Call me Nina Roarsdóttir, please!

If I assume an Icelandic last name, do you think I might qualify for some social benefits from the Icelandic government, like a substitute for emotionally disturbed folks to stay at a “retreat” for a few days, say a long weekend in early September around my 50th birthday? Specifically, the therapeutic “institution” I have in mind where a stay would be most effective and helpful at this challenging time of half-a-century reckoning is called the ION: a Luxury Adventure Hotel. (You didn’t see the suffix descriptor). If so, call me Nina Roarsdóttir, please!

When my sister and mom back in Norway asked me what I wished for for my upcoming milestone, they likely had in mind a nifty object with which to bestow me, one that might enhance my beauty or my home. I thought about it for a few moments; what could be better for a middle aged writer with few prospects of redundant cash reserves than a gift she would never buy herself? However, I quickly concluded that what I wished for the most, was a few precious days with them in a spot that was realistic distance-wise for all of us. I wished for a long weekend of mother-daughter-sister bonding in Iceland, a sort of midway point between our two continents and the vast, undulating ocean that has separated us for 30 years.

After summer vacation is gone and kids are back in school, tickets aren’t bad at all. A direct flight from Boston late in the evening, and a mere 5 hours later I would wake up in the land of Norse sagas, steaming hot springs and simmering volcanoes. Less jet lag too, since the time difference is “only” 4 hours and not 6 like to Oslo. And there, in our state subsidized institution for the emotionally unstable (yeah, just go with it) would await my loving mother and adorable sister, genetically linked as they are to my folly, holding champagne glasses and clad in white smocks, I mean lovely bathing suits. And there, dancing the night away under the majestic waves of the Aurora Borealis, we’d plan our explorations of the dramatic landscape that would feed our bodies and souls with experiences to last a lifetime, that is, for the next 50 years, we should be so lucky.

Now, about that subsidy. Not going to happen you say? Well then. I am known to be crafty and entrepreneurial, and I have at least three sons that I know of that could be, say, sold for cash? Ok, a bit harsh there, in my enthusiastic fervor, I admit. But there must be a way! A less grotesque way…I think I’ll write the brilliant owner and creator of ION, Sigulaug Sverisdóttir a letter and…beg. Something has to be done. This birthday will be celebrated surrounded by Iceland’s stunning landscape, and it will be glorious.

Other options include, but are not exclusive to: 1. Say screw it and get into serious debt as I listen to the little voice in my head that says, “you only live once, carpe diem, this kind of experience is what makes it all worth it” –  fiscally unsound idea compliments of my late dad (thereby my new Icelandic last name Roarsdóttir). 2. Sell an organ? My body? (yeah, you can laugh now, out loud if you must). My home? (actually, it’s already listed on AirBnB). 3. Buy a lottery ticket. 4. Buy many lottery tickets. 5. Play Bingo.

Having recently taken the lunge to pursue my passion to become a writer, I feel courageous to not give up on chasing dreams. I must find a way to make this come true, or I may erupt like the Icelandic volcano Mt. Hengill. That might get messy, and I’m not half as hot as her. I’m a tireless seeker of emotionally meaningful experiences, and I usually find them in the most mundane places: in passing on a street corner, looking into the eyes of an older person, or a child; by simply being a mother, a friend, a companion. A piece of me is moved, and the daily shifts like the Nam and Eurasian plateaus at Thingvellir in Iceland, reminding me I am alive, and that change is a good thing, a necessary thing and can be most beautiful when shared with those we love.

Mamma and schwester: here’s to Iceland in September, and to daring to dream!


When the Last Survivor Dies

The void feels profound and massive, and the fact is that now it’s on us to continue to tell the story. Samuel Steinmann, the last Jewish Norwegian survivor of Auschwitz, died on Friday, May 1st. He was 91. He was a dedicated witness who spent much of his time sharing the story of his experience with school children and adults, as well as with journalists and historians in Norway. But it wasn’t always that way. For several decades after the war he chose to keep his painful memories private. He was the only survivor in his own immediate family.

Steinmann, or “Sammy,” was 19 years old when he was deported together with 532 other Jews on the ship Donau from the Oslo pier on November 26, 1942. 302 men, 188 women and 42 children were stuffed on board.

Sammy Steinmann ung

Steinmann at 19, just before the deportation

When they arrived Auchwitz-Birkenau on December 1, the elderly, the women and the children were separated out and Steinmann recalls thinking “Well that was humane.” He did not realize they were immediately gassed to death. Steinmann was liberated by American soldiers in April of 1945, after he had survived the death march from Poland.

His number was 79231.

A total of 722 Jews were deported from Norway to the death camps. Only 34 survived. Steinmann has returned to Auschwitz several times, including with a film crew making a documentary about his life.

His granddaughter and comedienne Cecilie Steinmann Neess recalls, “It was he who taught me respect and compassion. He taught me about love and safety. He taught me how to tell time…” To imagine that a person who had been a victim to the basest and most inhumane behaviors known to man is the same person who transmitted these beautiful and life-affirming values gives us reason to have faith in the power of hope and love.

Steinmann has received many honors for his important contributions, including the King’s Service Medal, and will be buried with a State funeral on Tuesday, May 5th.

Baruch dayan ha-emet.
May his memory be for a blessing.

Sammy Steinmann

Foto: Jørn H. Moen / Dagbladet