is an extraordinary book.  Congratulations!


We have both finished reading…"We Are Going to Pick Potatoes."  What a perfect title for your book!  It was all so interesting; I was totally absorbed in it and learned so much about the Holocaust, your life in Sweden and Norway, and your family.


Just finished your book and am appreciative of its fluidity, passionate expression, and disciplined research.  I am raving about it to all my contacts as a must read.  Good luck in New York.  As my grandson would remark, the book is not a 10-it is definitely a 1,000!!!!!!


I just finished “We are Going to Pick Potatoes.”  There is so much I want to say to you.  First, I’m glad you have shared this particular view of the Holocaust with English-language readers; most people have no awareness of what goes on in small, relatively quiet countries, so we see the world and history only as series and sets of sensational headlines.  Second, even though I of course knew the general story and the “ending,” your prose style drove the narrative like the best kind of suspense thriller.  I had to keep reading to find out not only what was going to happen to these characters but, equally, to learn more about them and their relationships with each other and the world that was out of control around them.  I know you are a brilliant translator but had no idea you were such a talented writer of original work.  I have been proud to know you and count you as a friend.  But now I’m almost speechless.  What a gift you’ve given us with this story.  Thank you so much.


Your book.  I finished it a few days ago.  I can understand how totally absorbed you were.  The story is from your heart.  I feel it in every sentence.  It's beautifully written, just the right mix.  What is and isn't so hard to understand is the shroud of silence.  It used to be that way with cancer.  You couldn't mention it.  One would think that once the Nazis were gone, the survivors would shout from the rooftops “you filthy sons of bitches, you murdered my relatives.”  But I can see how they wanted to resume their lives, among their countrymen without digging too deeply with relief that they survived...  You have done a great thing by memorializing your relatives.






Past Events

  • Oct 27 2013

    The Jewish Federation of Greater New Bedford, Rhode Island

  • Nov 10 2013

    Vennligfolk Lodge, Sons of Norway, Plover Municipal Building, Plover, Wisconsin

  • Nov 11 2013

    University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP) LIFE (Learning is Forever) Program, Stevens Point, Wisconsin

  • Nov 12 2013

    Senior Fellowship of the Woodlands Church, Plover, Wisconsin

  • Nov 19 2013

    The Old Guard, Inc. – a large group of retired professionals interested in traditional values and furthering social good in the community, West Hartford, CT

More Events