The Holocaust in Denmark

Hello friends! My name is Jen Stanley, and I'm a senior Spanish and international studies major from Ramsey, MN.

Today, our adventures continued as we awoke bright and early to travel from Poland to Copenhagen, Denmark. Each country and city we've visited has presented unique information and perspectives about our studies into the Holocaust. Denmark opens an especially new chapter in the book of World War II history.

You have probably read the statistics about Jews and other groups who were murdered during the Holocaust. Depending on the location, the numbers are in the thousands if not the millions. Yet here in Denmark, nintey-nine percent of the Jews living in the country survived. While this is certainly an uncommon story among the ones we've seen on our journey, it is important not to discount it.

Before we boarded our plane to Copenhagen, we read an article by a historian who discusses the Danish history and German occupation and the Holocaust. The author, Uffe Østergård, gives us our first look into the complexity of Danish Holocaust narratives. One idea of the article is that professional historians view the events of Denmark in a very different manner from the public citizens.

In Denmark, 99% of the small population of Jews survived the Holocaust because the Danish government was warned about impending deportation. The officials got this news to the Jewish citizens of Copenhagen. Jews then fled by fishing boat to the neighboring Sweden, which accepted them as refugees. Our guide corroborated and expanded upon this story at the Danish Jewish Museum. We learned about Denmark's peaceful occupation by the Germans in 1940. As a result of their collaboration, Danish life continued on in an almost normal manner, even--for the most part--for Jews.

You might wonder, then, why flight from Denmark was necessary, in 1943, Danes began to resist German occupation. This of course angered the Germans, and they decided to deport all Jews.

There is controversy here, our guide told us, about how Danes and the rest of the world tell the story of the flight from Denmark to Sweden. If the emphasis is on the rescue by the Danes, the Jews turn from people into objects. But when Jews are agents of their own fate, we can try to understand how difficult a choice it would be to chose to leave the home they had known and loved.

We had a chance to hear from a woman who experienced some of the difficulties we learned about from our reading, and would later hear again in our tour. Her name was Tove, and she was born in 1940 to a Jewish mother and a Christian father. She was three years old when her mother had to make the decision to flee the country to have a new life in Sweden. Tove told us that it was often difficult to keep small children quiet in the fishing boats that would transport refugees to Sweden. Sometimes, to protect the other passengers from German discovery, they would toss misbehaving children into the water.

Instead of risking this fate for her young daughter, Tove's mother allowed her to stay with a local couple in the village from which they were fleeing. Her mother said she would come back for Tove once the war was over.

We've seen so many stories about the difficulties Jews faced during the Holocaust. Even though Denmark shows us a different story, it is still important in understanding how people remember the events of World War II. I think our first day in Denmark has given us insight into the a side of the Holocaust that was difficult to fathom before: survival. I am interested to see where the rest of our journey takes us, while we study the tragedies and learn about hopeful resistance.


Jen Stanley
The outside of the Danish Jewish Museum, constructed in the 17th century.
Various documents and items needed by Jews to flee from Denmark to Sweden.