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Rescue of Danish Jews in 1943 - commemoration


The Moran ChoirBeit Hatfutsot and the Friends of Denmark in Israel commemorated the rescue of the Jews of Denmark in an annual event that took place on November 7, 2012. The evening, attended by Scandinavian and Israeli dignitaries and VIPs, focused on the Danish Jewish community today and the difficulties it faces with the rise of anti-Semitic groups and the flourishing of the Arab Spring movement.

Esther Herlitz, Chairperson of the Friends of Denmark in Israel, warmly welcomed the guests to the event. “In October 1943 small fishing boats took the Jews of Denmark to the safe haven of Sweden, It is more than proper to tell this saga each year at Beit Hatfutsot, The Museum of the Jewish People,” said Ms. Herlitz.

The guests were then treated to a moving performance of “Ballad on Three Prophets” by the Moran Choir.  Anders Bjorn Hansen, Deputy Head of the Danish Embassy addressed the crowd followed by the architect Ulrik Plesner who gave a talk entitled “From Denmark via Sri Lanka to Israel - An Architectural Journey”. Dr Esther Webman of The Tel Aviv University spoke on Anti-Semitism and the Arab Spring and Moti Schwartz, Acting Director of Beit Hatfutsot closed the evening.  “Beit Hatfutsot tells the unique and ongoing story of the Jewish people throughout the ages and around the world. The core and temporary exhibitions focus on the vibrancy and creativity of Jewish communities in the past and present, making Beit Hatfutsot the most natural venue for this event and I hope that this collaboration will continue for years to come” said Mr. Schwartz.


The Rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943
Denmark had been under German occupation since April 1940 and had become an important part of the German economy, supplying food for their troops.  By the fall of 1943 relations between the Danish People and the German administration became strained. In August 1943 a state of emergency was declared in Denmark and the Nazis decided that they could now move against the Jews. In September 1943 the SS received the final order to proceed with the deportation of Jews to death camps.  The deportation was set to begin at 10:00pm on October 1st. A courageous German maritime attaché, George F. Duckwitz, leaked this information and warned the head of the Jewish Community and the head of the Danish Resistance Movement that a boat was arriving to take the Jews to the German Camps.

The following morning, during prayers in the Synagogue, congregants were warned of this imminent danger and told not to return to their homes.  They were spirited away to private homes, hospitals and old age homes.  Not one person refused to offer them shelter.

Over the next three weeks, small fishing boats carried Jewish families, old and young, across the Sound to Sweden.

The rescue of the Danish Jews was a combined effort of all the Danish people; fishermen risked their lives and their boats, doctors offered shelter and made their gasoline rations available, ordinary people took in their Jewish neighbors. The actions of the righteous Danish people were recognized by the Danish Minister of Church Affairs, Mrs. B. Koch who officially planted three trees at Yad Vashem on behalf of the King, the Danish people and the Resistance Movement.

In the 1950’s Dr. Duckwitz served as Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Denmark.
Approximately 7000 Jews of all ages were saved.  About 400 were caught and taken to Theresienstadt, where they received special treatment, as well as food, warm clothing and medicine sent by the Danish Red Cross.

At the end of the War the Jews returned to Denmark, some of the younger Jews as members of the Danish Army formed in Sweden.  The returnees were surprised to find their homes and gardens well cared for.

This evening illustrates the appreciation of The Friends of Denmark in Israel for the Danish way of life, their courage and modesty. This event is also a wonderful opportunity to teach future generations of this encouraging ray of light that shone during the darkness of the Sho'a.

Dr. Lenie Yahil, in her outstanding study “Test of a Democracy: the Rescue of Danish Jewry in World War II", stated that the rescue of the Danish Jews is proof that one can fight evil and succeed.