Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Nazis, the Jews and the Danish People

The Nazis, the Jews and the Danish People
I recently read a children’s book “Number the Stars,” and was introduced to a story I had not heard of, or if I had heard of it I had forgotten.  Denmark was occupied by Germany from 1940-1945.  During this time, the Danish government was allowed to remain in place, supervised by Germany.  The Germans planned to relocate the Jewish people of Denmark on Oct 1, 1943.  A German maritime attaché Georg Duckwitz leaked this information to the Danish government.  Two days before the move, the Jewish people were informed of these plans.  Ships were in the harbor waiting to take them.   However, when the day came the Nazis were frustrated. 
The Jewish people were hidden by their neighbors.  There was a deep sense among the Danish people that it was wrong to treat others differently because of their ethnicity.  There was a resistance movement in place, that helped with this, however many different people were heroes in this effort.  The fishermen of Gilleleje transported at least a quarter of those who escaped in their boats to Sweden.  They would hide in the hulls of the ships, behind false walls.  There were over 7000 Jews in Denmark, and less than 500 of them were captured by the Nazis and removed. 
The author of the book, “Number the Stars,” Lois Lowry, tells the story of how several of the Jewish families were found in the boats using dogs.  When this happened the scientist of Denmark developed a solutions, using a handkerchief and which the put rabbits blood and cocaine.  The rabbit’s blood would attract the dogs’ attention.  They would then sniff closely and the cocaine would affect their olfactory senses such that they were unable to detect the people hidden in the hulls of the boats. 
Those of the Danish Jews who were relocated, were not forgotten by the Danish people.  They followed them and provided food shipments and medicines and vitamins.  They wrote to government officials asking for their return, and made sure they were not lost.  As such, very few of them were actually executed.  Most of them were able to return home at the end of the war.
Lowry also talked about the resistance movement in Denmark, mostly young people.  One of the characters in the book is based on a young man, Kim Malthe-Bruun who was caught and executed by the Nazis when he was 21.  He wrote a letter to his mother before he was killed. 
…and I want you all to remember—that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one.  That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to, and with pleasure feel he is a part of—something he can work and fight for.
I feel I have learned something from these people of Denmark.  That there is a time to take a stand and say “no” to evil.

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