Many people have heard the story of the King of Denmark wearing the Star of David as a mark of solidarity with the Jews who lived in his country whilst under occupation. That story is an urban myth: however the real story of the Jews in Denmark is as remarkable and noteworthy.
In October 1943 the Gestapo launched raids to round up and arrest the Jews of Denmark. As with Jews in other occupied territory the intention was internment in ghettos, followed by transport to the camps.
There were in the region of 8000 Jews known to the Gestapo. Whilst some would inevitably manage to evade the Gestapo, the expectation was that the vast majority would be interred. Confidence amongst the Gestapo men sent to round up Denmark’s Jewish population must have been high: the Jews of Denmark had not been subjected to many of the degrading acts witnessed in Eastern Europe, they, relatively speaking, ought to have little to fear.
Imagine then the surprise of the Gestapo when they entered the properties and found only 300 Jews remaining in their homes. What must be one of the largest and audacious escapes of all time had taken place, right underneath the noses of the unsuspecting Gestapo.
How then, did the Jews of Denmark escape? A German Naval attache, Georg Duckwitz, had heard of the impending round up. He in turn told a leading Danish politician the news. Hans Hedtoft, the politician in question, in turn warned several leaders within the Jewish Community. A hugely risky evacuation was hastily organised. Moving by any means possible a large proportion of the Jewish population left their homes and headed for safety.
Some of the evacuees were captured and they, along with those who had not left their homes were sent to Thieresienstadt. Of these 53 perished before the fall of the Nazi regime. However, and quite remarkably, 95% of Denmark’s Jews survived the war and the Holocaust.
Life in exile for these refugees was not always pleasant. There are some personal stories of life as a refugee and recollections of the evacuation of Denmark’s Jews in this BBC Magazine article.