A Danish boat to freedom – The boat that saved 11 Jews in Denmark

Medical student Abraham Steinbock shared the 25-foot fishing boat with his brother, sister, parents, another Jewish family of six – the Altmans – a police officer, a fisherman and 700 kg of eels. They did not turn on the motor until they were well clear of Danish soil, out in Øresund Sound and after a close run in with a German frigate. The 23-year-old Steinbock was fleeing the Nazis around the time of Rosh Hashanah 1943, with the news from Copenhagen getting worse by the day.

The 11 souls on that boat were a mere handful of the 8,000-10,000 Danish Jewish who escaped to Sweden. Some 500-1,000 of the remaining Jews were sent to Theresienstadt. In Steinbock’s memoirs he mentions the many Danes who helped him and his family live to tell the tale.

That boat, purchased by the Steinbocks and the Altmans, is now one of the centerpieces of The Museum of Danish Resistance. The Copenhagen museum celebrates the selflessness of the Danish population and in particular the bravery of the country’s resistance movement.

“Not only resistance fighters but a lot of ordinary Danish families helped many Jews escape during the war,” says Museum curator Mette Boritz. “Right up until October 1, 1943, the Jews had ordinary status in the country, but that’s when the Germans started taking the Jews to the concentration camps.”

The museum was rebuilt after an arson fire in 2013. Thankfully, the artifacts and records were not lost, though some required restoration work. No one was injured. Just days after the conflagration, the Danish government committed to rebuild the museum, bringing it firmly into the 21st century.

“After that our work really began,” says Boritz. “A lot of young people don’t know the story. They don’t have parents and grandparents who remember. So we want to tell the story to a young generation.”

Since its reopening in July 2020, more than 37,000 people visited in the period prior to COVID-19 lockdown. That included 50 school classes.

That having been said, the museum is not suitable for very young children because of the nature of the subject matter.

The exhibits, all in English, are also aimed at foreign tourists because they too, more often than not, are unfamiliar with the story of Denmark’s Jews and the country’s World War II heroes.

Your main “guides” through the relatively small 800 sq.m. building are five historical characters who tell their stories and share the moral dilemmas they faced. You also get the opportunity to try to print illegal magazines, tap phone conversations and decode the codes of the Germans.

“People tend to spend two to three hours with us because while the museum is small, the stories and objects are amazing,” says Boritz. “We tell the stories of the people, of the resistance fighters. Not only can you follow the five main characters, but you can also listen to stories like that of Steinbock’s boat that sailed to Sweden.

“It must be said,” wrote Steinbock in his memoir that his daughter Aviva shared with the museum, “The Danish Jews had their fellow countrymen to thank that the majority of them managed to flee to Sweden. Good Danes spontaneously rose to the occasion when they learned of the imminent Nazi persecution of Denmark’s Jewish population. While Jews were persecuted in the rest of Europe, Danes stood their ground and did not allow it to happen in Denmark. Denmark thus became unique, the exception. Help organizations sprung up in many places and, with great courage and risk to themselves, often organized escapes right under the very noses of the Germans.”

The museum is centrally located in Copenhagen between the Queen’s Castle and The Little Mermaid.

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