Today is the 60th anniversary of the initiation of the nazi German storm on Danish Jews. Denmark had at that time been nazi occupied territory for three and a half years.
The Reichsarmee managed to catch 481 Danish Jews who were immediately sent off to the KZ
camp in Teresienstadt (now Teretzin in Czech Republic).
Rumors spread like lightnings throughout the society and in the following few days 7,000 Danish Jews managed to escape to non-nazi-occopied Sweden where they staid until the end of the war. Most of these 7,000 people escaped in small groups of just a few people on very small fishing boats during nighttime.
Especially the small fishing village Gilleleje some 40 miles north-west of Copenhagen became know for this escape.
This "event" has become a major thing of history, of course mostly in Denmark, Israel, and among Jews in general.
In Israel the subject is quite simple: This is simply the proof that there are non-Jews who were willing to put own life at ultimate risk in order to save Jewish life. I know because I have discussed the subject with Jews in Israel. Hell, it is impossible not to discuss that when you are in Israel and they learn that you are Danish.
Of course I learned about it at school, and I assumed that this was just a minor part of Danish history. But over a beer in a bar the Israelis told me a hundred times more.
Here in Denmark the subject is regarded somewhat more complicated by history. During the first two or three years after the war it made all Danes half a foot taller - "we" had done something humanitarian when we had to. And we hadn't failed. But the hangover came soon.
It was "discovered" that some fishermen had accepted payments up to several hundred dollars (thousands of 2003-dollars) per "passenger" to Sweden. And "earned" a whole year's income or more in one night!
Historians have treated this subject very intensively, and still do. Today the generally accepted truth is like this:
Several hundred fishermen along the Danish coasts were involved. They were all sorts of people. A few of them were greedy. And a few were real patriots who were conscious that they were involved in a great humanitarian act. But most of the fishermen were absolutely ordinary citizens who did the job because they were told that it was needed and they were the people who owned the boats.
There are many scary stories about fishing boats which barely escaped German patrol boats on their journey to Sweden, even if - as far as known - all of them made the trip safely. The truth is maybe that the German patrol boats were manned by 15-16 years old boys who were just as scared as the Jewish refugees, thinking that the refugee boats were armed by Danish partisans. They were not. Real German troops were badly needed somewhere else.
It is, however, also a historic fact that not one single Danish fisherman gave away a Jew to the nazis, for which he could (also) have collected a substantial fee.
One month later in early November 1943 Adolf Eichmann visited the supreme German commander in Denmark Dr. Werner Best and discussed how "badly" the "collection" of Jews had been performed in Denmark compared to other occupied countries, Netherlands, Norway, France etc.
Dr. Werner best must have had good excuses, because he kept his job until the end of the war when he served a short jail sentence for his war crimes, not nearly as long as several much worse nazi officers in his command.
The rescue of the Danish Jews is one of the quite small WWII events which will keep historians and other interested people busy for hundreds of years to come. Mainly because it has been used to describe character of mankind by two rather small, but well defined groups of people, the Jews and the Danes. And it is quite complicated in that respect at all parties involved, Jews, Danes and the nazis, or rather the nazi command in nazi occupied Denmark.
It happened today 60 years ago.