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FREDA ISAKSEN

 

BIOGRAPHY

My Stories:

WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BLACKBERRY JAM?

THERE IS A SECRET CORNER IN MY HEART

A MOTHER STOOD STRAIGHT AND PROUD

IN MEMORY

 

BIOGRAPHY

I was born in London England in 1914. I lived there for 21 years, and then married a Norwegian and went to live in his country. I became a citizen of Norway and thought I would live there for the rest of my life. But in 1940 the Germans invaded Norway and that was no place for a British­Norwegian Jew to remain.

I left the country and traveled to Sweden, which was a neutral country. My eldest son was born in Stockholm. Life there was so uncertain during the war years in Europe so, my husband, I and our baby left Europe, traveling East across Russia, China and the Pacific to America to start a new life of freedom.

Following the war, we had two more sons and lived in West Los Angeles for 53 years. After 56 years of marriage I became a widow and recently I moved to Hollywood so that I could live closer to my family. So once again I am adjusting to a different environment where I must find new interests and new friends.

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WHAT HAPPENED TO MY BLACKBERRY JAM?

In the northern country of Norway the growing season for produce is very limited because of the harsh climate. There is only a short summer season when the sun is expected to shine and stimulate the growth of vegetables, fruits and flowers after the spring rains. Even then the supplies and varieties are very small because the previous months of cold weather will not produce anything tropical. Consequently all the food that is produced and not eaten in a very short time must be preserved to be consumed later on during the winter months when the ground is covered with snow.

In former years before modern transportation of food from other countries became available, vegetables grown in the winter would be cooked and bottled or heavily salted to preserve them, then the salt would be removed by soaking in water to make them edible. Fruits were likewise bottled and preserved in sugar and would be just as delicious when eaten as dessert after a hot winter's meal. The loving preparation that was soaked into them tasted so sweet.

The strawberries grown in that region have always been recommended for their luscious flavor and besides there were always plenty of wild berries such as blackberries and red currants and the local mulberry, if one was resourceful enough to know where to find them. All were wonderfully edible straight from the vine as an inexpensive treat.

A delightful way to spend a summer day was to go out and seek the berries in the country lanes and fields, pick them by hand and carry them home in straw baskets, then preserve them as delicious jams and jellies. My hobby was to do just that. Whilst picking the colorful berries we would eat all we desired, even licking our juice stained fingers, they were so sweet and flavorful not a drop should be wasted, then at home add enough sugar to make them jell, boil them up, cool them, then ladle them into jars and set them on shelves ready to be enjoyed after the season when no fresh fruits would be growing in the orchards or sold in the stores.

The memories of the day finding and picking the fruit would be absorbed into the berries to be enjoyed as conversation about the experience. Surely this custom was going to continue forever. Nature would supply the fruit every year, the sugar would be available in the stores and we would always have a home with plenty of shelves in the larder for provisions. That was our expectation.

But we did not foresee that war would come and the good life would come to and end. I have lost so many material things. A home, a business, valuable possessions but they were just material acquisitions and could be replaced in better times. I have not mourned those losses.

What I remember and regret so vividly are my glass jars of homemade blackberry jam that I joyfully picked with my own hands and sugared and bottled so carefully and set down so evenly in rows in my own green painted kitchen pantry. I visualize now, their dark red color visible so clearly in their juicy syrup, just waiting to be enjoyed by those who bad happily labored to prepare the delicacy.

Actually they had very little monetary value, they could easily be replaced by a commercial product, but I had prepared them myself with anticipation of enjoying them in my peaceful home in future weeks. What I want to know is, "What happened to my blackberry jam?" I would prefer to know that the glass jars were shattered and broken and destroyed and discarded than to think that the enemy soldiers found them and consumed them as they confiscated or stole everything else that they found.

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THERE IS A SECRET CORNER IN MY HEART

 

When I first met Gerd she was ten years old, a lovely happy child nearing adolescence. She had her mother's dark hair and outgoing personality, she ran and skipped and sang and enjoyed her free time from school riding her bicycle in summer or running the ski slopes in winter. She was typical of her peers with school friends and cousins her own age and gender.

I came to live in her home town of Trondheim as a young bride when I married her uncle. Then her feminine curiosity was aroused and she wanted to know all I could tell of the big city that I came from. Did the girls behave differently in London? Were fashions for girls the same? What subjects were my favorites in school? Were sports activities the same in England as in Norway? There were many questions to answer the eager mind of a young girl.

I was her Tante Freda and proud to hear her confidences. As the years went by Gerd and I were always close friends as she became an attractive teenager with boy friends and new interests but she always remained eager to share my news of the big city of London which was far away.

She had been somewhat indulged materially and why not? It had not spoiled her character. As the only daughter of loving and affluent parents why should she not have enjoyed the best of life before the inevitable stresses of life's adversities?

One summer her parents planned to take a vacation while Gerd and her two brothers would stay at a resort farm. The original intent was to send the household maid to supervise them, then Gerd suggested and asked if I would accompany them instead.

I was delighted to have the opportunity for a free vacation and to be with the children who I dearly loved. The four of us spent a wonderful two weeks together whilst our relationship strengthened. The youngsters enjoyed the farm life and helped to participate with the chores required on a farm so the experience was educational as well as fun. They petted and played and fed the animals until one day the young calf disappeared with no explanation from the owners.

A couple of days later we were served veal for dinner. The children's sensibilities were greatly disturbed as they realized that all the edibles on a farm are home grown, animals and chickens have to serve a useful purpose.

Gerd especially, with her young female sensibilities was extremely revolted and swore to become a vegetarian. Shortly after we returned home Gerd was suddenly taken to hospital with an emergency appendectomy. Immediately I rushed to see her, she cried to me that she was extremely anxious about the unknown; worried about the unknown of the unexpected surgery.

I assured her that she would be given a sedative, that she would sleep through the whole ordeal and that she would feel no pain or discomfort and would not be permanently bodily scarred. She was afraid to be left alone so her mother and I did our utmost to be by her side whenever possible for the next few days. Of course Gerd recovered very fast and I wish I could say that after that incident her teen age years continued as one would expect with minor and possibly major occurrences that would inevitably happen and be overcome.

But Gerd was not destined to live a normal life because on April 9, 1940 Norway was invaded by the Germans and on October 26, 1942 Gerd, her two brothers and her mother and father, along with 558 Norwegian Jews were deported to Auschwitz on the German ship, the "Donau." That is all that will ever be known of their suffering or how they died. Only 11 of those good people were liberated.

I always mourn for all those good people who were murdered, but for beautiful Gerd, sixteen years old, who was so young and innocent and sensitive there is a secret corner in my heart that aches and yearns to know how, when and where did my lovely niece suffer at the hands of the brutal Nazis. And why?

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A MOTHER STOOD STRAIGHT AND PROUD

 

This is a true story which happened to the grandmother of one of my friends. I elaborated on imagined details to dramatize it more fully. Klip, klop, klip, klip, klip, klop. When Rivka heard the familiar noise she stood still and stopped kneading the dough for that dayıs bread. She didnıt need to look out of the tiny window of her kitchen to see the cause of the familiar pounding on the village street, for she recognized the sounds and she knew what it meant.

For the past several days she had listened and been thankful that the sound of the horse's hooves did not stop at her door. Rivka was aware that the Czar of Russia had decreed that all the Jewish boys of the land were to be conscripted into his army. She also knew that the young lads would be forcibly taken by the Cossacks from their homes at a momentıs notice to serve in the Czars army for a period of twenty-five years, that is if they survived those cruel years of forced servitude. Every day she had heard the trotting horse's hooves grow ever louder as they approached the door of her family's humble dwelling, then diminish as they passed by, and then stop as they reached the door of one of the neighbor's cottages where a young frightened boy was attempting to hide from his inevitable fate. She heard the mother's scream for pity and then the aftermath of wailing as the boy was removed by the intruders.

Today the horse and his rider passed by her cottage but Rivka was fully aware that at any time a horse would stop at her home, the mounted Cossack would dismount and knock sharply on the wooden door and announce his given orders. For Rivka had a young son who was just approaching his adolescent years and would be considered by the Czar to be ready and able for conscription into his army.

There were alternatives that had been successfully attempted by some Jewish mother and fathers. She could take a sharp knife and maim her son by cutting off one or more of his fingers or toes-the more the boy was disfigured the greater would be his chances of inability to serve the Czar. Or she could force him to run, run away into the unknown and vast landscape of Russia to escape this cruel regime of Russia and cross a border to another unknown country. This would mean that she could probably lose him forever.

But how does a mother find the courage for either of these possible solutions that could only bring another kind of hardship to a young child and his family? Rivka knew that she must form a plan for the day that would most certainly come when the horse and its rider would have his orders to stop at her door. She lay awake night after night, tossing and turning in her bed, not daring to discuss the dilemma with her husband. She thought her head would burst from the strain, then in the morning she looked with dread upon her son's face and at eyes that seemed to be pleading to her, "Please Mamma, find a solution before they come and take me away!"

But he never spoke the words out loud, only the fear of the future was evident on his countenance. The family all knew that they would not have to wait long for the Cossack to come when the first day of Chanukah was to be celebrated. Rivka was trying to give the impression that all was normal in her household in order to keep up the family's morale and tradition.

She was mixing the dough for the latkes, she had beaten the eggs and added the grated potatoes and onions, the oil was heating and the first batch of latkes were already sizzling in the frying pan when she heard the familiar klip, klop of horse's hooves on the cobbled street.

The falling December snowflakes did not muffle the sound. Rivka turned from the stove and looked at her son sitting in a corner of the kitchen trying to concentrate on his studies, for he too had heard the approaching danger. She looked at her two daughters spooning the sour cream and applesauce onto serving dishes ready to be eaten with the latkes.

It did not surprise her when the horse stopped at her family's cottage and there came a sharp rap on the wooden door. Rivka stopped preparing the latkes and stood straight and proud as she opened the door of her poor abode and confronted the tall Cossack attired in his smart uniform with a long warm coat and polished black boots.

"Good day, your honor," Rivka greeted him with apparent good humor and not a tremor in her voice. "Please step into our home." The young Cossack stared at her, completely taken aback. This was not the usual tearful and pleading approach he had encountered previously at the houses of the Jews.

He stood for a moment on the cold doorstep unsure of how to reply, but Rivka quickly took his arm and escorted him into her warm kitchen. She sat him down at the kitchen table which was already set with a white cloth, knives, forks and plates along with the creamy and fluffy sour cream and juicy yellow apple sauce.

The brass Chanukah menorah with two candles ready to be lit at sunset was the centerpiece of the table. Like a typical Jewish mother welcoming a guest, Rivka said, "Eat, eat and enjoy. Taste the delicious hot latkes and help yourself to the sour cream and apples."

The young soldier was hungry and tired, it was nearing the end of the day and he was weary of the tedious job of rounding up young whining boys and forcing them to leave their mothers' loving arms. He smelled the luscious aroma of the fresh latkes and when they were placed before him, he eyed the appetizing round and crunchy brown delicacy and couldn't resist eating them and devoured all that was placed before him, then washed them down with the vodka which Rivka artfully set before him.

As his appetite was satiated he turned and looked at the three children, a boy and two girls and they seemed to be his equals. He stood up at attention and said "Thank you, my friends, I'll remember to ask for latkes again." The Czar's Cossack left that humble kitchen alone as Rivka watched him and still stood straight and proud, because now she knew that she had decided what the family would do. Somewhere, somehow, they would reach a land of freedom, together.

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IN MEMORY

 

The world was full of loveliness The children played, the mothers sang. The birds built nests, the flowers bloomed. At night they came, they stole, they plundered. The children cried, the mothers wept. The ovens burned, the smoke rose high. The world was black and life was lost. We have survived, we live, They did not win. Our children run, the mothers watch. We do not forget, we mourn. Their pain is ours. We shall remember. And make the world to be full of loveliness again.

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