The rescue of Denmark's Jews

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Blanche Benedick

Blanche was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 20 September 1933.

Blanche and her family escaped with the help of her best friend’s parents who bravely hid them in October 1943.

They then helped Blanche & her family to arrange their escape to Sweden via fishermen’s boats. 

After the war, they returned to Copenhagen where Blanche trained to be a fashion designer.

In 1952 Blanche moved to England, married and raised a family.

 

Deportations

Despite the Danish efforts, some 500 Jews were arrested by the Germans and deported to Theresienstadt ghetto.

However, as a result of pressure from the Danish and Swedish governments, all but 51 of these Jews survived the Holocaust.

The rescue of Denmark's Jews

The story of the rescue of Denmark's Jews was unique during the Holocaust. No other country acted in such a spontaneous manner to protect its Jews.

The German Army occupied Denmark on 9 May 1940, as part of the wider invasion of Scandinavia. Very soon the Danish government reached an agreement with the Germans that enabled it and the Danish army to remain in existence. During the next three years the Danish resistance carried out many acts of sabotage and led strikes against the Nazi occupiers. Despite the German occupation no anti-Jewish legislation was enacted during these first few years.

However, in August 1943, the Germans issued the Danish government with demands to end resistance activities. The Danish government refused to meet the Nazi demands and resigned in protest. As a result, the Germans took over the administration of Denmark and initiated plans to arrest and deport Jews to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

On 28 September 1943 Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, secretly informed the resistance of the Nazi’s plans to deport the Danish Jews.

During the night of 1 October 1943, the German police began arresting Jews in all parts of the country. Many Danish organisations protested to the Nazi authorities. King Christian X expressed his objection to the German plans. The leaders of the churches published a strong protest and called upon the public to help the Jews.

The Danish people acted quickly. Jews immediately began to leave Copenhagen. With the help of the Danish people, many found hiding places in homes, hospitals, and churches. The Danish people organised a nationwide rescue effort to smuggle the Jews by sea to Sweden. Danish universities were closed for a week whilst students took part in the rescue operation.The Danish police refused to collaborate with the Germans, instead helping the Jews flee.

Swedish government

In a report to German officials in Berlin, the Swedish government offered asylum to some 7,000 Jews in Denmark. Over a two-week period Danish fishermen helped ferry 7,200 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety. They travelled firstly along the Danish coast, then across the narrow body of water separating Denmark from Sweden.