Jo Benkow, former Speaker of Parliament and leader of the Conservative party, the first Jew to be elected to Parliament and probably known to some readers of this blog as a royal biographer, died on Saturday at the age of 88.
The grandson of a Russian court photographer who had fled Russia during the 1905 pogroms, Josef Elias Benkow was born in Trondheim on 15 August 1924. He followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a photographer, but his education was interrupted by the Second World War. He managed to escape to Sweden in 1942 and served in the Norwegian air force in Britain and Canada, while all the female members of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.
Jo Benkow joined the Conservative party and was elected to Parliament in 1965, remaining there until 1993. He was leader of the party from 1980 to 1984, but remained outside the cabinet when the party formed a government led by Kåre Willoch in 1981. From 1985 to 1993 he served as Speaker of Parliament, the second most senior position in the country.
Benkow was known for his work against racism, prejudices and intolerance and did much to create awareness of such issues. Many remember his moving speech in support of the law which introduced civilian partnerships for homosexuals in 1993.
Jo Benkow was the author of several books, among which the autobiographical Fra synagogen til Løvebakken became a bestseller. He also authored a biography of King Olav, Olav - Menneske og monark, for which he interviewed the King only hours before the monarch was taken ill and died on 17 January 1991.
Jo Benkow will be buried at the Mosaic section of the Eastern Cemetery in Oslo on Wednesday.