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Why 90 Percent of Danish Jews Survived the Holocaust

January 7, 2019 in History

By Erin Blakemore

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 , 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.

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Source: HISTORY

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