For nearly 1100 years, Iceland - a rather large island in the North
Atlantic with only one religion and one people, who allegedly descended
from chieftains and kings in Norway - was a country without
minorities. Thanks to archaeology and anthropology, we now know
that the first settlers, who arrived in Iceland at the end of the ninth
century, derived from different locations in Scandinavia and the northern
British Isles. They were descended from a more heterogeneous
group than the selection of noblemen from southwest Norway who
authors of the medieval Icelandic Sagas, and other books, tried to
convince themselves and others were their ancestry.2
A poor society of farmers inhabited this isolated island. The settlements
consisted of scattered farms, and there were no towns or urban
settlements. Losing their independence to Norwegian rule in the mid-13th century, then becoming a Danish colony in the 15th century, the
inhabitants tried their best to survive under harsh conditions. Natural
catastrophes such as volcanic eruptions and soil erosion, followed by
famines and plagues, made life even more difficult and the population
was often on the brink of extinction. A Jewish community in the
European sense would never have been possible in Iceland before the
19th century, and even then it was absent. It was not until the 1930s
that Jewish refugees started arriving in Iceland, and Icelanders began
encountering Jews in the flesh. They were called Gyðingar, and most
Icelanders only knew them from the Bible. In a country whose language
has remained nearly the same for centuries, most foreign terms have
been substituted with an Icelandic word. The word Gyðingar, which
has existed in the language since the 11th century, has been the most
widely used term for Jews in the Icelandic language, and is actually
a diminutive form of the word Guð (God). The monks who wrote the
Icelandic Sagas probably invented this word for the Chosen People.
They even wrote a Gyðinga Saga, the Saga of the Jews, a colloquium
of translations from the First Book of Maccabees and fragments from
the writings of Flavius Josephus.3
The righteous Law of Moses
The Jews here misapplied,
Which their deceit exposes,
Their hatred and their pride.
The judgement is the Lord's.
When by falsification
The foe makes accusation,
It's His to make awards.4
The very first documented information about a Jew in Iceland
dates from the mid-1620s. Actually, the first Jew in Iceland was no
longer a Jew when he arrived; he had converted to Christianity in Our
Lady's Church in Copenhagen in the presence of the chancellor and
the State Council. In 1620, Daniel Salomon was baptized and his
name changed to Johannes Salomon. Having been a poor Jew from
Poland, the baptism gained him a career and respect. Later, in 1625,
he received 6 Rixdollars (equaling 30 Marks in 1625) to travel "up to
Iceland."5 What he was supposed to do there, and how well he managed,
we do not know.
In 1704 Jacob Franco, a Dutch Jew of Portuguese origin who had
been allowed to settle in Copenhagen, was appointed to prepare and
export all the tobacco that was to be sold to merchants in Iceland
and on the Faeroe Isles. In 1710, Abraham Levin and his companion
Abraham Cantor of Copenhagen were given similar responsibilities.
Isak, the son of Abraham Cantor, held these same responsibilities
In 1815 the first "Jewish ship," the Ulricha, arrived in Iceland.7 It
was rented by a merchant, Ruben Moses Henriques of Copenhagen,
who sold all sorts of fabrics, hats, and paper at a small trading post
in North Iceland.8
In 1853 the Icelandic parliament, the Althing (Alþingi), rejected
a request by the Danish king for an implementation of the law of 5
April 1850 on "The access for Foreign Jews to reside here in the State."
The Danish law was not found suitable for Iceland. Two years later,
the Icelandic parliament suddenly changed its position and announced
to the king that the legislation should also apply to Iceland and that
Danish Jews as well as foreign ones were welcome. In its letter to the
king, the Althing explained its change of mind by the fact that the
Jews were enterprising merchants who did not try to lure others to
their religion. As far as we know, no Jews, either Danish or foreign,
accepted this offer to settle in Iceland.9
In the 19th century there were very few Jews in Iceland; they were
probably outnumbered by anti-Semites. One of the anti-Semites was
the first president of the University of Iceland, Professor Björn M.
Ólsen (1850-1919). As a young scholar at the University of Copenhagen,
he submitted an essay to an Icelandic journal called Þjóðólfur
(Thyotholfer), the first periodical in Iceland. In it he wrote about a
trading firm in the county of Húnavatnssýsla in North Iceland, which
he referred to as the "Jewish congregation of merchants." He commented:
"It is noteworthy that this firm has chosen a Hebrew name,
and the Jewishness radiates from all of their activities....This firm
wears various disguises, but Jews are always easily recognizable by
their voice." Ólsen refers to this essay in a letter to an Icelandic
professor in Cambridge,
Eiríkur Magnússon: "I have, between ourselves,
written an essay on a trading company in the county of
Húnavatnssýsla, which I can imagine the Danish merchants will not
be happy to read. I am interested in the company and their activities
because I descend from Húnavatnssýsla. The essay will be distributed
for free back home and is now in print."10 The "Jewish merchants"
whom Ólsen wrote about were, however, no more Jewish than he
There were also some 19th-century Icelandic cosmopolitans who
wrote favorably about Jews. The poet Benedikt Gröndal stayed for
nine years in the house of the Hartvigsen (Hartvigsohn) family in
Copenhagen and had a pleasant time. He wrote: "The food is precisely
like the food of the Christians, but they never ate any other
meat than that prepared by a Jewish butcher. One is not allowed to
fry in butter, but in some different form of fat." The poet and prefect
Bjarni Thorarensen (1786-1841) was also an outspoken philo-Semite.
He wrote to his countryman in Denmark, Professor Finnur Magnússon
(1781-1847): "It is good that the Greeks become independent,
although they are, and always have been scoundrels, because Europe
has much to thank this nation for. But I say that the entire world
has more reason to be grateful to the Jews." Thorarensen went on
to quote the Danish author Johan Ludvig Heiberg from his play,
King Salomon and Jørgen the Hatter: "Well, why don't they buy
Palestine for them?"11
In the late 19th century, about 80 percent of the trade in Iceland
was run by native Icelanders. A small number of the foreign trading
agents and wholesale firms that were active in Iceland were owned by
Danish Jews. Among them were the Arnhejms, agents from the firm
of Albert Cohn, a merchant by the name of Gryn, and agents from
the firm of A. Henriques & Zøylner.12
The Hungarian physician, journalist, and Zionist, Max Nordau
(Simon Maximilian Südfeld, 1834-1923), came to Iceland in 1874,
where he was supposed to cover the thousand-year jubilee for the
settlement of Iceland. The country was a huge disappointment to
Nordau, who wrote briefly about his visit in his book From the Kremlin
to Alhambra (1880). In a letter to his family, he wrote that he would
rather be a dog in Pest (a section of Budapest) than a traveler in
In 1906, a Danish shopkeeper named Fritz Heymann Nathan
(1883-1942) arrived in Iceland. He quickly became a prosperous merchant.
In 1913 Fritz Nathan, together with a Danish companion,
founded the firm Nathan & Olsen in Reykjavík. After Fritz Nathan
married in 1917, he quickly realized that because Iceland lacked the
means for conducting a Jewish life, he could not keep living there with
his family. He settled in Copenhagen, and traveled to and from Iceland
and around Europe as an agent for the firm in Iceland. The firm
was highly successful until the Icelandic government introduced trade
restrictions in the 1930s. Back in 1916-1917, Fritz Nathan built the
then-largest building in Iceland, which to this day is still somewhat
majestic and continental in appearance. With its five stories it was for
a while one of the wonders of Iceland.14
Another lone Jew who settled in Iceland was Poul O. Bernburg,
a violinist who converted by marriage to a woman from one of the
Danish families in Reykjavík. He, too, arrived in Reykjavík in 1906.
In a cold country where musical instruments were rare, he and his
music were welcomed by the bourgeoisie of Reykjavík. However, music
was not a breadwinning profession in Iceland and Bernburg had to
work at the Petroleum Company in Reykjavík. An Icelandic author,
Jón Trausti, gave this description of Bernburg:
For years I have seen him up next to the organ in the cathedral,
where he strengthens the ongoing ceremony by playing his violin.
And approximately one hour later he was on duty in his workman's
clothes in toil with the petroleum. But wherever you see Bernburg,
he is always happy and smiling and is nice to everyone. One never
detects any signs of rooted bitterness and weariness. And wherever
he goes it shows that he comes from a finer background than that
of a common worker and that he has received a better upbringing.
Even in his dirty workman's clothes, there is some kind of an elegance
surrounding this man.15
Poul O. Bernburg was the son of a wealthy Danish merchant
named Julius Isaac Liepman, who changed his name to Bernburg.
Julius Bernburg held many positions in Danish commerce and cultural
life. The younger Bernburg, who turned his back on his Jewish
family in Denmark, received a yearly allowance from his father. The
money was channeled through the Jewish Community Council in
Copenhagen, and a minister in a Reykjavík church delivered it to
The Arrival and Rejection of the Refugees
The fear that Icelanders showed toward foreigners in the 19th century
did not wane during the first decades of the 20th century, despite the
fact that the majority of merchants and other alleged suppressors now
were Icelanders. An increase in Icelandic nationalism in the early 20th
century may have fostered more xenophobia in the society. After 1918,
when the country got home rule (it was hereafter still a part of the
Danish kingdom with limited autonomy), Iceland's immigration policy
mostly followed the legislation in Denmark. For instance, when
Denmark shut its gates to the Austrian Jews in May 1938, the authorities
in Reykjavík did the same a few weeks later. The situation for
Jewish refugees in 1930s Iceland was generally worse than for other
foreigners. During the Depression years it was much easier for non-
Jewish immigrants, mostly Germans and Scandinavians, to obtain
work and residence permits than for Jewish immigrants.17
While Iceland was closing its harbors and restricting certain professions
to Icelandic citizens, many Icelanders also viewed Hitler and
Nazism as a possibly key to gaining their independence. In 1939, three
pro-Nazi Icelanders visited a German prince, Friedrich Christian zu
Schaumburg-Lippe, and asked him to become the King of Iceland in
case their hoped-for German takeover of Iceland materialized. The
prince, a member of the Nazi Party since 1929 and an official of the
Third Reich, took this request seriously and brought it to Joseph
Goebbels. According to the prince's autobiography published in
1952, Goebbels liked the idea but Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop
In 1933, a small Nazi Party was founded in Iceland. In 1934, it
became a National Socialist Party, Flokkur Þjóðernissinna (the Nationalist
Party) with connections to the German Nazi Party. The party
never gained enough popularity to obtain seats in the parliament, and
it gradually dissolved and mixed with other political parties in 1938.
Like many other Icelandic politicians, the leading Nazis of Iceland
wanted to preserve the alleged purity of the Icelandic race. Although
the party could not make Icelandic Jews their archenemies, since there
were so few Jews in Iceland, they saw Jews and Jewish conspiracies
everywhere. In one of the Nazis' pamphlets, the politician Ólafur Thors
was called "an honorable rabbi". His father, Thor Jensen, had risen
from poverty as an orphan in Copenhagen to become the wealthiest
man in Iceland. It was not, and still is not, uncommon in Iceland to
hear and see the terms Gyðingar and Júðar attached to wealthy individuals with negative connotations.
Although the few Jewish refugees in Iceland had no significant
problems with the Icelandic Nazis, they had a basic problem with the
nationalistic Icelandic authorities. The Jews were simply not welcome
in this country.
"A Pure Nordic Country, Free of Jews"
In the late 1930s, the Hilfsverein der Juden in Deutschland (the Aid
Association of German Jews) monitored the situation in Iceland just
as in other countries. With most European countries now in the process
of totally closing their doors to Jewish refugees, the aim was to find
what refuge was available. In a circular sent by the Hilfsverein in
February 1939 to the Auswanderberater in Reich (the Emigration Consultant
of the German Reich), there is a report on the situation for
Jews in Iceland. The Hilfsverein concluded that a large emigration of
Jews to Iceland was impossible. The information on the situation there
came from Hans Mann, a young Jew from Berlin who had fled to
Iceland with his mother. Hans Mann wrote:
Hereby I notify the Hilfsverein that Hans R. [Hans Rottberger, his
brother-in-law],who, who came here last year in June has received a
rejection of his request for a residence permit, and has been expelled
from Iceland. I am still here with my mother. We have no residence
permit....We really want to get away from this unfriendly and inhospitable
polar county, if only we could.
The officials create all kinds of difficulties to prevent further
immigration of foreigners. A foreigner only receives a residence permit
if he has gained a recommendation from an Icelander as a
semiskilled worker, whose skills are not already available in the country.
Unemployment and poverty in the country force the authorities
to take these measures.
I support myself and my mother as a farmhand, but I cannot
recommend for anyone to work with farming here. The way of living
and the hardship in the countryside is in the long run unbearable
for European people. The main food intake consists of fish and salted
meat; vegetables are completely lacking. The frightful polar storms
make that impossible. I am ill from my last occupation and have
arrived in Reykjavík, where my mother is staying in a small room.
I am blind in one of my eyes (detached retina) and have a rash all
over my body (metabolic disorder). I aim at going to a more friendly
country. This isolation from all Jewish life is nearly unbearable.
I know only two Jews here. Both have married Icelanders in order
not to get expelled.19
The reality was even worse than what Hans Mann described. In
November 1937, his brother-in-law Hans Rottberger contacted the
Danish legation in Reykjavík and asked for assistance because he and
his family were threatened with expulsion. He had been reported to
the police by an Icelander who claimed that Rottberger was robbing
him of his market for leather goods. The first secretary of the Danish
legation in Reykjavík, C.A.C. Brun, who on other occasions had helped
Jews in Iceland, tried to do what he could. He wrote in his diary:
"Although the Jewish policy of the Nazis might be necessary in principle,
one is shocked when one is confronted with real cases, and Nordic
countries should not be inhumane." The minister of the legation gave
C.A.C. Brun permission to plead the case of the Jewish family to the
Icelandic prime minister, Hermann Jónasson. Brun wrote in his diary
about his discussion with the prime minister at a dinner in the Danish
After dinner I approached the prime minister. He showed extraordinary
understanding for my arguments and authorizes me to announce
to the little Jew that he definitely has to leave - it is a principle in
Iceland; Iceland has always been a pure Nordic country, free of
Jews, and those who have entered in the last years must leave - but:
Rottberger can get a respite until spring to complete his affairs. Fair
Before the Rottberger family was expelled to Denmark in May
1938, the largest Icelandic newspaper wrote in its lead article: "It
must be welcomed that the authorities have shown firmness in dealing
with these vagabonds....Hopefully the authorities will ensure...that
foreigners, who are still here without a residence permit will be sent
out of the country immediately."21
A young Jew from Leipzig was also poorly treated in Iceland.
Alfred Kempner came to Iceland already in 1935, after having stayed
in Copenhagen, where he had moved in the hope of getting a job in
his uncle's firm. But restrictions on Jewish refugees in Denmark
made that impossible. In Iceland he quickly found a job on a farm,
but the wages were meager. By January 1938, he was unemployed.
He tried to earn a little by giving private German lessons, but the
income was insufficient to cover the rent at the small guesthouse
where he was staying in Reykjavík. The owner of the guesthouse
eventually contacted the police, who apprehended Alfred Kempner
for being without means. He was sent on the first boat to Bergen in
Norway. There the Norwegian authorities refused to admit him and
sent him back. Back in Reykjavík, Kempner explained that he had
family in Copenhagen.
Alfred Kempner sat in a Reykjavík prison while the police authorities
decided what to do with him. In May 1938 he was expelled and
sent to Copenhagen, with instructions written by the director of the
Division of Immigration of the Chief of Police in Reykjavík, and an
attached translation in German. These documents state:
A German citizen, Mr. Alfred Kempner, is being sent to Copenhagen
on board the steamship Brúarfoss. Mr. Kempner has been expelled
from Iceland because he was without means. In accordance with
specific wishes he is being transferred to Copenhagen, as he has
declared that he plans to apply for a residence permit there.
I take the liberty to ask the police authorities to take care of
his further transfer to Germany in case he does not get a residence
permit in Denmark. All expenses related to that will of course be
covered by Icelandic authorities. Attached you will find his passport,
the report of the police authorities in Bergen, as well as a German
translation of a report that the police authorities here have written
on his case.22
Thus the Icelandic authorities were willing to cover all expenses
related to expelling Alfred Kempner to Germany in case Denmark
was not willing to accept him. Upon his arrival in Copenhagen, the
message from the Icelandic authorities was delivered to the Immigration
Department of the Danish State Police. The police officer who
wrote the report on the case was clearly somewhat resentful of the
Icelandic procedure. In a note to the Justice Ministry he wrote: "It
should result in a reprimand that the Icelandic authorities execute
expulsions in such a manner without any approval from Danish authorities."
A young official in the Justice Ministry, Erik Hastrup, who
actively participated in expelling stateless Jews from Denmark to Germany
during WW II, wrote the following, which alludes to the
Rottberger family, who had been expelled to Denmark somewhat earlier
than Kempner: "Isn't it possible now for the police to establish
with the Icelanders that they must send their Germans directly off to
their native country, because we are not interested in them?"23 Alfred
Kempner was, however, just barely, allowed to stay in Denmark, while
several other Jews who were expelled or rejected by the Icelandic
authorities had to return to Germany and Austria and were murdered
in extermination camps.
Only a small number of Icelanders pleaded the case of the Jewish
refugees in Iceland. They include the doctors
Katrín Thoroddsen and
Jónas Sveinsson, the author Hendrik Ottósson, the publisher and
Manufacturer Ragnar Jónsson, as well as the afore-mentioned secretary
of the Danish legation in Reykjavík, C.A.C. Brun. Generally, however,
Icelandic spiritual leaders, ministers, bishops, academics, and authors
did not lend support to the refugees. Icelandic authors who did not
espouse romantic nationalism, or even National Socialism, were often
acolytes of Stalin and the Soviet empire.
The greatest Icelandic author of the 20th century, Halldór Kiljan
Laxness, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955, was in
Berlin in 1936 during the Olympics. At that stage he was a convinced
socialist if not a communist. A "Jewish girl with a hooky nose," as
Laxness described the daughter of an alleged Jewish acquaintance,
provided him with tickets for the games at the Reichsstadion in
Berlin on 9 June 1936.24 However, Laxness did not tell his readers
about a second trip he made to Berlin in 1936. He made this trip
after having defended Stalin at a PEN conference in Rio de Janeiro.
This time the purpose of the author's visit to Nazi Germany was
to collect the royalties that the Austrian publishing house Zinnen
owed him and his agent Steen Hasselbalch in Denmark.25 Laxness
eventually wrote in one of his memoirs that he had problems with
the publishing house's offices in Germany because of rumors that
he had a hostile attitude toward Nazi Germany.26 More likely the
publishing firm, which was owned by Jewish families in Austria and
not by Social Democrats as Laxness claimed, had difficulties paying
the authors whose work the branch in Germany published. The
Danish Foreign Ministry hurriedly sent a letter to the Danish legation
in Berlin that was supposed to assure the German authorities
that Laxness was totally nonpolitical - or possibly a Social Democrat
WWII and Iceland
On a cold day in the fall of 1940, Yom Kippur was observed for the
first time in Iceland. In fact, this marked both the first Jewish and the
first non-Christian service in the country since the Icelanders embraced
Christianity in the year 1000. On 10 May 1940, British forces (whom
some Icelanders considered British occupiers) had arrived in Reykjavík, and more kept coming in the following months. Among them
were Jewish servicemen, who immediately sought coreligionists and a
synagogue. There was no synagogue to be found, but eventually they
found some refugees who had arrived a few years earlier and been
allowed to stay.
One of these was a Jewish woman from Berlin, Henny Goldstein
Ottósson (born Rosenthal). She married an Icelander by the name of
Hendrik Ottósson. By marrying her and adopting her twelve-year-old
son, Ottósson saved the two of them from expulsion. Henny's mother,
Minna Lippmann, had also against all odds been allowed to stay in
Reykjavík. She greatly missed Jewish life, and her Icelandic son-in-law
contacted the British forces to find out if there were any Jews
among them. The result was the first non-Christian religious service in
Iceland in 940 years. About twenty-five Jewish soldiers from England,
Scotland, and Canada gathered together with eight Jewish refugees
and Hendrik Ottósson, who had studied Hebrew, as their shames
The Icelandic authorities offered the chief of the British military
chaplains, Chaplain Hood, that the Jews could borrow a chapel in
Reykjavik's old cemetery to conduct their services. Hendrik Ottósson
found this proposition insulting and instead rented the hall of the
Good Templars' Lodge for the services. He and his wife improvised
interior changes to make the hall look like a synagogue, and with
some help from a librarian they borrowed the only Torah available
Without a rabbi, with only two prayer shawls and one skullcap,
the new congregation's services went well. Alfred Conway, a cantor
from Leeds, sang the Kol Nidre prayer. Chaplain Hood gave a speech
and talked about British soccer and long jump. The audience was not
impressed. After the full day of fasting and services, followed by a
photographing session, the hungry people gathered for a meal at a
nearby Reykjavík hotel, and the first Jewish congregation in Iceland
was officially founded. Arnold Zeisel, an elderly manufacturer of
leather goods from Vienna, became the first head of the community.
In the following years this group gathered regularly, until American
forces took over from the British. The first bar mitzvah in Iceland
took place on the Shabbat of Passover, 1941, though the matzos arrived
too late for that Passover. And the community persevered during
that year even though the British forces were unwilling to send a rabbi
After the American forces succeeded the British army in 1941-
1942, Jewish life in Reykjavík and on nearby military bases became
more active. Late in 1941 an American field rabbi arrived in Iceland,
and the congregation had grown so large that a new building
had to be found for the services. Apart from the congregation of
American soldiers, which some of the Jewish refugees were members
of, there was also an Orthodox congregation that had a synagogue
in a corrugated-iron hut, opposite the building where the larger
community held their services. The American rabbis who were stationed
in Iceland during the war maintained contacts with the
refugee Jews. The German-speaking Jews liked the modern, fresh
approach of the young American rabbis, unlike what they had experienced
in Germany or Austria. Some of them were shocked,
however, to learn that some of the Reform rabbis excluded prayers
such as Kol Nidre.28
At the Rosh Hashana service in 1944 at the
Keflavík airbase, there
were five hundred Jews present and a Torah scroll was flown in from
the United States. From that point till the mid-1950s there were two
Jewish congregations in Iceland. In 1944 the number of Jewish servicemen
in Iceland was estimated at 2000 out of a total of 70,000, and
for a few years a rabbi was stationed in
The world first heard about Jews in Iceland when the journalist
and author Alfred Joachim Fischer29 wrote about Jewish life there
after his visit in 1955.30 A Jewish refugee from Germany who eventually
settled in London and Berlin, Fischer's account was based on Hendrik
Ottósson's description of the first Jewish service in Reykjavík in 1940.
Fischer mentioned that nearly all Jews who had come to Iceland and
been naturalized had taken Icelandic names, as the law demanded.
Harry Rosenthal became Haraldur Magnússon, Hans Mann became
Hans Jacobsson, Heinz Karl Friedländer became Hjörtur Haraldsson
(although his father's first name was Josef and not Haraldur), and
Otto Weg became Ottó Arnaldur Magnússon.
God's Chosen Nation
The Republic of Iceland was founded in 1944. The ties to Denmark
were finally severed while Denmark was occupied by Germany. In the
new Republic, which boasted the oldest parliament in the world, anti-
Semitism did not disappear. Jónas Guðmundsson (1898-1973), head
of a department in the Social Affairs Ministry and a Social Democrat
member of parliament,31 was obsessed with the "Jewish and Zionist
plans for world domination." During 1946-1958 he published a journal
that focused mainly on the "dangerous Jews." In 1951, he published
an Icelandic translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Guðmundsson was a great follower of a British eccentric named Adam
Rutherford, who in 1939 published a book maintaining that the Icelanders
were the descendants of the "real" Jews32 - specifically, the lost
tribe of the Benjaminites.
About the war, Guðmundsson had this to say in his journal: "WW
II was also their [the communists'] invention and the Zionists organized
a fabulous plan to destroy Germany, the bulwark of the free states of
Europe. They created and supported the Nazi Party and introduced
Hitler as its leader. The quest for the destruction of the Jews was only
a propaganda trick, created in order to fool the opponents."33 Only
five years after WW II, a Social Democrat in Iceland could express
himself thus without any consequences.34
Jónas Guðmundsson was only an extreme case of the widespread
Icelandic xenophobia. Like Prime Minister Jónasson in 1938, people
wanted to keep Iceland "racially pure." From WW II till the 1960s,
several Icelandic cabinets led by different political parties asked the
U.S. military authorities not to send black soldiers to the NATO bases
in Iceland, and the U.S. government complied. This became more
difficult after the human rights legislation of 1964.35
Becoming an Icelander
The small Icelandic Jewish population has never played a role in
Icelandic-Israeli relations. Iceland was, however, one of the thirty-three
states that voted in favor of Israel's establishment in the UN
Partition Resolution of 29 November 1947. That day an Icelandic
diplomat, Thor Thors, gave the first speech at the United Nations.36
Meanwhile, the Jews in Iceland kept a low profile during the
postwar period, preoccupied with becoming "good Icelandic citizens."
Most of them wanted to attract as little attention as possible
to their background and religion, preferring to adopt a new Icelandic
identity. With their new, Icelandic, "Viking" names, new lives, and
often a new religion, they sought to avoid further unpleasant experiences,
having already endured so much as Jews in prewar Europe and
during the Holocaust.
There was hardly any basis for Jewish life in Iceland after WW
II. Many of the Jews were not religious and kept to themselves, avoiding
contacts with other Jews. As we have seen, trends in Icelandic society
made Jews want to conceal their Jewish background.
One of the Jewish refugees allowed to stay in Iceland during the
war was Ottó Arnaldur Magnússon, formerly Otto Weg (1893-1984).
He was born in Leipzig and had a doctorate in geology as well as
mathematics. In November 1938, Otto Weg and his brother Franz
were transported together with 148 other Jewish men from Leipzig to
the Buchenwald concentration camp. On 9 December 1938, Otto Weg
was released. The next day he was notified that his brother had been
killed in the camp.36
Otto Weg never received an academic post in Iceland despite being,
for a long time, the best-qualified geologist in the country. He made
a living from construction work and later from giving private lessons
and publishing small pamphlets with solutions to problems in the
algebra and Latin books of the Icelandic high schools. His solutions
were an invaluable pedagogical aid to a few generations of Icelandic
students, who struggled with hopelessly outdated books. Everyone
knew that Otto Weg's solutions could be purchased in a certain secondhand
bookstore in Reykjavík. Otto always stressed to this author the
importance of putting one's old life behind if one wanted to become
an Icelander. For him Judaism had vanished in the Holocaust, like
most of his family, and he constantly warned this author against
Zionism. Whether Otto Weg was ever looked upon as a true Icelander
in his new country, as he desired, is doubtful.
In other cases, Jews tried to protect their nearest ones from any
knowledge about their origins and past. In September 1983, this author
met an Israeli named Eliahu Arbel (née Elemer Günsberger) in
London. When Mr. Arbel heard that the author was from Iceland, he
asked whether the author knew a Jewish woman there from Slovakia.
Although the answer was negative, it turned out that Mr. Arbel and
the woman were distantly related and that he wanted to get in touch
with her again since they came from the same town in Slovakia,
Ruzomberok. She had married an Icelander in England.
The author was able to establish contact between these two
people, and did not hear further from Mr. Arbel until the latter
located the author in Copenhagen in 1998. It turned out that the
woman in Iceland died a few years after the contacts were established,
and Mr. Arbel and her relatives in Israel wanted very much to get
in touch with her children. The author was able to locate her oldest
son, a businessman in Reykjavík who had just turned fifty. The news
that his mother had been Jewish obviously came as a shock to him.
Upset, he claimed there must be a misunderstanding; his mother
had, to his knowledge, been a Christian and there were no Jews in
the family. He wrote: "It is certain that my mother was born and
raised in the Christian faith and as such she was both baptized and
confirmed. Both her parents were, according to my best information,
of the Christian faith."38
Skeptical about the whole situation, this author translated the
response for Mr. Arbel, who immediately wrote back and explained
every detail about the woman's background, enclosing letters and
proofs from her relatives in Israel. It seemed she came from distinguished
Jewish families on both her father's and mother's sides, and
among their ancestry was a well-known rabbi from Utrecht in Holland.
After receiving the documents, the oldest son concluded about his
mother: "She seems according to everything to have been a Jew on
both sides of her parents' families. If she, herself, was of the Jewish
faith, then she succeeded completely to conceal this from us, her
children."39 Now the family is at ease with their newly discovered
background and are in touch with their relatives in Hungary and
Why did the woman hide and repress her background, like so
many other Jews in Iceland? Mr. Arbel had an explanation: "From
her letters I learned that Icelanders are not very sympathetic toward
Jews. She asked me never to mention her Jewish descent and contacts
with Jews, and if I remember properly, I sent my letters through
London, where I visited from time to time on my business trips and
where a family from our town in Slovakia lived since 1939....I used
to send my letters to her with their help and vice versa."40
Iceland and the Holocaust
With regard to the Holocaust, Iceland is not a blank page. A few
Icelandic members of the Waffen-SS fought for Nazi Germany, and
a few Icelanders served in concentration camps in 1943-1944, including
one who served as a guard at the notorious Dora-Mittelbau
camp in Germany, also known as Dora-Nordhausen.41 The son of
Sveinn Björnsson, the first president of the Republic of Iceland, was
a member of the S. S. He was rescued from prosecution in Denmark
by the Icelandic authorities and later lived in Argentina. There were
also non-Jewish Icelanders living abroad who were killed in concentration
camps because their Nazi countrymen in, for instance, Norway
and Germany had informed on them regarding their political
views. Most Icelanders who served in the Third Reich were treated
with contempt after the war.42 However, there was a lapse of memory
when it came to the former members of Iceland's own Nazi Party.
After the war, some of them quickly attained high positions in society,
including a couple of chiefs of police, a bank director, and some
In 1997, it did not make headlines in Iceland when it became
known that in the late 1930s the Icelandic authorities had offered to
pay for the further expulsion of Jews to Germany, if the Danish
authorities would not take care of them after they had been expelled
from Iceland (as in the above-described case of Alfred Kempner).43
In 2000, Iceland participated in a Holocaust conference in Stockholm,
and it has signed a declaration of the European Council that obliges
the member states to teach the Holocaust in their schools. In reality,
this has not meant increased instruction on the Holocaust and genocide
in Iceland's educational system.44 However, there seems to be a
great need for such information about the Holocaust. In 1994-1995,
the Icelandic daily Morgunblaðið published a series of letters to the
editor by an Icelandic Holocaust denier. An Icelandic neo-Nazi participated
in the ensuing debate, and wrote in response to one of the few
critics of the Holocaust denier: "the goal of [his] article is to destroy
the Icelandic nation, because he doubts the importance of the Icelandic
language, our beautiful mother tongue. It is barbaric to want to destroy
one's nation, and not wish for the success of the Aryan race. The truth
will be revealed, this discussion is just beginning."45
Such views are not rare in Iceland, and should possibly be seen
as ultimate manifestations of a bizarre form of Icelandic ethnocentrism
that was quite widespread in the late 20th century. As the director of
the Icelandic Language Center, Íslensk Málstöð, remarked in 1994: "I dread that the Icelanders have neglected education about themselves.
There is a danger that foreigners can fill us with lies if we are not
ready with arguments. Those among us who lack knowledge cannot
contradict the arguments of ignorant people."46
A War Criminal in Iceland
Evald Mikson, an Estonian war criminal who was assisted by Swedish
authorities to escape prosecution, ended up in Iceland when the ship
that was carrying him from Sweden to the United States ran aground
there. He was, like many other foreigners in Iceland, never fully accepted
as an Icelander, even with his brand new Icelandic name, Eðvald
Hinriksson. It helped, however, that his sons were members of Iceland's
national soccer team and, later, successful professional players for
famous teams abroad. Many Icelanders were ready to believe the lies
Mikson told in his biography, published in Iceland in 1988,47 about
his role in WW II Estonia. A request by the Israeli branch of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center that the Icelandic authorities investigate
Mikson's case sparked sharply negative responses. The State of Israel,
which was not involved in the request for an investigation, was blamed
for attacking a good Icelandic citizen. During a debate in the Althing,
many members of the parliament related the request to Middle Eastern
politics. Among them was Dr. Ólafur Ragnar
Grímsson, leader of a
left-wing party in the Althing, who in 1996 was elected president of
Grímsson criticized the Israeli government and reminded
it of the "murder" of Hezbollah leader Abbas Musawi and of Israeli
attacks on Southern Lebanese towns. The mayor of Reykjavík,
Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, claimed that "the Israeli authorities
were no special representatives of justice despite the terrible Holocaust
of the Jews during WW II."48The mayor also argued in an op-ed that
Nazi hunters make it "easier for the military State of Israel to define
itself as a victim that can claim the sympathy of the world community,
and not as an aggressor that violently attacks other nations [in the
The entire Icelandic media, except for one weekly, kept silent
because of political pressure and published no information about the
case apart from a few initial reports. Efraim Zuroff, director of the
Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, was proclaimed one of the
main enemies of Iceland because of his wish to have Mikson prosecuted.50 Íþróttastjörnur (Stars of Sport), a book published in 1992,
contains nearly as much information about Evald Mikson as about
his son, one of the book's athletic heroes. Atli, the son, is quoted as
[My father] is persecuted and defamed by a foreign group of fanatics,
and has to tolerate the worst...accusations that have been published
about an Icelandic citizen....By attacking the Estonians and accusing
them of war crimes against the Jews, the Wiesenthal Center will do
the Russians a great favor. At the same time, the Center once more
gains worldwide sympathy for the Jews. If the Center could find
many Estonians who could be accused of war crimes against the
Jews, that would undoubtedly give a bad name to the Estonian nation.
In that way the Simon Wiesenthal Center would simultaneously help
the Russians to strengthen their position in Estonia. Possibly there
is some collaboration going on. Although dad is persecuted by a
fanatic organization, which thinks it is working in the name of the
Jewish people, my view on the Jews has not been changed. I have
nothing against them, because most of them have nothing to do with
Evald Mikson died in 1993, shortly after the Icelandic government
and the state prosecutor finally decided to take into account all the
evidence they had received from the Wiesenthal Center and Estonian
On 3 October 1999, the daily Morgunblaðið published an interview
with Atli Edvaldsson titled "The Devil Never Sleeps." Edvaldsson
told about the last time he saw his father alive: "dad said to me: Dear
Atli, remember to finish my case. And he also said: The Devil never
sleeps. He wanted me to remember that although Communism had
collapsed, the Soviet Union had crashed, and even though he was
dead and gone, the persecution would not stop." In a sinister response
to Zuroff's reaction52 to this interview with Edvaldsson and the incorrect
information it contained, the editors of Morgunblaðið claimed
that the evidence against Mikson was not reliable because some of it
originated with the KGB.53The editors also argued that the Wiesenthal
Center possessed no confession from Mikson, nor a verdict to back
up its charges against him.54 Yet Morgunblaðið, which in 1992 decided
not to report on the evidence supplied by the Wiesenthal Center, paid
little if any attention to the conclusion of the Estonian International
Commission for the Investigation of Crimes against Humanity, published
in 2001, that Evald Mikson had committed war crimes and
engaged in the murder of Jews.55 Some individuals in Iceland continued
to defend Mikson and even blamed Israel for the results of the Estonian
Anti-Semitism on the Rise
As already mentioned, Jews in Iceland experienced open anti-Semitism
before the issue of Israel and the Middle East conflict emerged. Today,
in a country with so few Jews, the sentiments toward the State of
Israel are probably the best way of measuring anti-Semitism.
Trends tend to come quickly to Iceland, and the resurgent European
anti-Semitism is no exception. In October 2003, the chairman
of the Icelandic Palestinian Association posted on the group's website
a message called "Israel, Israel, über alles." Support for the Palestinians
in Iceland is now characterized by repeated comparisons of Israel to
Nazi Germany. At the same time, the Israelis are condemned for
"misusing the Holocaust."
The following message was posted on the website of the Icelandic
state telephone company, SÍMI, on 30 May 2004:
I have nothing against the Jews but I cannot tolerate the Israelis.
The goals of the Israelis are simple. Their aim is that only Jews
can live in their state. They suppress the Palestinians and kill them
with the lousy excuse that they are preventing terrorism. If you
take a look at the Israeli flag, you can see two blue lines and
between them the star. The blue lines in the flag symbolize the Nile
and Euphrates rivers and the star between them means that only
Jews are supposed to live between these rivers. As I said, their goals
The Icelandic Jews Today
News about Jews in Iceland is scant. In one instance, a news agency
reported that a rabbi had scalded some bystanders when he accidentally
poured boiling water on them while performing a ritual cleansing at
a fish factory, which aimed to begin exporting the renowned Icelandic
fish to kosher consumers in the United States. There have also been
singles tours for young Jews to Iceland, with a Shabbat service in a
geothermal lagoon as the main event.58 A recent Canadian documentary
argued that Jews are buried in the old cemetery in Reykjavík and
that their headstones are engraved with the Star of David.59 There is,
however, a different and much simpler explanation for the Star of
David that is found on some Icelandic headstones and as an ornament
on a few houses in Reykjavík: it was used as a motif by the relatively
numerous Freemasons in Iceland. A Jewish-Icelandic connection was,
however, confirmed when the above-mentioned president of Iceland,
Grímsson, married the Israeli citizen Dorrit Mussaieff
on 14 May 2003, making her the world's first Jewish First Lady and
first Israeli one outside Israel. Grímsson having won a third term
in the June 2004 presidential election, the couple will occupy the
presidential manor until at least 2008.
Nowadays, a new generation of Icelandic Jews gather on the Jewish
holidays. Religious observance is very liberal. The community uses a
printed Torah scroll that was donated by Hans Mann before he died.
In recent years there have been four bar- and bat mitzvahs in Reykjavík.60 The Jewish community has discussed applying for registration
as a religious organization, but there has never been sufficient interest
to do so. Amid the strong support for the Palestinian cause, most
Icelandic Jews have not wanted to attract attention to themselves as
Jews. Most Icelanders are still unaware that there are Jews in the
country, and the handful of Jews would rather not change that perception
because of the anti-Semitic climate.
On the American NATO base in Keflavík, there has been a Jewish
congregation since WW II. A decade ago, the multi-religious Temple
of Light was built on the base; one of its halls can be transformed
into a synagogue. That was also the case in the 1970s. The temple was
then in an old, military, corrugated-iron hut. During Jewish services,
Catholic figurines were kept in closed chests on the wall, ready to be
taken out for the Catholic mass the following day, after the menorahs
had been removed and the bima (podium) and Ark of the Torah slid
behind a curtain.
The Jews in Iceland are but a small number of the newcomers
who have made Icelandic life more varied and interesting in recent
decades. Increasing immigration to Iceland demands greater tolerance
by the Icelanders. The attitude that there is only room for one "minority"
in Iceland, the Icelanders themselves, should be abandoned. It is
not likely that the Icelandic Jews will be the touchstones for this
nation's tolerance. However, the history of the Jews in Iceland could
function as a guide so that past mistakes will not be repeated with
other immigrants and religions in Icelandic society.
* * *
Bergsson, Snorri G. 1994. "Listi Hermanns." Efst á baugi, May
----. 1995. "Iceland and the Jewish Question until 1940." A dissertation
published on the Internet: http://notendur.centrum.is/ snorrigb/
Blüdnikow, B. and Vilhjálmsson, V.Ö. 1997. "Skeletter efter 1945."
Weekendavisen (Danish weekly), 19-25 September (Danish).
Eban, Abba. 1977. Abba Eban: An Autobiography. New York: Random
Espólín, Jón. 1855. Íslenskar árbœkur í söguformi 12, LXX kapitel, 4.
bind. København (Danish).
Fischer, Alfred Joachim. 1957. "Juden in Island, ein Besuch in
Keflavík." Allgemeine Jüdische Wochenzeitung, 15 March. (German).
----. 1958a. "Jews in Iceland." AJR (Association of Jewish Refugees)
Information, March. (The article was photocopied at the archive
of the Wiener Library, London: Press Cuttings, Denmark [Iceland]).
----. 1958b. "Die Juedischen Gemeinden in Island." Jediot Ahronot,
11 November. (The article was photocopied at the archive of
the Wiener Library, London: Press Cuttings, Denmark [Iceland ]
----. 1991. In der Nähe der Ereignisse: Als jüdischer Journalist in
diesem Jahrhundert. Berlin: Transit Buchverlag. (German).
Guðmundsson, Ásgeir. 1996. Berlínar-blús. Íslenskir meðreiðarsveinar
og fórnalömb þýskra nasista. Reykjavík: Skjaldborg (Icelandic).
Hammerich, Paul. 1992. Undtagelsen, En krønike om jøderne i Norden
frem til 2. verdenskrig. Gyldendal (Danish).
Helgason, Jón. 1943. Safn Frœðafélagsins um Ísland og Íslendinga, gefið út af hinu Íslenska frœðafélagi í Kaupmannahöfn, bd. 13: Bréf /
Bjarni Thorarensen bd. 1. Kaupmannahöfn (Icelandic).
Helgason, Örn. 1992. Kóng við viljum hafa! Reykjavík: Skjaldborg
Henriques, Leif A. 1994. Mine damer og herrer! - Nej - Mine kœre
slœgtninge! København: Forfatteren og Henrik Henriques
Jökulsson, Hrafn and Jökulsson, Illugi. 1988. Íslenskir Nasistar. Reykjavík: Tákn (Icelandic).
Katz, Per. 1981. Jøderne i Danmark i det 17. århundrede. København:
C.A.C. Reitzel (Danish).
Laxness, Halldór Kiljan. 1942. Vettvangur Dagsins, Ritgerðir. Reykjavík: Heimskringla (Icelandic).
----. 1962. Dagleið á Fjöllum (önnur útgáfa). Reykjavík: Helgafell.
Metzon, Hans. 1989. Stamtavlen Ruben Henriques 1777-1988. København:
Otto R. Henriques og hustru Elisa Henriques f. Bendix' Mindelegat (Danish).
Nathan, Daniel. 1993. "En islandsk-jødisk saga." Rambam 2 (Journal
for Jewish Culture and Research published by the Society for
Danish Jewish History) (Danish).
Nordau, Max. 1881. Fra Kreml til Alhambra. Kulturstudier og rejseskildringer.
Ottósson, Hendrik 1951. Vegamót og Vopnagnýr. Akureyri: Bókaútgáfa Pálma H. Jónssonar.
Pétursson, Hallgrímur. 1978. Hymns of the Passion: Meditations on
the Passion of Christ. Translated from the Icelandic by Arthur
Charles Gook. 2nd ed. Reykjavík: Hallgríms Church.
Pétursson, Pétur. 2000. "Konsert í Bárunni." Morgunblaðið (Icelandic
daily), 2 April, part B (Icelandic).
----. 2003. "Með gyðingum og á móti." Morgunblaðið, 15 June
Salomon, Julius and Fischer, Josef. 1914. Mindeskrift i Anledning af
Hundredaarsdagen for Anordningen af 29. Marts 1814. København:
Udgivet af Danmarks Loge (published by the Danish B'nai B'rith
Lodge No. 712) (Danish).
Sigurðsson, Magnús A. 1993. "Vakna þú, Ísland, til þinnar stórfenglegu
köllunar." Bachelor's thesis in history, University of Iceland,
Tíðindi frá Alþingi Íslendinga 1853-1855. Reykjavík (Icelandic).
Vilhjálmsson, Vilhjálmur Örn. 1990. "Archaeological Retrospect on
Physical Anthropology in Iceland." In Elisabeth Iregren and Rune
Liljekvist, eds., Populations of the Nordic Countries: Human Population
Biology from the Present to the Mesolithic. Proceedings of
the Second Seminar of Nordic Physical Anthropology. University
of Lund, Institute of Archaeology Report Series, No. 46.
----. 1994. "Þegar Gúttó varð samkunduhús gyðinga," DV (Icelandic
daily), 12 November (Icelandic).
----. 1997. "Flóttamaðurinn Alfred Kempner." Lesbók Morgunblaðsins (cultural and literary supplement of the Icelandic daily
Morgunblaðið), 27 September (Icelandic).
----. 1998. "Et land uden jøder." Udsyn. Tidsskrift for jødisk liv Israel
og Mellemøsten Nr. 3/oktober 1998. 13. årg.
----. 2000. "Den baltiske fortrœngning." Birkes, det danske tidsskrift
for jødisk liv, No. 1, 2. årg.
----. 2001. "Eistneska skýrslan." DV (Icelandic daily), 12 July, p. 14
Weitemeier, H. 1919. Lidt om jødeomvendelser i København, navnlig
i de 18. århundrede. Tidsskrift for jødisk historie og litteratur,
Whitehead, þór. 1974. "Kynpláttastefna Íslands."
Lesbók Morgunblaðsins (cultural and literary supplement of the Icelandic daily Morgunblaðið), 2. tbl., 13 January (Icelandic).
* * *
* * *
* In memory of Eliahu Arbel, z''l
1. A slightly shorter version of this article with illustrations first appeared in
Rambam (No. 12, 2003), a journal published by the Society for Danish Jewish
History. The author wishes to thank Michael Levin (Reykjavík) and Eva
2. In the first settlement population in Iceland there were elements of Sami
(Lappish) people as well as people from the British Isles, but the community
was predominantly from Norway; see Vilhjálmsson (1990). Studies undertaken
by Hans Christian Petersen (University of South Denmark, Odense)
on the oldest skeletal remains in the National Museum of Iceland show great
metric variations in the skeletal remains of the earliest population of Iceland,
indicating admixture of different ethnic groups.
3. Kulturhistorisk Leksikon for Nordisk Middelalder, Vol. 5, cols. 603-604
4. Pétursson (1978), hymn 25, verse 4. The hymns are read every evening on
Icelandic National Radio for fifty days before Easter.
5. Rigsarkivet [Danish National Archive], Archive of the University of Copenhagen:
85, Acta consistorii 1619-26, fol. 96 (Danish); ibid. Acta consistorii
1619-26, fol. 415 (entry of 9 February 1625) (Danish); Katz (1981), p. 59;
Weitemeyer (1919), p. 338 .
6. Salomon and Fischer (1914), pp. 31, 129-131.
7. Espólín (1855), Vol. 4, Ch. 79.
8. Information kindly provided by the Icelandic historian Snorri G. Bergsson.
For information about Ruben Moses Henriques (b. 1787) and the important
Henriques family in Denmark, see Metzon (1989), Henriques (1994).
9. Tíðindi frá Alþingi Íslendinga 1853, pp. 46-49; 214-225, 260-261, 350-353,
615-625, 635-641, 840-851, 1032-1034 (Icelandic); Bergsson (1995) has argued
that Iceland witnessed a settlement of "Jewish conversos" in Reykjavík
after the trade restrictions were lifted in Iceland in 1855. That, however, is
wishful thinking, which simply relates to speculations about the origins of
some of the Danish merchants in Iceland. Most of the merchants were in
fact of Danish or German, not Jewish, origin. For two decades after 1855,
50-60 percent of all merchants in Iceland were either Danish or of other
10. Pétursson (2003), p. 21.
11. Helgason 1943), pp. 186, 298; Rigsarkivet [Danish National Archives], Private
archive No. 5943, A.I. 5 (Danish). Thorarensen's letter was written to Professor
Finnur Magnússon on 2 March 1830; Pétursson (2003), p. 20.
12. The owner was Gustav Henriques (1859-1939); Metzon (1989), p. 93, Henriques
(1994), pp. 56-62.
13. Nordau (1881); see Bergsson (1995). Later in life Nordau was better known
as the president of the first World Zionist Congresses.
14. Nathan (1993), pp. 83-87; Hammerich (1992), pp. 279-282; interview (11 September
1997) with Professor Ove Nathan, son of Fritz Heyman Nathan, at
the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. The company still uses the old name
Nathan & Olsen, and is one of the largest food import concerns in Iceland.
15. Here in the translation of the author; see Pétursson (2000), p. 25.
16. Pétursson (2000), pp. 24-25.
17. Bergsson (1994), pp. 28-29; According to a law passed on 31 May 1927 on
restrictions on employment, managing industries, and so on, the rights for
foreigners seeking employment in Iceland were limited. Foreigners could
only be employed as farmhands or as crewmembers in the Icelandic fleet.
A law of 23 June 1936 set even stricter regulations for foreigners; a departmental
order of 16 October 1937 introduced various restrictions that mainly
18. Helgason (1992), p. 85 .. Prince Friedrich Christian zu Schaumburg-Lippe's
book (Wiesbaden, 1952) was titled Zwischen Krone und Kerker.
19. A translation from the German by the author from: "Rundchreiben B Nr.
378 an alle Auswanderberater im Reich und die Sachberarbeiter im Hause.
Betrag: Einwanderung nach Island," which includes a transcript of Hans
Mann's letter to the Hilfsverein of 28 January 1939;U.S. Holocaust Memorial
Museum, USHMM Archives, RG-11.001M.01. Reichssicherheitshauptamt
CRSHAJ-SD Berlin (Osoby; Fond 500, Opis 1; Folder 686) (German). (This
material originates from Reichssicherheitshauptamt in Berlin, and was micro-filmed for the USHMM in Russian archives in 1993.)
20. C.A.C. Brun's personal diary for 1937, entry for 17 November 1937 (yet to
21. For more on the Rottberger family's continuing problems in Denmark, see
Blüdnikow and Vilhjálmsson (1997), p. 4.
22. Rigsarkivet [Danish National Archive], Archive of the Danish State Police,
Division of Immigration, Foreigner's file 39.222: The Chief of Police in
Reykjavík, Division of Immigration to the Passport Control Office in Copenhagen:
(a) "Abschrift nach dem Verhandlungsprotokolle Ausländer betreffend,"
signed by Ragnar Jónsson of the office of the Chief of the Reykjavík Police,
translated into German by Professor Guðbrandur Jónsson; (b) the director
of the Division of Immigration of the Chief of Police in Reykjavík, Jónatan
Hallvarðsson, to his Danish colleagues, 28 May 1938. Hallvarðsson (1903-1970) later became a justice on the Icelandic Supreme Court. He was a
trainee at the Criminal Police of the Gestapo in Berlin in 1933-1934.
23. Rigsarkivet [Danish National Archive], Archive of the State Police, Division
of Immigration, Foreigners' file 39.222 (Danish); see Vilhjálmsson (1997),
24. Laxness (1962), pp. 267-269.
25. Rigsarkivet [Danish National Archive], Archive of the Foreign Ministry, the
Legation in Berlin (delivered in 1951): "81.A. 91: Icelandic writer Halldor
Laxness." The letters are from the period 17 October 1936 to 24 March
1937, as well as March 1938.
26. Laxness (1943), pp. 282-289.
27. Rigsarkivet [Danish National Archive}, Archive of the Foreign Ministry, the
Legation in Berlin (delivered in 1951): "81.A. 91, Icelandic writer Halldor
Laxness": The Foreign Ministry (J. Krabbe) to the Danish envoy in Berlin,
Chamberlain Zahle, 20 October 1936.
28. Ottósson (1951), pp. 165-169; Vilhjálmsson (1994), p. 39; idem (1998),
pp. 3-5; Fischer (1958a, 1958b).
29. Alfred Joachim Fischer (1909-1992) fled to Turkey from Nazi Germany.
After WW II, when not travelling and reporting from all over the world, he
had a base in London and after 1959 in Berlin. He came to Denmark in the
1930s. His autobiography was published in Fischer (1991).
30. The article was titled "Juden in Island" (Fischer, 1957). It was kindly provided
by Eva Fischer (b. Haas) in Berlin, who is the widow of Alfred Fischer.
Later, similar articles were published under the titles "Jews in Iceland"
(Fischer, 1958a) in the journal of the Association of Jewish Refugees in
London, and "Die Juedischen Gemeinden in Island" in the German version
of Jediot Aharonot (Fischer, 1958b);Wiener Library, London, press cuttings,
31. Jónas Guðmundsson was chairman of the National Association of Municipalities
in Iceland for a number of years, a member of and chairman
of the Icelandic ILO (International Labour Organisation) delegation, and
chairman of numerous committees and boards on social welfare in Iceland
32. Adam Rutherford, Israel-Britain: An Explanation of the Origin, Function and
Destiny of the Norse-Anglo-Celto-Saxon Race in the British Empire, USA,
Holland, Scandinavia and Iceland (London, 1939).
33. Dagrenning, June 1950 (Icelandic); Sigurðsson (1993). The website of the
Icelandic parliament does not mention a word about Jónas Guðmundsson's
literary production in an otherwise detailed biography of him.
34. In 1995, when living in Reykjavík, this author received a pamphlet in the
mail. It was titled "A Jubilee for Iceland" and originated from a post box
address in Calhoun, Georgia, USA. This pamphlet, which was sent to all
Icelandic addresses, contained claims such as: "Since these Khazar-Aschkenaz
Jews of today trace their own lineage back to their forefather Japhet -
the progenitor of the Gentiles - then the term 'anti-Semitic' has no
foundation whatsoever." It also claims that the modern Jews are really Khazars
who have stolen the true Jewish identity from the Icelanders among
35. Whitehead (1974), p. 6.
36. Eban (1977), pp. 97-99.
37. Thüringischen Hauptstaatsarchiv, Weimar: "Geldkarte der Geldverwaltung
des Lagers Buchenwalds für Otto Weg" (Häftlings, No. 24497), and "Frantz
Weg" (Häftlings, No. 30535); a list containing the names of the Weg brothers
from Leipzig is titled: "Überführung festgenommener Juden nach dem
Konzentrationslager Buchenwald"; also informative was a letter from the
Gestapo Staatspolizeistelle Leipzig to Das Kommandantur des Konzentrationslagers
Buchenwalds of 11 November 1938 (German). The information
was kindly provided by Gedenkstätte Buchenwald in a letter of 23 September
38. According to wishes of the family of the woman from Rozumberok, her
name is not mentioned.
39. The son of the woman from Rozumberok, in a letter to the author of 15
40. Information provided by Eliahu Arbel (Ramat Gan, Israel) in a letter to the
author of 18 May 1998.
41. Dora-Mittelbau was originally a subcamp of Buchenwald. Prisoners from
Buchenwald were sent to the area in 1943 to begin construction of a large
industrial complex. In October 1944, the SS made Dora-Mittelbau an independent
concentration camp with more than thirty subcamps of its own. In
1943, prisoners at Dora-Mittelbau began construction of large underground
factories and development facilities for the V-2 missile program and other
42. See Guðmundsson (1996).
43. Vilhjálmsson (1997).
44. Information provided by Sólrún Jensdóttir, head of the international section
of the Icelandic Education Ministry, in an email of 7 January 2003. Iceland
has agreed to hold a "Day of Remembrance" in the schools from 2003, in
accordance with a decision reached in a seminar on "Teaching about the
Holocaust and Artistic Creation," Strasbourg, 17-19 October 2002.
45. A letter to the editor by I. Sigurðsson, "Um kynþœtti" (On Races), Morgunblaðið, 25 February 1995, p. 49 (Icelandic).
46. The author's translation from Icelandic from an interview with Baldur Jónsson,
director of Íslensk Málstöð (the Icelandic Language Institute), titled
"Allt er í húfi" (Everything at Stake), published in Morgunblaðið, 8 May
1994, pp. 24-25 (Icelandic).
47. Mikson's biography was published in 1988 in Einar Sanden, úr eldinum til Í
sland (From the Fire to Iceland) (Reykjavík: Almenna Bókafélagið)
48. Morgunblaðið, 26 February 1992, p. 26 (Icelandic). See also Ha'aretz, Friday
Magazine, Letters to the Editor, 30 January 2004, by V.Ö. Vilhjálmsson titled
49. Morgunblaðið, 10 February 1993, p. 16 (Icelandic).
50. Vilhjálmsson (1999). An independent commission has concluded that Evald
Mikson was guilty of war crimes in Estonia. See the commission's report at
51. Heimir Karlsson, Íþróttastjörnur (Stars of Sport) (Reykjavík: Almenna Bókafélagi ð, 1992), pp. 66-67 (Icelandic).
52. "Bréf til Morgunblaðsins frádr. Efraim Zuroff" (a letter to the editors of
Morgunblaðið from Dr. Efraim Zuroff), Morgunblaðið, 5 November 1999,
p. 62 (Icelandic).
53. "Eðvald Hinriksson ekki sekur um neina glœpi" (Eðvald Hinriksson is Not
Guilty of Any Crimes), statement by the editors of Morgunblaðið, 5 November
1999, p. 63 (Icelandic).
54. "Ásakanir" (Allegations), response of the editors of Morgunblaðið, 17 November
1999, to a comment in the same volume by Efraim Zuroff, in which
he reacts to a judgment on the innocence of Evald Mikson made by Morgunblaðið on 5 November 1999 (see ibid.).
55. The report can be read at http://www.historycommission.ee/temp/conclusions
56. See Vilhjálmsson (2001), p.14.
57. A statement in Icelandic about Jews, translated by this author, on www.hugi.is.
58. The following notice appeared on the website of the Amsterdam office of
Icelandair in 2002:
Jewish Singles Festival in Iceland - October 24-27, 2002. Head
north for a fun-filled weekend in Iceland, Europe's "hottest"
country! Meet other Jewish singles and enjoy sightseeing, night-life,
hot springs and shopping in Reykjavik Iceland. You'll also enjoy
the world's most exotic Shabbat service, held at the amazing Blue
Lagoon geothermal springs.
59. Documentary filmmaker Nikila Cole of Vancouver has produced a television
documentary called Wanderings that describes her and her daughter's cultural
tour to Jewish locations around the world, among them "Jewish Reykjavík."
60. Information provided by Michael Levin, Reykjavík.
DR. VILHJÁLMUR ÖRN VILHJÁLMSSON was born in Reykjavík in 1960, and received a Ph.D. in archeology from the University of Aarhus (Denmark) in 1992. He was an archeologist and a curator at the National Museum of Iceland (1993-1997), and senior researcher at the Danish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (2000-2002). He is currently completing two books about Denmark's expulsion to Germany of stateless Jews during 1940-1943.
The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect
those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
The above essay appears in the Fall 2004 issue of the Jewish Political Studies Review, the first and only journal dedicated to the study of Jewish political institutions and behavior, Jewish political thought, and Jewish public affairs.
Published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (http://www.jcpa.org/), the JPSR appears twice a year in the form of two double issues, either of a general nature or thematic, with contributors including outstanding scholars from the United States, Israel, and abroad. The hard copy of the Fall 2004 issue will be available in the coming weeks. This issue focuses on "Emerging Anti-Semitic Themes."
From the Editor - Manfred Gerstenfeld
Foreword by Natan Sharansky
Foundations of an Israeli Grand Strategy Toward the European Union by Yehezkel Dror
Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism by Robert Wistrich
Watching the Pro-Israeli Media Watchers by Manfred Gerstenfeld and Ben Green
Abusing the Legacy of the Holocaust: The Role of NGOs in Exploiting Human Rights to Demonize Israel by Gerald M. Steinberg
International Organizations: Combating Anti-Semitism
in Europe by Michael Whine
Confronting Reality: Anti-Semitism in Australia Today by Jeremy Jones
Anti-Semitism in Canada by Manuel Prutschi
Anti-Semitism in Germany Today: Its Roots and Tendencies by Susanne Urban
Iceland, the Jews and Anti-Semitism, 1625-2004 by Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson
The Persistence of Anti-Semitism on the British Left
by Ben Cohen
Suing Hitler's Willing Business Partners: American Justice
and Holocaust Morality by Michael J. Bazyler
A Case Study: Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.A.: A Battleground
for Israel's Legitimacy - by Joel Fishman
An Analytic Approach to Campus Pro-Israeli Activism
Case Study: John Hopkins University by Yonit Golub
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