Hitler liked Denmark. The Danes
were fellow Aryans. They should be pleased to be part of the Third Reich. So
when Germany easily overwhelmed the Danish army in two short hours on April 9,
1940, he allowed them to retain their king and government, and fly their flag.
The Danes, however, were not
appreciative. They resented being a conquered land with an unwanted overlord.
Anger festered. Resistance took shape. Strikes, demonstrations, and sabotage
disrupted the seemingly peaceful country.
Hitler got mad. How dare they fail
to show gratitude for being included in his Reich! The gloves came off. Time to
rule with an iron fist. Step one: eliminate the Danish Jews.
Unlike the other European
countries, Denmark’s Jews had been unaffected by Nazi rule. They still lived in
their homes, conducted their business, went to school, and did not wear yellow
stars. They lived just like all the other Danes.
The order to round up the Jews came
on September 22, 1943. Germany’s governor of Denmark, Werner Best, shared the
telegram he received from Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbertrop with his
friend, Georg Duckworth.
|Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (1904-1973)|
Duckworth was a high-level staff
member with the German embassy in Copenhagen, and a Nazi Party member. He did
not agree with killing Denmark’s 8,000 Jews. Despite being suspected by the
Gestapo of being untrustworthy, he hurried secretly to Sweden and urged the
neutral Swedish government to give sanctuary to Denmark’s Jews.
On September 28, he betrayed his
country by meeting with Hans Hedtoft, a Danish politician, and informed him of
what was about to happen on October 1st. Hedtoft immediately spread
the word among the Jews and non-Jews of Denmark.
Most of the Jews did not have
non-Jewish connections to seek help from. It did not matter. They were
approached by strangers who offered them keys to their homes, who invited them
to stay with them as their escape was arranged. Then fishermen took them to
Even German soldiers looked the
other way. They could be traveling on the train with Jews heading for the coast,
and both groups ignored the other. The soldiers didn’t want to hassle the
Danes. Most were older, recovering from wounds, or had little training. They
considered Denmark as the Whipped Cream Front, with plenty of food and easy
Two cargo ships arrived in
Copenhagen’s harbor, along with extra Gestapo and German police to scoop up the
Jews. They’d already stolen files of names and addresses from the Jewish
Community Center. But when they raided Jewish homes, few could be found.
Fewer than five hundred Jews who
missed the warning or failed to heed it, or those who were old and sick, or
families with children, were found and sent to Theresienstadt concentration
camp. Even there, Denmark did not forget them. Packages of food and clothing
were sent. The king and his government kept pressure on the Germans to treat
The critical aid received from
their country enabled the Jews to survive. Only a few of the elderly and ill
died. And a month before the end of the war, the Danes, with Swedish help, sent
a fleet of Red Cross buses to bring the Jews back to Denmark.
After the war, the Jews in Sweden
returned to cheering crowds and found their homes and businesses intact,
waiting for them.
Georg Duckworth was recognized by
Israel in 1971 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. Israel could also
have recognized Denmark as a Righteous Nation.