Why 90 Percent of Danish Jews Survived the Holocaust

Why 90 Percent of Danish Jews Survived the Holocaust

A Danish ambulance driver huddled over a Copenhagen phone book, circling Jewish names. As soon as he’d heard the news—that all of Denmark’s Jews would be deported by the Nazis the next day—he knew he had to warn them.

The man was just one of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of normal Danes who sprang into action in late September 1943. Their objective was simple: Help their Jewish friends and neighbors. Soon, Jewish people were sneaking out of Copenhagen and other towns, headed toward Danish shores and into the crowded holds of tiny fishing boats.

Denmark was about to pull off a spectacular feat—the rescue of the vast majority of its Jewish population. Within hours of learning that the Nazis intended to wipe out Denmark’s Jews, nearly all Danish Jews had gone into hiding. Within days, most of them had escaped Denmark to neutral Sweden. The miraculous-seeming rescue of over 90 percent of Danish Jews happened thanks to ordinary Danes, most of whom refused to accept credit for the lives they saved.

In April 1940, German forces invaded Denmark. They didn’t meet with much resistance. Rather than suffer an inevitable defeat by fighting back, the Danish government negotiated to insulate Denmark from the occupation. In return, the Nazis agreed to be lenient with the country, respecting its rule and neutrality. However by 1943, tensions had reached a breaking point.

Workers had begun to sabotage the war effort and the Danish resistance had ramped up efforts to fight the Nazis. In response, the Nazis told the Danish government to institute a harsh curfew, forbid public assemblies, and punish saboteurs with death. The Danish government refused, so the Nazis dissolved the government and established martial law.

The Nazis had always been a forbidding presence in Denmark, but now they made their presence known. Danish Jews were among their first targets. The Holocaust was already in full swing across occupied Europe, and without the protection of the Danish government, which had done its best to shield Jews from the Nazis, Denmark’s Jewish population was in danger.

Then, in late September 1943, the Nazis got word from Berlin that it was time to rid Denmark of its Jews. As was typical for the Nazis, they planned the raid to coincide with a significant Jewish holiday—in this case, Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Marcus Melchior, a rabbi, got word of the coming pogrom, and in Copenhagen’s main synagogue, he interrupted services.

“We have no time now to continue prayers, said Melchior. “We have news that this coming Friday night, the night between the first and second of October, the Gestapo will come and arrest all Danish Jews.” Melchior told the congregation that the Nazis had the names and addresses of every Jew in Denmark, and urged them to flee or hide.

As Denmark’s Jewish population sprang into panicked action, so did its Gentiles. Hundreds of people spontaneously began to tell Jews about the upcoming action and help them go into hiding. It was, in the words of historian Leni Yahil, “a living wall raised by the Danish people in the course of one night.”

The Danish people didn’t have pre-existing plans designed to help the Jews. But nearby Sweden offered an obvious haven to those who were about to be deported. Neutral and still unoccupied by the Nazis, the country was a fierce ally. It was also close—in some cases, just over three miles away from the Danish coast. If the Jews could make it across, they could apply for asylum there.

Danish culture has been seafaring since Viking times, so there were plenty of fishing boats and other vessels to spirit Jews toward Sweden. But Danish fishermen feared losing their livelihoods and being punished by the Nazis if they were caught. Instead, the resistance groups that swiftly formed to help the Jews managed to negotiate standard fees for Jewish passengers, then recruit volunteers to raise the money for passage. The average price of passage to Sweden cost up to a third of a worker’s annual salary.

“Among the fishermen there were some who exploited the situation, just as it is equally clear that there were more who acted without regard to personal gain,” writes historian Bo Lidegaard.

Passage was a terrifying ordeal. Jews congregated in fishing towns, then hid on small boats, usually 10 to 15 at a time. They gave their children sleeping pills and sedatives to keep them from crying, and struggled to maintain control during the hour-long crossing. Some boats, like the Gerda III, were boarded by Gestapo patrols. Others sailed with gas obtained by careful rationing in towns like Elsinore, where the “Elsinore Sewing Club,” a resistance unit, helped a few hundred Jews make the crossing.

The rescues weren’t always successful. In Gilleleje, a small fishing town, hundreds of refugees were cared for by locals. But when the Gestapo arrived, a collaborator betrayed a group of Jews hiding in the town church’s attic. Eighty Jews were arrested. Others never got word of the upcoming deportations or were too old or incapacitated to seek help. About 500 Danish Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto.

Still, it was the most successful action of its kind during the Holocaust. Some 7,200 Danish Jews were ferried to Sweden, and of the 500 who were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto, only 51 did not survive the Holocaust.

The rescue seemed miraculous, but some factors did lead to its success. Werner Best, the German who had been placed in charge of Denmark, apparently tipped off some Jews to the upcoming action and subtly undermined the Nazis’ attempts to stop the Danes from helping Danish Jews. And Denmark was one of the only places in Europe that had successfully integrated its Jewish population. Though there was anti-Semitism in Denmark before and after the Holocaust, the Nazis’ war on Jews was largely viewed as a war against Denmark itself.

After the war, most Danes refused to take credit for their resistance work, which many had conducted under false names. Ordinary people who never considered themselves part of the Danish Resistance passed along messages, gathered food, gave hiding places or guarded the possessions of those who left until they returned home from the war.

The rescue of Denmark’s Jews was an extraordinary feat—one that wouldn’t have been possible without ordinary people.


Holocaust survivors

Holocaust survivors are people who survived the Holocaust, defined as the persecution and attempted annihilation of the Jews by Nazi Germany and its allies before and during World War II in Europe and North Africa. There is no universally accepted definition of the term, and it has been applied variously to Jews who survived the war in German-occupied Europe or other Axis territories, as well as to those who fled to Allied and neutral countries before or during the war. In some cases, non-Jews who also experienced collective persecution under the Nazi regime are also considered Holocaust survivors. The definition has evolved over time.

Survivors of the Holocaust include those persecuted civilians who were still alive in the concentration camps when they were liberated at the end of the war, or those who had either survived as partisans or been hidden with the assistance of non-Jews, or had escaped to territories beyond the control of the Nazis before the Final Solution was implemented.

At the end of the war, the immediate issues which faced Holocaust survivors were physical and emotional recovery from the starvation, abuse and suffering which they had experienced the need to search for their relatives and reunite with them if any of them were still alive rebuild their lives by returning to their former homes, or more often, by immigrating to new and safer locations because their homes and communities had been destroyed or because they were endangered by renewed acts of antisemitic violence.

After the initial and immediate needs of Holocaust survivors were addressed, additional issues came to the forefront. These included social welfare and psychological care, reparations and restitution for the persecution, slave labor and property losses which they had suffered, the restoration of looted books, works of art and other stolen property to their rightful owners, the collection of witness and survivor testimonies, the memorialization of murdered family members and destroyed communities, and care for disabled and aging survivors.


Jews in Texas Already in Hiding From Neo-Nazis Holiday Service Held at Secret Location

There's an apocryphal story from WWII that when the Nazis started requiring the Jews under their control to wear gold stars, the Danish King donned one himself and suggested his subjects do the same. It's an inspiring story, and it ought to be true, but it is mere folklore in the service of the more mundane historical truth: the Danes saved most of their Jewish population from the Holocaust, but by more conventional methods.

Early warning of Germany's intentions and a negotiated safe passage through Sweden were why nearly 90 percent of the Danish Jews survived the occupation of Denmark. But it is also true that siding with their Jews in 1943 carried substantial risk for the Danes, who had refused since the German invasion of Denmark in 1940&mdasha "war" that took all of two hours&mdashto enact anti-Jewish measures suggested by the occupying forces and gotten away with it because Danes were "Nordic Aryans," considered capable of governing themselves and offering no threat.

In late 1942, Hitler reacted to what he took as a personal insult from the Danish King and increasing acts of violent resistance by Danish people by allowing one more round of elections to see if Danish Nazis would gain power. In March of 1943, the largest turnout in Danish history gave the Nazi Party of Denmark 2.1 percent of the vote&mdashup from 1.8 percent in 1939.

Within months, the Germans dissolved the Danish government, declared martial law and moved directly to round up Danish Jews, finally using Germany's formidable army to act on Hitler's bizarre claims that Jews are a race, and that the Jewish race had to be exterminated. Fortunately for Danish Jews, the collapse of the Danish government happened in slow motion and a German diplomat leaked the coming order to remove all Jews from Denmark. Over a two-month period, most Danish Jews were ferried to neutral Sweden on fishing boats and pleasure craft.

WWII ended badly for Hitler's racial ideas, so those of us who are not Jewish might be excused for thinking that danger had passed.

Last month In Charlottesville, Virginia, there was a torchlight parade that passed in front of a college town synagogue, home of Congregation Beth Israel, with the marchers chanting "Jews will not replace us!" and "Blood and soil!" Some of the marchers had long guns. Those chants were recycled from Hitler's original Nazis, as was the torchlight parade.

I mention now that I am American Indian because I know some people will be skeptical that one can "remember" happenings older than the person remembering. But we Natives know it's a real phenomenon, perhaps brought on by the repetition of the story within a community over many years. We call such collective recollections "blood memories," and those ugly chants in Charlottesville, combined with the ominous group of armed men who stood across the street from the synagogue as the torch-lit procession passed, had to spur a chilling memory for at least some members of that congregation to Berlin, November 9, 1938.

Kristallnacht. On the night of broken glass, 267 synagogues were destroyed.

Congregation Beth Israel, terrified and helpless the night of the procession and alarmed by the violence the next day, hired armed security guards to ward off the neo-Nazis after the local police department declined to provide a visible police presence. As a precaution against an American Kristallnacht, the Congregation also removed their Torah scrolls from the premises.

Denmark and Germany and Charlottesville, Virginia form the backdrop for a document circulating in a Jewish congregation in Texas whose name will be redacted to preserve what little safety there is in anonymity:

We are about one week away from the High Holy Days and would like to remind you all about the procedures to be followed for attending the Services.

[Name Redacted's] High Holy Day guest policy allows members to bring guests. The only requirement is that guests be accompanied by the member(s) who invited them or that prior arrangements be made. (Email [email protected][redacted] so a guest pass can be provided.) Guests will be asked to provide their names and addresses on a sign-in sheet.

Upon arrival, as you enter the corridor leading to the [redacted[ and [redacted] rooms on the 2nd floor of the [building], you will encounter a Greeting Table. Please be prepared to show your Name Tag or the High Holy Day Pass that you can access by Clicking Here. After printing the pass, be sure to enter your name(s) on the pass and the name(s) of any guest(s) accompanying you. If your guests arrive without you, please ensure that they have a Guest Pass.

If you arrive without either of the documents, the Greeter will ask your name and check it off on the roster. If you are accompanied by guests, please identify them to the Greeter so their names and address(es) can be recorded. This procedure will be repeated for each service. There will be a security guard positioned close to the Greeter's table.

[Effusive gratitude for cooperation redacted.]

[Name Redacted] does not publish the location of its services, just the schedule and an email address if more information is desired. If your guests will arrive separately, please be sure they know where the services are being held.

The instructions in the orginal email were augmented in subsequent email to add, "Unaccompanied guests will also be asked to provide a Picture ID." Members were further cautioned, "If you arrive without either of the documents (pass or name tag), and the greeter is not familiar with you, you will be asked to provide a Picture ID ." This addition arrived with the explanation, "Safety is the number one item on our list, and we ask that you not bring any large bags or packages to the services."

These documents were not meant for the general public, but if these kinds of precautions are thought necessary for Jewish holiday worship services in America, then the public needs to know. Public display of swastikas and anti-Semitic chants are protected by the First Amendment, and in some states it is lawful to bring firearms to celebrations of Nazi nostalgia. All of this is lawful, but there are consequences.

The calendar claims this is 2017.

The history books claim the Allies defeated Hitler decisively in WWII.

The President of the United States claims it's not possible to apportion the blame for deaths and injuries at a neo-Nazi rally between those neo-Nazis and the people who gathered to oppose the rebirth of Nazi ideology. That, too, has consequences.


'I was 90% dead': Henri's story of surviving Auschwitz

But he knows the story must be told. Henri is one of the dwindling handful of men and women who survived Auschwitz.

The death camp the Nazis built in occupied southern Poland during World War Two was, another survivor once told me, like a crack in the surface of the Earth through which hell could be seen. And a crack in the surface of our common humanity through which could be seen our capacity for enduring suffering - and inflicting it.

Ask Henri how he lived through it and his answer is simple: "You did not live through Auschwitz. The place itself is death," he tells the BBC, 75 years after it was liberated.

You had no name in the camp - just a number tattooed on to your forearm.

There is a chilling moment when Henri suddenly barks out his own number - 177789 - in German as he was required to when challenged by the guards.

"Hundertsiebenundsiebzigtausendsiebenhundertneunundachtzig, Heil Hitler!"

Henri was born in Brussels to parents who had fled anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe to build new lives in the West.

When Nazi Germany invaded and occupied Belgium, they were left with nowhere to hide.

In the first week of September 1942, they were taken from their home in the Rue Coenraets. The German soldiers who sealed off the street in the middle of the night went from building to building shouting: "Alle Juden raus!" (All Jews out!)

It is hard to establish now to what extent the Jews of countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and France knew the fate that awaited them in the East, but Henri can remember some of the Jewish women in his street throwing themselves from upstairs windows with their babies, killing themselves as the last desperate way to avoid the round-up.

Within a week, the family was in a convoy of cattle wagons on a railway transport heading back east - first to Germany and then, ominously, onwards to occupied Poland.

Henri and his father, Josek, were taken off the train with the other men in the small town of Kosel. They were to work as slave labourers, destined to be murdered in the gas chambers only when they were no longer of economic use to the Third Reich.

The women of the family - Henri's mother, Chana, his sisters Bertha and Nicha and his Aunt Esther - were taken to Auschwitz where they were gassed and cremated as soon as they arrived.

The fate of the Kichkas captured perfectly the dual purpose of the Nazis' vast network of camps which spread over much of occupied Europe.

There was the task of exterminating the Jews of Europe - Hitler's "Final Solution" to the "Jewish Question". But there was also the need to provide slaves for the factories, mines and railways on which the German war economy relied.

It is difficult to ask Henri to talk about the camps - the sheer scale of the suffering feels overwhelming.

"It is the only concentration in the history of the world where a million people died," he says simply. "The only one, Auschwitz. It was horrible and now I am one of the last survivors."

There was cynicism as well as unfathomable wickedness in the way the Nazis ran the camps.

To make the incoming transports easier to handle, the fiction was maintained until the last moment that the trainloads of Jews were being taken to huge communal showers on arrival to delouse them after long journeys in cattle wagons without water or toilet facilities.

There was no water in the showers. The camp authorities fed in a gas called Zyklon B which had originally been developed as a pesticide.

In the earlier part of the war, the Germans had experimented with a kind of "Holocaust of Bullets" using special squads of soldiers called Einsatzgruppen to wipe out the Jewish population of Eastern Europe by shooting them.

There was no shortage of volunteers for the work, but the sheer scale of the task made it impractical.

Auschwitz - a huge complex of low, shed-like structures grouped around an old Austro-Hungarian cavalry barracks - was the answer to that problem of scale. It married the technology of the railway and the factory with the murderous intent of the Holocaust.

On its busiest day in 1944, 24,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered and their bodies consumed in the fires of specially built ovens.

When the first reconnaissance units of the Soviet Red Army arrived as they drove the Nazis back west towards Germany, they found Auschwitz more or less deserted.

The Nazi guards had forced the starving, emaciated prisoners on "death marches" westwards, towards camps in Germany.

At this point, Henri Kichka, a tall young man of 19, weighed 39kg (85lb) and to this day he suffers from the injuries he sustained from the long march on broken and bleeding feet through the snows of January in Eastern Europe.

"I was 90% dead. I was a skeleton. I was in a sanatorium for months and in hospital."

For years after the war, Henri never spoke of that suffering as though his memory was overwhelmed by darkness.

He married, opened a shop with his wife, and built a family: four children, nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. The man who had cheated death drew strength from creating new life.

He started to give lectures in schools too, feeling it was worth suffering the pain of remembering himself to make sure that others did not forget.

Sixty years after the war ended, Henri published a memoir of his life in the camps, which means his voice will still be heard when he is gone.

His daughter, Irene, who helped him with the book, stresses the importance of listening to survivors like Henri who lived through history's darkest chapter as they tell their own stories.

"It's necessary to have books, films and documentaries. of course," she says. "But when you hear it from someone's own lips in their own voice, it stays in your head. You never forget."

Henri Kichka despairs of the way anti-Semitism survived into the modern world in spite of the Holocaust. "Why make enemies of the Jews?" he says. "We have no guns, we are innocent. I don't understand why people hate us so much."

As I leave, I apologise for taking him back one more time through his suffering, and for a moment, there is a distant look in his eyes as though he is seeing the past.

But he is happy, he says, to talk about the things he would prefer to forget if it means that the rest of us remember.


Remaining Jewish Population of Europe in 1945

Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Europe had a vibrant, established, and diverse Jewish culture. By 1945, most European Jews—two out of every three—had been killed.

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Jewish Population of Europe Six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Jewish communities across Europe were shattered. Many of those who survived were determined to leave Europe and start new lives in Israel or the United States. The population shifts brought on by the Holocaust and by Jewish emigration were astounding.

According to the American Jewish Yearbook, the Jewish population of Europe was about 9.5 million in 1933. In 1950, the Jewish population of Europe was about 3.5 million. In 1933, 60 percent of all Jews lived in Europe. In 1950, most Jews (51 percent) lived in the Americas (North and South combined), while only a third of the world's Jewish population lived in Europe.

The Jewish communities of eastern Europe were devastated. In 1933, Poland had the largest Jewish population in Europe, numbering over three million. By 1950, the Jewish population of Poland was reduced to about 45,000. The Soviet Union had the largest remaining Jewish population, with some two million Jews. Romania's Jewish population was nearly 757,000 in 1930 and fell to approximately 280,000 (1950). Most of these demographic losses were due to the Holocaust, the rest to postwar emigration from Europe.

The Jewish population of central Europe was also devastated. Germany had a Jewish population of 525,000 in 1933 and just 37,000 in 1950. Hungary had 445,000 in 1933 and 190,000 in 1950. Czechoslovakia's Jewish population was reduced from about 357,000 in 1933 to 17,000 in 1950 and Austria's from about 191,000 to just 18,000.

In western Europe, the largest Jewish communities remained in Great Britain, with approximately 450,000 Jews (300,000 in 1933) and France, with 235,000 ( 250,000 in 1933). In southern Europe, the Jewish population fell dramatically: in Greece from about 73,000 in 1933 to just 7,000 in 1950 in Yugoslavia from about 70,000 to 3,500 in Italy from about 48,000 to 35,000 and in Bulgaria from 50,000 in 1933 to just 6,500 in 1950 (the reduction in the Bulgarian Jewish population resulted from postwar emigration). The demographic focus of European Jewry thus shifted from eastern to western Europe.

Before the Nazi takeover of power in 1933, Europe had a vibrant and mature Jewish culture. By 1945, most European Jews—two out of every three—had been killed. Most of the surviving remnant of European Jewry decided to leave Europe. Hundreds of thousands established new lives in Israel, the United States, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, South America, and South Africa.

And we were traveling criss-cross Poland looking for surviving Jews, and we found them. And sometimes these meetings were so packed with emotion that I, I lack the words to describe it, you know. Because the idea that we are really survivors couldn't sink in yet.
—Leah Hammerstein Silverstein


Danish rescue boat re-dedicated at Holocaust Museum

1 of 5 David Lyon, senior Rabbi of Congregration Beth Israel blesses the Hanne Frank at the Danish Rescue Boat Re-Dedication at Holocaust Museum, Houston on Sunday, Oct. 4. Craig Moseley Show More Show Less

2 of 5 Ole Philipson tells his story of survival at Rescue Boat Re-Dedication at Holocaust Museum Houston on Sunday, Oct. 4. Craig Moseley Show More Show Less

4 of 5 Anna Thomsen Holliday, consul general of the Kingdom of Denmark speaks at the Danish Rescue Boat Re-Dedication at Holocaust Museum Houston on Sunday, Oct. 4. Craig Moseley Show More Show Less

On the stormy night of Oct. 6, 1943, just a week after Hitler ordered Danish Jews to be arrested and sent to concentration camps, Ole Philipson and his family boarded a row-boat on the coast of Denmark and headed through dark waters to a fishing vessel that would take them to safety in nearby Sweden.

The row-boat capsized, but through the confusion his family was able to reach and board a fishing vessel, where they would hide below the deck evading the German searchlights surrounding the area.

&ldquoAfter two hours we arrived in Sweden where ladies gave us chocolate and said welcome to Sweden,&rdquo Philipson said.

Philipson, the former Danish ambassador to the Netherlands, recounted his story of survival at the rededication of the Danish rescue boat, the Hanne Frank, at the Holocaust Museum of Houston on Sunday, Oct. 4.

The boat, which is much like the one he and his family boarded that October night, is a relic of a little known part of WWII history, when the Danish people helped transport nearly 7,200 Danish Jews across the Oresund to neutral Sweden.

Denmark was the only country during WWII to make a full effort to help save the lives of their Jewish population while under Nazi occupation.

&ldquoSome have called it one of the most compelling stories of moral courage in the history of WWII. Regardless of their social class, their education, or religious and political beliefs, the rescuers all shared in common that they defined their ability to act with great compassion,&rdquo said Anna Thomsen Holliday, Consul General of Denmark.

&ldquoThey never considered themselves heroes they simply were doing what was right.&rdquo

The Hanne Frank, named for the previous owner&rsquos children, has no connection to the famous Jewish diarist who spent two years in a room behind a bookcase during the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam.

The boat was initially brought to the Holocaust Museum of Houston in 2007, but the harsh and humid Houston climate took its toll and the museum sought to have it restored to its original splendor. Funds however, were limited.

In 2012, the museum would enlist the help of conservator Braeden Howard. During the course of his efforts, Howard would receive an anonymous anti-Semitic voicemail from a video he posted on youtube.

When political commentator Glenn Beck received word of the voicemail, he was so incensed that he appealed to his viewers to support the museums efforts to restore the Hanne Frank. In all, Beck was able to help generate more than $200,000 in donations toward $242,000 it would cost to renovate the boat.

&ldquoThe renovation team put their hearts and souls into this labor of love,&rdquo said Kelly Zúñiga, executive director of the Holocaust Museum of Houston.

&ldquoWith its restoration complete, our boat will continue to carry the message of how hope can overcome hate for many generations to come.&rdquo

The permanent exhibit is a testament of a three week period in history, when Danes risked their own lives to save thousands of Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

Over 90 percent of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust due to their efforts, but nevertheless nearly 460 Danish Jews were captured and sent to the Theresienstadt transit camp in Bohemia.

Philipson and his family would spend a year and a half living prosperously in Sweden, away from the chaos that surrounded mainland Europe. After V-Day, they along with other Danish Jews would return to Denmark welcomed back to their homes by their neighbors who had taken care of their residences and run their businesses while they were away.

&ldquoWhen I look back on it today, I feel that it was an amazing escape we had. When I look at this boat I feel that it has a tremendous symbolic importance. It is a symbol of hope and light,&rdquo Philipson said.

&ldquoIt&rsquos a tale, not a fairy tale from Denmark, but a tale which has a happy ending.&rdquo


Key Dates

August 29, 1943
Danish government resigns

The Germans occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940. The Danes and the Germans reached an agreement in which the Danish government and army remained in existence. Despite the occupation, the Germans did not initiate deportations from Denmark. In the summer of 1943, with Allied military advances, resistance activity in Denmark increases in the form of sabotage and strikes. These actions cause tension between the occupying German forces and the Danish government. In August 1943, the Germans present the Danish government with new demands to end resistance activities. The Danish government refuses to meet the new demands and resigns. The Germans take over the administration of Denmark and attempt to implement the "Final Solution" by arresting and deporting Jews. The Danes respond with a nationwide rescue operation.

October 1, 1943
German deportation action begins in Denmark
German police authorities seek to round up Jews in Denmark at the close of Rosh Hashanah , when Jews are expected to be in their homes. The German plans were leaked three days earlier, however, and most Jews are in hiding. The next day, Sweden announces it will admit Jewish refugees from Denmark. The Danish underground and general population spontaneously organize a nationwide effort to smuggle Jews to the coast, where Danish fisherman ferry them to Sweden. In little more than three weeks, the Danes ferry more than 7,000 Jews and close to 700 of their non-Jewish relatives to Sweden. Despite the Danish efforts, some 500 Jews are arrested by the Germans and deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto.

June 23, 1944
Danish delegation visits Theresienstadt

A Danish delegation joins representatives of the International Red Cross on a visit to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia. To deceive both these visitors and world opinion about Nazi treatment of the Jews, the SS beautifies the ghetto and creates the impression that Theresienstadt is a self-governing Jewish settlement. Unlike most of the other prisoners in Theresienstadt, the 500 Danish prisoners there are not deported to concentration camps and are permitted to receive parcels from the Red Cross. On April 15, 1945, the Danish prisoners are released from the ghetto into the hands of the Swedish Red Cross. This is a result of negotiations between Swedish government representatives and Nazi officials in which Scandinavian prisoners in camps, including Jews, are transferred to a holding camp in northern Germany. These prisoners are eventually sent to Sweden, where they stay until the end of the war. Out of the some 500 Danish Jews deported, about 450 survive.


Contents

United Kingdom Edit

By 1939, about 304,000 of about 522,000 German Jews had fled Germany, including 60,000 to the British Mandate of Palestine (including over 50,000 who had taken advantage of the Haavara, or "Transfer" Agreement between German Zionists and the Nazis), but British immigration quotas limited the number of Jewish emigrants to Palestine. [4] In March 1938, Hitler annexed Austria and made the 200,000 Jews of Austria stateless refugees. In September, the British and French governments allowed Germany the right to occupy the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, and in March 1939, Hitler occupied the remainder of the country, making a further 200,000 Jews stateless. [ citation needed ]

In 1939, British policy as stated in its 1939 White Paper capped Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine at 75,000 over the next five years, after which the country was to become an independent state. The British government had offered homes for Jewish immigrant children and proposed Kenya as a haven for Jews, but refused to back a Jewish state or facilitate Jewish settlement, contravening the terms of the League of Nations Mandate over Palestine. [ citation needed ]

Before, during and after the war, the British government limited Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine so as to avoid a negative reaction from Palestinian Arabs. In the summer of 1941, however, Chaim Weizmann estimated that with the British ban on Jewish immigration, when the war was over, it would take two decades to get 1.5 million Jews to Palestine from Europe through clandestine immigration David Ben-Gurion had originally believed 3 million could be brought in ten years. Thus Palestine it has been argued by at least one writer, once war had begun—could not have been the saviour of anything other than a small minority of those Jews murdered by the Nazis. [5]

The British government, along with all UN member nations, received credible evidence about the Nazi attempts to exterminate the European Jewry as early as 1942 from the Polish government-in-exile. Titled "The Mass Extermination of the Jews in German Occupied Poland", the report provided a detailed account of the conditions in the ghettos and their liquidation. [6] Additionally the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden met with Jan Karski, courier to the Polish resistance who, having been smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto by the Jewish underground, as well as having posed as an Estonian guard at Bełżec transit camp, provided him with detailed eyewitness accounts of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. [7] [8]

These lobbying efforts triggered the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations of 17 December 1942 which made public and condemned the mass extermination of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. The statement was read to British House of Commons in a floor speech by Foreign secretary Anthony Eden, and published on the front page of the New York Times and many other newspapers. [9] BBC radio aired two broadcasts on the final solution during the war: the first at 9 am on 17 December 1942, on the UN Joint Declaration, read by Polish Foreign Minister in-exile Edward Raczynski, and the second during May 1943, Jan Karski's eyewitness account of mass Jewish executions, read by Arthur Koestler. [10] However, the political rhetoric and public reporting was not followed up with military action by the British government- an omission that has been the source of significant historical debate. [ citation needed ]

United States Edit

Though initially America refused to accept Jewish refugees in need, between 1933 and 1945, the United States accepted more than any other country, around 132,000. Nevertheless, it has faced criticism for not admitting more. [11] [12]

In Washington President Roosevelt, sensitive to the importance of his Jewish constituency, consulted with Jewish leaders. He followed their advice to not emphasize the Holocaust for fear of inciting anti-semitism in the U.S. Historians argue that after Pearl Harbor:

Roosevelt and his military and diplomatic advisers sought to unite the nation and blunt Nazi propaganda by avoiding the appearance of fighting a war for the Jews. They tolerated no potentially divisive initiatives or any diversion from their campaign to win the war as quickly and decisively as possible. Success on the battlefield, Roosevelt and his advisers believed, was the only sure way to save the surviving Jews of Europe. [13]

Soviet Union Edit

The Soviet Union was invaded and partially occupied by Axis forces. Approximately 300,000 to 500,000 Soviet Jews served in the Red Army during the conflict. [14] The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee established in 1941, was active in propagandising for the Soviet war effort but was treated with suspicion. The Soviet press, tightly censored, often deliberately obscured the particular anti-Jewish motivation of the Holocaust. [15]

Poland Edit

The Nazis built the majority of their death camps in German occupied Poland which had a Jewish population of 3.3 million. From 1941 on, the Polish government-in-exile in London played an essential part in revealing Nazi crimes [16] providing the Allies with some of the earliest and most accurate accounts of the ongoing Holocaust of European Jews. [17] [18] Titled "The Mass Extermination of the Jews in German Occupied Poland", the report provided a detailed account of the conditions in the ghettos and their liquidation. [19] [20] [ circular reference ] Though its representatives, like the Foreign Minister Count Edward Raczyński and the courier of the Polish Underground movement, Jan Karski, called for action to stop it, they were unsuccessful. Most notably, Jan Karski met with British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden as well as US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, providing the earliest eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust. [21] [8] Roosevelt heard him out however seemed uninterested, asking about the condition of Polish horses but not one question about the Jews. [22]

The report that the Polish Foreign Minister in-exile, Count Edward Raczyński sent on 10 December 1942, to all the Governments of the United Nations was the first official denunciation by any Government of the mass extermination and of the Nazi aim of total annihilation of the Jewish population. It was also the first official document singling out the sufferings of European Jews as Jews and not only as citizens of their respective countries of origin. [17] The report of 10 December 1942 and the Polish Government's lobbying efforts triggered the Joint Declaration by Members of the United Nations of 17 December 1942 which made public and condemned the mass extermination of the Jews in German-occupied Poland. The statement was read to British House of Commons in a floor speech by Foreign secretary Anthony Eden, and published on the front page of the New York Times and many other newspapers. [9] Additionally BBC radio aired two broadcasts on the final solution during the war which were prepared by the Polish government-in-exile. [23] This rhetoric, however, was not followed up by military action by Allied nations. During an interview with Hannah Rosen in 1995, Karski said about the failure to rescue most of the Jews from mass murder, "The Allies considered it impossible and too costly to rescue the Jews, because they didn't do it. The Jews were abandoned by all governments, church hierarchies and societies, but thousands of Jews survived because thousands of individuals in Poland, France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland helped to save Jews." [24]

During the occupation period, 3 million Polish Jews were killed. This represented 90 percent of the pre-war population and half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust. [25] Additionally the Nazis ethnically cleansed another 1.8-2 million Poles, bringing Poland's Holocaust death toll to around 4.8-5 million people. [26] [27] After the war Poland defied both the wishes of the Allied and Soviet governments, allowing Jewish emigration to Mandatory Palestine. Around 200,000 Jews availed themselves of this opportunity, leaving only around 100,000 Jews in Poland. [ citation needed ]

Portugal Edit

Portugal had been ruled from 1933 by an authoritarian political regime led by António de Oliveira Salazar which had been influenced by contemporary fascist regimes. However, it was unusual in not explicitly incorporating anti-Semitism in its own ideology. [28] In spite of this, Portugal had introduced measures to discriminate against Jewish refugees entering the country in 1938. Its rules on issuing transit visas were further tightened at the time of the German invasion of France in May–June 1940. Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the country's consul at Bordeaux, nonetheless issued large numbers of visas to refugees, including Jews, fleeing the German advance but was later officially sanctioned for his actions. [29] Throughout the war, some 60,000 to 80,000 Jewish refugees passed through Portugal. [30]

From 1941, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received information from its consuls in German-occupied Europe about the escalation of the persecution of Jews. It took limited steps to intervene on behalf of certain Portuguese Jews living in German-occupied Europe from 1943 and did succeed in saving small numbers in Vichy France and Greece. It also unsuccessfully attempted to intervene on behalf of the Portuguese Sephardic community in the German-occupied Netherlands was unsuccessful. Alongside Spanish and Swedish diplomatic missions, the Portuguese Legation in Hungary also issued papers to some 800 Hungarian Jews in 1944. [30]

Spain Edit

Francoist Spain remained neutral during the conflict but retained close economic and political links with Nazi Germany. It was ruled throughout the period by the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco which had come to power with German and Italian support during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). Paul Preston wrote that "one of Franco's central beliefs was the 'Jewish–masonic–Bolshevik conspiracy'. He was convinced that Judaism was the ally of both American capitalism and Russian communism". [31] Public Jewish religious services, like their Protestant equivalents, had been forbidden since the Civil War. [32] José Finat y Escrivá de Romaní, the Director of Security, ordered a list of Jews and foreigners in Spain to be compiled in May 1941. The same year, Jewish status was marked on identity papers for the first time. [32] [31]

Historically, Spain had attempted to extend its influence over Sephardic Jews in other parts of Europe. Many Sephardic Jews living in German-occupied Europe either held Spanish citizenship or protected status. The German occupation authorities issued a series of measures requiring neutral states to repatriate their Jewish citizens and the Spanish government ultimately accepted 300 Spanish Jews from France and 1,357 from Greece but failed to intervene on behalf of the majority of Spanish Jews in German-occupied Europe. [33] Michael Alpert writes that "to save these Jews would mean having to accept that they had the right to repatriation, to live as residents in Spain, or so it seems to have been feared in Madrid. While, on the one hand, the Spanish regime, as always inconsistently, issued instructions to its representatives to try to prevent the deportation of Jews, on the other, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Madrid allowed the Nazis and Vichy puppet government to apply anti-Jewish regulations to people whom Spain should have protected". [33] In addition, Spanish authorities permitted 20,000 to 35,000 Jews to travel through Spanish territory on transit visas from France. [34] [35]

Ángel Sanz Briz, a Spanish diplomat, protected several hundred Jews in Hungary in 1944. After he was ordered to withdraw from the country ahead of the Red Army's advance, he encouraged Giorgio Perlasca, an Italian businessman, to pose as the Spanish consul-general and continue his activities. In this way, 3,500 Jews are thought to have been saved. [36] Stanley G. Payne described Sanz Briz's actions as "a notable humanitarian achievement by far the most outstanding of anyone in Spanish government during World War II" but argued that he "might have accomplished even more had he received greater assistance from Madrid". [37] In the aftermath of the war, "a myth was carefully constructed to claim that Franco's regime had saved many Jews from extermination" as a means to deflect foreign criticism away from allegations of active collaboration between the Franco and Nazi regimes. [31]

Switzerland Edit

Of the five neutral countries of continental Europe, Switzerland has the distinction of being the only one to have promulgated a German antisemitic law. [39] (Excluding European microstates, the five European neutral states were Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.) The country closed its French border to refugees for a period from 13 August 1942, and did not allow unfettered access to Jews seeking refuge until 12 July 1944. [39] In 1942 the President of the Swiss Confederation, Philipp Etter as a member of the Geneva-based ICRC even persuaded the committee not to issue a condemnatory proclamation concerning German "attacks" against "certain categories of nationalities". [40] [41]

Turkey Edit

During World War II, Turkey was officially neutral and maintained diplomatic relations with Nazi Germany. [42] During the war, Turkey denaturalized 3,000 to 5,000 Jews living abroad 2,200 and 2,500 Turkish Jews were deported to extermination camps such as Auschwitz and Sobibor and several hundred interned in Nazi concentration camps. When Nazi Germany encouraged neutral countries to repatriate their Jewish citizens, Turkish diplomats received instructions to avoid repatriating Jews even if they could prove their Turkish nationality. [43] Turkey was also the only neutral country to implement anti-Jewish laws during the war. [44] Between 1940 to 1944, around 13,000 Jews passed through Turkey from Europe to Mandatory Palestine. [45] More Turkish Jews suffered as a result of discriminatory policies during the war than were saved by Turkey. [46] Although Turkey has promoted the idea that it was a rescuer of Jews during the Holocaust, this is considered a myth by historians. [47] [42] This myth has been used to promote Armenian genocide denial. [48]

The pontificate of Pius XII coincided with the Second World War and the Nazi Holocaust, which saw the industrialized mass murder of millions of Jews and others by Adolf Hitler's Germany. Pius employed diplomacy to aid the victims of the Nazis during the war and, through directing his Church to provide discreet aid to Jews, saved thousands of lives. [49] Pius maintained links to the German Resistance, and shared intelligence with the Allies. His strongest public condemnation of genocide was, however, considered inadequate by the Allied Powers, while the Nazis viewed him as an Allied sympathizer who had dishonoured his policy of Vatican neutrality. [50] In Rome action was taken to save many Jews in Italy from deportation, including sheltering several hundred Jews in the catacombs of St. Peter's Basilica. In his Christmas addresses of 1941 and 1942, the pontiff was forceful on the topic but did not mention the Nazis by name. The Pope encouraged the bishops to speak out against the Nazi regime and to open the religious houses in their dioceses to hide Jews. At Christmas 1942, once evidence of the industrial slaughter of the Jews had emerged, he voiced concern at the murder of "hundreds of thousands" of "faultless" people because of their "nationality or race". Pius intervened to attempt to block Nazi deportations of Jews in various countries from 1942–1944.

When 60,000 German soldiers and the Gestapo occupied Rome in 1943, thousands of Jews were hiding in churches, convents, rectories, the Vatican and the papal summer residence. According to Joseph Lichten, the Vatican was called upon by the Jewish Community Council in Rome to help fill a Nazi demand of one hundred pounds of gold. The Council had been able to muster seventy pounds, but unless the entire amount was produced within thirty-six hours had been told three hundred Jews would be imprisoned. The Pope granted the request, according to Chief Rabbi Zolli of Rome. [51] Despite the payment of the ransom 2,091 Jews were deported on October 16, 1943, and most of them died in Germany.

Upon his death in 1958, Pius was praised emphatically by the Israeli Foreign Minister and other world leaders. But his insistence on Vatican neutrality and avoidance of naming the Nazis as the evildoers of the conflict became the foundation for contemporary and later criticisms from some quarters. Studies of the Vatican archives and international diplomatic correspondence continue.

The International Committee of the Red Cross did relatively little to save Jews during the Holocaust and discounted reports of the organized Nazi genocide, such as of the murder of Polish Jewish prisoners that took place at Lublin. At the time, the Red Cross justified its inaction by suggesting that aiding Jewish prisoners would harm its ability to help other Allied POWs. In addition, the Red Cross claimed that if it would take a major stance to improve the situation of those European Jews, the neutrality of Switzerland, where the International Red Cross was based, would be jeopardized. Today, the Red Cross acknowledges its passivity during the Holocaust and has apologized for this. [52]

Évian Conference Edit

The Évian Conference was convened at the initiative of Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1938 to discuss the problem of Jewish refugees. For ten days, from July 6 to July 15, delegates from thirty-two countries met at Évian-les-Bains, France. However, most western countries were reluctant to accept Jewish refugees, and the question was not resolved. [ citation needed ] The Dominican Republic was the only country willing to accept Jewish refugees—up to 100,000. [53]

Bermuda Conference Edit

The UK and the US met in Bermuda in April 1943 to discuss the issue of Jewish refugees who had been liberated by Allied forces and the Jews who remained in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Bermuda Conference led to no change in policy the Americans would not change their immigration quotas to accept the refugees, and the British would not alter its immigration policy to permit them to enter Palestine. [54] [55]

The failure of the Bermuda Conference prompted U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, the only Jewish member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's cabinet, to publish a white paper entitled Report to the Secretary on the Acquiescence of this Government to the Murder of the Jews. [56] This led to the creation of a new agency, the War Refugee Board. [57]

In 1936, German-Japanese Pact was concluded between Nazi Germany and Japan. [58] However, on December 6, 1938, the Japanese government made a decision of prohibiting the expulsion of the Jews in Japan, Manchukuo, and the rest of Japanese-occupied China. [59] On December 31, Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka told the Japanese Army and Navy to receive Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Diplomat Chiune Sugihara granted more than 2,000 transit visas and saved 6,000 Jewish refugees from Lithuania. [60] [61]

Manchukuo Edit

General Hideki Tojo and Lt. Gen. Kiichiro Higuchi observed Japanese national policy as headquarters of the Kwantung Army against German oppositions. [62]

Nuremberg Trials Edit

The international response to the war crimes of World War II and the Holocaust was to establish the Nuremberg international tribunal. Three major wartime powers, the US, USSR and Great Britain, agreed to punish those responsible. The trials brought human rights into the domain of global politics, redefined morality at the global level, and gave political currency to the concept of crimes against humanity, where individuals rather than governments were held accountable for war crimes. [63]

Genocide Edit

Towards the end of World War II, Raphael Lemkin, a lawyer of Polish-Jewish descent, aggressively pursued within the halls of the United Nations and the United States government the recognition of genocide as a crime. Largely due to his efforts and the support of his lobby, the United Nations was propelled into action. In response to Lemkin's arguments, the United Nations adopted the term in 1948 when it passed the "Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide". [64]

Universal Declaration of Human Rights Edit

Many believe that the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust inspired the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. This view has been challenged by recent historical scholarship. One study has shown that the Nazi slaughter of Jews went entirely unmentioned during the drafting of the Universal Declaration at the United Nations, though those involved in the negotiations did not hesitate to name many other examples of Nazi human rights violations. [65] Other historians have countered that the human rights activism of the delegate René Cassin of France, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1968 for his work on the Universal Declaration, was motivated in part by the death of many Jewish relatives in the Holocaust and his involvement in Jewish organisations providing aid to Holocaust survivors. [66]


Denmark & the Holocaust

One country saved its Jews. Were they just better people?

Countrymen, Bo Lidegaard&rsquos magnificent book, states its central argument in its title. Danish Jews survived Hitler&rsquos rule in World War II, when other European Jews did not, because Danes regarded their Jewish neighbors as countrymen. There was no &ldquous&rdquo and &ldquothem&rdquo there was just us.

When, in October 1943, the Gestapo came to round up the 7,500 Jews of Copenhagen, the Danish police did not help them to smash down the doors. The churches read letters of protest to their congregations. Neighbors helped families to flee to villages on the Baltic coast, where local people gave them shelter in churches, basements, and holiday houses and local fishermen loaded up their boats and landed them safely in neutral Sweden. Bo Lidegaard, the editor of the leading Danish newspaper Politiken, has retold this story using astonishingly vivid unpublished material from families who escaped, and the testimony of contemporary eyewitnesses, senior Danish leaders (including the king himself), and even the Germans who ordered the roundups. The result is an intensely human account of one episode in the persecution of European Jews that ended in survival.

The story may have ended well, but it is a complex tale. The central ambiguity is that the Germans warned the Jews and let most of them escape. Lidegaard claims this was because the Danes refused to help the Germans, but the causation might also have worked in the other direction. It was when the Danes realized that the Germans were letting some Jews go that they found the courage to help the rest of their Jewish community escape. Countrymen is a fascinating study in the ambiguity of virtue.

The Danes knew long before the war that their army could not resist a German invasion. Instead of overtly criticizing Hitler, the Social Democratic governments of the 1930s sought to inoculate their populations against the racist ideology next door. It was in those ominous years that the shared identity of all Danes as democratic citizens was drummed into the political culture, just in time to render most Danes deeply resistant to the Nazi claim that there existed a &ldquoJewish problem&rdquo in Denmark. Lidegaard&rsquos central insight is that human solidarity in crisis depended on the prior consolidation of a decent politics, on the creation of a shared political imagination. Some Danes did harbor anti-Semitic feelings, but even they understood the Jews to be members of a political community, and so any attack on them was an attack on the Danish nation as such.

The nation in question was imagined in civic terms rather than ethnic terms. What mattered was a shared commitment to democracy and law, not a common race or religion. We can see this in the fact that Danish citizens did not defend several hundred communists who were interned and deported by the Danish government for denouncing the Danish monarchy and supporting the Hitler-Stalin pact. The Danes did nothing to defend their own communists, but they did stand up for the Jews.

The Danish response to the Nazis illuminates a crucial fact about the Holocaust: the Germans did not always force the issue of extermination where they faced determined resistance from occupied populations. In Bulgaria, as Tzvetan Todorov has shown in his aptly titled book The Fragility of Goodness, the Jews were saved because the king of Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church, and a few key Bulgarian politicians refused to assist the German occupiers. Why did a similar civic sense of solidarity not take root in other countries? In Holland, why did 80 percent of Dutch Jews perish? And what about France: why did liberty, equality, and fraternity not apply to the citizens driven from their homes by French police and sent to deportation and death? These questions become harder to answer in the light of the Danish and Bulgarian counterexamples. One possible explanation is that the German occupation&rsquos presence in Denmark was lighter than in either France or Holland. The Danes, like the Bulgarians, kept their king and maintained their own government throughout the occupation. Self-government gave them a capacity to defend Jews that was never possible in the occupied zones of France or Holland.

Both the Danish king and the Danish government decided that their best hope of maintaining Denmark&rsquos sovereignty lay in cooperating but not collaborating with the German occupiers. This &ldquocooperation&rdquo profited some Danes but shamed many others. The Danish population harbored ancestral hostility to the Germans, and the occupation reinforced these feelings. The Germans, for their part, put up with this frigid relationship: they needed Danish food, and Danish cooperation freed up German military resources for battle on the Eastern Front, and the Nazis wanted to be liked. They wanted their &ldquocooperative&rdquo relationship with Denmark to serve as a model for a future European community under Hitler&rsquos domination.

From very early on in this ambiguous relationship, the Danes, from the king on down, made it clear that harming the Jews would bring cooperation to an end and force the Germans to occupy the country altogether. The king famously told his prime minister, in private, that if the Germans forced the Danish Jews to wear a yellow star, then he would wear one too. Word of the royal position went public and even led to a myth that the king had actually ridden through the streets of Copenhagen on horseback wearing a yellow star on his uniform. The king never did wear a star. He didn&rsquot have to wear one, because, thanks to his opposition, the Germans never imposed such a regulation in Denmark.

When, in late summer in 1943, the order came down from Eichmann to the local German authorities in Copenhagen that they had to rid the city of its Jews, these authorities faced a dilemma. They knew that the Danish politicians, police, and media &ndash that Danish society as a whole &ndash would resist and that, once the cooperation of the Danes had been lost, the Germans would have to run the country themselves. The Germans in Copenhagen were also beginning to have second thoughts about the war itself. By then the German armies had been defeated at Stalingrad. While the Gestapo in Poland and Eastern Europe faced the prospect of defeat by accelerating the infernal rhythm of extermination in the death camps, the Gestapo in Denmark began to look for a way out. The local Gauleiter, a conniving opportunist named Werner Best, did launch the roundup of the Jews, but only after letting the Jewish community find out in advance what was coming, giving them time to escape. He did get his hands on some people in an old-age home and dispatch them to Theresienstadt, but all but 1 percent of the Jewish community escaped his clutches. It is an astonishing number.

When Adolf Eichmann came to Copenhagen in 1943 to find out why so many Jews had escaped, he did not cashier the local Gestapo. Instead he backed down and called off the deportations of Danes who were half-Jewish or married to Jews. Lidegaard&rsquos explanation for Eichmann&rsquos volte face is simply that the institutions of Danish society all refused to go along. And without their cooperation, a Final Solution in Denmark became impossible. Totalitarianism, not to mention ethnic cleansing and ethnic extermination, always requires a great deal of collaboration.

When they got wind of German plans in September 1943, the Danish government resigned, and no politician agreed to serve in a collaborationist government with the Germans thereafter. After the roundups of Jews were announced, leading Danish politicians of different parties issued a joint statement declaring, &ldquoThe Danish Jews are an integral part of the people, and therefore all the people are deeply affected by the measures taken, which are seen as a violation of the Danish sense of justice.&rdquo This is the political culture of &ldquocountrymen&rdquo with which Lidegaard explains the extraordinary determination &ndash and success &ndash of the Danes in protecting their Jewish population.

Such general support across Danish society seems to have empowered the Jews of Copenhagen. When the Gestapo came to search the Jewish community&rsquos offices in September 1943, the community treasurer, Axel Hertz, did not hesitate to ask the intruders, &ldquoBy what right do you come here?&rdquo The German in charge replied, quite candidly: &ldquoBy the right of the stronger.&rdquo And Hertz retorted: &ldquoThat is no good right.&rdquo Jews in Denmark behaved like rights-bearers, not like victims in search of compassion. And they were not wrong: their feeling of membership in the Danish polity had a basis in its political culture.

When the Germans arrived to begin the deportations, Jews had already been warned &ndash in their synagogues &ndash and they simply vanished into the countryside, heading for the coast to seek a crossing to neutral Sweden. There was little or no Jewish communal organization and no Danish underground to help them. What ensued was a chaotic family-by-family flight, made possible simply because ordinary members of Danish society feigned ignorance when Germans questioned them, while sheltering families in seaside villages, hotels, and country cottages. Danish police on the coast warned hiding families when the Gestapo came to call, and signaled all-clear so that boats bearing Danish Jews could slip away to Sweden. The fishermen who took the Danish Jews across the Baltic demanded huge sums for the crossing, but managed to get their frightened fellow citizens to safety.

When the Gestapo did seize Jewish families hiding in the church of the small fishing village of Gilleleje, the people were so outraged that they banded together to assist others to flee. One villager even confronted the local Gestapo officer, shining a flashlight in his face and exclaiming: &ldquoThe poor Jews!&rdquo When the German replied, &ldquoIt is written in the Bible that this shall be their fate,&rdquo the villager unforgettably replied: &ldquoBut it is not written that it has to happen in Gilleleje.&rdquo

Why did the Danes behave so differently from most other societies and populations in occupied Europe? For a start, they were the only nation where escape to a safe neutral country lay across a narrow strait of water. Moreover, they were not subject to exterminatory pressure themselves. They were not directly occupied, and their leadership structures from the monarch down to the local mayors were not ripped apart. The newspapers in Copenhagen were free enough to report the deportations and thus to assist any Jews still not in the know to flee. The relatively free circulation of information also made it impossible for non-Jewish Danes to claim, as so many Germans did, that &ldquoof this we had no knowledge.&rdquo

Most of all, Denmark was a small, homogeneous society, with a stable democracy, a monarchy that commanded respect, and a shared national hostility to the Germans. Denmark offers some confirmation of Rousseau&rsquos observation that virtue is most easily fostered in small republics.

Lidegaard is an excellent guide to this story when he sticks close to Danish realities. When he ventures further and asks bigger questions, he goes astray. At the end of his book he asks: &ldquoAre human beings fundamentally good but weak? Or are we brutal by nature, checked and controlled only by civilization?&rdquo He wants the Danish story to answer such questions, but it cannot bear such weight. There simply are no general answers to the question of why humans behave as they do in times of extremity. What Lidegaard&rsquos story really demonstrates is that history and context are all. Denmark was Denmark: that is all one can truthfully say.

Lidegaard makes the argument, in his conclusion, that had resistance been as strong elsewhere in Europe as it was in Denmark, the Nazis might never have been able to drive the Final Solution to its conclusion. He writes:

Hatred of the different was not some primordial force that was unleashed. Rather, it was a political convenience that could be used as needed, and in most occupied territories the Nazis followed their interests in pursuing this with disastrous consequences. But without a sounding board the strategy did not work. It could be countered by simple means &ndash even by a country that was defenseless and occupied &ndash by the persistent national rejection of the assumption that there was a &ldquoJewish problem.&rdquo

This strikes me as only half-right. Anti-Semitism was indeed not &ldquoa primordial force&rdquo that the Nazis simply tapped into wherever they conquered. Jews met different fates in each country the Nazis occupied &ndash or at least the rates of destruction and escape varied. But it does not follow that what the Danes did other peoples could have also done. The Germans faced resistance of varying degrees of ferocity in every country that they occupied in Europe. Where they possessed the military and police power to do so, they crushed that resistance with unbridled cruelty. Where, as in Denmark, they attempted a strategy of indirect rule, they had to live with the consequences: a populace that could not be terrorized into doing their bidding, and could therefore be counted on to react when fellow citizens were arrested and carried away.

One uncomfortable possibility that Lidegaard does not explore is that the Nazis sought a strategy of indirect rule precisely because they saw the Danes as fellow Aryans, potential allies in an Aryan Europe. This would explain why the Nazis were so comfortable in Copenhagen and so shaken by Danish resistance. The Poles they could dismiss as Untermenschen, and the French as ancient enemies but to be resisted by supposed Aryans was perversely disarming. Why else would a ferocious bureaucrat such as Eichmann melt before Danish objections to the arrest of Jews married to Danes? One paradoxical possibility is that the Nazis bowed to Danish protests because their delusional racial anthropology led them to view the Danes as members of their own family. To their eternal credit, the Danes exploited this imagined family resemblance to defy an act of infamy.

Countrymen is a story about a little country that did the right thing for complicated reasons, and got away with it for equally complicated reasons. It is a story that reinforces an old truth: solidarity and decency depend on a dense tissue of connection among people, on long-formed habits of the heart, on resilient cultures of common citizenship, and on leaders who marshal these virtues by their example. In Denmark, this dense tissue bound human beings together and indirect rule made it impossible for the Germans to rip it apart. Elsewhere in Europe, by contrast, it was destroyed in stages, first by ghettoizing and isolating the Jewish people and then by insulating bystanders from the full horror of Nazi intentions. Once Jews had been stripped of citizenship, property, rights, and social existence &ndash once they could appeal only to the common humanity of persecutors and bystanders alike &ndash it was too late.

There is a sobering message in Lidegaard&rsquos tale for the human rights era that came after these abominations. If a people come to rely for their protection on human rights alone, on the mutual recognition of common humanity, they are already in serious danger. The Danish story seems to tell us that it is not the universal human chain that binds peoples together in extremity, but more local and granular ties: the particular consciousness of time, place, and heritage that led a Danish villager to stand up to the Gestapo and say no, it will not happen here, not in our village. This extraordinary story of one small country has resonance beyond its Danish context. Countrymen should be read by anyone seeking to understand what precise set of shared social and political understandings can make possible, in times of terrible darkness, acts of civil courage and uncommon decency.


Survey finds 'shocking' lack of Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Gen Z

A nationwide survey released Wednesday shows a "worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge" among adults under 40, including over 1 in 10 respondents who did not recall ever having heard the word "Holocaust" before.

The survey, touted as the first 50-state survey of Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z, showed that many respondents were unclear about the basic facts of the genocide. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and over half of those thought the death toll was fewer than 2 million. Over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos were established during World War II, but nearly half of U.S. respondents could not name a single one.

"The most important lesson is that we can't lose any more time," said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study. "If we let these trends continue for another generation, the crucial lessons from this terrible part of history could be lost."

The Holocaust was the state-sponsored mass persecution and murder of millions of people under the Nazi regime and its collaborators. The genocide campaign targeted groups believed by Adolf Hitler's government to be biologically inferior because of anti-Semitism, homophobia or the like. Using tactics like gas wagons, concentration camps and firing squads, the regime targeted the Jewish people in particular for annihilation and killed nearly 2 of every 3 European Jews by 1945.

The lack of Holocaust knowledge demonstrated in the study is "shocking" and "saddening," said the Claims Conference, a nonprofit that works to secure material compensation for Holocaust survivors. The survey's data came from 11,000 interviews across the country, conducted by phone and online with a random, demographically representative sample of respondents ages 18 to 39. It was led by a task force that included Holocaust survivors, historians and experts from museums, educational institutions and nonprofits.

The findings raise concerns not just about Holocaust ignorance, but also about Holocaust denial. Just 90 percent of respondents said they believed that the Holocaust happened. Seven percent were not sure, and 3 percent denied that it happened. One of the most disturbing revelations, the survey noted, is that 11 percent of respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust. The number climbs to 19 percent in New York, the state with the largest Jewish population.

"There is no doubt that Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism," said Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta. "And when we fail to actively remember the facts of what happened, we risk a situation where prejudice and anti-Semitism will encroach on those facts."

Part of the problem may be social media, experts say. The survey shows that about half of millennial and Gen Z respondents have seen Holocaust denial or distortion posts online. Fifty-six percent reported having seen Nazi symbols on social media or in their communities within the past five years.

The findings come on the heels of the Claims Conference's #NoDenyingIt digital campaign, which used photos and videos of Holocaust survivors to appeal directly to Facebook to remove Holocaust denial posts. Facebook's Community Standards prohibit hate speech but do not consider Holocaust denial part of that category, despite opposite messaging from other institutions, like Congress and the State Department.

"We take down any post that celebrates, defends, or attempts to justify the Holocaust," a Facebook spokesperson said in an email. "The same goes for any content that mocks Holocaust victims, accuses victims of lying about the atrocities, spews hate, or advocates for violence against Jewish people in any way."

In countries where Holocaust denial is illegal, such as Germany, France and Poland, Facebook takes steps to restrict access in accordance with the law, the spokesperson said.

"We know many people strongly disagree with our position — and we respect that," the spokesperson said. "It's really important for us to engage on these issues and hear from people to understand their concerns. We have a team that is dedicated to developing and reviewing our policies and we welcome collaboration with industry, experts and other groups to ensure we're getting it right."

The social media debate is part of a larger reckoning over the Holocaust's place in American memory. With fewer living Holocaust survivors who can serve as eyewitnesses to the genocide and with a new wave of anti-Semitism in the U.S. and Europe, some worry that the seven-decade rallying cry "never forget" is being forgotten. Disturbingly, the majority of adults in the poll believed that something like the Holocaust could happen again, the survey found.

"When you learn the history of the Holocaust, you are not simply learning about the past," Lipstadt said. "These lessons remain relevant today in order to understand not only anti-Semitism, but also all the other 'isms' of society. There is real danger to letting them fade."

While most respondents first learned about the Holocaust in school, the survey's findings suggest that education may be incomplete. The Holocaust is associated with World War II, but 22 percent of respondents thought it was associated with World War I. Ten percent were not sure, 5 percent said the Civil War, and 3 percent said the Vietnam War.

Certain states mandate Holocaust education in school, and the majority of survey participants said the subject should be compulsory. But there was not a direct correlation between states that mandate Holocaust education and positive survey results, Schneider said.

Respondents in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Massachusetts ranked highest in Holocaust knowledge, even though those states do not require Holocaust education, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Respondents in New York, Indiana and California — which do require Holocaust education — were most likely to believe the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated, at rates higher than 20 percent of the surveyed population.

"Holocaust education is extremely local," Schneider said. "Teachers are the heroes in this story, particularly this year, where the challenges are beyond imaginable. In general, teachers can be overwhelmed in classrooms with the content and the lack of time and resources. Really, what we're trying to do is make sure proper training and resources and support is available to teachers across the country."

Eyewitness testimony is the most powerful tool available to educators, said Gretchen Skidmore, director of education initiatives at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

"There is nothing that can replace the stories of survivors in Holocaust education," Skidmore said. "It is very meaningful when you see a student listening to a survivor, hearing how individuals responded to this watershed event in human history and thinking not only what would I have done but what will I do with the choices I face today."