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«We were young, you know. We didn’t really think much about those issues. The thirties were hard.
We had to make money, and we sort of had to live our own lives «
(Voice in the film)



The documentary FILM on Moritz Rabinowitz, «The Man who loved Haugesund» is nuanced and speaks in a low key, while also raising some provoking questions. The story is an unusual one.  It differs from the usual tales told of the Second World War in Norway, and it raises the suspicion that stories like this one are left untold because they still threaten the common Norwegian self-understanding and the narrative of «us» and «them» of which it is a part.

 Rabinowitz was not only a very successful businessman. Unlike most of these, he felt a responsibility for society which resulted in charity work, a long range of newspaper articles and a book about the dangers of the times. His warnings were met with silence. The quote above is characteristic of the response; «We didn’t really think much about those issues.» Not: «We did not know,» but implicitly: «we» knew. “We” could read about it in the papers. It was right there in front of us, but «we» did not react. It is rather obvious that this «we» has got an explanatory problem, and that many would prefer that the silence continues. 

 An Expansive Gründer

Moritz Rabinowitz, we are told in the film, moved to Norway in 1909 from the village of Rajgrod in Poland. To the disappointment of his father, who was a rabbi, Moritz lacked his spiritual dispositions. After some time spent as a travelling cloth-merchant with no initial capital, he settled in Haugesund in 1911 and opened a small clothes shop. He worked his way to the top. M. Rabinowitz became the largest clothes shop in Haugesund, having departments in Stavanger, Kristiansand, Egersund, Sauda and Odda. He started the clothes factory Condor in 1929, the largest factory in the country, doing wholesale as well as supplying his own shops. Rabinowitz was modern and visionary; in 1940 he had 140 employees, which at the time represented a remarkable and flourishing industrial success – but there is also a dark side to this story.

A Neglected Debater

From 1933 Rabinowitz started giving lectures with the intent of warning against the dangers of Hitler’s succession to power and against the anti-Semitism of the times from very early on. He wrote a series of articles in the local newspaper in Haugesund. He had to pay for his place in public light. His articles were most often printed next to advertisements for his clothes firm, and the paper feared that a loss of income from his advertisements would result from a failure to print Rabinowitz’ statements. When the book Den nye verdenskrisen (The New World Crisis), a Norwegian translation of the anti-Semitic work The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, was published in 1922, Rabinowitz argued in several articles that the text was a forgery. A series of his articles in which he attacked the anti-Semitic Supreme Court lawyer E. Saxlund was quoted in the Oslo press. He was also engaged in polemics against Dr. Jon Alfred Mjøen, head of Vindern Biological Laboratory, a research unit for racial biology. Jon Alfred Mjøen, although disputed, was an acknowledged and influential authority, and his laboratory was important to the development of Nazi racial theories. By referring to this debate, the film points towards the unpleasant and too scarcely known fact of the recognition of racial hygienic ways of thinking before as well as after the war. When the Norwegian law of sterilization was passed in 1934, only one single member of the parliament, Gjert E. Bonde, the only representative of Samfundspartiet (The Society Party, no longer exists today) voted against it. Arbeiderpartiet (the labour party), Høyre (the conservative party), Venstre (the left-wing party), the recently founded KrF (the Christian party), and in particular Bondepartiet (the agricultural party) supported the law. And policies of racial hygiene towards people of Sámi, Finnish and Gipsy stock continued after the war. In 1933 Rabinowitz gave out the book Verdenskrisen og vi (The World Crisis and Us), which he published himself. He wrote about it in the Haugesund newspaper:

 With my little work, I want to awaken society’s common man. I want to prepare him for the bitter gravity caused by the world crisis. I shall aim to show that the isolation policy, the hatred and the closed borders are to be blamed for the misfortunate state of the world of today.

Rabinowitz failed to awaken ”society’s common man”. He did, however, manage to awaken the German intelligence, which printed warnings against him and referred to him as ”the secular leader of the Jews in Norway”. When the German occupying forces arrived in Haugesund on the 10th of April 1940, he was the first person they wanted to get hold of. The hunt for him as a political dissident was given high priority. The last part of the film describes how Rabinowitz hid in several different places, aided by the resistance and chased by the German intelligence. In the end, in 1941, he was caught and sent to Sachsenhausen as a political prisoner, where he died, as a result of maltreatment, on the 27th of February 1942. According to his wish, the workers took over his business after his disappearance. His wife, Johanna, had died in 1939. His daughter Edith, together with her two year old son Harry and her husband, Hans Reichwald, were later arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where they were killed in 1942, thus no one in Rabinowitz’ family was left.

 an account in the local Satirical magazine Gneisten dating from the first half of the 1930’s describes how Rabinowitz’ engagement was received:

The merchant M. Rabinowitz once tried to give a speech at a festive occasion. I don’t think anyone had asked him to do so, but that was hardly his fault. His speech developed into an endless lecture about the history of the Jews, and even worse, it became a deluge threatening to wash the whole party away.

Luckily, a less historically disposed man from Haugesund was present. He behaved like Noah on occasion, and made some remarks that stopped the Israelite’s flow of speech. Thus these remarks became the Ararat through which the party was finally salvaged.

Moritz Rabinowitz became a victim, but he was also much more than that. He was much more articulated and clear-sighted than most of the people around him, which contributed to his being regarded as even more problematic. «The Israelite’s flow of speech» was stopped, however, and he has been surrounded by silence ever since. Have critical voices, especially coming from outsiders, ever been appreciated?

A Lonely  Man

Excluded as a person and ignored as a debater, Rabinowitz, his wife Johanne and daughter Edith were never invited to visit anyone, the film tells us. He tried to gain acceptance, but he never succeeded. He was never even invited to the association of merchants, although he was probably a member – «surely they could not deny him that» – nor was he invited privately. Since they found it impossible to make contact with the town’s population, Johanne and Edith Rabinowitz moved to Bergen in 1927, where Johanne has a sister and a brother-in-law. Moritz Rabinowitz visited them almost every week-end, and spent most of his remaining spare time alone in his small flat above his shop, and later above his factory. One of his previous employees states in the film:

I think they must have seen the Jews as something different, sort of, a long time before the war and a long time before Hitler. I cannot explain it – He  never visited any of our homes, for instance. He was never in any of the shop ladies’ homes.  He was never in anyone’s home. It was such a pity, because I think he would have wanted that.

Rabinowitz was one of the wealthiest citizens in his town, he was cultured and engaged in the world as well as in his local community. One would have thought that several of these qualities would have given him access to the society around him, that people would have wanted to spend time with him, to have him as their friend or acquaintance. But in spite of his success, he remained lonely.

In 1924, we are told, Aftenposten (Norway‘s largest serious newspaper) announced in an editorial that the country was threatened by a flood of Polish and Russian Jews:

They enter the country like a shoal of herrings. They settle all over the city. Soon, there will not be one fruit-shop, a used clothing sales place, a storage selling watches and other hibernacula without a smiling Jew behind the counter. Osterhauggaten (An Oslo street) is a future ghetto , or Jewish quarters, but just wait, give them a few decades, and they will be the smart owners of nice west-end villas.

When reading this quotation today, one is struck by two things. One thing is the shock of being reminded that the largest serious newspaper in the country could print this text as a statement from the editor. The extent to which anti-Semitism was common at the time, is a fact which has been suppressed later on, due to the fact that the stories told of the war, particularly in the schools, have been part of a nation-building project. Facts such as these fit this picture badly. They give rise to doubts concerning the usual picture, where the roles of «us» and «them» are clearly distributed and morally defined. Are there more complicit actors than one thought at first?

the other striking thing is the resemblance to what is spoken and written in debates on immigration of today. Even though it could not have been an editorial today, the rhetoric is a sadly familiar one. And it appears to be a social situation nearly without an exit – given the wrong ethnicity, religion or race, you are guilty regardless of whether you are rich or poor. If you are poor, you are made the object of contempt as a symbol of weakness. If you are rich, you are envied and regarded with suspicion. If you associate with people appearing similar to you from the outside, this fact will be used against you, but if you try to enter established society, you are excluded. Immigrants should not clot together, and they should not acquire nice west-end villas, as both courses of action will be viewed with suspicion. Is the most important source of moral self-satisfaction, then and now, the state of belonging to a social majority?

«the Man who loved haugesund» opens up, rather than closes, several moral questions. Thus it provides a starting point for a reflection of a kind which is badly needed.








PRODUCER: Medieoperatørene, Hanne Myren



DIRECTOR: Jørgen Haukeland og Tore Vollan

WITH: Hanna Hetland, Erik Mæland, Anne Marie Rusnes, Bergljot Førre, Kirsten Gjerde, Ingvald Førre,

Jenny Bårdsen, Erling Engedal, Erling Njøs, Rolf Lervik, Brita Amundsen, Elise Birkeland, Lars Lervik, Otto Hansen.






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