“Irene Berman offers a moving and compelling personal account of the impact of the Nazi machine on the Jews of her native Norway. The courageous and untiring devotion of her father, Marcus Levin, to the salvation and well-being of the victims is a shining beacon
in an era of fearful darkness. ”
RABBI JIM ROSEN, Beth El Temple, West Hartford, CT
“Irene Levin Berman’s newest book continues her remarkable history of Jews in Norway. The book shows the importance of Ms. Berman’s father, Marcus Levin, who helped returning Jews find new lives with the help of the Joint Distribution Committee International. Anyone interested in the history of World War II and its aftermath will be grateful to Ms. Berman for sharing this compelling and intimate story.”
PEGGY SHAPIRO, retired associate director, Career Services, University of Connecticut School of Law.
by Irene Levin Berman
In this book, Irene Levin Berman tells the story of her father’s heroic attempts to save the Jews of Norway, as well as hundreds of stateless refugees who escaped to Norway in the 1930s, from deportation to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Marcus Levin worked tirelessly to help Jews before, during, and after the Nazi invasion of his country. In 1962 he was awarded the Norwegian Medal of Honor by King Olav for his efforts.
Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Hamilton Books (March 7, 2019)
The book is also available directly from the author, autographed with a special inscription.
by Irene Levin Berman, 2019
It is not easy to describe a man like my father. Before WWII and for the first few years after Germany attacked Norway, I was a small child and never thought of him as anything beyond an ordinary father, taking care of me, answering my questions and making me laugh. Gradually I became aware of the increasing tensions and my world turned upside down. By 1942, when the Nazis invaded Norway, it was impossible for anyone to ignore the fact that Jews, as well as non-Jews, were chronically concerned about the future.
In the early thirties, a major number of refugees from southern Europe were searching for safer places to live. Their governments insisted that departing Jews would automatically surrender their homes and additional belongings, never again to return. Thousands of people gave in and left in desperation, several hundred believing that Norway would be a relatively safe place to settle. Unfortunately, when the war broke out in 1940, this group of reluctant refugees that had reached Norway were treated just like the local Jews. Even as the German army was indiscriminate as to who they destroyed (i.e. Norwegian citizens of all religions) on their march toward dominance, they also pursued and arrested all Jews regardless of where they came from. And many refugees that had escaped persecution in their own countries were pursued by malicious people who simply wanted to punish the Jews who evaded capture or people who helped others escape.
In the early days of the invasion in October 1942, only men were targeted for arrest and by October 22, they had arrested all men not in hiding. No one had any idea what horrific fate awaited them after arrest but uncertainty contributed to high levels of anxiety. By this time, my father and some family members and friends had already escaped to Sweden. A few weeks later the Nazis announced they would arrest all Jewish women. Even as my mother was escaping over the border to Sweden with me, my brother Leif Aril, our cousin Frank, and our housekeeper Ruth— the Nazis and Norwegian police were arresting all women who had not realized the danger.
The years we lived across the border in Sweden were hard, in view of the ongoing fear and concern for our family and refugees still in harm’s way. My parents were extremely concerned about anti-Semitism in Norway, particularly after several members of father's family were arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Sometime later several members of his immediate family were deported.
Father worked on ways to help others escape from Norway. Some of his schemes were successful and others were not. He acted as a liaison between each family and group of friends to see where and how they had managed to hide. He kept track of every person's name for years hoping that the more he knew, the more he could help. The unrelenting fear was extremely stressful for everyone involved. Toward the end of the war he got involved with a well known American organization, the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and was invited to join them with open arms. Father was appointed as a liaison between this outstanding organization and the destitute refugees who had nowhere to live and no work. In addition, Father was tasked with transporting medication from the US to a variety of war-torn countries that were desperate for medical help. These international connections were extremely useful and continued well after he became a full member of the organization where he would remain for the rest of his life.
Once the war was over some of the refugees had survived the war. They were told by the Norwegian authorities that they could no longer remain in Norway. Father tried to help them remain, but it was in vain. Subsequently, he worked very hard to help them find other countries to find a place to live.
In 1946 Father worked with UNRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) and offered to help 600 displaced and lost Jews to find solutions. Since Norway had lost six hundred Norwegian Jews who had been killed in Auschwitz, they would make it possible for an equivalent number of refugees to settle in Norway to find homes and work. Father was in charge of the project and made it happen. They were referred to as Displaced Persons.
In 1953 many people who had survived the war were still too sick to travel, and too sick to find jobs. They remained in camps, still in existence after the war. Again, father assembled a group of men from Norway, who with their particular knowledge and skills joined forces to help these people. This small group of leaders was successful and became a model for other teams in similar situations in other countries.
Marcus Levin was honored with King Olav’s Norwegian Gold Medal of Honor for his work in 1959, three years before his death.