Ansel Elgort's Grandmother Saved Norway's Jewish Children from the Nazis
Updated: Jun 13
Ansel Elgort's grandmother was an amazing hero who saved many of Norway's Jewish children from being murdered by the Nazis. | BY MIKE BATIE
Ansel Elgort has already had great success as a young actor, starring in franchise films such as Divergent and blockbusters such as Baby Driver and the movie that put him on the radar of most people: The Fault in Our Stars.
At the time of this writing, Ansel's newest movie The Goldfinch recently hit theaters, and he will star in Steven Spielberg's upcoming West Side Story. Ansel is also set to play John F. Kennedy in the drama Mayday 109, based on the 1943 sinking of Kennedy’s PT boat during World War II.
Ansel is the son of fashion photographer Arthur Elgort, and opera director and producer Grethe Holby. Elgort has an interesting family tree. On his father's side, he has a line of Russian Jewish refugee ancestors. On his mother's side, he has a Norwegian line involved with rescuing the Jews. Through his grandmother, Ansel's ancestry can be traced back over 500 years in Norway.
Ansel Elgort's Grandmother is a Norwegian Hero
Ansel's grandmother, Aase-Grethe Hall, is a hero in every sense of the word. She was born in Oslo, Norway, on 17 January 1921, to her parents Wegard Hall and Margrethe Olsdatter Mauset.
Aase lost her father when she was only eight years old, leaving her mother alone without an income to raise and provide for her three children. In order to earn a living, her mother moved herself and her children into the attic and rented out their home below.
Aase's dream was to become a fashion designer, and in 1941 graduated from Olso Business School. But World War II would frustrate her plans. The Nazis invaded Norway and occupied the country. During the occupation, Aase began serving in the Norwegian Resistance against the Nazis.
Over 2,000 Jews resided in the country during the Nazi occupation of Norway. One of these was Aase's own brother-in-law, an Austrian Jew. Aase helped him escape Norway, sparing him from deportation to a Nazi concentration camp where he would have likely perished.
As a part of the Norwegian Resistance, Aase was involved in the movement's success at smuggling around 900 Norwegian Jews out of the country, saving them from Nazi death camps.
Aase, being in her 20s, posed herself as a young mother and took Jewish children across the border to safety into neutral Sweden. She apparently made many trips across the border in this courageous endeavor, saving the lives of many of Norway's Jewish children. Imagine the strength of conviction and bravery Aase must have had to risk her own life to save the lives of children who would have undoubtedly ended up at Auschwitz if not for her actions in defiance of the Nazis.
Arrest and Imprisonment
In 1943, while working in Trondheim for the Resistance, Aase was awakened in the middle of the night by the Nazis and arrested. We know from several accounts that Norwegian women arrested by the Nazis were subjected to a great deal of terror from physical and mental abuse during Gestapo interrogations after their arrest.
After her arrest and interrogation in Trondheim, Aase was imprisoned at Falstad concentration camp in Norway, just north of Trondheim. Falstad had a reputation as being one of the most brutal Nazi prison camps in Norway.
At Falstad, Aase was imprisoned in the women's block. For the most part, she was likely left with nothing to do to pass the time, although she may at times have been put to work in the laundry, kitchen, or sewing. Aase, like most prisoners at Falstad, had no idea what fate awaited her, and there was no communication with the outside world. Many Norwegian inmates at Falstad feared being transported to a camp in Germany. Falstad itself was a transit camp for the deportation of Norwegian Jews to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
During her imprisonment, Aase was under watch by Nazi prison guard Frida Partenheimer, a woman described by female inmates as unpredictable, violent, abusive, and indifferent toward the female inmates. One female prisoner said that Partenheimer stole clothes from the female inmates, and beat them when she was in moody rages. Aase herself described Partenheimer thus:
"I think, to a certain degree it depended on how much alcohol she had been drinking. That's what I think. But I never witnessed her being really friendly or anything like that. She wasn't. She was moody, that I must say." (Quoted from Aase's interview in 1998 for Women in War: Examples from Norway and Beyond" by Kjersti Ericsson)
After 18 months of imprisonment, Aase was finally released from Falstad prison. The intent of her release seems to be so that the Gestapo could track her movements to see if they could find her contacts in the Norwegian Resistance. Aase, however, outsmarted the Nazis and was able to escape across the border into Sweden.
Continued Service to Norway and the Resistance
Once in Sweden, Aase continued to work against the Nazis by working for the Norwegian government-in-exile at the embassy in Stockholm. She later transferred to England, and was there when the war ended.
After a few months in England, Aase departed England from Liverpool, sailing aboard the MS Margrethe Bakke, and arrived in New York City on 9 Sep 1945. Aase began work for the Norwegian embassy in New York. She was even offered a job at the United Nations, but turned it down to marry and start a family.
A Life of Service
Aase married Warren Holby in New York, and they made their home in Larchmont, where Aase was active in the Larchmont Women's Club, The Newcomer's Club, Planned Parenthood, and was a trustee of the Larchmont Avenue Church, and chairman of the Larchmont Assembly. At their home in Vermont, Aase was an active volunteer for Skiing with the Blind.
Aase was also devoted to preserving her Norwegian roots. She served in the American-Scandinavian Society Social Committee, was active in the Norwegian Seamen's Church in New York City, and traveled to Norway annually with her husband.
Aase saved the lives of many of her fellow countrymen in Norway, and herself as well, by her strength and resolve during her interrogation and imprisonment at the hands of the Nazis. By saving herself and pursuing a full and happy life after the war, she also left more gifts to the world: her daughter, an accomplished dancer, opera director and producer; and her grandson, Ansel Elgort, who entertains the world through his acting, and as a DJ under the name Ansølo.
Ansel's grandmother, Aase-Grethe Hall Holby, passed away on 26 January 2012 in New York, just a little over a week after her 91st birthday. Of his grandmother, Ansel Elgort shared this image (below) and tribute to Aase:
"My beautiful grandmother may she remain in our hearts and souls and traditions forever." —Ansel Elgort
After researching the life of Ansel's grandmother, I have been left inspired by her bravery. She has become one of my biggest heroes. May this amazing woman, Aase-Grethe Hall Holby, remain in our hearts and memories for her example of courage, strength, conviction, heroism, and service.
About the Author
As a genealogist and family historian, I enjoy researching my own family tree, and the family trees of others. It gives me a sense of someone’s background and what makes them who they are today. To see their roots, and where they come from, is inspiring to me. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of notable figures.
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