How Denmark Saved Its Jews From the Nazis

The Danes provided no assistance to the Nazis in their "Jewish campaign" in Denmark. They viewed the Jews as Danes and placed them under their protection, a story documented in "Countrymen," a new book by Danish author Bo Lidegaard. "The history of the rescue of the Danish Jews," writes Lidegaard, "is only a tiny part of the massive history of the Shoah. But it teaches us a lesson, because it is a story about the survival instinct, civil disobedience and the assistance provided by an entire people when, outraged and angry, it rebelled against the deportation of its fellow Danes."

Ten Years Documenting the Danish Resistance

Lidegaard, born in 1958, is a tall intellectual with many talents. As a diplomat, he represented his country in Geneva and Paris. After that, he served as an adviser to two succeeding Danish prime ministers and, in 2009, he organized the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen. He has been the editor-in-chief of Politiken, Denmark's large, left-liberal daily newspaper, since April 2011.

He worked on his book for 10 years. During a conversation in Hamburg, Lidegaard said that he was interested in finding out why Denmark had wanted to save the Jews -- and why the Nazis allowed them to be saved. Two men played a key role in the affair -- two German Nazis, each with his own story.

One of the Germans was named Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. He was from a merchant's family in the northern port city of Bremen and joined the Nazi Party in 1932. Duckwitz was a Nazi and an anti-Semite out of conviction. He worked for Alfred Rosenberg, one of Hitler's race ideologues, who was sentenced to death in Nuremberg in 1946 and executed.

Duckwitz gradually developed an aversion to the Nazis' brutishness and bloodlust. Because he was familiar with Denmark from his earlier days and had a fondness for the country, he went to Copenhagen in September 1939, working as a shipping expert for the German Reich's Ministry of Transport.

Germany occupied Denmark on April 9, 1940, but the protectorate was allowed to direct its internal affairs. It kept a certain amount of latitude and rejected the Nazis' demand that it introduce the death penalty and segregate Jews. The country asserted itself as much as it could.

Germany declared Denmark a model for the protectorates that Hitler intended to establish in Western Europe after the end of the war. The Nazis initially sent only 89 officials to the country, and they were responsible for 3.8 million Danes. By contrast, Berlin sent 22,000 officials to France. Unlike France, Denmark was small and had only a small Jewish population. The country also had no raw materials of importance to the war effort. Denmark supplied agricultural products to Germany, but its economic role was relatively small.

An Enemy from Within

Duckwitz wrote a manuscript describing his official and unofficial activities in Copenhagen. The document, which remains in the political archive of the German Foreign Ministry today, both complements and contradicts Lidegaard's account.

Part of Duckwitz's job was to manage German ships calling at Danish ports. He signed agreements with Danish government agencies that regulated "the reciprocal use of tonnage." He was also required to report to Berlin when the Danish underground committed acts of sabotage against ships.

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