Hvem reddede de danske jøder?
Who saved the Danish Jews?
On 9 April 1940, Denmark was occupied by Germany without significant Danish resistance. It was the start of a so-called ”peaceful occupation”, during which the Danish government wrapped itself in a naïve illusion of neutrality based on the hope that Hitler would keep his promise to respect Denmark’s independence and refrain from interfering in the occupied country’s internal affairs. One important reason for this naïve belief was the fact that the anticipated and dreaded German persecution of the Danish Jews was, for the first 3½ years of occupation,restricted to political and financial support for the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Danish Nazi party.
On several occasions, however, it was conveyed from Berlin that the Danes, too, would sooner or later have to make up their minds about the Jews. This message was undoubtedly to be taken seriously, but the Germans disagreed among themselves as to the best time to launch their persecution of the Jews. The German embassy in Copenhagen – led first by Cecil v. Renthe Finck and later by Werner Best – realized that the exploitation of Danish industries and agriculture could be forced through at much lower costs to Germany, in terms of sending in army and police forces to fight down an active resistance on the part of the Danes, if persecution of the Jews was postponed until after the expected German victory.
This was v. Ribbentrop’s policy, but not Himmler’s. He desired instant action. During spring and summer 1943 the Danish people’s dissatisfaction with the Danish government’s policy of collaboration had grown to open revolt, which on 29 August provoked a German ultimatum, demanding, among other things, that captured Danish resistance men be sentenced to death and executed by the Danish authorities. The ultimatum was rejected, and the government resigned. The Danish army was disbanded, the Danish fleet sank itself, and collaboration with the Danish police disintegrated.
In September 1943 the scattered resistance organizations came together to form a collective resistance movement led by a self-proclaimed illegal Freedom Council, whose position was at first quite weak. Who were they? What did they stand for? What had they achieved in the past? The motives for offering resistance were not unequivocal. The motive of patriotic and anti-Nazi views was perhaps shared by most active participants; but the struggle for parliamentary democracy was a more ambiguous goal, separating communists and members of the party Dansk Samling (Danish Unity) from other resistance men.
It was here that the Germans made their biggest mistake, when they began their persecution of the Jews in October 1943. In the face of this challenge, the fight for human rights became a common goal for many old and new participants in the resistance. The Freedom Council did not have a chance to make an independent effort for the Jews; but the popular revolt and the cooperation with England (SOE) formed the basis for a joint resistance effort, which, under the leadership of the Freedom Council, developed in the course of autumn 1943.
Some historians will likely disagree with the author of this article on his placing the rescue of the Danish Jews as part of the development and significance of the Resistance Movement. However, unlike these historians, the author has not just read about the events of that time, but taken an active part in them himself.