Friday, 20 July 2012

The Last Jew Deported from Norway to Auschwitz

Written July 2012

Published in Norwegian in Aftenposten (Oslo), July 14, 2012

Ludwig (Paul) Cohn was the last Jew deported from Norway to Auschwitz. On 29 October 1942, he was arrested by Norwegian police and interned in Bredtveit prison. Between his arrest and August 1944 he was imprisoned both in the Norwegian internment camp, Berg, and the German camp, Grini. On 3 August 1944 he was deported to Auschwitz, and stayed there until he was liberated by Soviet troops in January 1945, even though his wife was a German Gentile and he was not supposed to be sent to a concentration camp. No one knows why he was sent to Auschwitz.  After the war he was found by the Norwegian Sverre Løberg, who had been commissioned by the government to find deportees from Norway, and he returned to Oslo in early 1946.
 My information on Ludwig Cohn’s arrest and deportation comes from correspondence with Bjarte Bruland of the Jewish Museum in Oslo. Ludwig Cohn was the second husband of my paternal grandmother, Gertude (Hassmann) Cohn. My father’s biological father, Bruno Hassmann, a Jewish doctor in the German army, had died “for the fatherland” in 1918 or 1919. As far as I know from family stories, after his death Gertrude and my father, Helmut Hassmann, were invited to Norway in a program for starving German widows and their children. There, Gertrude met Ludwig, a German Jew from Leipzig who was in Norway to buy furs. They married in 1921 or 1922 and returned to Germany, though I believe Ludwig kept up his business connection with Norway. In early November 1938 Gertrude’s brother-in-law warned her about a planned attack on Jews, and she and Ludwig fled to Norway just before Kristallnacht. My father had earlier escaped, reaching Britain two weeks before WWII began. 
I am a professor of international human rights at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, where I maintain a website on political apologies. Earlier this year, I learned of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s apology for the role of Norwegian police in rounding up, imprisoning, and deporting Jews while Norway was under German occupation. I posted the apology on my website, but then I started to wonder what I myself thought about it. As far as I know Ludwig Cohn had no biological descendants, so I wondered whether I could accept or reject the apology on his behalf.
If I am the person who should accept or reject the Norwegian state apology on behalf of Ludwig Cohn, what should I do? As far as I know, under Jewish law if someone sincerely offers you an apology three times for the same event you are supposed to consider accepting it, but does that extend to the Holocaust? Common courtesy also requires that if someone offers you an apology, you should accept it. Scholars believe that if  an apology is properly formulated and shows sincere contrition and remorse, the person to whom it is extended should accept it. The Norwegian apology fits these criteria, and I have no doubt that Prime Minister Stoltenberg was sincere in offering it. But do I have any standing in this matter?
And if I do accept the apology, can I also forgive? Many scholars think that apologies once accepted result in forgiveness. Certainly I hold no grudge against Norwegians who had nothing to do with the Holocaust. But just supposing one of those Norwegian policemen who rounded up my grandfather is still alive today (a policeman born in 1920, for example, might be still alive). Do I have an obligation to forgive him? I think not. Recently John Demjanjuk, convicted of being a guard at Sobibor in 1942-43, died. My father’s aunt Kathe Hassmann Ehrenfried was murdered at Sobibor in 1943. If John Demjanjuk had asked my forgiveness for being implicated in the murders at Sobibor, I would not have forgiven him; I would have turned my back and walked away.
I’ve decided I can’t represent Ludwig Cohn in the matter of the Norwegian apology; he was the prisoner and only he could accept the apology. Nor, I think, can I represent my deceased father, his step-son. My father would not have accepted the apology; he was so angry about what had happened to him and his family that he was rendered inarticulate.
Perhaps, though, I can accept the apology on behalf of my grandmother and all she suffered, both during the war and afterwards. I wish the Norwegian government had decided to issue this apology many years ago. Ludwig and Gertrude Cohn lived together in Oslo until Ludwig died in 1952. Gertrude spent the rest of her life there, living at 2 Briskebyveien until 1986 when she entered a home for the elderly, where she died in 1988. An apology issued when my grandmother was still alive might have been meaningful, especially if she had been invited to the ceremony when it was delivered.
 My grandmother might have accepted the apology, although I am not sure of that. When I visited her in the home for the elderly in 1987, another resident told me in English (a language my grandmother didn’t speak) that she and the other residents did not like Germans. When I informed her that Cohn was a Jewish name and that my grandmother lived in Oslo because her husband had been a Jew, she did not apologize for her mistake. When I asked my grandmother why she had not let the other residents know she was the wife of a Jewish refugee, she said “They are all anti-Semites. I would rather they hate me for being a German than for being a Jew.”
Nevertheless, my grandmother would have known that the Norwegians among whom she lived for thirty-three years after the war were not the people who imprisoned and deported her husband. States bear an institutional duty to take responsibility for past crimes, but successor governments are not themselves guilty of the crimes, nor are the individuals who speak for those governments. So for what it’s worth, in the name of Gertrud Cohn I accept the apology.

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