DDuring the first years of Nazi occupation, Denmark protected its Jews, but when its government resigned in August 1943, the Germans immediately prepared to deport them. But Danish civil society rose up and took over their protection. More than 7,000 Jews were safely rescued in Sweden in a historically unprecedented maritime operation. Although some died in the Theresienstadt ghetto, less than 100 Danish Jews died in the Holocaust, the lowest death toll in all of Nazi-occupied Europe.
This is one of the most miraculous and heroic acts of courage to come out of the worst genocide in history, once again committed by humans against humans. But for the most part, this is relatively unknown and obscured by the atrocities committed by the Nazis, which resulted in the deaths of six million Jews and over five million other unwanted people.
But because this is a brilliant demonstration of how ordinary people determined to do the right thing can do extraordinary things, even in the face of the harshest adversity. , worth telling, knowing, and remembering. Indeed, the Danish rescue in October 1943 stands out in the tragic history of the Holocaust.
So what happened during this critical period, why, and what can we learn from this unique case where the Holocaust was thwarted by popular resistance?
When Nazi Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, the Danish government protested but quickly laid down its arms. The “policy of cooperation” began with the aim of maintaining a country’s sovereignty and neutrality in war, protecting the upper and lower ranks, and keeping aggressors away from local problems. But staying in business and retaining jobs meant collaborating with the enemy and contributing to the Nazi war effort. Bowing to the great powers, the unheroic “cooperation policy” focused on maintaining national interests. It protected its people and Jews, but at the cost of aligning itself with Nazi Germany.
Denmark came through World War II with little destruction, few casualties, and its democracy and civil institutions intact. For the Danish government, all were negotiable except for three issues: the introduction of the death penalty, the joining of Danish troops on the side of the Axis powers, and the introduction of racial laws. All major political parties supported a “policy of cooperation” and so did most Danes.
But slowly a resistance movement emerged, and by 1943 the popular mood changed completely. The August Uprising, a wave of general strikes, street demonstrations, and sabotage, prompted the German military to issue an ultimatum that included the death penalty for resistance. The Danish government refused and resigned. By that time, most Danes supported the Resistance.
Christian and socialist values influenced most rescuers. Extensive training in democratic grassroots activities has made their operations efficient.
Werner Best, the leading German leader in Denmark, decided to punish the Danes and ordered the Jews to be deported. However, before the “Judaism” of October 1, 1943, he realized that hunting the Jews would make it difficult to pacify the Danes and return to any kind of cooperation. So he gave a warning to the Jews, giving them three days to prepare.
Best, an SS general and fervent Nazi, wanted to kill all Jews, but his pragmatism led him to prioritize cooperation with the Danes over exterminating the Jews. According to Nazi theory, the Danes were “racially valuable Aryans” and their agricultural and industrial supplies were important to Germany. A small number of Jews were able to wait until after Germany’s victory.
Most of Denmark’s Jews reacted with admirable calm, went “underground” and immediately began arranging flights to Sweden. And within hours, many non-Jewish Danes, including friends, students, civic groups, and circles of resistance fighters, joined in organizing support efforts. Fishermen played an important role, and some paid dearly for illegally crossing the river.
Most of the helpers were “ordinary people” from the upper and lower ranks of Danish society. Most people worked on themselves without thinking about personal gain. Labor activists and Lutheran pastors spearheaded the rescue effort, while medical professionals turned the hospital into a secret rescue hub. Large sums of money were collected for transportation costs from Jews, non-Jews, and even secretly from government funds. Christian and socialist values influenced most rescuers. Extensive training in democratic grassroots activities has made their operations efficient.
Danish SS volunteers assisted German police in searching for Jews, but few were caught. Few cases of condemnation occurred. in 19 yearsthAnti-Semitism has been prevalent in Denmark for centuries, but it has waned over the years. Therefore, most Danes who come into contact with fleeing Jews choose to help, including Jews who have lived in Denmark for many years and Jews who are recent immigrants or refugees from other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. There was no distinction.
Most Danes felt that by helping Jews, they were protecting their civil society and defending common Danish values. Maintaining the Danes’ sense of community required protecting a powerless minority. Even if we later learned that the motives of the German leadership were divided, and the rescue mission turned out to be less dangerous than the rescuers had believed on that dark and stormy night in October 1943, we were reluctant to take action. required courage.
Ideas of (socialist) solidarity and (Christian) mercy were important to the Danes who volunteered as rescuers of the Jews. What was on their minds above all else was preserving common values. Beau Lidegaard (author of books on surgery) Hick) Denmark’s democratic leaders are credited with inculcating a sense of community among their citizens by integrating all strata of society into the emerging welfare state. Leni Yahir (author) the test of democracy) Emphasizes the spirit of grassroots democracy trained in 2019th and early 20sth century farmers cooperative. I would also add that organized labor – and the union shops that covered most of Denmark by 1943 – forced workers to internalize the same basic ideas, and that most It helped build a democratic consensus that included Danes and informed their decision to help when faced with a Jewish family on the run.
The events of 1943 in Denmark are worth telling, knowing and remembering. Because these events perfectly illustrate how ordinary people determined to do the right thing can do extraordinary things, even in the face of the harshest adversity. Indeed, the rescue of Denmark in 1943 stands out in the tragic history of the Holocaust, with its moments of solidarity, care, and good fortune. This was, and always will be, when young people were brought closer to the dark side of the Holocaust, with its destruction and despair, and had the choice of joining forces with their oppressors, standing by and watching, or standing up for their oppressors. It should be useful as a way to learn to be. human values.