Martyrs’ Forest Memorial Ceremony for Norwegian Jews Who Perished in the Holocaust

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 2:39 PM

A ceremony in memory of Norwegian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was held at Martyrs' Forest in the Jerusalem Hills. The ceremony took place on the 70th anniversary of the transport that carried some 530 Norwegian Jews to Auschwitz on November 26th, 1942.

A ceremony in memory of Norwegian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was held at the Norway community’s memorial site at the Martyrs' Forest in the Jerusalem Hills. The ceremony took place on the 70th anniversary of the transport that carried some 530 Norwegian Jews to Auschwitz on November 26th, 1942.

Norwegian Ambassador to Israel SveinSevje. Photo: Yoav Devir

Ambassador Svein Sevje lays a wreath at the memorial plaque for Norwegian Jews. Photo: Yoav Devir

The event was attended by the Norwegian ambassador to Israel, the families of the victims, representatives of the Jewish community in Norway, Israeli Jews of Norwegian extraction and representatives of KKL-JNF. A parallel memorial ceremony was conducted in Oslo, with the participation of the King of Norway.

“Painful emotions assail me as I stand here today, because of the growing anti-Semitism in our country,” said Norway’s Ambassador to Israel Svein Sevje at the ceremony. “It is very important for the state authorities not to neglect the problem and to take action against these negative tendencies.”

Amos Samuel recites Kaddish. Photo: Yoav Devir

Ester Samuel-Kahn. Photo: Yoav Devir

Rabbi Julius Isak Samuel was the rabbi of the Jewish Community in Norway in the early 1940s. The day before he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, he received secret information recommending that he flee. However, he refused to abandon his community, and he met his death in Auschwitz.

Some two hundred members of the rabbi’s family live in Israel today. Among them is his daughter Ester Samuel-Cahn, who spoke at the memorial ceremony. “We are grateful to the members of the underground resistance movement who helped Jews escape from Norway,” she said. “Thanks to them, almost one thousand people were saved.”

Celia Gorlen. Photos: Yoav Devir

Espen Mendelson

Rabbi Joav Melchior

Boaz Wuiltz recites El Malei Rahamim. Photo: Yoav Devir

Norwegian ambassador greets guests. Photo: Yoav Devir

Ceremony participants with plaque and wreath. Yoav Devir
Rabbi Samuel’s son Amos Samuel was also among those present, and he recited the yizkor [memorial prayer].

KKL-JNF held the memorial ceremony in conjunction with the Association for Norwegian Jews in Israel, whose representative Espen Mendelson reviewed the steps taken against the Jews of Norway during the Holocaust: persecution, expropriation, mass arrests, expulsion by sea to Poland and their eventual murder in Auschwitz. All in all, 760 Jews were expelled from Norway, out of a total Jewish population of 1,600 residents at the time. Only 25 of those expelled survived the Holocaust.

The memorial site to Norwegian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was established on the initiative of Berit Demborg, KKL-JNF’s representative to Norway, whose sister, Celia Gorlen, took part in the ceremony and spoke in memory of her family members who had perished.

Rabbi Joav Melchior, rabbi of the Oslo Jewish community, recounted how two years ago, he had taken a group of young Jews of Norwegian descent on a visit to Auschwitz. “Only once you’re there can you begin to try to comprehend,” he said. “World history has seen many instances of genocide, but none of their perpetrators ever came close to the Nazis in their ideology and logistics, which entailed gathering Jews from all over Europe for calculated extermination.”

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Boaz Wuiltz, who was a chazzan in Norway in the 1980s, sang El Malei Rahamim. Today he lives in Israel, but returns to Norway every year during the Days of Awe in order to serve as chazzan to the small Jewish community that remains there.

KKL-JNF representative Judith Perl-Strasser explained to those present that the Forest of the Martyrs, which is located in the Judean Hills on the road to Jerusalem, comprises six million trees in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. It commemorates a great many Jewish communities that were obliterated by the Nazis, and the Jews of Norway are similarly memorialized there.

Planting a forest is the most appropriate form of memorial in the case of Norway, a country renowned for its woodlands,” said Yvonne Cahn, a member of one of the Israeli families present at the ceremony; she was born in Norway and now lives in Herzliya in Israel. “It’s very important that there’s a site like this in Israel to perpetuate the memory of the Jews of Norway,” she added. “If we don’t preserve their memory, no one else will.”

Gal Yair, his mother Pia Yair and Yvonne Cahn contemplate the Norway memorial plaque. Photos: Yoav Devir

Gal Yair with a photo of his great-grandfather. Photo: Yoav Devir

Twenty-one-year-old Gal Yair, who is currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces, was among the representatives of the younger generation who attended the ceremony. His great-grandfather Selig Blomberg was one of the first ten Jews to be apprehended by the Nazis; he was sent to Auschwitz, and perished there.

Yair arrived at the ceremony with a picture of his great-grandfather, as if including him in the event. “I’m a young man,” he said, “and the Holocaust era is history for me. But it’s also an inseparable part of the life of our family. It’s important to me to get to know the family’s past and ensure that it’s not forgotten,” he explained.