Rescue of the Danish Jews

World War II was a horrible time for any group Hitler didn’t like. Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah Witnesses, Catholics, artists, musicians, the disabled, any groups Hitler considered sub-human were shipped off to be exterminated or worked as slave laborers until they died.

That’s a tragedy but worse was the way the people in occupied countries almost gleefully collaborated to assist the Nazis in rounding up and assisting in the extermination these sub-humans for the Master Race. French Gendarmes rounded up people for the Gestapo, Slavs and Poles stoked the ovens of the crematoria. Despicable and deplorable actions, but, what the hell, they were only Jews, Gypsies, … so who cares. It’s the kind of thinking demonizing a group of people leads to. That kind of thinking is still going on today. Just ask Drumpf or his supporters. They’re ready to start a new Holocaust.

But one country bucked the Nazi thinking, little Denmark. 99% of the Jewish citizens avoided being shipped to their deaths. 73 years ago today, Hans Hedtoft, chairman of the Danish Social Democrat party, found out the Nazis intended to round up the Jews in Denmark. all 7,800 of them on October 1, 1943. It was not to be. So sorry Hitler.

On September 28, Hedtoft put the word out and the Danes went to work warning and hiding every Jew they could find. Rabbis warned their congregations. Civil servants, taxi drivers, Boy Scouts, and others took to the streets with phone books to warn their Jewish countrymen to go into hiding.

It worked. The Nazis had cattle cars staged and ready. The arrests were scheduled for the eve of the Jewish New Year, assuming Jews would be home with their Families. Squads of SS hit the streets, and came back mostly empty handed.  Only 464 Danish Jews were arrested and sent to a concentration camp.

Even those avoided the death camps. The Danish government put pressure on the Nazis. The Danes were housed in a transit camp, not sent to death camps. They even managed to send food and medical packages to the Danish prisoners. Only 51 Danish Jews died, of disease, while in Nazi captivity.

What of the rest of the Danish Jews? Hiding wouldn’t work for long. They needed to escape to another country. The problem is others countries, including the US, didn’t want to accept Jewish refugees. (Sounds like the situation today, doesn’t it. ‘We don’t want no damn refugees.’)

That’s where a nuclear physicist, and a Hollyweird starlet enter our story. Neutral Sweden was the logical place to send all the Jews in hiding. But Sweden wasn’t accepting Jews either. Greta Garbo managed to get Nils Bohr an audience with the Swedish king. Bohr managed to get the king to accept the Danish Jews on October 3rd.

That started a massive smuggling operation of boats of all kinds transporting 7,900 Jews and non-Jewish spouses to safety in Sweden.

99% of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust. This happened because Danes didn’t think of Danish Jews as just those damn Jews. They considered them fellow Danish citizens deserving of protection from the Nazis.

We need to learn from the example of the Danes and consider refugees as fellow Humans and quit pigeonholing them into demonized categories.

Rescue of the Danish Jews