Soon after the German occupation of Denmark on April 9, 1940, the Danish government reached an agreement under which the country's government and army remained under Danish control. Only the foreign affairs office was transferred to the Germans. For a number of years, the Danish Jews lived in relative tranquility. Whenever the specter of anti-Jewish legislation and persecution was raised by the Nazis, the public would express its vocal opposition. The steadfast stand on this issue by the Danish people and their government, combined with the relatively small number of Danish Jews, persuaded the Germans to defer the "Jewish question" in Denmark until after the war was won.
The status-quo changed dramatically in August 1943. Danish and Jewish resistance operations had gathered momentum and the Allies were gaining ground against the Germans. When the Danish government resigned rather than meet new Nazi demands, the German military commander declared a state of emergency and quickly moved to deport the Danish Jews to extermination camps. In response the Danish people launched a national rescue effort, smuggling Jews into hiding places and ferrying them in fishing boats to safety in Sweden. At first spontaneous and unorganized, the Danish resistance soon streamlined the rescue operations.
All the while, King Christian X expressed his firm objections to the German deportation plans and was instrumental in lending visible moral support and encouragement to his countrymen. Universities closed down to allow students to participate in the rescue efforts. From the pulpits, Danish clergy urged their congregations to help the Jews. The Danish police refused to cooperate with the Nazis in carrying out arrests and deportations. In the end, the Germans succeeded in arresting about 500 Jews and deporting them to Theresienstadt, a ghetto and concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. Even then, the Danish people sent parcels of food and provisions to their Jewish countrymen. This intense public focus quite possibly saved the Danish Jews in Theresienstadt from being transferred to Auschwitz and their imminent deaths.
The story of the Danish people uniting in peaceful resistance against the Nazis is a unique chapter in the history of the Holocaust. Today, the permanent exhibitions at Yad Vashem in Israel and at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum both include an original Danish fishing vessel that once ferried Jews to safety.
Danish Rescue Boat
Courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
This boat, named "Sunshine" (formerly "Lurifax"), was used during World War II to transport Danish refugees from German-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden. It is currently on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.