Congregation Or Shalom in Orange, in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, will hold the 14th Annual Community-Wide Kristallnacht Commemoration on Sunday Nov. 15 at 9 a.m. This year we will honor the conscience and heroism of Mr. Odd Nansen of Norway.
As Adolf Hitler’s noose was tightening around the neck of German Jewry, Odd Nansen, a Norwegian architect, threw himself into the work of providing a safe haven for Jewish refugees and all who were fleeing Nazi persecution. To that end, he and his wife Kari created “Nansen-hjelpen” (“Nansen-Relief”), a humanitarian organization in Oslo as well as a shelter for refugee children.
On April 9, 1940, Norway was overrun by Nazi Germany. Tragically, by late 1942, most of Nansen’s refugees had been systematically murdered by the Nazi regime, along with many of Norway’s Jews. However, Nansen’s brave staff at the children’s shelter managed to rescue 14 children by secretly transporting them to Sweden. These children survived the Holocaust and subsequently found new homes all over the world. Some are believed to still be alive today.
Meanwhile, Odd Nansen joined the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis. He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 and deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany. In Sachsenhausen, Nansen courageously maintained a secret diary on tissue-paper pages. The diary included vivid drawings of the horrific details of camp life as they happened, in real time. The diary and drawings were published after the war and provide an important first-hand account of the atrocities perpetrated at Sachsenhausen. After the war, Nansen published his diary in Norway, where it was and is still widely known. The diary was re-published and annotated in English in 2016 as “From Day to Day” by Timothy Boyce.
At Sachsenhausen, Nansen risked his life to save a ten-year-old Jewish boy named Tommy who had survived the infamous death march from Auschwitz. Today, Tommy is Professor Thomas Buergenthal, a former judge on the International Court of Justice at the Hague and Professor Emeritus at George Washington University Law School in Washington, DC. Years later, Professor Buergenthal would write, “Odd Nansen not only saved my life; he also enriched it with his philosophy of life.”
The entire community is invited to join this event, held virtually this year via Zoom. It will begin at 9 am with the solemn lighting of a Yellow Holocaust Memorial Candle. Speakers include Timothy Boyce, Senator Richard Blumenthal and Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus, spiritual leader of Congregation Or Shalom. The Nansen family in Oslo will also participate.
Please contact jewishnewhaven.org/RSVP to register. Pre-registration is required.