Though a very small minority group, the Jewish people in Denmark have made significant contributions to the economic, political, cultural and scientific development of Denmark. And the rescue of the Jews during World War II is an important chapter in both Jewish and modern Danish history.
The first arrivals
The first Jews arrived in Denmark at the invitation of King Christian IV (1588-1648). Aiming to propel trade and economic growth, the King gave the Sephardic Jews – the majority of whom were successful merchants from Amsterdam and Hamburg – extensive trading privileges and freedom from religious persecution. Prominent Jews held high ranking positions, including physician to the royal family and governor of the Danish West Indies.
The Yiddish wave
In the early part of the 20th century, over 10,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe passed though Copenhagen. Most of them were on their way to the United States. However, about 3,000 stayed – they did not have sufficient funds to complete the last leg of their planned journey. The “new Jews” were poor. They spoke Yiddish and lived in close quarters in the poorest neighborhoods of Copenhagen. Many of the Russian Jews were socialists, Zionists or ultra orthodox Jews.
The well-established middle and upper-class Jews in Copenhagen were afraid that this new wave of Jews arriving would negatively impact their smooth relationship with the general Danish population. They collected money to help the poorest Jews and worked to integrate the new Jews into Danish Jewish society.