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 Doris / Rescue of the Scandanavian Jews


Denmark was a country with a population who didn't pay any particular notice to the ethnicity of its citizens. The country was safe and prosperous and no one gave much thought to the growing Nazi threat to the south. Then the Nazis invaded Denmark, and the lives of many of its people changed, including that of Doris, our Danish speaker.


Doris grew up in the town of Svendborg, which was home to about ten thousand people. It was close to Germany, and ferries would go back and forth 3 or 4 an hour. Doris would sometimes ride the ferries, taking her bike with her to bike around Germany. She stopped going to Germany in 1937, when people in Denmark realized how horrible conditions had gotten there.


In November of 1938, when Doris was 14 years old, young Jewish children started coming into Denmark on Danish ferries. At that time, Doris and others she knew had no idea why the Jewish children were coming into their country. The children were between the ages of three and eleven years old, much younger than Doris. The children began coming after Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) when massive violence broke out against the Jews in Germany and Austria. When the children reached Denmark, they knew nothing of the language and culture; often they had no idea where they were going - they were terrified. In Svendborg, around 300-400 children came in. Later in 1938, people were contacted about taking in Jewish children. Doris' family took in 3 or 4 such children. Doris became good friends with some of them.


The Nazis invaded Denmark on April 9th 1940. They came first by boat, and also by air. It was unexpected - Denmark had never been invaded before. During the occupation, Doris attended college, but it was not the experience she had planned on. The Nazis controlled everything. Curfew meant being home, off the streets by 8 p.m. Failure to do so could get you arrested or even shot.


The Jews of Denmark were not especially targeted by the Nazis until October, 1943. They were considered to be protected by the Danish Constitution. King Christian the Tenth remained in the country, calling himself a prisoner of war. The Prime Minister of Denmark stated his policy was that no Jew should be made to wear the yellow star because this would violate his or her civil rights. This policy made it hard for Nazis to single out Jews for special measures because they could not easily be segregated from the general population.


In 1943 the Nazis stopped honoring Danish policy and law. They made ready to put all the Jews in Denmark into concentration camps, mostly to Buchenwald. Doris at that time barely knew anything about these camps.


Doris was surprised to find that two Jewish women lived right down the hall from her apartment in Copenhagen. She got news to tell the women to get out as fast as they could, but they refused to leave, wanting to prove to the Nazis that they weren't afraid, and that they were proud to be Jewish. Doris told them to get them out by 4 p.m., when a BBC (Freedom Council) ambulance would arrive to spirit them away; ambulances were the only civilian transportation allowed on the road. The women still refused -- Doris and a friend had to carry them kicking and screaming down to the ambulance.

Denmark had around 8,000 Jews, and the other Danish tried very hard to get them all out before the Germans could take them. Big fishing boats were used to get them away. A German man, Duckwitz, who had lived in Denmark since 1928 and was not a Nazi sympathizer, was an information gatherer for Denmark. One day Duckwitz found out that the Nazis were soon cracking down on the Jews, but no one believed him. He managed to convince the King and with his support started to look for places to relocate the Jews. He went over to Sweden asking permission to bring over some Jewish refugees, and was successful. When the German Command found out about this they were furious and redoubled their efforts to deport Jews. Out of it the Nazis only ended up getting 202 out of 8,000 Jews. The Germans also tried to scuttle the ships. They sunk many, but 9 ended up getting away.


The actual rescue of the Jews was unique. Many of them made it over to Sweden where they were assimilated into the population. Fishing boats were the only kind of naval vessel permitted on the water, and these were used to carry the refugees. The Germans started getting suspicious and began to search the fishing boats with dogs; but the boat captains had countermeasures for this -- they would soak numbing drugs into handkerchiefs and let the dogs inhale the fumes, so their scenting abilities would be impaired. Another captain pretended to be drunk, and went about shouting, "Sure, my boat's full of Jews!" and in this manner put the Germans at ease.


There was the continual problem of being given away by the crying and noises of small children hiding on the boat. Finally Danish doctors came on board and gave the children sleeping drugs so they would be sure not to make any noise.


Many Jews escaped to Sweden this way and started rebuilding their lives. In conclusion, Doris lived through the German Occupation and eventually left Denmark. She settled in the United States, where she now lives happily.


Fact: Denmark was the only country invaded by the Nazis who made any concerted effort to save its Jews.


Related Resources for this Speaker:


The Path of the Righteous: Gentile Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust

Paladiel, Mordecai. KTAV Publishing, 1993.



Rescue in Scandanavia

55 minutes



 Map of Denmark: