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USF Libraries Exhibits

Meeting Odd Nansen

Thomas Buergenthal, Holocaust Survivor

Well, he would come and visit various Norwegians in the hospital, and that's how we met. He was writing a diary in the camp -- I, of course, didn't know about it at the time; I found out after the war. So he came by, talked to a lot of people, and then when he found that I was there and that I've come from Auschwitz, he befriended me and came and visited almost every week, or maybe even more often, and would bring me cookies and try to make sure that I was all right, and brought me -- as a matter of fact, brought me paper and a pencil to draw. And what I, of course, didn't know was that he wrote down a lot of things about my experiences at the time.

He's a wonderful man who had -- really a great humanitarian, very much in the tradition of his father, who was Fridtjof Nansen, the High Commissioner for Refugees during the League of Nations time, after whom the Nansen Passport is named. But he helped me immensely: I think he saved my life. He was then shipped out of the camp shortly before the end of the war, when Count Bernadotte was able to get the Norwegians and Danes out of the camp and get them to Sweden. At that point, we didn't see each other again.

And after the war, when having survived, I tried to find him. Couldn't remember his name, only knew that he had a very famous Norwegian name, but wanted to find him and wanted to thank him. I didn't find him until about 1947 or '48, when my mother read in the newspaper that a book had been published. It was a diary of the concentration camp that, among other things, dealt with Sachsenhausen; and that it was a Norwegian who had published it. At that point we wrote to him asking whether he knew that -- who that Norwegian might be who helped me in that camp. And of course, it was he.

It was a great story to this, because mail of course was very slow in those days after the war. Food was very scarce. We didn't hear from him for -- we didn't receive an answer to the letter for about four or six weeks. And one day, there's a knock at the door in the house where we lived in Germany in Göttingen, and up pulled a Norwegian military truck. And a soldier came out and asked whether this was our home and we said yes, and he said that he had a little package for us. So we said, "Well, give it to us." And he said, "No, no, we need to carry it." And they -- then a group or Norwegian soldiers jumped out of the car and brought this tremendous crate, wooden crate of food that had been collected by Norwegian children, with a letter from him.

And shortly thereafter, he came and actually took me to Norway for a few weeks. And because he had thought that I had died in the camp -- and the book, in fact, that he had published about the camp, the diary, was dedicated to me, among other people, on the assumption that I hadn't survived the camp. So, it was a wonderful reunion when we finally got together.