Saturday, October 29, 2016

Erik Somer - Photo: Courtesy Erik Somer



My father, Wolf Somer, was born on 15 September, 1891 in Sadagora in Bukovina, which was then an Austrian province; after the First World War it became Romanian and after the Second World War and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire it now belongs to the Ukraine.

My grandfather was Mendel Somer, a pharmacist in Sadagora. Sadagora is almost a suburb of that area's main city, which during the Austrian period was called Chernowitz, under Romania Cernauti and today is called Chernovtsy. While I have met my grandfather, I have never met my grandmother. Her first name was Chaja Hinda and her maiden name was Königsberg. My grandfather, whom we called Opapa Mendel as children, died in 1933 and is buried in Chernowitz.

From left: Erik Somer's father, grandfather, 
brothers Elieser and Marem

My father went to Vienna where he studied medicine at the University.As a doctor he took part in the Austrian army during World War. 

My father died in 1952 in Tel Aviv, Israel. From left: My father, grandfather, brothers Elieser and Marem. 

My mother Hanna (Chana) Erteschik was born in Krakow on 5 October, 1895. Krakow was then in the Austrian province of Galicia, but became Polish after World War I. Her father's name was Joseph and her mother's Gusta or Gitel, née Turner.

Erik Somer's mother, Hanna (Chana) Erteschik - Courtesy Erik Somer

My mother never told me anything about her mother, only that her parents were divorced and that her mother died young. My mother had a half sister Lola, who also was named Gusta after her mother, but had a different father. Lola lived in Vienna, where her husband was director of the Austrian Danube Steamship Company.

My mothers father was married four times. His last wife and one of her sons vanished during World War II in Auschwitz.

As a teenager my mother went to Vienna, where her older brothers Mario and Arno lived. She became a housekeeper for them. She joined them when they in 1913 moved to Copenhagen, Denmark.

Erik Somer's uncle Mario

Here they opened a textile factory “Scandinavian Hosiery AS” and a chain of women´s clothing stores named DIVA.

Franz Josefs Kai 1 (left) and Danube Canal.

My mother was still housekeeper for the two brothers and also helped in the shops, when she met my father while recovering at Skodsborg Sanatorium, presumably for a bile problem that bothered her the whole life. My father was at Skodsborg on a study trip because he wanted to establish a similar institution in Vienna. Their relationship developed despite the wishes of her brothers, Arno and Mario, who did not want to lose their housekeeper through marriage. Consequently, there was never much love lost between my father and the two brothers.

In spite of this, Mario loaned my father funds to help him establish the ambulatory clinic THERMIA, which was located in Vienna's most exclusive quarter, Franz Joseph Kai 1, a portion of the circular Ring surrounding the historic city center. (Franz Josefs Kai is located on the Danube Canal, a sidearm to the Danube). 

My parents were married on November 17th, 1925, in a Vienna synagogue with my mother's brother Mario and my father's brother Marem as official witnesses.

The lineage of my grandfather Joseph can be traced far back in time. A distant relative, Naomi Shubin Greenberg, has written a book about this branch of the family genealogy.

It is typical of Jewish families that they keep records of their families far back in time. This is particularly true for the group called Cohanim (the name is often Cohen or Kohn). The Cohanims trace their ancestry back to the time of Moses, as the males of this family were the only ones who could become priests since they were the offspring of Moses's brother, the high priest Aaron. Both of my grandfathers were Cohanim.

Ruth and Erik, 1932. Courtesy Erik Somer

Since the Jewish people were not held together by common land, they relied on family history to give them their common identity. My maternal grandfather could trace his lineage back to the Jewish sage Rashi who lived in Troys and Worms (1040-1105). 

It was through my great-grandmother Redel Landau, who married a son of Alter Erteschik who descended in a direct line from Rashi. Rashi who, in turn, wrote in his works that he was of David's lineage. Thus we are, like our remote relative Jesus, of the House of David.

My sister Ruth Malinowski, a weaver and tapestry maker, was born on September 30th, 1928. She has exhibited her work in many countries and received many awards for her work. Her husband was the late poet Ivan Malinowski and they have a daughter Nina Malinovski (born 1951), herself an author. Nina has 3 children Milan, Pejk and Marike. 


I was born on August 21, 1926 at a maternity clinic at Allgemeines Krankenhaus, Pelikan Gasse 15, Vienna IX, and was circumcised some days later.

On January 1, 1926, my father had opened his clinic THERMIA, next to our apartment on Franz Josefs Kai 1. I lived there until we fled to Denmark in 1938.

In addition to our nanny we also had a cook. I also went daily in the clinic where I was especially good friends with Karl, the stoker who took care of the hot mud baths, (one of my father's specialties.) Furthermore, I was very good friends with the nurse Selma, a large and good tempered woman, and with the secretary and cashier, whose name I no longer remember. 

The ground floor of our building held a typical Viennese café, a place where one enjoyed the Einspänner (Coffee with whipped cream), the Gespritzter (white wine with appolinaris), possibly an Obstler (fruit brandy) and a piece of apple strudel or Sachertorte. There one could read the daily newspapers which were fixed to a rattan reading rack, and/or visit with friends.

During summer one could sit outside the cafe in the shade of large chestnut trees. My father had his own table there with a telephone linking him directly with the clinic secretary, so that he could be summoned if necessary, or respond to a call. There he would spend a considerable part of his day. But he returned to our apartment for meals.

We frequently visited Denmark, usually staying at Uncle Mario's apartment at Vendersgade 33, the last house on Søtorvet with two towers. Mario had an office on ground floor and lived on the second floor. Viewed from the street, it was the flat towards the lakes with two balconies.

During summer visits we spent most of the time in Hornbæk, often with my mother's best friend Leonie Rosenfeld Plaut, called Lonemor, and Lonemor's mother, whom we either called “Mamá” (with a long vowel at the end) or else “Grandma.” Uncle Mario was similarly never called anything but “Uncle Grandpa,” as he was several years older than my mother.

As previously mentioned, we always had a nanny. The first nanny I do not remember. My first vague recollection of a nanny was that of a tough young lady who would not accept my food idiosyncrasies. Since I could not stand green peas, but loved scrambled eggs, she would serve peas and tell me that it was scrambled eggs from green hens, just as tomato sauce was scrambled eggs from red hens. When the nanny fed me scrambled eggs from the green hens, it upset my stomach and I threw up. Resolutely the nurse fed me my own vomit. When my mother noticed it, the nanny was promptly fired.

Fräuli with Erik Somer;s daughter Lone and
Ruth´s daughter Nina (right).
Courtesy Erik Somer

I have more fond recollections of a nanny we called “Paukowitsch,” a tough middle-aged lady who went to walk with me and my younger sister Ruth, who was two years younger and still in the pram. We walked in the Stadtpark, a five minutes walk from where we lived. I remember those walks which often took us to a stone bench on the banks of the Wien, a river which wended through the park. We called her "Die Paukowitsch,” as we had no pet name for this harsh lady. 

It was much different with our next nanny -- Miss Stefanie Janik – whom we called “Fräuli” (i.e. the little miss) from day one. Fräuli was member of our family for approximately 60 years until her death on 16 August, 1991, at almost 90 years of age. Presumably she started with us around 1930 when I was age 4. She was born in Olmütz in the present Czech Republic, which before WW one was in the Austrian province of Moravia, in the city now called Olomouc. Most likely from childhood she was bilingual in German and Czech (a Slavic language similar to Polish.) One of her first jobs as a nanny was in Poland where she spent a few years. Her mastery of Polish must have been good as she and my mother spoke Polish whenever they spoke of something which they didn't want Ruth or me to know.

Often during the summer, we would go to Austrian resorts. The first such holiday that I recall was when we went to Semmering, where we stayed at a hotel when I was probably 4 years old. In the morning we breakfasted on rolls (Semmeln), smothered under thick layers of butter. One day I went to the table before the others came and began to lick the butter from the rolls. When my father came in and saw it, I got an incredible beating. My mother arrived and was afraid that my father would hurt me seriously. 

I may have had other naughty inclinations, but my Dad was intractable. My parents agreed to send me to a child-care institution in a small town in Wienerwald called Hinterbrühl. I was most unhappy there.

At one end of the house was a semi-circular stone basin with a lion's head that spewed water into a basin which contained some vegetation in the water. I went up to the basin and held my head under the water. I swallowing a lot of water and still remember the feeling of nearly drowning. Fortunately, I was found alive. My parents were called and I was returned to the their hotel at Semmering. 

About one year later I was slightly injured. Ruth would bath her smaller dolls in a doll bathtub made of tin including tin tubes legs, one of which had broken off. One morning as we dressed, I stood behind Ruth and used the tin tube to blow air on her neck. Ruth became irritated and threw her head back. The result was that the tin tube cut into my uvula. Yell and scream! I was promptly taken to a throat specialist, who lived a few houses from us. With a special tong he kept my mouth open so he could get to the uvula and cut it off. My missing uvula challenges me when I try to say something with rolling R´s, which require a vibrating uvula. Throughout life, doctors examining my throat have wondered in astonishment why I did not have a uvula. Then I would tell them the story of the tin doll bathtub leg.

Once Fräuli took me to a military parade on a green square in front of Votivkirche. We came to stand close to a company of soldiers who suddenly began to fire a rifle salute. There was a tremendous bang which resulted in a sharp pain in my ears. I think that my hardness-of-hearing stemmed from this incident. Even as a child, I would often say “What?" when someone said something to me, for just a few seconds after to show that I had understood what had been said.

Frequently I would be criticized for this. I now realize that my hearing was so bad that I did not immediately understand what was being said; instead, my brain would require a fraction of a second to process sounds which I had heard as fragments into understandable patterns. This slowed the immediate understanding of speech.


I started school at the age of six. The school was called Pädagogikum and was situated in Hegel Gasse, about 10 minutes walk from where we lived. It was a teachers college which had a primary school to give the future teachers practice. The class teacher was not an ordinary teacher, but was probably equivalent to a college lecturer and was called “professor.” In the beginning Fräuli took me to school and picked me up, but soon I would go there by myself.

Erik Somer's father and Erik at the soccer stadium. 
Courtesy: Erik Somer

My father had an additional job as a physician at Vienna's major soccer stadium which gave us free seats in the first row. I spent many Sundays with him there. I can not remember if I was particularly interested in the game; but I remember clearly that I was always happy to get hot dogs during the intermission.

Vienna had a chain of food stores called Julius Meinl. Julius Meinl was Danish consul who after World War I, when there was famine in Austria, took part on the organization of a large-scale transportation of Viennese children to Denmark where they then resided with families for a period while recovering. Here in Denmark these children were called Vienna Children.

During their recovery, many learned to speak Danish. Even after their return to Vienna, Julius Meinl took good care of these children with many of them getting jobs in his stores. As a result, I often could speak Danish when shopping at Meinl. I was often asked to do some shopping for my mother. Occasionally, I would go there with a friend who would be very surprised that I could talk to the staff in a language he did not understood. I had also learned Danish during our many stays in Denmark.

Every Wednesday, we had standing dinner guests for our hot meal at midday. Two of my father's fellow war doctors would dine with us. Their names were Dr. Balakan and Dr. Krämer. Both a bit shabby, Balakan was a squat, round man while Krämer was tall and strong. They used to amuse themselves with my father recalling memories from World War I. He would often repeat the story about the famine on the Austrian front. The soldiers then told stories about food so distasteful that it should give them loathing for food, so they did not feel hungry.

One of the more moderate stories was about how Parisians during the German siege in 1870 would be forced to eat rats. Even at the finest restaurants rats were served, prepared according to all the French culinary rules. All this was told while we ate. Oddly enough, the gentlemen at the table did not feel loathing for food thereby. Only my mother did. No wonder she hated the Wednesday dinners. 

Quite early in life, I became a boy scout. I liked the scouting life and was involved in many tours. It was a rule that scouts throughout the year must wear their uniform with short pants and stockings. When it was really cold in the winter, I would have trouble with such dress, but I would not stand to be thought a sissy, and my Father made sure I went on these trips. But, oh, how I would shiver when I returned home. 

When I began in the 3rd grade at school, Ruth, who is two years younger than I, should also start school in Pädagogikum. According to the rules one had to be at least 6 years old before getting access. Ruth's birthday is on 30 September, and then the school already had started. She was only allowed to come to school after her birthday. She was shy and had difficulty getting in contact with the other children, who already knew each other.

In the beginning I was asked to join her class, so that she should not feel so alone. The professor asked her if she could sing a song. Our songs originated mostly from our contact with nurses and other staff in the clinic, and it were just not common children's songs, we were taught. 

Ruth's first song, sung in Viennese dialect, went as follows: 

Da drobn am Bergerl da steht a Krawat,
der traut si´ net runter,
weil er d´ Hosen voll hat. 
(Upon the hill a Croat stands,
He dares not come down, 
because he has poo in his pants.)

The song caused joy among the other children. The Professor tried to calm them and asked Ruth if she could sing other songs. Now Ruth was cheerful due to the success of her first song, so she sang: 

Mariandl hat a Woartzen am Knie,
hat sie abibissen,
hat in d´ Hosen geschissen,
aber kann net dafür.
(Marian has a wart on her knee,
gives it a bite, 
poo in her pants,
but can not help it). 

At this point the professor did not want any more songs from Ruth.

A housing fortress in Vienna

In February 1934 there was a brief civil war in Austria. The last Austrian emperor Karl I abdicated when World War I ended with Austria's defeat. Austria became a republic with the Socialists in power. Vienna was also reigned by Socialists.

In the post-war years a large municipal housing construction activity took place, mainly with workers' houses in large blocks. Several of these blocks were constructed so that they could be used as fortresses if the Social Democrats felt their power threatened, especially after Mussolini's fascists came to power in neighboring Italy.

In 1933 the very right-wing Eberhard Dollfuss went into power. He dissolved the parliament and imposed a dictatorship. In February 1934 the Social Democrats rebelled against this regime using the worker housing blocks as fortresses. The government used the army and national guard against the rebels. The workers blocks were bombarded with canons and after a few days the Socialists were defeated. 

I remember these events. We were not allowed to leave the apartment for several days. We were not even allowed to stand close to the windows because we risked that there would be shots fired at us. We could peek behind the curtains, and noticed the chaotic appearance of groups of workers and soldiers marching along the streets. We heard a lot of shooting.

My Aunt Lola, the wife of the ship director lived in one of the municipal blocks in Floritzdorf, the only district of Vienna, north of the Danube. Her apartment was partly destroyed during the fighting. 

Dollfuss did not last long. In July 34 he was assassinated in a failed Nazi coup. He was followed by Schuschnigg as prime minister, or chancellor as it was called in Austria. He was rather weak and had constantly to give in to German demands. The Nazis acted more and more openly in Vienna. Several of my schoolmates and even teachers paraded openly with Nazi emblems. An uncertain future awaited us. 

In June 1934 my father went to Israel, or rather Palestine as it was called then. He wanted to examine the feasibility of establishing a medical practice there, as he had a premonition that the situation of Jews in Austria could become difficult. He had obtained an entry visa for the whole family.

In any case, he had to go there himself to apply for a permission to open a medical practice. The British who ruled the country as mandate territory, intended to stop the influx of doctors from abroad by September 1934, and therefore it was important that my Dad had all requirements in hand before then. He had also an expectation that he would work as a physician at a sanitarium in Tiberias for 3 to 4 months of the year and made contact with a group that was about to invest in a large spa and sanitarium there.

I do not know what my Dad got out of the trip. After a few months he came back via Istanbul. I remember that he brought us sweet confection called halva from there. It is a kind of marzipan made of ground sesame and sugar. I had never tasted it before, but have loved it ever since. He also brought us some baklava, a middle eastern sweet millefeuille biscuits. He told me that they were baked with sheep fat, so I did not touch them. Since then I have learned to love them. 

In 1936, at the end of 4th grade I finished at the Pädagogicum. In August I started at the secondary school Real Gymnasium 1 on Stubenbastei, located only some minutes walk from where we lived. There I would have had to spend 8 years before getting the entrance exam to university. Matura, as it was called.

Already in the first high school class (which thus corresponds to the 5th grade in Denmark), we had a foreign language - Latin. Other foreign languages, I did not get in school. 

My parents had arranged for teachers who taught us at home in Hebrew and English, doubtless in the expectation that we might want to emigrate to Palestine. I do not know if it was my poor motivation or poor teachers, but I got nothing out of my Hebrew lessons.

At the secondary school I took part in Jewish religion classes. There were three types of religion classes, one for the largest group the Catholics, one for the Jews and finally there was one for the small group of Protestants. Again, we learned some Hebrew just in order to be able to read from prayer books. This I learned with some difficulty but with the exception of a few words, I did not understand what I read.


On 12 March 1938 German troops marched into Austria, greeted welcome by large crowds. I will here give an account of the circumstances which led to the Anschluss (Annexation of Austria by Germany). 

At the peace treatment of St. Germain-de-Pré (the palace, where I later came to stay one night) after World War I, it was decided that Austria should be an independent republic, which should keep its independence from Germany and other countries. Austria became a different state, a head without a body.

In the capital, Vienna, lived one third of the country's 6 million inhabitants. At the Austro-Hungarian double monarchy´s dissolution Austria was cut of from the areas where the population used to obtain its food. The industry lost its raw material suppliers and its traditional markets. The new states, above all Czechoslovakia, surrounded themselves with high tariff walls to foster a new national industry, so Austria was unable to maintain adequate industrial exports. 

As a closer connection to Germany (which many in Austria wanted) was banned by the Allies tried Austria in its distress to get a coin and customs union with Italy (1922), but this also was forbidden by the Allies. During the world economic crisis around 1930 Austria was trying to make an agreement with Germany on a customs union, so that the highly troubled Austrian industry should be able to sell its industrial products to Germany. Also this plan foundered on France's determined resistance. It was therefore no wonder that the reaction thrived in Austria. The country was already under a semi-fascist regime, when Hitler in 1938 with violence annexed Austria to Germany. The beginning of Germany´s conquests.

This semi-fascist regime began with the Dollfuss coup in 1933, but it was not nazistic, rather closer to Mussolini's regime. The Austrian Nazis, supported by their German brothers, attempted a coup (Putsch) in July 34, Dollfuss was murdered. Mussolini intervened and said that he would come to the assistance of Austria, if Germany attempted to annex the country. 

The next government under Schuschnigg prohibited the Austrian Nazi party. The day after the murder of Dollfuss Hitler appointed von Papen as Germany's ambassador to Austria. Von Papen had been chancellor of Germany in a short period in 1932 and helped Hitler to power in January 1933. Hitler, the new German chancellor, made him vice chancellor again for a shorter period. However, he was opposed to Hitler's brutal exercise of power and was even imprisoned for some days and two of his associates were murdered in June 1934. 

In the letter of appointment Hitler asked von Papen to bring the relationship between the two countries back to normal and friendly relations. Nevertheless he quickly acted in seeking to strengthen the illegal Austrian Nazi party. Although Berlin in 1935 officially stated that it was its policy to avoid anything that might look as if Germany intervened in Austria's internal affairs, von Papen secured a monthly payment of 200,000 Mark to "the poor persecuted National Socialists in Austria." 

His Nazi friendly policy led to an agreement dated 11 July 1936, which on the one side brought relations with Germany to a "normal and friendly condition", but which nevertheless had secret sections arranging for an amnesty for Austrian Nazis, cessation of censorship of Nazi magazines, allowing resumption of the Nazis' political activities and worked for the appointment of ministers in Schuschniggs Cabinet, who were Nazis. The Party Vaterländische Front was still the only legal party in Austria, but von Papen tried to get Nazis into significant positions in the party. 

He pressed Schuschnigg to a conference with Hitler at Berchtesgaden on 12 February 1938. Here, Hitler threatened to invade Austria. Schuschnigg agreed to appoint the Nazi Seyss-Inquart as Interior Minister with responsibility among others for the police. 

On March 9th, Schuschnigg decided that there should be a referendum about Austria's independence. It was to take place on 13 March. On 11 March Hitler sent an ultimatum to Schuschnigg to cancel the referendum. Goering came with a series of threatening claims to the Austrian government. In particular, Schuschnigg should resign as chancellor, and leave this post to Seyss-Inquart. 

Schuschnigg agreed, and President Miklas, who first refused to approve Schuschnigg´s resignation, gave up and appointed Seyss-Inquart.

In the meantime, Hitler had given final orders to German troops to march into Austria in the early morning of 12 March. He instructed Seyss-Inquart to use formations of Austrian Nazis to take hold of President Miklas and to take over full control of the Austrian Government. 

While the German troops began their march, Goering telephoned the German Embassy in Vienna and dictated a telegram which Seyss-Inquart should send to Hitler to justify the military action that had already begun. In this telegram Seyss-Inquart should ask Germany to intervene by sending troops to prevent the violent unrest in Austria. Keppler, the German embassy official, who received the call, answered: "Well, there is no unrest." Goering was angry and asked Keppler to show the telegram to Seyss-Inquart. He did not even have to send it, but just respond "accepted". 

Seyss-Inquart never sent the telegram. He did not even telegraph "Accepted".

German troops enter Vienna cheered by the crowd

Actually, it seems that Seyss-Inquart, after having been appointed chancellor at about 10 am called Keppler and urged him to call Hitler and convey to him a protest against the invasion. Goering was furious. "It would disturb the Führer's rest. The Führer wants to come to Austria the next day " . At 11.15 am a German official in the Propaganda Ministry called the German Embassy in Vienna, where Keppler said to him: “Tell Göring that Seyss-Inquart agrees”.The German troops marched into Austria and met no resistance. The German press announced that Seyss-Inquart had been appointed to succeeded Schuschnigg, and the telegram which Goering had suggested, was quoted to show that Seyss- Inquart had requested the German invasion in order to prevent unrest

The next day, on March 13th, Seyss-Inquart issued an act which established Austria's reunion with Germany. He demanded that President Miklas should sign the law. Miklas refused and resigned. He was succeded by Seiss-Inquart, who signed the law on behalf of Austria.

The law was issued the same day as it also was introduced in Germany by a Cabinet decree signed by Hitler, Goering and others. Hitler himself went to Austria and gave a speech in Linz, which he regarded as his hometown. On this occasion he read the law.

Seyss-Inquart later on became Germany´s governor in the Netherlands, where he was responsible for the extermination of the Dutch Jews. He was sentenced to death by war crime tribunal at Nuremberg and hanged. Von Papen was acquitted in Nuremberg.

The source for the above description of the Anschluss is mainly: Talks from the Tribunal at Nuremberg cited in "The Avalon Project of the Yale Law School, Judgement: The Invasion of Austria.  


Immediately after the Anschluss the Jews got it in the neck. Jewish shops had windows smashed by stones. "Jude" was written on Jewish stores. Often the Nazis forced the owner or his children to write it. It was mainly the brown-clad SA-militia who led the way. However, ordinary citizens stood and looked on and laughed. All Jewish men and boys were awarded the first name "Israel", whatever they were called in advance. Girls and women were given the first name "Sarah". A Jewish star had to be sewn on clothes belonging to Jews.

I had to leave school because the Nazi would not have Jewish children to come together with non-Jews. A short while we went to a pure Jewish school, but soon our parents took Ruth and me out of school. Instead we got a private tutor. It was a young Jewish student Hans Kant, who studied with us and in the afternoon took a walk with us.

Near where we lived, there was a small park close to the Danube Canal. It was below street level close to the water surface. To get to the park one had to walk down a long ramp.

One day, while Ruth, Hans and I sat on a bench in the park, arrived a bunch of SA-people and shouted to us that Jews were not allowed to sit on the benches and soil them. Now we should be taught a lesson, so that we remembered it. In total there were four male Jews in the park. We were lined up in a row, while many stood and stared at us. The four were: Hans, I, a disabled veteran from world war one and a convalescent after a recently completed hernia surgery. SA men who were equipped with whips, forced us to do 100 deep knee bends. The invalid and the convalescent broke down after a few bends. Hans managed 100 bends. I maybe 50. 

The park where Erik Somer was mistreated by the SA. The ramp is far left.

Then we all four had to jump like frogs up the ramp and exit the park. Only Hans and I made it. I however, almost crawling on all fours. Ruth was crying. All other spectators laughed. 

Also at home there were big changes. My parents were divorced. I knew nearly nothing about what was happening. Only that my Father did not sleep at home any more, and that my Mother often wept bitterly. During the day we saw our father in the clinic. It had actually started before the Anschluss. Much later, after we had come to Denmark my Mother and Fräuli told us that my Father had been unfaithful to my mother.

It was probably due to my parents' divorce that Ruth and I that summer were sent alone on summer vacation. As Jews, we could not get to the normal summer resorts, but Fräuli had some remote family, "Ria-Tant" and her husband. They had a smallholding with orchard in Amstetten, a village near Skt.Pölten not far from Vienna. We lived there, almost hidden. The neighbors should not know that Ria-Tant had Jewish children as guests. I remember that I helped to make apple juice in a huge fruit press.

It also became evident that my father could not keep his clinic. Institutions of this kind had to be "aryanized", ie. taken over by non-Jews whom the Nazis called "Aryans". After my fathers dead I found in my Father's papers a description of how it happened. It is dated August 2th, 1945: 

"On September 9th, 1938 a commissioner was appointed to be in charge of the “aryanization”of the in clinic. On September 13th, he introduced me to a colleague who should take over the clinic. A Nazi valuer put the clinic's value to 60,000 Reichsmark. The colleague should, however, take over the clinic for only 20,000 Reichsmark, to be repayable in 5000 Reichsmark annually. The money should be deposited in a blocked account. I could not agree to this, because this money would not be available for me if I emigrated.

On September 23rd at 3 o'clock in the morning I was taken to the Gestapo, where I was accused of opposing the “aryanization”. Therefore, I had to leave the country within 24 hours, otherwise I would be taken into a concentration camp. As I had a permission to emigrate and a visa to Palestine, I left Austria on September 24th and emigrated to Palestine. What since happened to the clinic I do not know. However, I have heard rumors that it was liquidated in June or July 1939. I traveled to Palestine with nothing except the clothes I had put on ".

It should be added, that the clinic, of course, had a far greater value than what the valuer had decided. The whole process was of course pure fraud. 

I did not see my father's departure, as Mother, Ruth, I, and Fräuli went to Denmark in the beginning of September 1938. I remember our last day in Vienna. Mother and Fräuli were busy packing. Our furniture and our utensils were packed in crates and taken over by a freight forwarder. Some of the furniture had already been converted so that it would better suit the conditions, we could expect in Denmark. For Example, my parents' double bed was converted into two beds with individual mattresses covered with upholstery fabric.

The journey was by train via Prague and Berlin. At the border of Czechoslovakia, there was a customs officer who carefully searched all our luggage. He was very happy for my stamp collection, saying only that he would confiscate it. My Mother could not manage to protest. In Berlin, we stayed one night at a hotel before we went to Denmark.


1938 - 1943

Uncle Mario picked us up with his car at the central train station and drove us to his giant villa on Strandvej 845 in Springforbi, north of Copenhagen. Along the way, we were admonished not to call him “Uncle Grandpa” anymore. 

Mario had some years earlier married his secretary Trudi (née Nathan). She was much younger than Mario, of German descent and very beautiful. She did not appreciate that her husband was called grandpa. They had at that time two children, the oldest Miriam 3 years old and the youngest Dan 1 year old. 

Rather soon there developed a certain distance between my mother and Fräuli on one side and aunt Trudi on the other. Fräuli was critical of the nanny and my mother of the cook, and Trudi was generally dissatisfied with having us four around in the house. 

Mario also had an apartment on the second floor of Vendersgade 33 in Copenhagen (in one of the houses with two towers). He had lived here before he moved to Springforbi and he had also had his main office on the ground floor. Several of the rooms in the apartment rooms were tenanted, but some of the tenants were given notice of termination and then we could move in there. We got along well with our tenants who could use the bathroom, but not the kitchen where mainly my mother ruled. 

We had not been in this country for long before mother was informed by the authorities that we would not be granted residence permit in Denmark, this despite the fact that my mother previously had lived in Denmark for many years and in spite of the fact that Uncle Mario would take financial responsibility for us, so we would not be a financial burden to society. To send us back to Austria/Germany would mean a certain death for us, and it became unfortunately the fate of others. 

With Mario´s financial assistance, he found a Dane who was willing to marry my mother pro forma, and thus mother got married by the mayor in Taarbæk on December 22nd, 1938. My mother's formal name became Hanna Ram-Pedersen. After the war, mother separated from her "husband", Axel Louis Ram-Pedersen, whom I have never met. 

Shortly after we moved to Vendersgade, I was enrolled in the German St. Petri school because my knowledge of Danish was not good enough to allow immediate enrollment into a Danish public school. I attended second grade of the secondary school, which corresponds to the seventh academic year.

It was awful. Most of the children and also several of the teachers were Nazis. Therefore, I was terribly bullied. There was only one boy who was really nice to me. It was the son of the German vicar. His name was Gerlach. He invited me often to his fathers rectory at the St. Petri Church.

Erik Somer

The whole thing lasted only briefly, because after just a few months I spoke enough Danish to enter a Danish public school, Elligkors (Holy Cross) School in Nørrebro. My school mates were mostly working class children who themselves had to earn money while they went to school. Most of them were delivery boys working from early in the morning. When they came to school, they fell asleep.

I remember that one of the boys worked for a merchant who was supplier to the Royal court. He boasted much of his errands to the Royal Palace, where he delivered the goods. He claimed that the toilets had red velvet on the seats. He had noticed that when he was asked to distribute toilet tissue rolls. I have never had occasion to determine whether it was true, but he was a boaster, so it was probably not.

Many carrier bikes were parked in the schoolyard. Many of the children came directly to the school from their delivery jobs. Our school separated boys and girl classes, and there were no dealings between the sexes. I did quite well in school. Actually, after one year, although I turned 13 years of age this year 1939, I was number one in Danish. 

According to Jewish custom a boy at this age has to undergo the religious initiation ceremony called Bar Mitzwah. It corresponds somewhat to the Christian confirmation. The Hebrew term Bar Mitzwah means “Son of duty or of commandment”. Being Bar Mitzwah means that one from then on is accepted as adult in the synagogue. One can, inter alia, get the task to read in public from the Torah - the five books of Moses. This takes place in the morning worship on the Sabbath, where the Torah is read in an annual cycle.

The essential action for the Bar Mitzwah is that the boy performs that day's reading from the Torah in the synagogue. The ceremony takes place on of the first Sabbat after the boys 13th birthday. In my case it was on Saturday, September 2nd. The five books of Moses are found in a number of Torah scrolls in a sacred cabinet in the front end of the synagogue. 

The highlight of the service is when the scroll with today's text is taken from the cabinet. The text is handwritten on parchment, which is rolled up on two sticks. By turning the sticks one finds the text of that day. The Torah scrolls are placed vertically in the cabinet. Each scroll is wrapped in a beautiful embroidered velvet sheath and fitted with a silver badge stating the content. The top sticks are decorated with silver caps, fitted with small bells or other ornaments. 

The Rabbi or an appointed member of the congregation takes the Torah scroll from the cabinet and carries it to the lecture desk located in the middle of the synagogue. He removes the velvet sheath and opens the scroll so that the day's text appears where the member of the congregation comes to the desk. He begins with a prayer blessing the Torah and reads the text with a chanting, singing voice. The reader's shoulder is covered with a prayer shawl in white silk inscribed.

The synagogue in Copenhagen. In the center:
the reading desk. Women have to sit on the balcony.

A couple of months before my Bar Mitzwah I went to the synagogue to prepare for the reading. My teacher was Mr. Margolinsky. He was an assistant rabbi and had in particular the task to repair the text in the often very old parchment scrolls where the text might have been worn. This was done with a quill pen and special ink. I had some knowledge of Hebrew script and could read a text slowly without understanding it.

In the texts that I was used to, words appeared with both consonants and vowels. Vowels in Hebrew are shown as dots or small characters below the consonants. The Torah is written only with consonants. Therefore, one has to know the language in order to figure out which vowels each word has. Thus, I was not able to read the text. I had almost to learn it by heart, but had some help from the consonants. Moreover, I had to learn to read the text with the proper accompanying melody. Finally, of course, I had to understand today's text. Gradually, I learned the text and would then practice in reading it. 

While I was reading, Margolinsky worked at another table repairing other scrolls. However, his attention was firm. He corrected me immediately if I made a mistake in text or melody. The text was written with very little space between the lines and with very close and rather small letters. In order not to get lost in the text one had a pointer of silver, which ended with a small hand. In good time before my Bar Mitzwah I could do it all, but I was somewhat afraid of standing in front of the whole congregation with the rabbi at my side and chanting the text. After the service there should be a celebration at home in Vendersgade with family.

The day of my Bar Mitzwah, September 2nd, did have a very chaotic progress. The day before, World War II began when Germany marched into Poland. The following day England and France declared war against Germany. Also in Denmark there was considerable nervousness. Heavy restrictions were imposed on foreigners wanting to enter into Denmark. 

My uncle Monek came from Belgium in late August. He had received a visa for only a few days. But on September 1st, he was told to leave the country immediately. He had to leave before my Bar Mitzwah. My mother and uncle Mario, who were in charge of the event, were busy communicating with authorities to ensure that as many as possible of those who had come from outside the Danish border, would be allowed to stay. Everyone's thoughts were elsewhere than at my Bar Mitzwah. 

The whole family escorted me to the synagogue on the morning of September 2nd. I was for the first time in my life wearing long pants (so far I had only used short pants or plus fours). I had a soft felt hat on my head and in my hand I held a velvet bag with my prayer shawl. In the synagogue, I was placed on the front bench, where otherwise only fine dignitaries had their seats. 

After the rabbi had taken the Torah scroll from the cabinet and spread it on the reading desk, I was called up. During my reading, the rabbi stood beside me and pointed at the text with the pointer. Another boy reading the text that day, was also ready to prompt me, but it all went flawlessly. 

I do not remember anything from the party afterwards, probably because everything was so chaotic. Everyone was concerned about our family in Poland, that was now exposed to the ravages of the Germans. As it turned out, they all perished in gas chambers.


After the government was removed, Hitler decided that now might be the right time to arrest the Danish Jews. However, a Danish politicians and through him the Jewish community were informed by a German that an action was imminent. Historians are somewhat divided about the background of the German warnings.

It seems that the warning came via the marine attaché at the German Embassy in Copenhagen Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, who after liberation was highly praised for this action. He even became the German Ambassador to Denmark in the years after the war. The "official" version of the story is that it was his noble-mindedness that made him reveal the sinister German plans. And this is also the background in Duckwitz own report from 1946.

However, recent research (Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies) has demonstrated that Duckwitz (against his own denial) was a senior SS officer, and raises doubts about his motives. It seems that the SS in Denmark was afraid that a large-scale action against the Jews would create strong revolt tendencies in Denmark which it could be difficult to manage, and thus warned against the enterprise. There are even (uncertain) allegations that the top German leader in Denmark, Werner Best, had been in Sweden asking the Swedes to prepare for the expected refugees, and that the majority of smaller German patrol ships simultaneously were sent for repair so as not to impede transport across the Sound between Sweden and Denmark.

In any case, the Danes succeeded in helping more than 6000 Jews to come to Sweden in small boats during a few days. However, 472 Jews were arrested and sent to the concentration camp Theresienstadt in the present Czech Republic. Fortunately, Theresienstadt was not a real extermination camp at least for the Danes, so the majority survived. In the last days of war they were brought home by the Swedish Red Cross, together with Danish and Norwegian concentration camp prisoners.

It should be added that the Danish official policy which was rather friendly towards cooperation with Germany might be a major reason that Danish Jews survived the occupation better than Jews in most other occupied countries. This cooperation, however, was definitely also in Germany's interest, partly because it ensured a good supply to Germany of Danish food and other essential war commodities, and partly because the occupation could be carried out with far less German troops compared to what had been required by a brutal occupation.

The importance for the Jews of the Danish cooperation policy should not be interpreted to mean that the Danish Government was particularly friendly towards Jews. Indeed, continued expulsions of Jewish refugees to Germany took place, just as Jews who held Swedish entry visa were denied to leave Denmark.

Actually a top officer of the Police informed the Germans about these people. When the Danish government became aware that Germany would launch a persecution of the Jews, there was a suggestion from the government to the German governor Werner Best to keep the Jews in Danish concentration camps instead of sending them to German one.

This was rejected by Best which was lucky for the Jews, for if Denmark had performed the executioners task of collecting the Jews in Danish camps, it would have been easy for the Germans subsequently to send them to Germany, just as it happened with the Danish communists, who after having been interned in Denmark were taken by the Germans into German concentration camps.It therefore seems quite right that the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2005 has given the Jews in Denmark an apology for the treatment they got from the Danish government before and during the occupation.

At the end of September 1943, it was clear to us that a German action was directly imminent, and we decided to go underground. My mother was on the pretext of illness admitted to Bispebjerg Hospital, where her name Hanna Ram- Pedersen secured her from being discovered as a Jew.

Simultaneously, it was agreed that my sister Ruth and I should take refuge at my good friends, the Thyssen family at Sandal near Frederikssund. Fräuli took us there by train. We were placed in a guest room on the first floor of the main building. We were told not to leave the house, so that others should not discover us. Mrs. Thyssen, in particular, was rather nervous about the situation.

After the German action against Jews was launched in the night of October 3rd, it seemed to her to hear German voices in the bushes around the farm. Ruth and I were about to go to bed when Mrs.Thyssen came up to us and said that we had to hide in the straw in the barn. Ruth and I did not particularly like this idea. We also reassured Mrs. Thyssen, so that we could go to bed and sleep.

Approx. 14 days later Fräuli phoned and said that now we should be picked up. My uncle Mario had contact with a group that organized crossings to Sweden and my Mother, Ruth and I should make use of this transport together with him and his family.
Fräuli came by train to Sandal. She had a suitcase with clothes for us. We should put them on, one on top of the other, because we could not have hand luggage on the transport. Ruth and I got berets pulled down over our dark hair, in order not to be easily recognizable as Jews, and the we took the train back to Copenhagen.

On the train there were several people who wished us a good trip, so we did not manage to disguise ourselves. At the Central Station in Copenhagen we shifted to another train to Klampenborg - a suburb north of Copenhagen near the coast. It was prearranged that Fräuli on the platform in Klampenborg should take contact with a man with crutches, who would react to the watchword "Christian".

Fräuli went back and forth on the platform and whispered, "Christian" to many men, but nobody reacted. Finally, she found a man with a cane. It proved to be the right one. He had indeed no crutches and did not know anything about the watchword "Christian", but when he saw the two Jewish children together with Fräuli, he realized that it was us he should take care of. We then took leave of Fräuli, who as a non-Jew could stay in Denmark and take care of our apartment in Vendersgade. We did not see her again until after the liberation in 1945.

The man took us by car to Holte, where we were put up in a large villa, which belonged to a Supreme Court lawyer. He and his family were not at home, so the house was exclusively inhabited by refugees. There I met my Mother, my uncle and his family. We stayed there one night. The next day, my uncle realized that there were problems with the planned transport.

Somehow he made contact with a police officer who had relations to another transport option from Taarbaek Harbour. Meanwhile, several other refugees had come to the lawyer ́s villa. It was decided that we would all should go to Taarbaek. One of my uncle ́s employees Mr. Grundsøe got hold of four taxis which should take us to Taarbaek. We were divided into the cars.

My family and I got to sit in the second car while my uncle and his family came with the fourth car. The cars drove southwards to Taarbæk along the Coastal Road. Just north of Taarbaek the road divides into two branches. The left one leads to Taarbaek harbor, the right one bypasses Taarbaek and continues southward towards Copenhagen. The first car drove towards Taarbaek harbor, but shortly after the fork the car was stopped by a German patrol. All passengers in the car were taken by the Germans and ended up in concentration camp. The driver of car number two, where my mother, sister and I sat, discovered that the first car had been stopped by the Germans.

Immediately he turned the car down the right path. Approximately one hundred meter after the fork the road goes over a bridge, under which a path leads to Taarbaek harbor. There we stopped,and via a very steep slope, we came down to the road leading to the harbor. A little further one we met the police officer who took us to a fisherman ́s house at the harbor.

We were guided down to the basement, where there already sat several other refugees. A little later came the passengers of car number four. It was my uncle Mario and his family. He told us that car number three went along the left path and there everybody again was taken by the Germans. The driver of car number four did just as the second car and drove to the right, and in the same way as we arrived my uncle's family to the fisherman ́s house.

Now we waited to be picked up by the fishing boat which should sail us to Sweden. But a little before midnight came the policeman and told us that a German patrol vessel had entered the harbor. Therefore, we could not be taken up by the boat there.

Taarbaek harbor: We waited in the yellow house with red roof. The fishing boat would sail alone out of the harbor, as if it should go fishing. Further out, the boat would turn towards the coast further north where the refugees had to wait for the boat at a jetty. So we waited again in the basement. Soon after, the police officer came and told us that one half of the refugees should sneek along the coastal road to the jetty about one kilometer north of the harbor. The boat was only able to carry around 25 refugees and we were approximately fifty.

We were disappointed not to come with the first group. It was clear weather, and the moon would soon rise. At a later transport, we would be more visible. We were sorry about that, but there was nothing we could do about it. After a further one hour the policeman came and said that now another boat had left for the jetty.

So now the rest of the company should leave. We walked in small groups towards the North along the coastal road. My mother, sister and I went together. Suddenly, we heard the characteristic sound of a German truck coming from the north. Now we had to hide in a hurry.
We were just passing a nearly two meter high dense hedge on the left side of the road. In one way or another we all three got over this hedge. To this day I can not understand how my tiny mother managed to climb the hedge. Behind the hedge, we saw the German car pass and soon after we slipped out through the gate of the garden and came to the jetty. There already waited most of the refugees who should go on this boat.

Soon after we heard the fishing boat come chugging and we were quickly herded aboard. It was, was I already said, clear weather, and the moon had risen. There was phosphorescence in the water surrounding the boat, and on the Swedish side we saw a string of lights along the coast.

Unlike Denmark, Sweden had no blackout. When we came out in the Sound, we were discovered by the German patrol boat in Taarbæk harbor. A machine gun started shooting with tracer ammunition toward the boat. Fortunately, the shots went too high.

I can not remember that I was scared. Only that it all was an amazingly beautiful scene with the moon, the phosphorescence in the water, the beautiful string of lights in Sweden and even the string of glowing projectiles over the heads of us. When we had come about.half way to the Swedish island of Ven in the middle of the Sound between Denmark and Sweden, where we should go ashore, a small Swedish naval vessel came towards us and went between us and the Germans in order to protect us. We were now in Swedish territorial waters and the machine gun fire ceased. We sailed against Ven's north coast where there is a small harbor town Kyrkbakken.

Coming closer to this harbor, we noticed several Swedish boats sailing around with projectors lighting up the sea. We did not know what that meant, but we got soon to know that the first fishing boat by a wrong manoeuvre was run down by a Swedish naval vessel that intended to protect it from the Germans just as we were. Seven of those on board drowned. So after all we were happy that we did not come with the first boat. Shortly after we were in the harbour. We were received by a Swedish soldier with the words: "Welcome, here you can sing freely."

I know it sounds trite, but up on the quayside several of us sang the Swedish national anthem, "You old, you free, you montain rich north". We were brought up to Kyrkbakken ́s small cinema where we sat down waiting for a preliminary registration. So we fell asleep on the seats. The next morning we sailed to Landskrona and were taken to the barracks, where each got a straw mattress and some food. Furthermore, we all got fleas.

Before I tell you further about our stay in Sweden I will tell you about something that happened at the same time back in Denmark. At the Metropolitan high school had my schoolmates and teachers obviously noticed that I no longer met in school. But they did not know what had happened to me. On September 3rd, when the newspapers wrote about the German raid against the Jews, the class gathered and decided to go on strike.

One of my mates, Hugh Zachariae, who later became a professor in Aarhus, phoned around to other high schools and the next day all Danish high schools went into strike in protest against the persecution of the Jews.. The strike was only called off several days later. Hugh has a few years ago written his memoirs where he tells about this incident. Hugh has actually been one of my inspirations for also to write my memoirs.

IN SWEDEN 1943 – 45

When we came to Sweden, we were absolutely sure that our stay would be limited. 1943 was a turning point in the war with a significant downturn for the Germans and their allies. Already in January Stalingrad had fallen with over 90,000 Germans taken prisoner. Throughout the year the Germans were driven progressively from Russia. In Africa, the Germans and Italians capitulated in May with 250,000 men captured. In July, the Allies landed in Sicily and on 8 September Italy capitulated.

Around the time of our flight to Sweden, Italy even declared war on Germany after Mussolini was overthrown. The USA which had joined the war in the late '41 after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, started to recover more and more of the areas the Japanese had initially taken. In Europe, the German air force was virtually wiped out, so that the Allies almost without disturbance could carry out heavy bombardments of Germany's cities. We were full of confidence over the war's eventual outcome.

After a night in Landskrona, we traveled to Gothenburg, where a refugee camp had been installed at Sahlgrenska Hospital, where we were housed in large dormitories. There we stayed for about 14 days. Then we managed to get a room in a guesthouse at Södra Avenue where we - my Mother, Ruth and I - got a room for sharing.

Also other refugees lived in the guest house. Among others, we became good friends with a daughter of Sigmund Freud. From the Swedish side, much was done to make private people open their homes and summer houses for refugees. In about a week, it was our turn. A teacher's family in Härryda, about 40 km from Gothenburg had a small guest house "Lillstugan" (the small cabin) next to their own house. It was placed at our disposal.

The teacher's family, Wilhelm Clarin, his wife Eva and little boy Kjelleve, gave us a hearty welcome. So did actually the whole Härryda with the stationmaster, grocery store and farm owners. My mother kept them as friends throughout her life even after we had returned to Denmark.


Lillstugan was a tiny house of approx. 20 square meters. There was a small room where I slept on a sofa, next to that was an alcove with two beds on top of each other for Ruth and my mother. There was also a tiny kitchen with wood stove and a basement with toilet and firewood. The house was near a small stream, and had a small garden. It was mother's home for the rest of the war, while Ruth and I after some time moved to Gothenburg, as we will hear later on.

I came to Sweden wearing several sets of clothes on top of each other, but unfortunately I had only one shirt. The Swedes had asked people to give used clothing for the refugees. When it was my turn there was only one shirt that fit me. It was a white waffle fabric shirt with stiff chest and detachable wing collars, intended for evening dress. As there was no alternative, I was happy to get it.

It was now time that I went on with my studies. At this time there were no high school opportunities for me. My ideas about my future went mostly in the direction of becoming an astronomer, but I was aware that this required extremely good math skills. Although I was pretty good in mathematics, I was aware that I was not good enough. Therefore, I wanted to become an engineer. I had the opportunity to get an apprentice job at a machine shop and thought it might be useful.

I began to work on Ljunggrens Mekaniska Verkstad where projectors and other equipment for the theater and movie industry were manufactured. I was handed a gray work coat and was set to drill tiny holes in castings on a drilling machine. I probably did not exercise sufficient care, because the delicate drills constantly got broken in the casting with the result that the object would have to be discarded.

I was then transferred to cleanup work. One day I would wear the shirt I had from Denmark and the next day the white shirt with the wing collar, while my mother washed the other one in Härryda. I took the train to work and back home and sparked amusement on the train when I came with the white shirt with wing collar.

Around the turn of 1943/44, a Danish school was established in Gothenburg including high school. I was immediately admitted there, and my mechanic apprentice career came to an abrupt end. Both teachers and students were a mixed bunch. Approximately half of the students were Jewish refugees, the other half young people who had to flee because of work with the Danish Underground. Some of the teachers were highly educated university professors.

For instance, I had Professor Sven Henningsen in History, a professor of Contemporary History and Political Science at the University of Copenhagen. In biology we had Dr. Finn Salomonsen, ornithologist at the University of Copenhagen (and father of singer Sanne Salomonsen). He was a womanizer and could not take his hands off the two girls in my class. Other teachers had a normal teacher education

Dr. phil. Finn Salomonsen (th.) ombord på ekspeditionsskib 23.9.1936

My Danish teacher was Mr. Hyldgaard-Jensen, legal resident in Sweden, since he was teaching Danish at Swedish high schools. His wife was a Swedish teacher and she taught us Swedish. They both perished in a shipwreck in the Kattegat after the war.

Other teachers were young students at the Technical University. Thus, my physics and chemistry teacher was Viggo Oehlenschlaeger, student in chemistry at the Technical University of Denmark. The school headmaster was a high school teacher, Gudrun Henriques. The overall supervision of the school was provided by Prof. Franz Blatt, a classical scholar from the University of Copenhagen.

Among the students I had most contact with was Axel Randrup. His father was butcher and was known in Denmark as "The Steak”. In his younger days he opposed a group of vegetarians, who claimed that vegetarians were stronger than meat eaters. To prove the point a highly publicized race was organized between him and a well know vegetarian called “The Banana.” ”The Steak” won the race. Axel's sister Judith was also in the class. Axel's mother was Jewish , and for that reason they fled to Sweden.

The class also contained 3 to 4 young high school students from Odense who had to flee because of their participation in the public uprising in Odense leading up to August 28th, 1943 defiance of the Nazis. The oldest in the class was named Gleisner. He posed as an author, but never could tell what he had written. He was gay and consorted much with very young Swedish soldiers, whom he called his “syslings” a made-up Danish word somehow indicating remote family relations.

My class and the one below had the Vogel brothers, who changed their name after the war to Foigel. One of them later became the Minister of Taxation. The class was mixed, partly corresponding to the modern side of the grammar school, partly the science side. We had some common courses, e.g., Danish and history, but split up for specialized subjects.

Shortly after the school had been established, we moved into a dormitory for Danish high school students. It was in a small manor called Pixbo, near a beautiful lake. Here I shared a room with a school mate, whom I will call "K". He was very preoccupied with religion and was initially studying at a Catholic seminary in Gothenburg. Despite his religiosity, he cursed and swore like a trooper. Early in the morning he had to go to matins in the Catholic Church. I was awakened by his rummaging in the room: "Where the hell is my prayer book. " - "Well, God damn it, here it is."

His Catholicism did not last. He switched to Buddhism. It became visible as he went clad in a linen sheet and therefore switched to a women's bike. I gradually got used to his behavior. Once we would ride together to Lund, where there also was a Danish high school. During the war, the Swedes had removed all street signs in order not to facilitate the entry of an invader. We came to a fork in the road but did not know what road we should take.

A Swedish peasant in a horse cart came slowly towards the fork. When he saw the strange man dressed in linen, he tightened the reins and stopped abruptly. We asked him about the way to Lund, but he just gaped: "What kind of a fellow are you?" he asked K. "I am Buddhist" K. replied in his best Swedish, as he rose in the saddle. He could not fool the farmer. "But you speak Danish" said the farmer. "Well, I am a Danish Buddhist " said K. Then the farmer said "Gee!" and went away. Somehow we made it to Lund.

Later K joined the Danish Brigade, formed by refugees in order to drive out the Germans from Denmark after their defeat. The brigade had its camp near Uppsala, north of Stockholm. He wanted to go there by bike. It is a very long trip, especially when you are wearing a sheet. I bet him that he wouldn't make it. He went off and every day he sent us unstamped postcards from the places he had come to. We had to pay the penalty postage.

Finally he came to the Brigade, where he had to replace his sheet with a uniform. He sent us a gloating unstamped postcard from there. We found a cobblestone, which we wrapped and sent as a "beneficiary pays" to him with a accompanying letter in which we wrote that this stone took a load off our mind when we heard that he had made the trip successfully. Then we did not hear from him for a long time.

Eventually, he came limping back to Gothenburg. He had grown tired of the brigade and in order to get out of service he had cut the toes of one foot with an ax. I lost contact with him, but met him once after the war in Denmark. We greeted each other with a nod. He looked very shabby.

In May - June 1944, I had finished high school and needed to take the examination for the General Certificate which would allow me to study at a university. It was pretty hard because I had actually only attended the last grade since January, and thus lost half of the academic year. In addition, several of our teachers were assistants. We were given the impression that this would be taken into consideration when evaluating our performance at the actual exam.
I noticed this concession especially at the oral examination in physics. (I've told this story many times and each time people have a hard time believing it.) At my 75-year anniversary I got a greeting from my old teacher, Viggo Oehlenschlaeger. I will let his translated letter tell the story. By the way, Harald Bohr who is mentioned in the letter, was the brother of Niels Bohr and Professor of mathematics at the University of Copenhagen.

August 2001

Dear Somer,

With my birthday greetings I want to tell you that you have played an important role in my stories about what happened during our stay in Sweden. Here is my story:

As teacher in physics at the high school I facilitated the final examination in physics where the external examiner was the lovable Harald Bohr. Your performance was fair, but not in any way outstanding.

When voting on the evaluation, I had to seriously wrestle with my own sense of justice when Harald Bohr suggested giving you the highest possible mark. I questioned whether I should oppose him and lower your mark. So I opened the door and told you and your school mates waiting outside during the voting that you had got the highest mark, an A. You exploded: “But Viggo, that is impossible!!” Harald got exited. He rushed to the door and explained how difficult the problem was which you had to tell about and how convincing and qualified you tackled the problem.

It had been a pleasure to listen to you. What happened later on I do not remember. I hope that you can recall this story.

Kind regards

Viggo, who still is going strong.

Teachers and examiners knew that I wanted to study engineering. I suspect that they did their bit to ensure that I got more than the required examination result. They also succeeded far beyond expectations. My average was full marks A. If I had graduated from the Metropolitan School in Copenhagen I would not have got such high marks.

We could now become university students. This was celebrated according to Danish traditions. Danish student caps were transported to us illegally across the Sound. We drove around Gothenburg in a carriage decorated with Danish flags and flowers, which caused quite a stir because it was not a tradition in Sweden. The new-born students driving through Gothenburg followed by their female admirers.

Eric Somer - student 1943

Then it was time for a well-deserved summer vacation. I had the opportunity to get on a Nordic youth work camp in Roslagen, an area north of Stockholm around Uppsala. The place was called Upplands-Väsby. It was a camp organized by the “Frisksportar” movement, which was based on the Norwegian Are Waterland's ideas of a lacto-vegetarian diet together with physical activities. There were lots of cooked potatoes, peas and beans, fruits and kruska, a porridge made of oatmeal, wheat bran, raisins, and water. Alcohol and smoking were not permitted.

During the day we worked in the field. In the evening there was singing and play after a hearty meal with lots of legumes. We slept in large dormitories, and there was a very lively farting due to the evening meal.
After the Frisksportar-camp I went to another Nordic Youth Camp for male students. It took place at Lundberg Boarding School in Värmland. The boarding school was located in a beautiful area with woods and lakes. There were good swimming opportunities including swimming competitions. Here I won the competition in the 200 meter breaststroke. The woods surrounding the school held lots of chanterelles and often in my spare time I would pick these delicious fungi. I cooked them in the kitchen and enjoyed them at the common evening meal. For this reason I was nicknamed “Chanterelle.”

We also spent Midsummer there according to Swedish traditions. Some of us who had been Boy Scouts were told to prepare a bonfire on a bare rocky hill in the woods. The traditional Midsummer speech was held by the school principal, who was a priest and dressed in full Swedish priest vestments.

After some glorious camp trips, I lived a while in Lillstugan in Härryda with my mother. She had a job embroidering for a fashion salon, where she embroidered for a paltry salary sequins and other decorations on evening gowns. She got the material and drawings of the decoration at the salon and worked at home. There were very often tight deadlines for her work, so my mother often had to sew day and night.

I started my studies in chemical engineering at the Chalmers Technical University in Gothenburg in the beginning of September. It was a tradition that the first year students were hazed by the older students. It started when we at the Students' Association should pick up the drawing for a "Zero-breastplate", i.e., a rectangular plate, that we had to wear on a cord around our neck every day. The picture was drawn so that it was impossible to construct it correctly. It gave rise to the first skirmishes with upperclass men because no matter how you made it, the older students would criticize it. On a sign-up table, the older students would place their comments about the poor first year students who at that time were called zero year students.

After a month it was time to be inaugurated as first year students.. This took place in a ceremonial party in Chalmers new chemistry building, which stood on a rocky hillock on the outskirts of the town. Under the lowest floor of the building there was an uneven space with the raw rock at the bottom and the ceiling of the lowest level at the top. One could only move through it by crawling. Access to it was through small hatches. The poor zero-students were sent into this basement, where it was pitch-dark. Guided by a taut string, one could follow the route.

I was subjected to other hardships. I was told that I as a chemist should learn to know products of chemistry and soil. The chemical product I should taste was shoe polish. Strangely enough, it didn't taste so bad; but when I got a schnapps to wash it down, it tasted disgusting. Then I had to try one of the products of soil. It was an earthworm covered with soil particles.

One of the older students held it between two fingers and the worm writhed in despair until I got it in my mouth. Oh, thank God, it was not a live earthworm but a soft-boiled macaroni, which was colored pink and rolled in burnt breadcrumbs. It was only the guy who held it and rolled it between his fingers and I who knew that. Everyone else thought it to be a real worm, and I left them with that impression. I was praised for carefully chewing it before I swallowed.

As a university student, I could not live in Pixbo anymore. I moved into a boarding house a little further up the street. People not living there could also eat there. For lunch there was a large buffet with lots of Norway lobster. It was cooked on the day before and placed in a locked pantry but with a window on the courtyard that was open.
From one of our rooms, we could reach out to the large platter with lobster, and it happened that in the evening we would appropriate one or two. Among the students of my year at Chalmers was another Danish refugee, namely my high school buddy Axel Randrup.

In Gothenburg, there was also a dormitory for female refugee students. My sister Ruth lived there amongt others. There, Axel had met a lush red-haired girl, 10 years older than he. Her name was Ellen Pedersen. She was daughter of a longshoreman in Odense. She was one of the many students who had to flee from Odense after the uprising in late august 1943. To Axel's mother's great despair, Ellen became his great love until Axel returned home in May 1945. Ellen and I also were good friends (platonic) and it lasted even after our return to Denmark.

Axel also introduced me to someone else who had a great impact on my development. It was an old bank clerk, Nils Dreilick. He had a nice apartment with a huge library together with his sister. Axel arranged for me being invited to afternoon tea with Nils and it was a friendship that lasted for many years. Because of Nils I became greatly interested in literature, particularly Swedish writers. It turned out later on that Nils was homosexual, but neither Axel nor I noted that.

Nils had a good friend Torsten Thorsell, a retired rector of a boy boarding school in Kungelv, a city about 40 km from Gothenburg. We visited him several times, but then he moved to Gothenburg. Thorsten became like a father for me. He was also homosexual, but again it was not something I experienced. Thorsten had in his youth been secretary for Ellen Key, an important Swedish writer who was active in the period before and after 1900. Ellen Key was among others a close friend of the Austrian/Czech writer Rainer Maria Rilke, whom Thorsten also had met. Rilke was for me a great experience. He became and still is my favorite writer.

Through my acquaintance with Thorsten and Nils I became interested in becoming a writer myself. I wrote a few poems and continued with this activity for a while after my return to Denmark.

Nils and Torsten's influence led me to consider a shift to a humanistic education. I began to follow lectures and tutorials at Gothenburg University in philosophy and psychology. Eventually I had to give this up, because it did not fit it with my chemistry studies.

In 1944 – 45 while studying at Chalmers, I had two female acquaintances. The one was named Franzi Feldmann and was a German/Jewish refugee. She was a nursing student and lived in a dormitory for student-refugees. The other one was Chris Johansson. She was about to take an office education. I was still very insecure and inexperienced but these relationships did not last long. I met Chris many years later in Denmark, where we lived together for two years after a divorce from my first wife.

In early 1945 we followed world events with increasing attention. We were aware that Germany was about to fall. We listened to the BBC Danish broadcasts and heard the message of the German capitulation in Northern Europe on May 4th.

I called Chris and several of my Danish friends. We agreed to meet at Göta square, a central place in Gothenburg to celebrate that the war now was over. At the agreed time I went to Göta square, but so did over 100,000 others. It took a long time to find my friends. The whole evening we went singing and cheering through Gothenburg.

At midnight we met a police officer. He came towards us, so we lowered our voice, but he said he had received the order that this night we were allowed to make as much noise as we wanted. Arm-in-arm with him we walked along singing and screaming.

Most Danish refugees returned home in the days after May 5th. So did my mother and sister Ruth. I had decided that I would take the 1st year exam at Chalmers, as there was an agreement with the Danish Technical University that the Swedish exam would be approved in Denmark. I was examined by Swedish professors according to the Danish curriculum.

Ivan with Ruth in 1963

The last period in Sweden I shared a room with Ivan Malinovski who was in love with my sister and later became her husband. He became one of Denmark ́s most well-known poets.

I moved back to Denmark in July 1945.

This is the end of this story.

When writing this in 2016, I am 89 years old. If you should be interested in reading what happened to me later in life, you can read my memoirs on my homepage: Click on memoirs (in English).

Thank you for your attention.

Published with kind permission