flying through clouds of uncertainty on wings of existential dread
‘All Gregorian And Shit’ is my new band name. So if you haven’t spent the last day or so eating brisket and tsimmes and challah with honey and apples with honey and, hell, at some point I think I accidentally dipped brisket in honey, you should go find a nice Jewish family and fix that, stat. Don’t worry, they’ll have leftovers. If you are made uncomfortable by Jew-y stuff, you should tap out now and come back tomorrow for your regularly scheduled non-denominational cartoons. He’s worried it might not be enough. He should make two more, maybe?
So yesterday evening our Rabbi gave a really wonderful sermon the other night about the 27th psalm and an, unfortunately, little-known story from the Holocaust. Like a lot of kids, I learned that, when the Nazis invaded Denmark and tried to force the Jews to wear yellow stars (so we could be easily identified and killed or deported, of course), King Christian X put on a yellow star himself, and nearly the entire country followed suit. Unfortunately, that story turns out not to be true, although it seems to have served as a diplomatic mask for an even better story that couldn’t be told at the time.
I don’t want to mess up any details, so this is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
‘On September 8, 1943, SS General Werner Best, the German civilian administrator in Denmark, sent a telegram to Adolf Hitler to propose that the Germans make use of the martial law provisions to deport the Danish Jews. Hitler approved the measure nine days later. As preparations proceeded, Best, who had second thoughts about the political consequences of the deportations, informed Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German naval attaché, of the impending deportation operation. Before the final order for deportation came to Copenhagen on September 28, Duckwitz, along with other German officials, warned non-Jewish Danes of the plan. In turn, these Danes alerted the local Jewish community.
In the intervening days, Danish authorities, Jewish community leaders, and countless private citizens facilitated a massive operation to get Jews into hiding or into temporary sanctuaries. When German police began the roundup on the night of October 1, 1943, they found few Jews. In general, the Danish police authorities refused to cooperate, denying German police the right to enter Jewish homes by force, or simply overlooking Jews they found in hiding. Popular protests quickly came from various quarters such as churches, the Danish royal family, and various social and economic organizations. The Danish resistance, assisted by many ordinary Danish citizens, organized a partly coordinated, partly spontaneous rescue operation.
Resistance workers and sympathizers initially helped Jews move into hiding places throughout the country and from there to the coast; fishermen then ferried them to neutral Sweden. The rescue operation expanded to include participation by the Danish police and the government. Over a period of about a month, some 7,200 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives traveled to safety in Sweden, which accepted the Danish refugees. Boat transports did not stop once the Jewish refugees were safely in Sweden: some continued to bring members of the underground resistance movement to Sweden or smuggle Swedish intelligence agents into Denmark.
Despite the rescue efforts, the Germans seized about 470 Jews in Denmark and deported them to the Theresienstadt ghetto in occupied Czechoslovakia. Most of the deportees were German or eastern European refugees. Despite the fact that many of those deported were not Danish citizens, the Danish authorities and the Danish Red Cross vocally and insistently demanded information on their whereabouts and living conditions. The vigor of Danish protests likely deterred the Germans from transporting these Jews to killing centers in German-occupied Poland. The SS authorities at Theresienstadt even allowed Danish prisoners to receive letters and some care packages. The Danish Red Cross was a key driving force behind the request of the International Red Cross to visit and inspect Theresienstadt, first made in the autumn of 1943. After the Reich Security Main Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt; RSHA) authorized the visit, a Danish Red Cross representative accompanied International Red Cross officials during their visit in June 1944.
Danish Jews remained in Theresienstadt, where dozens of them died, until 1945. In late April of that year, German authorities handed the Danish prisoners over to the custody of the Swedish Red Cross. Virtually all of the refugees returned to Denmark in 1945. Although a housing shortage required some of them to live in shelters for a few months, most found their homes and businesses as they had left them, since the local authorities had refused to permit the Germans or their collaborators in Denmark to seize or plunder Jewish homes.
In total, some 120 Danish Jews died during the Holocaust, either in Theresienstadt or during the flight from Denmark. This relatively small number represents one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any German-occupied European country.’
Our Rabbi actually met the grandson of Rabbi Marcus Melchior, who helped lead the escape. His grandson, Rabbi Michael Melchior, serves in the Knesset as a voice for peace and reconciliation.
One more bit of story – Sweden was not originally on board with accepting so many Jewish refugees. One of the Danes fleeing to Sweden was Neils Bohr, whom the US desperately wanted flown out immediately to take part in the Manhattan Project. Bohr was let into Sweden immediately, but refused to board the plane for America until his fellow Jews were safely in Sweden.
Heroic people, yes?
You’re probably familiar with Psalm 27 (it starts, ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?), but in talking about the Holocaust the line ‘When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh’ rings horribly true. It helps to remember that people like the Danes were there to stand with us against them.
There’s also a beautiful song by Fred Small called ‘Denmark, 1943’ that our Rabbi played for us – I highly recommend it, but I can’t find an online version to link y’all to. Pandora has it, I believe — it’s worth a listen.