Manchester’s Danes mark a wartime miracle

Copenhagen-born Dovid Toron with his sons in the Prestwich shul he set up

Copenhagen-born Dovid Toron with his sons in the Prestwich shul he set up

At early-morning prayers on the eve of Rosh Hashanah in 1943, the acting Danish Chief Rabbi Dr Marcus Melchior made a shock announcement.

The Nazis occupying the country were planning to deport the entire Jewish population to concentration camps.

But the deportaton never took place. Nearly all the 8,000 Danish Jews were taken in by their non-Jewish compatriots, hidden from the Gestapo, then evacuated to safety in Sweden.

The rescue is a celebrated moment in the Holocaust, and this month its 70th anniversary will be marked in Copenhagen, Odense, Aarhus… and Manchester.

The British city is home to a little-known community of around 100 descendants of the rescued Jews who settled in the UK after the war, as well as more recent immigrants.

Father-of-four Dovid Toron was born in Copenhagen but now lives in Prestwich, where he has co-founded the only dedicated Danish synagogue thought to exist outside of Denmark. He is keenly aware of the debt his community owes to the Danes who defied the Nazis.

“I look at my children and think about what happened, and that this is why all of us are here today. Our families would have ended up Auschwitz if not for that great miracle,” he said.

The small synagogue sits above a newly-opened kosher Danish bakery. Both are signs that the small community is thriving.

Gittel Krawczynski, also born in Denmark, now lives in Salford, where a collection of Jewish books kept safe by a Copenhagen library when her family fled to Sweden, holds pride of place in her living room.

She calls Manchester’s Jewish Danes “one little family”.

“I came to Manchester for marriage. Everyone lives here for different reasons but everyone knows each other, even though we are all different ages,” she said.

For Jan Gutterman, the anniversary of the rescue is particularly poignant. He moved to Manchester following the closure of the Talmudic college founded by his father in Copenhagen, and now commutes to the Danish capital to run the family luggage business.

The Guttermans were among those who were protected by their neighbours when the Nazis came calling. On the family’s return from Sweden at the end of the war, they found their home exactly as they had left it on that Rosh Hashanah.

“Even the yom tov table was left as it was. It was expensive silverware, I’m sure, just left laid — knives, forks, with everything else,” he said.

“Of course I feel it after 70 years. I tell my children many times that if it wasn’t for the Danish people we wouldn’t be around. They saved us.”

Last week, in the first-floor synagogue in Prestwich — called Ohel Moshe after a renowned Copenhagen rabbi — 20 congregants joined Dovid Toron to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and mark the anniversary with traditional Danish songs and liturgy.

“Every Rosh Hashanah our shul in Denmark made a kiddush,” said Mr Toron. “Now we’re doing it here. We are carrying on that legacy.”

Last updated: 6:45pm, September 12 2013