The Jews of Trondheim Review - A Lesson In Resilience

 At the height of World War Two approximately one hundred Norwegian Jews accomplished something previously unheard of in Jewish history.  They skied to safety.    Navigating the arduous route separating Nazi occupied Sweden to neutral Sweden, they hiked over the mountainous terrain and donned skis when necessary.  Even by sub-arctic standards, the winter of ’42 was a brutal one but the deep drifting snow banks helped to wipe away their foot prints.  While many of the refugees were accomplished skiers (they were after all Norwegian Jews) others were more novice and at least one elderly woman received her first ski lesson just a few weeks prior to the dramatic escape.  It was an amazing journey with multiple generations, some healthy, some sick, making their way together to the relative safety of Sweden.

Beautiful Trondheim on the Nidelva River

How the Jews came to Norway in the first part is a more familiar tale.  Beginning in the 1880s Jews began settling in Norway which was more welcoming to immigrants than many other European cities.  In Trondheim, a very pleasant northern city situated on the Nidelva River, a former railway station was converted into a synagogue complete with a Mikveh (bath for ritual bathing).  The Bimah provided a nice complement to the church like wooden pews and stained glass windows.  By the 1940s the Jews of Trondheim, although still a very small fraction of the total city population, were established and owned many of the stores in the downtown area. 

The temple bathed in the soft blue light that filters through the stained glass windows

In April of 1940 Germany invaded Oslo and over the next two months spread out over all of Norway.  They were especially enamored with Trondheim and its sheltered harbor which served as a large submarine base.  There were also plans to expand the city in order to house up to 300,000 Germans.  Under the Nazis day to day life for the Jews quickly deteriorated.   Among the many suffered insults was the conversion of the Synagogue to a military headquarter in 1941.  A year later the Nazis stamped a J on every Jew’s identity card making it virtually impossible to legally leave Norway.  Shortly thereafter the Nazis sped up the confiscation of Jewish held property.  They then ordered the local police to begin rounding up the Jews.  The police carried out this order but in some instances gave warning ahead of time.  This is when many of them began their dramatic journey to Sweden.  One hundred and thirty four Jews living in the Trondheim area were not able to escape in time and were transported to Auschwitz.  Very few survived.    

The church like pews in the Jewish Temple

After the war was over, the majority of the exiled Jewish community of Trondheim returned.  Among them was Julius Paltiel whose granddaughter Lise Rebekka Paltiel now is a coordinator/educator of the Jewish Museum of Trondheim which is housed in the restored temple.  She describes the temple as a place focused on keeping Norwegian-Jewish traditions alive.  Besides offering a place for the surrounding Jewish community to celebrate the high holidays, the temple provides community services such as weekly lunches for the elderly.  The museum also explores Jewish life in Trondheim both before and during World War Two. 

On this spot several Norwegian resistance fighters were executed by the Nazis

The Scandinavian Jewish community is a tight knit one and not surprisingly the shock waves from the recent cowardly terrorist attack in Copenhagen reached all the way north to Trondheim.  But the Jews of Trondheim, like Jews all over the world, have endured and continue to celebrate traditions in both familiar and novel ways.  It is as true just below the Arctic Circle as it is everywhere else.

For more information about the Trondheim Jewish Museum go to jodiskemuseum.noTelephone: +47 915 73 401. You may also email Lise at  [email protected] for more information.


All photos by hennacornoelidays 

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