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The Danes Saved More Than 7,000 Jews . . . Would We?

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said philosopher George Santayana, and in a time when presidential candidates are repeating the behaviors of Hitler and Nazi Germany, we would be wise to study the profound examples of resistance to intolerance and extremism. There are many notable examples, and among them, Danish resistance shines.

The Danish resistance to Nazi occupation contains many chapters, each with dazzling tactics and creative solutions. There is none more jaw-dropping, however, than theDanish people’s rescue of 7,220 of their 7,800 Jews. On September 28th, 1943, Nazi occupation forces intended to arrest the entire Jewish population of Denmark and transport them to concentration camps. Word of the plan leaked, however, and thousands of Danes hid the Jews in their homes. Fishermen ferried the Jews across the ocean to nearby Sweden, saving all but a few hundred people.

The rescue was facilitated by a few factors: a German diplomat, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, not only leaked the warning of the round-up, he had also attempted earlier to secure asylum for the Danish Jews in Sweden. Also, the Jewish population of Denmark was held in high regard, and fully integrated into society. The Nazis’ earlier attempts to discriminate against the Jews had been roundly rebuffed by the Danes. When the orders of the round-up occurred, Danish citizens saw it as an affront to all Danes, and mobilized to protect their fellow countrymen and women.

The question this raises for us, as American citizens, is would we do the same? During World War II, we allowed our fellow citizens of Japanese descent to be interred in camps. We allow our political figures to spout anti-Muslim rhetoric and threaten to put all Muslims and refugees in camps. When our turn comes, will we stand up with organized nonviolent action and protect our fellow human beings? Do we have in our hearts, the greatness of spirit demonstrated by the Danes?

And if not, let us begin the work of changing our culture. Let us assert the values of human dignity, our shared humanity, human rights and civil rights. In conversation, writing, on the radio, and in our actions, we must put forth the values for which we stand. Only then, when the moment of crisis comes, can we be assured that our populace will respond in a way that will withstand the critique of history.

Learn more about Danish Resistance to Nazi occupation.

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Rivera Sun is the author of The Dandelion Insurrection and other books, and the cofounder of the Love-In-Action Network.

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