How Denmark Saved its Jews During the Holocaust

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One of the lessons to be learned form the Shoah is the extent to which human courage and caring, as evidenced by those who reached out to help the Jews, makes a difference. When this courage and caring is displayed on a unified national level, we see the power to influence the course of history in a significant way.

The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) is an NGO dedicated to educating the public about the courage of dedicated individuals from all backgrounds and walks of life who helped the Jewish people during the Shoah. The organization is named in memory of a Swedish diplomat who heroically saved many Hungarian Jews.

In a blog article in The Times of Israel,  the founder and leader of the IRWF wrote: “… we have never encountered such a collective solidarity spirit as the one displayed by the Danish people in general and the Danish Resistance movement in particular. If we were to liken Raoul Wallenberg to a virtuoso soloist, we should compare the Danish people to a magnificent philharmonic orchestra.”

In the autumn of 1943, a German diplomat informed the Danish resistance of the imminent plan to deport Danish Jews. The Danish response was swift. A nationwide effort to ferry the Jews over water to the safety of Sweden, via the boats of Danish fishermen, saved over 7,000 Jews within a two-week period. About 500 Jews did not reach Sweden and were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, but the Danes advocated for them to the point where most were saved.

As the leaders of the IRWF stated, “This case shows us how the forces of free hatred collided with the forces of free love and in this case, the latter had the upper hand.”

In 2013, the IRWF presented the Raoul Wallenberg Centennial Medal to the Danish people, in recognition of their heroic unified effort.

The Museum of Danish Resistance in Copenhagen, located between the Queen’s Castle and The Little Mermaid, houses artifacts such as the memoirs of Abraham Steinbock, who, as a 23-year old medical student, made the journey to safety in one of the Danish fishing boats. Steinbock and the museum were profiled in The Jerusalem Post in 2021.  Steinbock wrote:

“The Danish Jews had their fellow countrymen to thank that the majority of them managed to flee to Sweden. Good Danes spontaneously rose to the occasion when they learned of the imminent Nazi persecution of Denmark’s Jewish population. While Jews were persecuted in the rest of Europe, Danes stood their ground and did not allow it to happen in Denmark. Denmark thus became unique, the exception. Help organizations sprung up in many places and, with great courage and risk to themselves, often organized escapes right under the very noses of the Germans.”

The Danes provide a great example of courage and solidarity. From the high-ranking diplomat to the humble fisherman, the Danish citizens were swift, brave, united, and unrelenting in their fight to save the lives of their Jewish countrymen. May we hope to see such a noble and united effort again some day.

Written by Julie Piper

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