the Danish and the Holocaust

INTRODUCTION

Over 60 percent of Jews in Europe perished in the Holocaust. In some countries, such as Poland and Lithuania, an astronomic 90+ percent of Jews were murdered. It’s important to understand that this wouldn’t have been possible without widespread collaboration — whether this collaboration came in the form of puppet governments (such as the Vichy in France or Ustaše in Croatia), major world organizations and institutions such as the Catholic Church and Red Cross turning a blind eye (or worse), or the prevalent antisemitism of individual citizens.

Do we know what would’ve happened if those in N*zi-occupied nations had refused to collaborate?

We probably do. The following is the story of what happened in Denmark.


BACKGROUND

When World War II broke out in September of 1939, Denmark officially declared itself a neutral country. By August 1943, however, Denmark came under direct N*zi military occupation. On October 1, 1943, H!tler ordered the arrest and deportation of all Danish Jews.

Denmark had a small community of Jews, numbering only about 7800. News of the impending deportation was leaked as early as September. Upon learning of the plan, the Danish resistance movement organized the evacuation of 7220 Danish Jews and 686 non-Jewish spouses to Sweden, which was still a neutral country.

Due to these efforts, 99 percent of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust.

MYTH OF THE YELLOW STAR

There is a popular story that upon ordering Danish Jews to wear a yellow star, as the N*zis had done elsewhere in Europe, the Danish king, Christian X, chose to wear one himself, with the rest of the Danish population following suit and thus making the law irrelevant. While heartwarming, this story is a myth.

The story originated in the offices of the National Denmark America Association and was used as anti-German propaganda.

In reality, the Danish authorities were generally cooperative with the N*zis up until the deportation order. Once the order was put in motion, the Danish state church, as well as all Danish political parties (except the pro-N*zi National Socialist Worker’s Party of Denmark) openly denounced the deportation and publicly opposed the German occupation for the first time.  


RESCUE OPERATION

In September of 1943, a German diplomat named Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz secretly informed the Danish resistance of the N*zi plans to deport the country’s Jewry.

Upon hearing this information, Danes organized a nationwide effort to save all Danish Jews.

The Jewish community, most of which was centered in Copenhagen, was alerted, and as such, Jews began leaving the city by train, car, or foot. They were hidden in people’s homes, hospitals, churches, and more. Within weeks, Danish fishermen secretly ferried nearly all of Denmark’s Jews to neighboring Sweden.

Sweden initially said that they would only accept the Jews with the authorization of the Germans (who ignored this request). Nevertheless, the rescue operation was successful, and 7220 Jews were transferred safely to Sweden, where they went on to survive the war.


FACTORS

Obviously, the Jewish community in Denmark was much smaller and much more concentrated than the Jewish community in other countries such as Poland, which facilitated their rescue. However, this rescue is the only example of a concerted, all-encompassing, nationwide effort to save a nation’s Jewry, which is precisely why it’s so telling and significant.

Even the Danish Jews that WERE deported generally faired better than their non-Danish Jewish counterparts because the Danish government consistently pressured the Germans about the well-being of their deported Jewish citizens, something virtually unheard of elsewhere in Europe. Only 51 Danish Jews died in the Theresienstadt camp/ghetto, out of 500 that were deported there.  

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