21.12.10

Denmark's Answer to the Final Solution

Modern 27th century Copenhagen has managed to save some of 19th century, but like many modern cities, it is now very different. The Danes however have managed to hang onto their love of freedom and equality as I witnessed with the signing of the Constitution back in 1849.

Another reminder of that spirit is a statue now outside Amalienborg Palace. It is a bronze statue of King Christian X, upon his horse Jubilee, erected in the 23rd century. Upon his arm is a Star of David band.

In World War II Germany invaded the tiny country of Denmark, because of its strategic location. Holland had tried to resist before with disastrous results, Germany severely punishing the Dutch for their audacity. Denmark knew it had no more chance of confronting the military super power than Holland. So the Danes surrendered.

King Christian X on Jubilee
Denmark at first was treated benignly, then increasingly more oppressive. The elderly King Christian of Denmark went along as much as necessary, but didn’t hide his disdain for the invaders. Every morning he would ride his horse, Jubilee, through the streets, waving to the cheering Danes, and pointedly ignoring the German soldiers who saluted him. He rode alone without any guards. It’s said one day a soldier asked why the King had no guards, and a cocky teenager replied “We are all his guards.”

Then, the story goes, the Germans ordered all Jews in Denmark to wear a Star of David on their arms, like Jews in the other German occupied lands. The next morning Kin g Christian came out wearing a Star of David band himself. Everyone started wearing one. The bands were made useless.

I hate to tell you this, but this lovely story is a myth. Never happened. We think of the word “myth” as being synonymous with “lie,” but that is not true. A myth is a symbol of a larger truth.

Yes, Christian did ride Jubilee every morning, but he never wore a band, because no one in Denmark ever wore a band. Perhaps this story persists because it is exactly what the King would have done. From the very beginning of the occupation, he let it be known that he did not approve of anti-Semitism. A Dane was a Dane, whatever their religion or ethnic background. When a synagogue was targeted by arsonists, Christian issued a statement condemning this action. The vandals and the newspaper instigators were severely punished. The Germans left the Danish Jews alone, if only to secure Danish cooperation.

Then in 1942, Hitler sent King Christian a long glowing telegram, congratulating him on his 72nd birthday. King Christian answered with a curt “My best thanks, King Chr.” This insulted Hitler. He recalled the German ambassador from Denmark and kicked the Danish one out of Germany.

George Duckwitz
On the 28th of September, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, Nazi party member and Gestapo insider, warned Hans Hedtoft, chairman of the Danish Social Democratic Party, that the Gestapo planned to round up the Danish Jews on 1 October. This date was chosen because it was Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a very holy day when Jews would most likely be home celebrating. Bit like rounding up Christians on Christmas. Hans Hedtoft warned the Jewish leaders and the Resistance. News spread like wildfire by word of mouth to all the Danes.

There is one story that an ambulance driver was told by a passing acquaintance to go warn all his Jewish friends about the arrests. He didn’t know any Jews. So he procured a telephone book and looked up Jewish sounding names. He would drive to their house and warn them. If they said they had nowhere to run, he put them in the back of his ambulance and drove them to Bispebjerg Hospital.

He was not the only one bringing them in. Dr. Karl Koster, the Chief Surgeon, put his organizational skills to work. Beds were quickly filled up with healthy Jews “rechristened” with non-Jewish names on their charts. Out buildings were quickly filled up. Nurses and doctors began hiding them in homes. The hospital was just one impromptu rescue operation of many.

The Gestapo came to round up the Jews. They only found 5% of the nearly 8,000. The other 95% were hiding in attics, basements and churches of friends, associates and total strangers. Everyone knew this was a temporary measure at best. Soon the Germans would be looking beyond Jewish homes.

Fishing boat arrives in
 Sweden with Jews
Nobel Prize winner, and Danish physicist, Niels Bohr and that German chap, Duckwitz, who had given the warning, worked to get Sweden to accept the Jewish refugees. The Jews were then secreted across the short strait to the neutral country, hidden inside fishing boats. Sweden did its best to help the homeless, often penny-less, escapees.

Meanwhile, the about 450 Danes arrested were taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. They were not given up by Denmark. They received packages from the Danish Red Cross with life saving food and hope. Enclosed in each package was a letter from their King telling them they had not been forgotten. I wonder how many Jews died in the concentration camps from sheer hopelessness, feeling no one cared? Over 85% of the Danish Jews survived the concentration camp. Considering that most of the Danish captives were those too old or too sick to run, that is truly remarkable!

Swedish Red Cross buses saving Danish Jews
 As the allies closed in, the Nazis often killed those left alive in the concentration camps. Not at Theresienstadt. The Swedish Red Cross negotiated for the release of the Danish Jews. No doubt fearing repercussions from Denmark, the Germans loaded the captives onto Red Cross buses and took them to Copenhagen, put them on boats and shipped them to Sweden. It must have been bittersweet for the refugees, driving through, but not stopping in their beloved Denmark.

Along the roads, Danes lined up and cheered their escaping countrymen. The passengers waved back, sobbing. It’s said one old man, jumped to his feet and began singing the Danish national anthem. Everyone else on the bus joined him. Well, everyone but the German guards, who told them, at gunpoint, to shut-up and sit down.

Weeks later the Nazis were history and Denmark was once again free. The Jews returned to a big welcome. Most found their homes had been watched over by neighbors. Those less lucky were given compensation from the Danish government to get them back on their feet.

One chap found one of his books missing and became angry. Then he recalled all the other Jews in Europe who had lost everything--their homes, their families, their lives. All he lost was a book. He sat down and wept as it all hit him.

Kirkat Denya (Denmark Square)
Sculpture representing fishing boat
At the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem there is a row of tree planted, one for each of the righteous who saved Jews during World War II. I don’t believe there are any to the Danes. That would take a whole forest. Instead Israel has parks, memorials, streets and even postage stamps dedicated to Denmark’s rescue.

It’s said one question that was repeatedly asked at the Nuremberg Trials was “Why did you help to kill the Jews?” The answer was always the same: “What else could we do?” Later many writers asked the Danes why they had risked their lives to help save the Jews. Their answer was the same: “What else could we do?”

Some will point out that the Jewish population of Denmark was not huge, that some of the German soldiers in Denmark were not that gung-ho about rounding up Jews, that Sweden was just next door and that a few Danes were anti-Semitic and actually helped in the round-up. However it is estimated that perhaps as much as 99%, of the Jewish Danes were saved. That would not have happened if most Danes had turned a blind eye to their fellow countrymen.

All right, so the statue King Christian with the mythical arm band is a bit of a fib. The truth is far grander.

The Danish Solution: The Rescue of the Jews in Denmark
The website
the documentary on Youtube

The Story of Ellen Nielsen Just one of the countless Danish heroes.

Number the Stars at Amazon by Lois Lowry. The fictional account of how one Danish girl saves her friend. This won the 1990 Newberry Award in Children’s Literature.

A Conspiracy Of Decency: The Rescue Of The Danish Jews During World War II by Emmy Werner at Amazon

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