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 Sweden.
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 duty.
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 them humanely.
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.