September 27, 2021

On This 28th of September 1943...


Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz

This excerpt is taken from Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman, which I highly recommend to all and everyone.

   In the headquarters of the Workers Assembly Building on 24 Romersgade in Copenhagen, [Denmark,] the Social Democratic Party leaders have all convened. A visitor in a Nazi uniform stands before them. They are staring at him in shock.

   'The disaster is at hand,' the man is saying. 'Everything is planned in detail. Ships will anchor at the mooring off Copenhagen. Those of your poor Jewish countrymen who get caught by the Gestapo will forcibly be brought on board the ships and transported to an unknown fate.'

   The speaker is trembling and pale. Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz is his name. He will go down in history as 'the converted Nazi,' and his warning will work a miracle.

   The raid was set to take place on Friday 1 October 1943, following detailed plans drawn up by the SS. At the stroke of  8 p.m., hundreds of German troops would begin knocking on doors up and down the country to round up all the Danish Jews. They would be taken to the harbor and boarded onto a ship equipped to hold six thousand prisoners.

   (...) Up until this moment there had been no discriminatory laws, no mandatory yellow badges, no confiscation of Jewish property. Danish Jews would find themselves being deported to Polish concentration camps before they knew what had hit them.

   That, at least, was the plan.

   On the appointed night, (...) the Germans discovered that the Jews had been forewarned of the raid and that most had already fled. In fact, thanks to that warning, almost 99 percent of Denmark's Jews survived the war.

(...) 'The answer is undeniable,' writes historian Bo Lidegaard. 'The Danish Jews were protected by their compatriots' consistent engagement.'

Fleeing Denmark for Sweden

   When news of the raid spread, resistance sprang up from every quarter. From churches, universities and the business community, from the royal family, the Lawyers Council and the Danish Women's National Council--all voiced their objection. Almost immediately, a network of escape routes was organized, even with no centralized planning and no attempt to coordinate the hundreds of individual efforts. There simply wasn't time. Thousands of Danes, rich and poor, young and old, understood that now was the time to act, and that to look away would be a betrayal of their country.

   'Even where the request came from the Jews themselves," historian Leni Yahil noted, 'these were never refused.' Schools and hospitals threw open their doors. Small fishing villages took in hundreds of refugees. The Danish police also assisted where they could and refused to cooperate with the Nazis. 'We Danes don't barter with our Constitution,' stormed Dansk Maanedspost, a resistance newspaper, 'and least of all in the matter of citizens' equality.'

   Where mighty Germany was doped up on years of racist propaganda, modest Denmark was steeped in humanist spirit. Danish leaders had always insisted on the sanctity of the democratic rule of law. Anybody who sought to pit people against each other was not considered worthy to be called a Dane. There could be no such thing as a 'Jewish question.' There were only countrymen.

Denmark at Liberation
   In a few short days, more than seven thousand Danish Jews were ferried in small fishing boats across the Sound separating Denmark from Sweden. Their rescue was a small but radiant point of light in a time of utter darkness. It was a triumph of humanity and courage. 'The Danish exception shows that the mobilization of civil society's humanism [...] is not only a theoretical possibility," writes Lidegaard. 'It can be done. We know because it happened.'


   In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt makes a fascinating observation about the rescue of the Danish Jews. 'It is the only case we know,' she wrote, 'in which the Nazis met with open native resistance, and the result seems to have been that those exposed to it changed their minds. They themselves apparently no longer looked upon the extermination of a whole people as a matter of course. They had met resistance based on principle, and their "toughness" had melted like butter in the sun...'

The Oresund Bridge that now links Copenhagen, Denmark, to Malmo, Sweden, was built in 1999

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