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Rescue of Danish Jewry: why the success, risk and lessons learned

Annotated bibliography

Ollendorff, Stephen A. and Sawyer, Kenneth I. The Brave Little Boat. Illustrations by Ivan Lacovic. Tulling Publishing, 2007; 8-12. Print.

The book is story-oriented. London’s grandfather and Kayla tell them of a true hero. This hero is a wooden fishing boat that transported Danish Jews to Sweden to escape the Nazi arrest and deportation with the aim of being annihilated in 1943. The hero is on display in Connecticut at the Mystic seaport.

Toksvis, Sandi. Hitler’s Canary. Roaring Brook Press. A Deborah Brodie Book, 2007. 10-14. Print

This book is a work of fiction but based on true accounts of how the non-Jewish Danes facilitated the escape of Danish Jews and their evacuation to Sweden. The book focus on a family that was active in the rescue and evacuation process.

Werner, Emmy. A Conspiracy of Decency: The Rescue of Danish Jews during World War II. Basic Books: 2004. 14-50. Print.

This book gives an almost full account of the turn of events from the invasion of Denmark by the Germans up to the rescue and evacuation of over 7000 Jews into Denmark. This account is presented in first person, and present factually accurate well-crafted text. The author (Werner) uses accessible concepts such as people of good will, various organizations, and people played key roles in mobilizing the people.

Levitin, Sonia. Room in the Heart. Speak Penguin Group, 2003. 10-14. Print.

This is an account of compelling historical fiction. The book is made up of chapters dedicated to various protagonists for example, a Jewish girl, her non-Jewish friend’s brother, and a German solder. The books tension is created through the various people who participated in secrete resistance or defiance of the arrest and deportation order.

Carrol, Rittner, Stephen D. Smith & Irena Steinfeldt, The Holocaust and the Christian World. Yad-Vashem 2000, 97-100. Print.

The authors of the book have analyzed the entire scenario from the entry of Jews in Denmark up to the rescue and evacuation of the Danish Jews to Sweden. The book establishes two factors, which largely determined the level of victimization by Germans to the protectorates; the pre-World War II level of anti-Semitism in each of the occupied countries, and the pattern of relationships between Jewish and non-Jewish communities in those countries.

Buckser Andrew. Rescue and Cultural Context During the Holocaust: Grundtvigian Nationalism and the Rescue of the Danish Jews. Shofar Vol. 19, no. 2. 2001, 1-17. Print

The book argues and to some degree diminishes humanitarianism as the primary role in the resistance and rescue of the Danish Jews. The book analyses other attributes that include theological movements, quest for independence by the Danes, the effects of Grundtvigianism, and the various factors that affected the rescue in a way or another.

In 1943, the German government lead by Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest and deportation of Jews living in Denmark. The aim of the order was to annihilate them just as the Nazis had done to Jews in several parts of euro, in which it had control. Denmark was one of the countries under Nazis, even though the country was considered“the model protectorate” because of its unarmed resistance to the Nazis entry (Toksvis 10). However, Denmark resisted the order and engaged in active rescue of Jews by hiding the Jews from the Nazi solders and facilitating their sail to neutral Sweden. In the event, over 7,000 Jews were saved from the holocaust.

This paper therefore seeks to establish how Danes resisted the Nazis orders for deportation of the Jews, why they resisted, the attributes of the resistance, and the risks that were involved. To achieve this, the paper will review the relationship between the Danes and the Jews and the Danes and the Nazis on the other hand, factors that could have facilitated the success of the rescue, and the stakes involved in the rescue.

The assimilation process granted Danish Jews equal rights and privileges to Denmark citizens by birth hence, they were part of the Danish society. The first Jews to enter and live in Denmark had been invited into the country by King Christian IV in the 17th century (Werner 14). Because of this invitation, the Jews in Denmark had a more privileged place in the society than elsewhere in Europe. By 1814, Denmark had over 2000 Jews living in Denmark and they were soon granted full citizenship. In 1921, the Jewish community had grown to over 6,000 members. They participated and excelled in cultural life, in the economy, and some worked in the government. They contributed enormously to the growth of Denmark hence became part of the Danish society.

Because of this extensive involvement in the growth and development of Denmark, they gained affection and love of Danish residents as a part of the society. Because of the success of Jews in education and understanding of the Danish system, they had taken up roles in the banking system, in senior positions in the government, in science, literature and art, and journalism. The Jews group also occupied the middle and upper class in the society hence, where involved in key decision-making roles. According to Werner (16), the strong establishments of Jews in Denmark made them win the compassion of Danes during the holocaust. Through this unity, the people were able to overthrow the anti-semantic laws.

The Danish community is considered more humane than other based on historic events. Toksvis (11) argues that, for the Danes to participate in the rescue, it took more than just compassion and sympathy. The argument passed is Danish people are humane and history proves this. After the armed conflict with German in 1864, Denmark’s foreign policy was peace-oriented and consensus seeking. Moreover, as a democratic country, the country was not affected by radical class polarization that affected the region, and had a strong policy for protection of minority groups. Based on these issues, Danish community had a “big-heart” for the Jews and could afford to rescue them from the Nazis.

The incursion of the Germans into Denmark in 1939 punctured the otherwise stall relationship between Denmark and German. The incursion occurred despite a non-aggression pact that had been signed under the initiative of the Germans (Carrol et al 100). This rude disregard of a treaty angered the Danes and even though they did not mount an armed resistance, they associated with the Nazis with a cold shoulder. This cold-shoulder altitude against the Nazis was aimed towards resisting and eventually crippling German operations in the protectorate. The resistance to the arrest and deportation of the Jews was one of the ways that the Danes showed the discontent with the Germans occupation and control of their country.

Upon the incursion, the Germans had signed with the Danish government not to interfere with the countries domestic affair, but they had to surrender the control of foreign affairs to the Nazis under “the policy of negotiation” (Toksvis 11). As a result of this agreement, the Nazis did not involve themselves with the operation by the people, considering they considered Denmark a friendly protectorate because they had not resisted Germans incursion and they had continued to cooperate. Denmark took advantage of this to plan and execute the resistance to the arrest and deportation of Jews to ghetto camps.

Public significance of ideas was a key contributor to the resistance. Human rights defenders, religious leaders, and theological professors propagated such ideas. One notable professor who led in the propagation of anti-Nazi ideas was Hal Koch (1904-1963). Koch was a theological professor of church history at the University of Copenhagen. The professor held lectures open to the public where he warned the people over the Nazis. He understood that Denmark stood at an advantaged place and as a result, he had supported the policy of negotiation. However, he soon realized that the country was “paying a high price” for its continued “collaboration” with the Nazis. “We have said many a Yes and many a No which have not come from our hearts, and that our talk has taken on a fateful hypocrisy” (Ollendorff & Sawyer 8). This urged Danes to take a stand towards Nazism and its operations in the country. His ideas contribute to the resistance.

Compromises and complacencies in the Nazi leadership in Copenhagen also contributed to the execution and success of the rescue process. According to Buckser (7), there is no way the Nazi leadership could not have known of the rescue operations. This statement insinuates there was sabotage of the Nazism operation by some Nazi officials in Copenhagen. According to Werner (20), one of the Nazi officials Duckwitz is said to have been unofficially referred to as “the office for rescuing people”. However, Buckser (10) explains, given German had infringed on the non-aggression pact, they were reluctant to go against the policy of negotiation with their “model protectorate”. Therefore, even though they knew of the resistance and the rescue, they could not have done anything more. The evidence of this argument is the empty threats from Berlin to recall Duckwitz.

The emergence of the Danish underground movement played a key contributory role in the rescue and evacuation of Jews. In addition, Danish police facilitated the evacuation even though they did not support the underground movement (Levitin 10). These two organized forced aided in the evacuation of high numbers of Jews through fishing boats, or even smuggled them through freight cars in German owned ships.

The location of Sweden from Denmark, the short canal contributed immensely to the success of the rescue of Jews (Ollendorff & Sawyer 12). After the news that Germans where planning to roundup jews and deport them, Danes offered then save haven in their kitchen, barns, basements, etc. however, this was not sufficient as soon, the Nazis embarked on a search and arrest operation. This required evacuation of Jews to a safe ground, and Sweden was the best choice. The distance between Denmark to Sweden on sea is considerably short hence; it was possible to evacuate very many people through the shortest time possible.

The above activities all contributed to the resistance of Nazism and the rescue of over 7000 Jews into Sweden. However, these actions attracted very profound risks. The major risk that anyone who contravened Nazi orders faced was death of not one, but several people. For example, the individual who engaged in the propagation of discord among the public like Koch risked death for themselves as well as their families and audience (Carrol et al 97). In addition and based on the ruthless nature of the Nazi administration and Hitler in particular, it was very risky for Denmark to resists Nazism. The Nazi had infringed the non-aggression pact once and there was absolutely no reason they could not have flaunted the policy of negotiation.

Even though the Danish community was united in rescuing Jews, this was a risky undertaking among other communities. Buckser (17) reports that, in some communities, the cases of those who had helped Jews in anywhere lingered and the war was over before they could be prosecuted. For such people, they were released but members of the society could murder them for assisting the Jews. This happened in the Danish neighboring countries were Jews were deported.

I think that the Danish situation is a very good example of how the society should respond to national or international human threatening calamities especially those with human causes. In Denmark, the success of the resistance and rescue of Jews was because of the unity of the entire community. Every individual in the society participated in rescuing and hiding Jews in their compounds to avoid round up and arrest by the Nazi soldiers. The underground movement and the Danish police facilitated the evacuation of Danish Jews to Sweden. The success of the rescue is courtesy to the Danish people and the government for sticking together otherwise, they would have fallen to the oppressive control of Nazis and the death of thousands of Jews.

Today, the Danish rescue of Jews serves as a perfect lesson for many. The situation calls for the various organs of the society to work together, and the realization that humanity is supreme. Even though several strides have been made towards this, there still some aspects to be ironed out for example, in national matters, the government/police need to work in unison with the people, for example, in the case in Syria currently. The wanton loss of lives is unnecessary and uncalled for. Even though due to sovereignty internal affairs of the country cannot be interfered with, I believe there should be a better way to address the issue. Darfur for example is a perfect situation where the loss of lives was controlled by the African Union troops working in unison with the people.

In summary, the success of rescue of Danish Jewry relied on several issue. The fact that Jews had been invited into the country and assimilated made the society embrace and love them as fellow compatriots. Jews in Denmark participated in nation building therefore, has developed strong ties with the native majority. Danish people are considered more humane due to their strong democratic values and protection of the minorities. Aggression of the Germans into Denmark angered the Danish people who sought for an opportunity to rebel and resist Nazism. While the policy of negotiation ensured the Nazi left Denmark alone, public significance ideas helped to grow the resistance idea among Danish people.

The swift and unison activity by both the people and the government ensured that over 7000 Jews were evacuated to safety in neutral Sweden. This historic event influences people and government, both national and international to respond fast and involve the people in humanitarian operations like in Darfur. The same should be applied in Syria.

Works cited

Buckser Andrew. Rescue and Cultural Context During the Holocaust: Grundtvigian Nationalism and the Rescue of the Danish Jews. Shofar Vol. 19, no. 2. 2001, 1-17. Print

Carrol, Rittner, Stephen D. Smith & Irena Steinfeldt, The Holocaust and the Christian World. Yad-Vashem 2000, 97-100. Print.

Levitin, Sonia. Room in the Heart. Speak Penguin Group, 2003. 10-14. Print.

Ollendorff, Stephen A. and Sawyer, Kenneth I. The Brave Little Boat. Illustrations by Ivan Lacovic. Tulling Publishing, 2007; 8-12. Print.

Toksvis, Sandi. Hitler’s Canary. Roaring Brook Press. A Deborah Brodie Book, 2007. 10-14. Print

Werner, Emmy. A Conspiracy of Decency: The Rescue of Danish Jews during World War II. Basic Books: 2004. 14-50. Print.


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