How Denmark Saved Its Jews From the Nazis

Duckwitz promptly notified his Danish informants in the government, among the Social Democrats and within the Jewish community. He traveled to Sweden and told Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson what was about to happen. The Swedish government instructed its envoy in Copenhagen to freely issue passports to Danish Jews and made preparations to accept refugees at home.

The "Jewish Campaign" began on the night of Oct. 1. The German security forces consisted of 1,300 to 1,400 police officers, together with Danish volunteers and the Schalburg Corps, an SS unit consisting of Danes. Several hundred Jews fell into their hands, and 202 were designated for deportation and taken, along with 150 Danish communists, to the Wartheland, a ship with the capacity to hold 5,000 passengers.

Neither the German Wehrmacht nor the police "proved to be especially eager to help the Gestapo hunt down the Danish Jews," writes Lidegaard. The campaign was declared over at 1 a.m., and Best wrote in his report to Berlin that Denmark had been "de-Jewed."

"De-Jewed?" One can hardly assume that the Nazis failed to notice that only a few hundred people had been transported on the large ship, while at the same time, thousands of Jews were fleeing to the coast in order to escape to Sweden. It is also difficult to imagine that Duckwitz's conspiratorial activities remained completely unnoticed in Berlin. So why didn't the Nazis do anything about it?

Denmark simply wasn't that important to them, Lidegaard said during the conversation in Hamburg. Besides, he added, the Nazis knew that the Danes would protect their Jews from mass deportation. They had opted to present Denmark to the world as a model protectorate, so they decided for once to dispense with violent reprisals.

Aftermath

What about Duckwitz and Best? Lidegaard believes they acted in the knowledge that Berlin had only a moderate interest in Denmark. One of the oddities of the Danish situation, he says, is that Adolf Eichmann traveled to Copenhagen in November 1943 and expressed his satisfaction with the "Jewish Campaign."

In the end, 7,742 Jews were able to flee to Sweden across the Baltic Sea. Each of the refugees received government support in Sweden if it was needed. The Danish government also advocated on behalf of those who had been deported. After negotiations with Himmler, 423 Danes were released from the Theresienstadt concentration camp in early 1945.

How many Danish Jews were killed? An estimated 70, or one percent of the country's Jewish population at the time. Denmark is a shining exception in the history of the European Holocaust.

Both Best and Duckwitz survived the war in Copenhagen. Best was arrested, testified in the Nuremberg War Crimes trial and was later extradited to Denmark. The Copenhagen Municipal Court sentenced him to death on Sep. 20, 1948, but in appeal proceedings his sentence was reduced to 12 years in prison. He was given credit for his behavior in the fall of 1943, and in response to pressure from the new German government in Bonn, he was released on Aug. 24, 1951.

After that, he worked in the office of Ernst Achenbach, a politician with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), for the rehabilitation of former Nazis. He provided the defense with exonerating material in many Nazi trials without making an appearance himself.

Honor, Dishonor

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