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Birgit and her twin sister Marianne

"Sisters who have each other’s back"

Writer: Christina Damgaard Andersen

Photographer: Yael Pharhi Gravesen

Despite being twins, Birgit and Marian experienced the war very differently. They were born into a mixed Jewish and non-Jewish family. Their father had originally wanted a son, so when he instead got twin daughters, he was very shocked. However, this shock quickly turned into great love for his daughters. In October 1943 Birgit and Marian, then just aged 1.5 years old, escaped to Sweden together with their mother, their uncle, and a group of resistance fighters. Their non-Jewish father, who worked for the resistance, had arranged the girls’ passage. To keep the young girls quiet, they had been drugged prior to departure from Snekkersten Harbor. But the anesthesia wore off during the crossing, and young Marian started to cry. The resistance fighters told the girls’ mother that since she had two daughters, she should throw the crying girl overboard so as to not expose all of them to the Germans. Their uncle quickly prevented this by putting Marian under his coat which caused her to stop crying, but also to stop breathing. Marian recovered, and they all safely arrived in Sweden. But the dramatic escape severely affected their mother who was just 28 years old, and she asked the Swedish authorities to help take care of her daughters. The girls were sent to live with a young couple who didn’t have any children of their own on the island of Hönö near Göteborg. Marian, however, was sick and traumatized by the escape, and in the end the couple decided they could not care for both girls. While Birgit stayed on the island, Marian was first sent to another foster family where she only stayed briefly, before being put in a children’s home. During the final months of the war, the girls were reunited. Their father arrived in Sweden where he joined the Danish Brigade. The family was able to live together briefly before returning to Denmark after the liberation. After their experiences in Sweden, the family was able to return to their apartment in Copenhagen which had been taken care of by their father’s non-Jewish family. Despite remembering almost nothing of their escape and time in Sweden, Birgit and Marian both relate how it affected their relationships with their parents, especially their mother who was traumatized by the escape and separation from her husband. Today Birgit speaks with much love about her foster parents, whom she during the war called mom and dad. About 15 years ago, she visited Hönö again and found her foster father who was still alive. Being able to reconnect with them brought her important closure about her experiences during the war. Birgit and Marian both have children and grandchildren and live near each other. Birgit enjoys painting, a talent she inherited from their artistic grandmother who was an important part of their life and who connected them with their Jewish heritage.

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