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Saving Danish Jews

The Danes had bargained with the Nazis that under occupation no Danish Jews were to be harmed or removed from the country. In September 1943 this deal was reneged on, after the Nazis seized power from the Danish government and Hitler sent a message to his representative in Copenhagen instructing him to rid Denmark of its 8,000-strong Jewish community.

 

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Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was one of the Nazis’ most trusted diplomats and attachés in occupied Denmark. Born in Germany in 1907, he had fallen in love with Denmark in his mid-twenties and moved there. Duckwitz took it upon himself to fly to Germany to intercept the communiqué but he arrived too late. 

Returning to Copenhagen he witnessed the German police preparing for the removal of Danish Jews. Duckwitz travelled to neutral Sweden where he convinced the Swedish government to suggest they should intern Danish Jews there. They received no response, however. 

The Nazis’ plan was to round up Danish Jews on 1 October, or Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. German ships harboured in preparation for the removal task. 

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was instrumental in saving the lives of Denmark's Jewish population, 95% of whom survived the war.

On 29 October Jews were warned to hide after Duckwitz warned Danish politicians of the Nazis’ plan. Over the next few days, as bomb attacks rocked the Nazis all over Denmark, Danes would shelter, protect and smuggle their Jewish countrymen and women to Sweden. 

Jews were collected from safehouses and smuggled in taxis and ambulances to fishermen waiting for them in the same harbour as the Nazi ships. The fishermen made more than 700 trips across the Oresund, the strait of water that connects Denmark to Sweden. 

Eventually, only 481 Danish Jews were arrested by police and transported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp: over 95% of Danish Jews survived. In an act of ‘cold politeness’, in the midst of war, Danes inundated the occupation authorities with thousands of enquiries as to the whereabouts and health of their countrymen and women. 

The Danish government also sent food and medicine parcels for the Jewish prisoners, while fellow Danes were encouraged to clean and tidy the homes and water any plants of absent Jews.

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