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The Danish network that defied Hitler
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Jens Møller (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)
A new book of photos has just been published, to mark the 75th anniversary of one of the most daring rescues in World War Two. It features striking portraits of civilians who resisted the Nazis.
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On September 29, 1943, a Danish rabbi interrupted the morning service at Krystalgade synagogue in Copenhagen and said: “We have no time now to continue prayers. We have news that this coming Friday night, the night between the first and second of October, the Gestapo will come and arrest all Danish Jews. They have a list of addresses and they will come to the home of every Jew and take us all to two big ships waiting in Copenhagen harbour, and on to camps on the continent.”

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Marcus Melchior told everyone: “There are two things you should do. Number one, you should stay away from your homes on Friday night. What will happen after that we don’t know, but on Friday night, in any case, don’t be at home. Number two, pass this news on to as many friends, family, whomever you can, so that they also know to leave home by Friday.”

The days that followed marked one of the most remarkable stories of resistance in World War Two. Under Hitler’s orders, Denmark’s Jews were to be deported on 1 October, 1943 – but in the space of a few weeks, an underground network and the country’s non-Jewish population spirited almost 8,000 people to safety via small boats across the Øresund to neutral Sweden.

During the October rescue, Karen Lykke Poulsen organised rescue operations and handled the transport of hundreds of Jews (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

During the October rescue, Karen Lykke Poulsen organised rescue operations and handled the transport of hundreds of Jews (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

Photographer Judy Glickman Lauder has told that story through a series of portraits featuring the Jewish survivors and their rescuers. Her new book, Beyond the Shadows: The Holocaust and the Danish Exception (published by Aperture), brings together the photos on the 75th anniversary of the rescue.

Over the past 30 years, Glickman Lauder has photographed the sites of Nazi death camps such as Auschwitz. A few of those images appear in Beyond the Shadows – yet the book also offers something redemptive and hopeful.

“Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg famously observed that life under Nazi rule reduced everyone to one of three categories: perpetrator, victim, or bystander,” writes Glickman Lauder in Beyond the Shadows. “But there were exceptions to Hilberg’s rule – small but important exceptions of people and communities that were neither perpetrators nor victims, and who refused to be bystanders.”

The harbour at Gilleleje is not far from the city of Elsinore, where the sea between Denmark and Sweden narrows to only a few miles (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

The harbour at Gilleleje is not far from the city of Elsinore, where the sea between Denmark and Sweden narrows to only a few miles (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

“I had the opportunity to meet, interview, and photograph Danish Resistance leaders, rescuers and Jewish survivors. These extraordinary people shared their individual experiences and led me to the sites where the events of 1943 had unfolded. Many could not understand why I even wanted to make their portraits. ‘We did what we did,’ they said, like it was obvious. But, in fact, few others did.”

Alongside a history of violence, argues Judith Goldstein in an essay from Beyond the Shadows, “there is another equally important history that has been explored: resistance, resilience and the protection of beleaguered minorities by courageous individuals, communities and, in all too few instances, nations themselves”.

“On the night of the first and second of October, the German raid was carried out,” Melchior’s son, Bent, says in Beyond the Shadows. “Out of around 8,000 Jews in Denmark, the Germans found only about 200 people in their homes. Some of them had heard the news but refused to believe it. Some, we weren’t able to reach.”

Bent Melchior was 14 when he was forced to go into hiding with his family: he became the chief rabbi of Denmark when his father died in 1969 (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

Bent Melchior was 14 when he was forced to go into hiding with his family: he became the chief rabbi of Denmark when his father died in 1969 (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

“All the others were dispersed among private homes, or in hospitals, or wherever they could find to hide. No one was prepared for this, nothing had been organised in advance, and it was really a grassroots movement of people taking matters into their own hands, who saw to it that we were kept away from the Germans.”

Jens Møller was one of the many Danes who helped Denmark’s Jewish population escape to safety in Sweden (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

Jens Møller was one of the many Danes who helped Denmark’s Jewish population escape to safety in Sweden (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

“We went to Pårup station [the last stop before Gilleleje] to fetch a whole trainload of people and distribute them among the big farms,” says Jens Møller in Beyond the Shadows. “But there were so many that there was not enough room and the rest were so unhappy. We took an elderly couple and a young couple with twin babies to our house, and some to the carpenter’s. And the neighbours brought bread and butter. For three days they stayed. And I stood by and ran back and forth from the harbour to see when there would be room for them to get across.”

“Denmark was the only Western European country occupied by Nazi Germany that was able to save its Jewish population,” says Glinkman Lauder in the book. “While evil and fear took over most of Europe, the Danish people retained their humanity and rescued those in great danger.”

Herbert Pundik is former editor of Danish paper Politiken, and author of In Denmark It Could Not Happen: The Flight of the Jews to Sweden in 1943 (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

Herbert Pundik is former editor of Danish paper Politiken, and author of In Denmark It Could Not Happen: The Flight of the Jews to Sweden in 1943 (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

Herbert Pundik was 16 when his family fled to Sweden. “Two incidents stand out from the chaotic memories of a few days spent in fear and anguish as we tried to find an escape route to Sweden,” he says. “One relates to my father: We were running through a dark forest. My father stumbled and fell to the ground. The fall of my father, who until then had been the protective figure and head of the family, suddenly showing vulnerability, fear, loss of control. Only in that moment, in the dark forest, did I realise the danger of our situation.”

While escaping Denmark, many Jews hid in forests like this one near Elsinore: searched by German patrols, they were places of both fear and refuge (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

While escaping Denmark, many Jews hid in forests like this one near Elsinore: searched by German patrols, they were places of both fear and refuge (Credit: Judy Glickman Lauder)

“The second incident: we were on board the fisherman’s vessel, leaving the shore of Denmark, on our way across the hostile sound to safety in Sweden,” recalls Pundik. “I turned around to catch a last glimpse of Denmark. In the early morning light, I saw the fisherman’s wife and the man and woman who had offered us safety while we were waiting to escape, kneeling in the sand, folded hands stretched toward heaven, in a silent prayer.”

Glickman Lauder’s portraits offer a reminder of a moment when ordinary people risked themselves to help others. “Although the Danish story is small in regard to numbers – affecting a tiny fraction of those persecuted by the Nazis – it is huge in scope,” she says. “It is a story that tells of a population who proved it possible to make a difference, and who refused to see a minority as ‘the other’. This was true at every level of Danish society, from the fishermen who rowed Jews to safety in Sweden under cover of darkness, to King Christian X, who visited Copenhagen’s Krystalgade synagogue in an act of solidarity, and who refused to be complicit with Nazi persecution of the Jews.”

The late Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote: “In those times, one climbed to the summit of humanity by simply remaining human.” For Glickman Lauder, that is the real power of these images. “The Danish people came to symbolise hope for me – a force of goodness in a world gone mad.”

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