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Vol.1 - Issue #1
HOLCAUST BYSTANDERS - DENMARK
By Alexander Kimel
On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded both Denmark and Norway, violating their neutrality. The Danes were considered by the Germans a pure Nordic race and were treated with indulgence. The Danish industry was set to work for the German war machine and the famous Danish butter was exported to the Germany in great quantities. The Danish Jews were left unharmed.
In 1943 the military situation of Germany deteriorated, the Nazis started to drain the Danes dry, food shortages became common. The relations between the Danes and the Germans deteriorated, German soldiers were assaulted, factories sabotaged, and strikes became frequent. In August of 1943 Dr. Best, the German plenipotentiary for Denmark, was ordered to prepare the "resettlement" of the Danish Jews. Best, a seasoned Gestapo man, warned Hitler about the dire consequences of the anti-Jewish actions in Denmark; persecution of the Jews could trigger severe disturbances. Hitler was not used to have his orders questioned, and Dr.Best was replaced with a military commander Hannecken.
In the midst of the "Total War" the Germans with compulsive thoroughness, started to plan a military raid on 6000 Danish Jews; special SS Commando Groups were flown in, boats especially converted to hold deportee arrived in Copenhagen, trucks were provided for the action.
The word about the impending deportation of the Jews leaked out from the German Embassy, and immediately a spontaneous reaction for the Danish population set in; without planning or organization, people started to disseminate the startling information and to warn the Jew. The telephone could not be used for communication so the warnings had to be delivered in person. Policemen, students, workers, teachers, doctors, people from all walks of life took time off from their jobs to deliver the warnings, and organize the hiding shelters.
On September 23, 1943 the German started the "action"; German troops from the Wehrmacht surrounded the Copenhagen harbor to ensure smooth embarkation, trucks filled with Gestapo raced through the streets to apprehend the 8000 Danish Jews, but the Jews were gone, they apprehended only 202 people. For the first time Hitler's destruction machine assembled for the Final Solution suffered a defeat from the hands of a Bystander people. The Gestapo caught mostly old people that could not escape. For example one 84 year old single lady would not go into hiding, she could nor perceive herself as being a danger to the Germans, and to her astonishment, on the way to the concentration camp in the railroad cattle car she found herself in the company of 102 year old Jewish lady.
The failure of the "action" enraged Hitler and Himmler alike; Eichmann was dispatched to rectify the situation. The Germans started and extensive hunt for the hiding Jews. The whole Danish population was risking their lives to shelter and save their compatriots. On October 3, the Danish Lutheran bishops sent a letter to the German Officials, and the letter read in all churches stated:
We will never forget that the Lord Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, according to God's promise to the Chosen People of Israel. Persecution of the Jews conflicts with the humanitarian conception of the love of neighbors and the message which Christ's church set out to preach. Christ taught us that every man has a value in the eyes of God ...Persecution conflicts with the judicial conscience existing in the Danish people, inherited through centuries of Danish culture. ...We respect the right to religious freedom and to the performance of the divine worship according to the dictates of conscience.
Notwithstanding our separate religious beliefs we will fight to preserve for our brothers and sisters the same freedom we ourselves value more than life. The leaders of the Danish Church clearly comprehend the duties o law-abiding citizens, bound to maintain the right and to protest every violation of justice. It is evident that in this case we are obeying God rather than man."
The response of the Danish population, and all the Danish institutions was unbelievable. The underground newspaper Free Denmark, wrote:
The persecution of the Jews has hit the Danes in the sorest point of their conception of justice;.... The episodes of the last two nights have to us become a part of Denmark's fate, and if we desert the Jews in this hour of their misery, we desert our native country.
Pastor Ivar Lange, made a comment after reading the Bishop's declaration: "Politics must not be discussed here, because it is punishable. In spite of this, I tell you that I would rather die with the Jews than live with the Nazis." As a result of the timely warning and the help of the Danish people 8000 Jews temporarily escaped the Nazis and ding everywhere; in hospitals under assumed Christian names, in garages, in attics of friends of strangers, in Churches, and in the woods, but they were not out of danger. The Germans started a massive manhunt, they were patrolling the shore areas and all boats were ordered out of the water, with the exception of fishermen's boats. The problem was how to get the Jews out of the country, to a safe haven in Sweden.
At the beginning individual fishermen started to ferry out individual Jews to Sweden at exorbitant prices of several thousand dollars per person, but the majority of the hiding Jews were not be able to pay those prices. The spontaneous "underground" created to save the Jews, continued its operation; search parties run by students were combing the woods to bring the hiding Jews to safer places, Jews were collected in hospitals, factories and ferried to the boats waiting at night at the beaches. A uniform price of $60 per person was established for the boat ride, Danes were contributing money to pay for the poor Jews. Hiding, feeding, collecting and transporting a mass people, under the trying conditions of a country under a state of emergency, under the noses of the Germans and their agents, required the full cooperation of the population and the heroic sacrifice o the individuals engaged in this unprecedented mission. The Danes rose to the challenge with unity in compassion in face of the overwhelming power of evil and brutality.
Individual Heroism and Inventiveness.
When it became evident that large numbers of Danish Jews were escaping to Sweden by boats, the Germans used police dogs to sniff out human cargo aboard the ships. To overcome this Danish scientist in Malmo concocted a powder made up of dried human blood and cocaine, which dusted on the decks of the ships, completely deadened the dogs' sense of smell. In addition, small amounts of the powder were placed in carefully folded handkerchiefs, which were distributed to the key Danish Seamen. When the Germans came aboard the ships with their dogs, the seamen pretending to blow their noses with their handkerchiefs, would let the powder fall to he decks in the vicinity of the dogs. The Germans never found out why their highly trained police dogs were completely ineffective.
The Danes used unprecedented inventiveness in saving of the Jews. One group of students discovered 40 Jews hiding in a forest teeming with Germans, and they made preparation to transfer the Jews to hospital grounds. The hospital was in the vicinity of the Gestapo and close to a cemetery, so the students staged a mock funeral with 40 black dressed mourners, proceeding with flowers after the hearse, on the way collecting another hundred "mourners". They all were put up in hospital wards and in Nurses residences until the road to the boats was secured.
The Danes wrote a glorious page of history, not only of their country, but also in the history of mankind. Spontaneous uprisings are common in human history, but they all are connected with violence, mostly they are uprising against oppression, paying with violence for violence. It was the first time in human history that people to avoid violence, to save victims of violence, a humanitarian act of unselfishness, staged a spontaneous uprising.