A suggestion for the SILK festival: invite author Kjersti Dybvig to talk about her book

If the organizers of the SILK festival have any decency, they should cancel their appointment with Galtung after his scandalous nazi-rant. In stead, and supplementing the planned event covering the book about Moritz Rabinowitz on November 5, they should invite the author of the book Jews and Police in Stavanger, the convenient lightness of forgetfulness, Kjersti Dybvig. She challenges the comfortable myths of Norwegian heroism and innocence during WWII.

In light of these histories, maybe it would be much more pertinent to ask why the people in a small yet very rich country such as Rogaland, with its two towns where many of the Jews who perished in the Norwegian genocide lived, cannot tolerate the strangers amongst them. Addressing our own history to root out our own racism would seem to be a much more productive way to debate conflict and peace, rather than hosting a shamed academic.

Lifted from Vårt Land, published on April 23.

“We did not know what happened”

A historian wants to challenge the comfortable myths about ourselves.

“On the night between the second and third of  March, in a bed in a village, a little girl sleeps safely. In Poland, her mother has embarked on  the two-kilometer journey to the crematorium. She walks through the woods. She is taken into a shed, and undressed, her nakedness uncovered. It is night when the Zyklon B gas is fed into the chamber. “The story of Hildur Sara Joseff, who became a mother at the worst possible moment, but saved her daughter by giving her away, is one of many fragment historian Kjersti Dybvig has managed to recover in order to recreate the war.

– The amazing thing is that her sister, Selma, also gave birth to a child just months before, she too gave away her daughter. That anybody survived, that they could not kill everybody, feels great in the midst of all these atrocities, says Dybvig.

Ordinary people. The two girls grew up without knowing each other for many years.Today, Dybvig has been in contact with both the daughter and grandchildren of the Joseff sisters. Through fragments of history, she has managed to rewind back to 1942. Back to the two major operations in which all the Jews from Stavanger will disappear. In the book “Jews and Police in Stavanger. The convenient lightness of forgetfulness ” the historian looks at what goes on beyond the footsteps of the soldiers. Instead, she tries to uncover the attitudes and thoughts of ordinary people. Letters to the editor of Stavanger Aftenblad have been among the sources.

– I found that the easiest thing was to look at what was not done: Ordinary Stavanger people did not view the Jewish families who lived in there in a positive way. No one in the police tried to warn the Jews, although they had 24 hours from the arrest warrant came to its execution to do so. There is no other city where all theJews were arrested.

Why was the fate of the Jews in Stavanger so brutal?

– For the religious communities in Stavanger, the Jews represented of the opposite of Christianity. The Jewish Bolsheviks were associated with communism, which represented the wickedness. Especially after the Kristallnacht  people panic, for fear that Jewish refugees might arrive. This affects the small Jewish population in Stavanger in that they do not dare to speak out and thus cannot defend themselves. In Stavanger, a climate of fear for anything Jewish became the norm.
Participation. While the police in this west coast town village detains 17 of 17 registered Jews, one of three Jews in the rest of Norway are arrested, also a very high number. In the book, Dybvig looks closely at the concept of “participation”. Where does complicity, culpability and responsibility start and end? Police labeled the Jewish passports with a red J, filled out questionnaires about family and religious affiliation, made lists of seized property. But there was also the taxi driver who drove the Jews to the train station. The bureaucrats who ordered food for the journey on the Danube. The neighbors who bought Judith Becker’s waffle iron for a tenner at an auction.

– How much did ordinary people know about the fate that awaited the Jews?

– Everyone knew about the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and the Kristallnacht. Those who were on board the carts on their way to concentration camps, wrote notes which were thrown out of the train windows. When the Jews suddenly were not in their houses, and others could just move in straight away. When they were not seen in the shops. When doctors, dentists and lawyers lost their right to practice, it is clear that something serious had happened. People realized that being a Jew was synonymous with being doomed.

Without let-up. The organized killings in concentration camps were planned in every detail and required massive logistics. This industrialized killing could not have been the result of an episode of acute anger. During the war, six million Jews were annihilated. With one hundred per. days would one would have needed about 200 years [to reach the same number]. People can be manipulated to rage, but they do not maintain this rage for several hundred years. Thirst, even blood thirst, is extinguished in the end. Therefore the thuggery was replaced by bureaucracy, the public fury by obedience to authority.

– That the words came from outside, does not exempt participants from liability. Examples from other cities and countries show that there were alternatives, Dybvig underlines.

When the killing methods are industrialized, the personal meeting between executioner and victim is also removed. This however, did not prevent that the road to death was very harsh and without any let-up in brutality.

– What was the biggest betrayal?

– That the values ​​of a society suddenly does not apply to citizens who have lived here for over 30 years. That people who believe they are part of the society, suddenly are not anymore.

In Stavanger, the Jews were simply blotted out of history. No one was mentioned in the obituaries. A memorial stone for  the Jewish population came as late as 2010.

– There are groups today that are referred to in a similar manner as the Jews were. Terms that are not acceptable (‘applicable’, if translation is to be more correct M.McG)  to others. This is precisely what is so important about the book for the current state of affairs.

A paradox. The Jews are described as good-natured, and quietly accepting of his sacrificial role, so that they fit into the story of our own innocence, according to Dybvig. The Jews do not cry, does not protest, are not terrified. They accept their “destiny” with “great peace of mind.” But do we really believe this? She believes the history books until now has conveyed the genocide as something inevitable. As a law of nature it would have been impossible to combat.

– Through a gross distortion of culpability and responsibility, we have created a safe distance to painful memories. It almost seems like a tacit national conspiracy. As a nation we have never confronted the attitudes that led to participation in the deportations and killings of Jews, Dybvig says.

History also shows that Norwegian Nazis were very enthusiastic about plans to also deport the Sami population. However, the SS leader Heinrich Himmler,  halted the proposal. He would rather have Sami interned in camps as a tourist attraction on the condition that they did not mix with other races.

– We need to get a more realistic view of our history. It is important to confront the myth that Norway was such a noble, great, nice and humanistic country . As long as we have this view of ourselves, we will not  be able to recognize similar problems when they arise again.

A final thought, school kids in the area could do well to study the names on this list and make a role play of the dreadful journey to their untimely deaths. Maybe the descendants of the sole survivor, Georg Rechenberg, who incidentally came from Haugesund, could play the role of narrator, lending a voice to the eye witness who could have told us the full story.

2 comments for “A suggestion for the SILK festival: invite author Kjersti Dybvig to talk about her book

  1. February 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    My grandmother was a Jew living in Stavanger from the 1920s. She married frithjof Schoyen who owned a paint factory in stavanger. She had 2 daughters jofrid and lisbeth. Her husband died in the early 30s and she was left alone to look after her family. Upon reading of Hitlers rise, she immediately went to the govt offices and changed her religion from Jewish to Christian. When the German army arrived, a major came to her house and took over the top floor as his living quarters for 2 years. How did they survive? My grandmother told me that One day a young German soldier came to the door and said it had been reported they were Jews. Unable to lie to his face she said “yes”. A long moment passed then he said” all right. Don’t worry I won’t report you”. And so they were not deported to a concentration camp. An interesting sidelight is that a few years after the war ended, there was a knock at the front door and standing there was the German major who had occupied their top floor. He had brought his wife and kids. “hello,” he said. ” I just wanted my wife to meet the lovely people I stayed with, here.”. .My grandmother was the most gracious woman who ever lived. She invited them in and served tea. All the horror and fear that all three women, my grandmother, my mother, and my aunt had suffered from for 3 years was never mentioned.

  2. : )
    February 18, 2013 at 1:17 am

    Dear Jon Johannesen,
    this story is one of the best I have ever heard about humanty and care during the 2 ww. I would love to read more about it. Hope its public known if not thank you for bringing this personal story out : )
    Have a nice day. All best : )

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