My name is Teryn Stiefel and I’m from Warren, Illinois. I’m a senior at Luther studying Nursing and Psychology.
Yesterday, we arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark to learn about Denmark’s national identity and memorialization of the Holocaust. It is important to know that around seven thousand Jews lived in Denmark before the Holocaust, and almost 99% of them survived with help from Sweden. Today, we went on a Jewish walking tour of Copenhagen to look at different landmarks that represent different aspects of Danish history.
To preface our tour, we read an excerpt from the book, Nothing to Speak Of, by Sophie Lene Bakersfield and Bjarke Følner. This book is about the experiences of Danish Jews from 1943-1945, and our section focused on memorials and memorial culture in Denmark. When looking at Danish memorials, they tend to be focused on the rescuers of the Danish refugees and the Swedes for opening up their borders for Danish Jews. However, even though there are memorials for the rescuers, there is not a memorial for the Jews who died in the attempt to flee to Sweden. We were able to see this trend among the memorials we saw today.
On the tour, we got to see monuments for King Christian IV. He invited Jews into Denmark personally in 1622 to work for him. We saw the Great Synagogue built in 1899 and the monument at Israel Square that commemorates the Danish helping the Jews during wartime. We were able to see some of Denmark’s national identity come through in these landmarks, and how they were proud of helping Jews. Along with seeing the monuments and memorials, our tour guide had a very interesting story to tell.
Our tour guide, Charlotte, is the granddaughter of someone who was involved in the Jewish Resistance. When her father was 8 years old, his family made the choice to flee to Sweden to evade the Nazis. Her grandfather chose not to go, and years later she learned that he chose to stay in Denmark so he could fight in the Jewish Resistance. He went undercover after stealing a Nazi uniform, and ended up getting caught by SS officers and passing away in one of the death marches.
Tonight, our group was invited to go to the Danish Jewish Museum for the National Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. On January 27th, 1945, during World War II, the Red Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau. To honor the millions of Jews, disabled, and other minorities that lost their lives, January 27th is now known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day or Auschwitz Day.
At this event, there were many important speakers that included David G. Marwell, director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, and Bent Melchoir. Bent survived the deportation of Danish Jews in 1943. Ambassadors from France, Sweden, and Germany were also at the event. The topic among the speakers was how this commemoration event is important so people never forget the tragic events that happened during the Holocaust. The French ambassador, François Zimeray, made the very powerful statement, “Auschwitz didn’t start with gas chambers, it started with words.” Along with the speeches, Bent Melchoir’s great granddaughter was chosen to light the candle of remembrance. This candle was the light for remembering all those who had lost their lives during the Holocaust. It also was the light of the future of mankind living together. This event as a whole was very powerful and we are lucky to have experienced such an event.