The flag of Denmark.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin will travel to Denmark on October 9 to join Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen in commemorating and celebrating the 75th anniversary of the rescue of the bulk of Danish Jewry from deportation to Nazi death camps.
While individuals, groups and foreign diplomats in many European countries tried to rescue Jews, Roma and others whom the Nazis targeted for extermination, the Danes were the only nation as a whole to actively resist the Nazis who were occupying their country.
The rescue was made possible when German diplomat Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz risked both his safety and his career on September 28, 1943, to secretly inform the Danish resistance movement of Nazi plans to deport Denmark’s 8,000 Jews.
The Danes responded quickly to this emergency situation and organized a nationwide effort to smuggle the Jews on fishing boats to neighboring Sweden, which was neutral.
During the two-week period in which the plan was being coordinated and implemented, Jews were warned to leave Copenhagen and other cities and found refuge in private homes, hospitals and churches.
During these two weeks, fishermen ferried 7,220 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jews who were related to Jews across the narrow stretch of sea to Sweden.
The mission was not entirely successful. The Nazis managed to arrest 500 Jews and deport them to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. Of these, only 51 survived, but even they owed their lives to pressure from Danish officials, who repeatedly told the Germans of their concerns for the well-being of Danish citizens in captivity.
People involved in the rescue operation, who risked their own lives to help Jews escape the Nazis, were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. Denmark asked that they be honored as a group rather than as individuals, and that Duckwitz be included among them. Yad Vashem acceded to the request.
These people not only transported Jews to Sweden, they also smuggled them from place to place and hid them from the Gestapo.
In addition to recognizing them as Righteous Among the Nations, Yad Vashem has one of the Danish fishing boats on display, and another is permanently berthed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
The October 11 ceremony commemorating the rescue is a joint project of the Danish Prime Minister’s Office, the Gilleleje Church, where the ceremony will be held, and the Gribskov Municipal Council.
Rivlin and Rasmussen will lay wreaths at the Gilleleje Port, from where the fishing boats had departed. Afterward, Rasmussen will host Rivlin to lunch at his official residence, and the two will get together again in the evening in the Copenhagen synagogue for a memorial ceremony, in which Crown Prince Frederik will also participate.
In responding to Rasmussen’s invitation to come to Denmark, Rivlin said, “There is a unique relationship between Israel and Denmark, the foundations of which can be traced to this noble attitude of the Danish people during the Holocaust. Theirs was an act of true grace and a demonstration of humanitarianism at its highest level.”
In his correspondence with Rivlin, Rasmussen wrote the horrors that took place during World War II must not be forgotten.
“The rescue of Danish Jews is a pivotal part of our joint history,” he wrote.
Although he is due to land in Denmark on October 9, Rivlin’s official visit actually begins on October 10, when he will meet with Queen Margrethe II.
He is scheduled to return to Israel on October 12.
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