I was a Jewish Dane who was rescued and taken to Sweden by our Resistance. German troops invaded Denmark in the early hours of April 9 1940, both in flat and indefensible Southern Jutland and at the Port of Copenhagen outside the Royal palaces.
At a meeting between the king and the prime minister, by which time 14 Danish troops had been killed, it was decided to accept the terms of surrender issued by Germany.
Our immediate acceptance, guaranteeing Germany unhindered troop movements throughout Denmark, saved our sovereignty, keeping king, parliament, police and courts intact.
Contrary to Tony Kushner’s JC review of Bo Lidegaard’s book Countrymen last month, this was not “saving democracy at the cost of collaborating with the Nazis”, even if it caused Churchill to call us, “Hitler’s canary”. Anything else would have been suicidal and futile.
Our government had requested us to go about our business as usual; yet at no time did they or the people embrace any morsel of Nazi ideology. On the contrary; the number of Danish Nazis remained infinitesimal; with only three MPs, their party never played any role in Danish politics.
In the Memorial Garden dedicated to the Danish Resistance, 3,643 plaques and plants remind us of soldiers and police killed in action, who were executed and brought home, killed in Denmark or died in concentration camps, as well as seamen and fishermen killed in “illegal work”.
Here lies our honour. They bear witness that the fight against the occupier was strong enough to cause embarrassment to our government and losses to the enemy and was far from “minuscule”. True, the fortification of Aalborg Airport by Danish labour and the supply of agricultural products to Germany was of help to the Germans, but they could have had that anyway without any cost to themselves, but at heavy cost to us.
Ultimately, the government had to come off the fence; on August 29 1943 the Germans made demands which our government could not accept without losing face. They resigned and the Germans took control of running the country. With our constitution abrogated, the way was then clear to deal with the Jews.
Without the support of all the people, who considered any action against the Jews as an attack on fellow Danes, the flight by Jews from Denmark might never have succeeded. The Germans may certainly have been less eager than in other countries to hunt Jews, but did those fleeing, and those ready to help them, know this?
Boats sailing to Sweden, when detected, were apprehended, their passengers deported, their crews punished. Lives were lost, both at sea and on land.
On the night of the raid on the Jews, October 1 1943, I was on duty as a receptionist in a suburban hotel in Copenhagen. The bell rang in the middle of the night. Opening the door, I was confronted by a Gestapo officer, accompanied by a Dane in Nazi police-aide uniform. They wanted to know whether there were any Jewish guests in the hotel. When I answered “no,” they asked whether I knew that German racial laws defined as Jews, persons with two generations of Jewish ancestors. I replied that I had heard about this, and my answer was still “no”.
After they left, I heard lorries stopping and moving off again; in the morning I became aware that these lorries held Jews, captured during the night. That morning I went into hiding; three days later I was in Sweden.
The Danes did not save democracy at the cost of our honour: our honour is certified in the Memorial Garden to the Resistance, in the thousands of ordinary people who risked and gave their lives because they wanted to show that they would have nothing to do with Nazism.