Herman Hirsch Becker - 55 years later 11 SEP 2008
Aftenposten Monday 29 May, 2000, by Cato Guhnfeldt (translated by Anders Straarup)
The grave found after 55 years
The Jewish air navigator Herman Becker was told that all of his family had been wiped out by the Nazis. That is why he flew till he fell. Now his war grave has been found in Denmark.
Herman Hirsh Becker, the watchmaker´s son from Stavanger, was one of the few Norwegian Jews, who served in the Royal Norwegian Air Force during World War II – and who had all of his family wiped out in the concentration camp Auschwitz.
Becker himself fell in March 1945. Officially he has been missing for 55 years. In fact his body was washed ashore on a small uninhabitated island east of the island of Samsø between Zealand and Jutland. On 26 March, 1945 Becker was buried by civilians next to 9 other allied airmen in Tranebjerg Churchyard on Samsø. His gravestone said “An unknown English airman”. Now the grave is identified thanks to a report on inspection of his body by a medical officer, which recently has reached the War Graves Commission in Norway.
Norwegians who served with Becker have hinted that he in 1944 knew about the family´s fate. That is why he chose to fight – to his very last.
Already during the war I heard rumours that Becker, who I knew from our time in Canada, was not interested in surviving, recalls Franz W. Thomassen who at a time flew in the Norwegian 360 Squadron on Shetland.
He had no one to return to in Norway, felt rotten. In 1944 I happened to meet him in a club in London. Becker had then started flying in an Australian Mosquito squadron. He told that the pilot he flew with was to have a period of rest. For his part he would just keep flying. He tried to persuade me to ask to be transferred to his squadron and be his pilot.
Annihilated in Auschwitz
While Becker still was training to became a navigator in Canada in 1942 all of his family were hit by holocaust back in Norway. The parents, watchmaker Hille Becker of Smolensk and masseuse Judith Zemechman B. of Leningrad, immigrated to Norway right after World War I broke out. They settled in Stavanger, where they had 3 children.
The family was arrested in October-November 1942; the parents with the daughter Aba Abigail in Stavanger and the eldest son Israel Josef Becker, who had settled as a shipping agent in Bergen with his wife Ida Goldmann B. and their son, 1½ year old Sam.
The father and the eldest son were first deported with the prison ship “Donau” to Germany in the end of November. They arrived at the concentration camp Auschwitz, where the father with his “old” age of 57 was lead directly to the gas chamber. He died with 344 other Norwegian Jews on the night between 1 and 2 December 1942. The son, 26, had to work and succumbed later. Mrs. Becker, her daughter, daughter-in-law and grandchild were deported from Norway with the prison ship “Gotenland” on 23 February, 1943. Immediately after arrival at Auschwitz in the morning of 3 March all of them were taken to the gas chamber, together with 126 other Norwegian Jews.
Norwegian war veterans, who remember Becker, describe him as a nice guy with unmilitary manners – a bright fellow who might appear in a parade without his cap. He was a competent violin player, but he played so hard that the strings often broke.
As a skilled navigator Becker first served in the Norwegian 333 Squadron in Scotland from March 1943. After 13½ months of active war duty on board the Norwegian Catalina-planes he might have chosen a safer way of serving. But Becker thought differently. On 8 June, 1944 he as a navigator joined the Australian 464 Squadron with 2 engined Mosquito bombers earmarked for the continent.
Becker had another pilot after his meeting with Thomassen in 1944, Flying Officer J.H. Palmer. Together both of them were finally to perish in one of the most dramatic air attacks in Scandinavia during the war against the Shell Building in Copenhagen, 21 March 1945. Their plane was damaged during the attack, most likely by flak. It crashed into Storebælt on its way home.
Traces in the grave
The report from 1951 on inspection of his body by a medical officer turned out to be the final key to finding Becker´s last resting place.
The grave was examined by the Britons back in 1951, but they did not understand the nationality of the person in the grave, Lieutenant Colonel Eiliv J. Thorheim of the Norwegian War Graves Commission tells. Recently Danes got on the track that it might be Becker´s grave. In the report which we received this spring from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in England it is said that the deceased had an airman´s wing in gold embroidery with an “S” in the middle sewn on the right side of a marine blue battle dress. Only Norwegians had their airman´s wing on the right side and of this type. “S” meant “Speider”, Norwegian for Navigator. On his left chest of his jacket he had a badge with a cangaroo and the name “Australia” underneath, as well as the ribbon of the War Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. Becker had both awards in January 1945. Kept together with the place and time of the burial, we are now sure that it is Becker´s grave.
No one could receive Becker´s medals, when peace came. But after 55 years his name will in the near future appear on a gravestone paid by the state of Norway.”