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Reidar Dittmann

Reidar Dittmann

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Holocaust survivor Reidar Dittmann, 88

  • Article by: AIM√ČE BLANCHETTE
  • Star Tribune
  • January 4, 2011 - 9:02 PM

Every day, Reidar Dittmann would whip through a crossword puzzle to unwind. Then he'd complete Isaac Asimov's Super Quiz in the newspaper with his wife of nearly 60 years, Chrisma. The daily puzzles were about the only time Dittmann spared to sit still, but he had to keep his mind sharp just to keep pace with his legs.

"He was a larger-than-life dad in some ways -- always so busy, working on campus or traveling," Lisa Dittmann said of her father, a longtime professor at St. Olaf College in Northfield. "He had a steel-trap mind and could recite historical dates, royal empires ... even in the hospital and on morphine, he'd be lecturing us about the Danish kings."

Dittmann died Dec. 29 in hospice care after a brief struggle with renal failure. He was 88.

Perhaps Dittmann's restlessness grew out of his incarceration at Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. In 1944, after being arrested on a few occasions for being a part of the Nazi resistance movement in Norway, Dittmann, a Norwegian, was taken to the camp and subjected to Nazi propaganda, interrogation and brainwashing.

None of it worked.

"He just knew it was all wrong," his daughter said. "He didn't believe in the marginalizing of any group of people for any reason."

Dittmann would later use his experience to become a prolific speaker on the dangers of fascism. His story is documented in a short film by Gayle Knutson, "Prisoner 32,232," for the Minnesota Historical Society's Minnesota's Greatest Generation project.

After the war, Dittmann came to Northfield to study on a scholarship offered by St. Olaf College for Norwegian students whose education had been interrupted by the war. While studying music, Dittmann met and married Chrisma Skoien of Chippewa Falls, Wis. The couple spent two years teaching high school in Ethiopia, where their oldest son, Reidar Jr., was born.

The couple returned to Northfield, where they raised four additional children. Throughout the years, Dittmann taught Norwegian, German and Scandinavian civilization classes at St. Olaf College. He was passionate about travel and eager to bring international learning experiences to his students. He was instrumental in developing study programs in Europe, the Far East and across the globe in the 1950s and 1960s.

Dittmann retired in 1993, but continued traveling, often as an alumni tour guide, to Norway, Italy and other parts of Europe. His wife died three years ago.

In addition to his daughter Lisa, he is survived by two sons, Reidar Jr. of Vashon Island, Wash., and Rolf of Stillwater; two other daughters, Kristin Dittmann of Maple Grove and Solveig Dittmann of Oakdale; two brothers, Sigurd Dittmann of Oslo, Norway, and Erling Dittmann of Tonsberg, Norway, and six grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at St. John's Lutheran Church in Northfield.

Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715

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