Israeli and Danish dignitaries on Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of the daring rescue of more than 7,000 Jews from Denmark by boat to neighboring Sweden during World War II.
President Reuven Rivlin and Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen paid tribute to the events in 1943 in ceremonies at the small fishing town of Gilleleje, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Copenhagen.
“The rescue of the Jews of Denmark is a remarkable event in the history of the Holocaust, a bright light in the darkest time in human history. Denmark is a shining example of a country that stood at the side of its Jewish community during the Holocaust. The Jewish people and the state of Israel will never forget that,” Rivlin said.
Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany from April 1940 to May 1945, and it’s one of the few European countries whose Jewish population was largely saved from the Holocaust.
About 7,200 Jews, or 95 percent of Denmark’s Jewish population, and some 700 of their non-Jewish relatives managed to escape by crossing the narrow waterway from Gilleleje and other coastal spots to neutral Sweden in a risky rescue mission between September and October 1943.
Rivlin and Rasmussen laid wreaths at the town’s port Thursday, before attending a ceremony at Gilleleje’s 16th-century church.
Some 80 Jews were hidden in the church’s attic while waiting for maritime transportation.
“The rescue of the Jews of Denmark must always remind us that we, individuals and nations, do not just follow orders. We always have the ability to choose,” Rivlin said during the visit.
“The courage, the bravery, the humanity and the solidarity of so many Danish people and the Danish resistance stood as a firm wall between the Jews of Denmark and the Nazi death machine. When people in Europe were asked why they didn’t help their fellow Jews, they often said, ‘What could we have done?’ When those brave Danes were asked about why they helped the Jews, they replied ‘How could we have done anything else? It was our duty as humans.”
The two-week rescue mission was planned and carried out largely by local authorities and the Danish underground resistance movement. It was made possible after a tip on Nazi raids on Jews from Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat and attache based in Copenhagen who’s still referred by Danes as “the good German.”
About 500 Jews were arrested in the Nazi raids and deported to concentration camps.