• Issue: October 1973
  • Designer: A. Berg
  • Plate no.: 397
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

The rescue of Danish Jewry shines out like a ray of sunlight amidst the Stygian gloom of the destruction of European Jewry instigated by Hitler. Against the background of the unspeakable deeds of the Nazis all over Europe during the World War II, the miraculous rescuing of Danish Jewry and their transfer to Sweden in October 1943, deserves to be considered one of the outstanding miracles in the long history of the Jewish people.

To the Danes, however, the whole operation was a perfectly natural one. It had never occurred to them to abandon their Jewish citizens or the 1,500 Jewish refugees - some 8,000 souls in all. From the time their country was taken over by the Germans on April 10, 1940, until the clash between the Danish government and the Occupation Authorities at the end of August 1943, the Danes protected the Jews from harm at the hands of the Germans or the handful of Danish Nazis. The Germans, for their part, accepted the situation whereby correct relations were maintained between them and the Danes - the government and the Danish people with the King at their head - based on mutual agreement which included an understanding that Denmark's Jews would be permitted to live their lives as regular Danish citizens.

This situation lasted until 1943, when the Danish resistance movement, realizing that victory was slipping from the hands of the Germans, stepped-up its acts of sabotage, and the Germans reacted by canceling the agreement, declaring a state of emergency, and establishing an Occupation Authority under their own military and police forces.

At the Wansee Conference in January 1942, Denmark was still excluded from the list of those countries in which the "Final Solution" was to be carried out, but it seemed that the time had finally come when the Jews of Denmark, too, were to be led away to the death camps.

The very fact that Danish Jewry lived out their lives without serious interference and were scarcely to be distinguished from the rest of Denmark's citizens, created an atmosphere which affected even the Germans on the spot. Many of these Germans, even some occupying important positions of authority, considered it unwise and even impracticable to expel the Jews - an act which would wound the susceptibilities of the freedom-loving democratic Danes. Thus it was that these very Germans endeavored to have the decree cancelled and when their efforts proved unsuccessful and Hitler personally gave the order for the expulsion to be carried out, the German Naval Attache, P. Bukwitz, went to the leaders of the Danish Social Democratic Party and warned them of the plan. They, in turn, together with many representatives of all walks of Danish life, passed the warning on to the Jewish community. As a result, when on the night of September 30 - October 1 (which happened to be the Jewish New Year), the squads of German police, who had been brought to Denmark specially to round up the Jews, raided Jewish homes, they found very few of their intended victims at home. Less than 500 were rounded up on that night or on the following days, and they were sent to Theresienstadt.

The neutralist Swedish government also found out about the Germans' plans for Danish Jewry and through the intermediary of its ambassador in Berlin, intervened with the German government and proposed transferring Denmark's Jewish population to Sweden. When their appeal remained unanswered, they publicly proclaimed that Sweden was ready to accept all Jews fleeing from Denmark. This decision was the result of pressure brought to bear by influential sections of Swedish society including heads of the Church and the Danish Nobel Prize physicist, Nils Bohr, whose mother was Jewish. Nils Bohr himself fled to Sweden before the Operation and exerted all his influence in an effort to persuade the Swedish government to aid in the rescue of Danish Jewry.

In the meantime, Jews had begun to cross the straits separating Denmark and Sweden, in fishing boats, but these uncoordinated crossings rapidly developed into a large-scale rescue operation in which thousands participated. Sweden's universities and high schools were closed down for a week while their students took part in the rescue work. The Underground groups and private individuals alike worked together to organize and finance the operation, even receiving assistance from the Danish Police who had, until then, opposed the Resistance and their acts of sabotage. This time, the Police helped either indirectly, by turning a blind eye to the evacuation, or even directly by lending their assistance. The doctors, who were already prominent in the ranks of the Resistance, played a central role in the Operation and several hospitals were converted into evacuation centers. Within two to three weeks, 7,200 men, women, and children were transferred to the safety of Sweden's shores where both Jews and gentiles were waiting to receive them.

The October 1943 Operation served not only to save the lives of the vast majority of Danish Jewry, but gave an enhanced standing to the Resistance movement in the eyes of the Danish population, many of whom joined that movement in the course of the Operation. On the initiative of the Underground, and with the organizational and financial assistance of Danish and Swedish Jewry, direct links were established between the Resistance movements of the two countries and this contributed in no small measure to the development and strengthening of the Danish Resistance movement. With the end of hostilities, most of the Danish Jews returned to their homeland and built up their lives anew.

The Danish government even took steps to protect those of its citizens who had been shipped off to Theresienstadt, and thanks to their efforts, these Jews were not transferred to Auschwitz. Before the end of the War they were returned to Denmark and from there to Sweden as part of the operation for rescuing the inhabitants of the concentration camps which was organized by the Scandinavian governments and the Red Cross, headed by Count Bernadotte.

Some 50 Danish Jews died in Theresienstadt, a few in other camps, and some were drowned escaping from Denmark, but all in all, less than 2% of Denmark's Jewish population perished.

What ensured the successful outcome of the whole Operation was its speed and comprehensiveness - the result of the Danish people's spontaneous reaction which made the Operation an example of outstanding bravery and true humanity.

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Rescue of Danish Jewry