October 1 marked the 75th anniversary the rescue of over 7,000 Danish Jews from Nazi persecution.
While the Nazis were taking over Europe, exterminating 6 million out of the total 8-9 million European Jews, Danish Jews also started being rounded up in 1943.
The Danish king, Christian X, made it clear that no racial legislation or discriminatory measures would be accepted in Denmark. Its Jewish population was accordingly neither registered nor forced to wear the yellow Star of David as Jews were in other countries, and they were largely left untouched by Nazi officers. In late 1942, Denmark was officially declared ‘enemy territory’.
The following year, the Nazis began to prepare a military raid in order to round up, incarcerate and deport the approximately 8,000 Jews living in Denmark to the east. Special SS commando groups were flown in, boats brought to the ports, and trucks were driven in to prepare to relocate the Jews.
When the news about the imminent deportation of the Jews leaked from the German Embassy, the Danes reacted immediately, spreading the information to warn their Jewish friends and neighbours.
As telephones were tapped and could not be used for communication of secret information, people had to deliver the warnings in person. Many took time off work in order to spread the news and provide the Danish Jews with a place to hide at if necessary.
On 23 September 1943, the Nazi plan kicked into action. Gestapo trucks drove through the streets to arrest the Jews of Denmark, although the police refused to collaborate with the Nazi officers.
By that time, most of the Jews were gone, and the Gestapo only managed to apprehend 202 mostly elderly people who had not managed to go into hiding in time.
For the first time, the Nazis’ ‘Final Solution’ had failed solely due to action taken by the general population. But Hitler was not ready to give up yet and began to prepare a second attempt.
Plans to save their Jewish countrymen were quickly drawn up and followed through by the Danish Resistance. Using trolleys, buses, taxis and even funeral corteges or ambulances, Jews were transported to hiding places such as Køge and Gilleleje in Zealand, where they were hidden.
That night, the Nazis carried out a raid across Denmark to arrest its Jewish inhabitants. Having been warned prior to the attack, most of the Jews, however, had already managed to escape to Sweden, mostly by sailing across the sea in fishing boats.
7,220 Jews – an estimated 95 percent of Denmark’s Jewish population – and 680 non-Jewish family members successfully managed to escape to politically-neutral Sweden.
Marking the 75th anniversary of this unique example of benevolence and valour amidst the period of the Holocaust in which Denmark stood alone as the only Nazi-occupied nation to collectively protect its Jews, the Ministry of State, Gilleleje Kirke and Gribskov Municipality will host a memorial ceremony at Gilleleje Kirke on 11 October.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, representatives of the Jewish community in Denmark as well as other specially invited members will attend the ceremony. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and President Rivlin will lay a wreath at the port of Gilleleje, from which many Jews sailed to Sweden
In memory of the events, PM Rasmussen called the rescue of the Danish Jews a central part of Denmark’s history and emphasised the importance of remembering and learning from the past.
“The courage that Danish citizens showed 75 years ago still moves me today,” he said.
“This 75th anniversary is a reminder of the key values that form the basis of our joint society.”