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Home > New in Denmark > Scott Larsen’s blog > When the Danes saved their Jewish Neighbors

When the Danes saved their Jewish Neighbors

A book written in 1963 about many Danes, who helped their Jewish neighbors hide, then escape, from Denmark when the Germans tried to round-up Danish Jews and send them to their concentration camps.

Did you ever have one of those ‘Ah-ha’ moments?

I just had one the other day when I found a copy of a book I bought in Seattle in 1986. Rescue in Denmark by Harold Flender tells about how Danes helped their Jewish neighbors hide, then escape, the Germans who in 1943 were set on rounding up nearly 8,000 Jews in Denmark. Flender co-produced a documentary on CBS, an American television network, called “An Act of Faith” shown in two parts on Nov. 19 and 26, 1961. Afterwards, Flender wrote that the documentary ” merely scratched the surface of the story” about the Danes saving its Jewish population.

Denmark and the Danes are the only country and people who tried to saved its and their Jewish neighbors during World War II. In fact, after the order went out that all Danish Jews were to be rounded-up on Oct. 1, 1943, the Danish Resistance Movement along with Danes not involved in the underground movement, worked to ferry their Jewish neighbors to neutral Sweden.

Around 450 Danish Jews unfortunately were captured by the Germans, most sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in German occupied Czechoslovakia, with 102 dying in the camps. But around 7,200 Danes Jews – men and women, fathers and mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts and even children and babies – were save.

The ‘Ah-ha’ moment came when I read these lines from the book’s preface:

“A smaller group was aware that the Danes had behaved toward the Jews in a manner very different from that of the other Europeans,” wrote Flender. “But they were afraid that talking about it would cheapen what they had done. They were against any form of publicity, commercialization or exploitation. It took a good deal of arguing and cajoling” to open up and tell Flender and his co-producer Richard Siemanowski in the TV documentary of “at least one example of (good?) human behavior during the years of humanity.”

This helped me understand the Danes’ belief and practice in shying away from platitudes and drawing attention to themselves. This attitude is alive and well today as I discovered online and in person last September.

I first read about the Danes’ helping their Jewish neighbors escape the extermination when I was in public school when I came across a small book – maybe even this one – in telling of this story and the Danes. You won’t find it in most British, American, French and Soviet’s historical account of WWII.

When I visit Copenhagen this September, I hope to visit the Dansk Jødisk Museum (Danish Jewish Museum) and learn more about many Danes didn’t like to talk about or draw attention to as if it were an every day occurrance: the saving of their Jewish neighbors. Because in the end what they did was extraordinary.

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