President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday opened a state visit to Denmark by praising the country for saving local Jews during World War II and laying a wreath at the memorial to the Danish underground, which helped orchestrate the operation.
Danish Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen accompanied Rivlin at the memorial, as well as survivor Salli Besiakov, who laid a second wreath.
According to a statement from the President’s Residence, “Salli was rescued as a fifteen-year-old by the efforts of the underground. In October 1943, Salli and his family left their home for a safe house in Copenhagen. His life was saved when he was taken in a fishing boat to Sweden.”
Rivlin was quoted as saying in his meeting with Besiakov that “the determination with which the Jews of Denmark were saved moves us even today.”
After the ceremony, he was slated to head to the royal palace in Copenhagen for a private meeting with Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II.
Rivlin is in Denmark at the invitation of the country’s prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the Gribskov local council and the Gilleleje church
Denmark is one of the few European countries whose Jewish population was mostly saved thanks to a grassroots effort by the local population, with Danish Jews rescued in October 1943 by local fishermen and other boat operators.
In the operation, which involved the Danish underground, some 7,200 Jews were ferried across the Oresund straits to neutral Sweden days after the Nazi occupation forces in Denmark began moving on its Jewish population.
When they returned home after the war, they discovered that their properties had been protected by their fellow Danes.
JTA contributed to this report.