Norwegian Jewish politician Jo Benkow dies at 88

(JTA) — Jo Benkow, a popular Norwegian Jewish politician, writer and photographer, has died.

“Jews in Norway have lost a wise role model,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Facebook Saturday, a day after Benkow passed away in a hospital in Oslo at the age of 88.


Benkow survived the Holocaust by fleeing Norway and its pro-Nazi government with his father and brother into neutral Sweden in 1942. All the women of his family stayed behind and were murdered in Auschwitz that same year.

After his return to Norway, Benkow – born in Trondheim as Josef Benkowitz – was elected to parliament in 1965 as a representative of the Conservative Party which he later headed for four years, beginning in 1980. He resigned in 1993, several years after he was elected speaker of the Norwegian parliament.

His 1985 autobiography, titled “From the Synagogue to Løvebakken,” became a best-seller and broke the sales record for Norwegian non-fiction books.

Benkow, who in recent years frequently defended Israel’s actions in the media, told the Dutch Jewish journalist Maurice Swirc that he had decided to “stay out of discussions about Israel” until 2000, when he “came to the conclusion that it was no longer possible … because of the biased manner in which Israel was portrayed.”

“He was a force in the Norwegian society and a good representative of the small Jewish community of Oslo,” said Ervin Kohn, president of the Jewish Community in Oslo.