Copenhagen, Denmark. The name conjures images of Hans Christian Andersen, Tivoli Gardens, cutting edge design, and refined culture. And then, for some, it recalls a daring rescue – and an indigenous population who risked everything to help their neighbors.
The legacy of the Danish Jewish community, rescued from the clutches of the Nazi occupying force, is intimately connected with the Denmark of today and the history of this Nordic land.
While Denmark was occupied by the Germans from April 9, 1940, the Jews in Denmark were to a great extend allowed to carry on with their ordinary lives until 1943 when the collaboration between the Danish government and the occupying force ended. In 1943, Danish politicians - tipped off by a brave employee at the German Embassy - warned the Jewish community that the Nazis planned a mass deportation of the community, and events unfolded rapidly thereafter.
On Rosh Hashanah 1943, September 29, Rabbi Melchior urged his congregants to go into hiding and plan an escape to nearby neutral Sweden. The greater Danish population sprang into action, smuggling nearly all of Denmark’s Jews to Sweden on fishing boats.
Approximately 7,200 Danish Jews were smuggled to Sweden and went on to spend years in exile. Nearly 500 Danish Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. 53 died in the camp, but most survived and returned with The White Busses in April 1945.