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The Righteous Among the Nations: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust

jan peczkis|Thursday, August 16, 2012

This large book contains few-page testimonies each of over a hundred rescuers of Jews of assorted nationalities. The rescuers' accounts are listed alphabetically by name. There is also an index in which the rescuers are sorted by nationality. The rescuers represented are not according to frequency of rescuers overall by nationality. (As of January 1, 2012, there are more Polish rescuers than that of any other nationality, even though the number of eastern European rescuers is strongly undercounted. And no, the abundance of Polish rescuers does not follow from the abundance of Polish Jews. To the contrary: Unlike the situation in western Europe, all but a small percentage of Polish Jews had been locked away by the Germans in ghettos, where they were beyond the reach of otherwise Polish rescuers).

This book presents insight into the rescue of over 7,000 Danish Jews (apart from being located, across a narrow strait, from a nation whose neutrality the Germans continued to respect), and the very unusual circumstances that allowed this to happen--circumstances not even imagined in brutally German-occupied Poland. Despite invading Denmark in April 1940, the Germans let Denmark function as a semi-sovereign state. The Danish king, parliament, and even its small navy and army, were left alone. Jews, until late 1943, were also left alone. (p. 105).

It does not appear that the Nazis ever intended to destroy Denmark's Jews. Once the Germans finally re-entered Denmark, they did not shoot the Jews or send them to the death camps. The 475 non-rescued captured Jews were shipped to the "showcase" concentration camp at Theresienstadt in German-occupied Bohenia. Here they were treated better than other Jews, at least in part because the Germans listened to the entreaties of Danish officials. (p. 470). [In contrast, Polish clergy who begged the Germans for mercy towards the Jews were all curtly rebuffed, and threatened with death if they persisted.] Unlike many other Jews at Theresienstadt, most if not all of the captured Danish Jews were not eventually sent to Auschwitz for gassing. In fact, 422 of the 475 captured Danish Jews survived the war. (p. 470).

Even the German apprehension of fugitive Danish Jews was a decidedly less serious undertaking than its counterpart in German-occupied Poland. Caught Polish rescuers were almost always shot on the spot along with the fugitive Jews. Danish fisherman caught in the process of loading their boats with fugitive Jews were but imprisoned for a few weeks. (p. 473). Even when the Germans eventually captured Henry Thomsen, the ringleader of the Danish rescue operation, the Germans did not execute him. They sent him to Neuengamme camp in northern Germany, where he lived for over a year before dying from maltreatment. (p. 474).
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