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Country That Said ‘No’ to Hitler

In October 1943, these two Danish fishermen made about 10 night-time crossings from Copenhagen to Sweden in boat K1657 with two or three Jewish fugitives each time hidden under herring nets. As October was the peak season for herring, nocturnal fishing trips didn’t raise any suspicions

What can be said about the Holocaust that has not already been said? What can be written about the mass murder of more than 6,000,000 Jews that has not already been written? What can be learned, at this late date,that we do not already know?Seventy years of firsthand accounts, books, scholarly analyses, movies, television programs, and even Broadway plays have amply documented the twelve-year eclipse of Western civilization that darkened human history from the Nazi seizure of power in Germany in 1933 to the end of World War II in 1945. Perhaps the best we can do at this point is to focus our attention on those aspects of the tragedy that are a bit less known than others.

We are aware of the shameful record, in country after country, of governments and groups that collaborated with the Germans in ridding themselves of their Jewish communities. The Vichy government in France, the Iron Guard in Romania, and civilian populations throughout Poland and Ukraine are notable examples. Less known, however, are many stories of countries that tried to protect their Jewish citizens and save them from the Holocaust, as well as others that served as havens for Jews fleeing Europe. Finland and Albania are examples of the former; Bolivia and the Philippines are cases of the latter.

But perhaps no more dramatic example of a country that both protected and saved its Jews is Denmark, which stood up to the Germans, refused to disenfranchise its Jewish citizens, and ultimately saved almost all of them by sneaking them out of the country in fishing boats to safety in neutral Sweden. 

Arne Rabuchin ... one of the youngest Holocaust survivors in Israel today

I recently had the privilege of meeting one of those who were saved, Arne Rabuchin, now 73. He sat down with me in a busy Raanana café and told me a gripping story of moral courage and rescue, often becoming emotional and having to pause for a moment before continuing his account.

He began by stating simply, "Denmark saved its Jews. I am alive today because of the Danish underground. My mother and father escaped to Sweden. My mother was pregnant with me and I was born in Sweden. There was a law that Danish children born in Sweden were automatically Danish citizens. So I am Danish, born in Sweden. But because I was not born in my country of origin, I am considered a Holocaust survivor by the Israeli government. I am one of the youngest Holocaust survivors here in Israel today."

Rabuchin sat silently for a moment, his eyes welling up as he prepared to relate the extraordinary history of Denmark and its Jews during WWII. He took a short sip of coffee and began: "Denmark was occupied on the 9th of April 1940, and the Jews lived freely until October 1943, when the Germans informed the Danish government they would now take the Jews to Germany and to concentration camps. They had tried it before, but they never succeeded. The government had stopped them from doing this until 1943.

"At that time, there were 8,500 Jews in total in Denmark. They were hidden with friends, they were hidden in hospitals under Danish names, and then they managed to get 8,000 to safety in Sweden. They mostly escaped in fishing boats. Some fishermen took money from those who had it, but they also ran a great risk of being caught and killed by the Germans. The 500 Jews who were left, and were unable to escape, were sent to Theresienstadt, but only 53 of those people died there. And that was due to King Christian X of Denmark. He was very courageous. He even sent his representative to Theresienstadt. The Danish Jews were kept in separate quarters, because the Germans knew that the Danish king had sent his representative to check up on them."

People who know about Denmark's heroic support of its Jewish citizens are generally aware of two things: that the Danes smuggled most of the Jews out of the country in a flotilla of fishing boats, and that many of them—including King Christian—defiantly wore the yellow star that the Germans forced Jews to wear. Surprisingly enough, however, Rabuchin says that the story is untrue. "Because of King Christian, the Jewish star that Jews had to wear in other countries was never introduced in Denmark. Everyone says that the King rode around wearing one, but no. The real story is that the King said to the Germans, 'If my Danish Jews are going to wear the star, I will also wear it as a sign of honor.' So it was never introduced."

But the most fascinating part of Rabuchin's narrative involved his description of the actual escape. "My mom was sitting in a little fishing town on the coast, north of Copenhagen, in the loft of the local church. She saw the door open and close. She was the last one to board one of the fishing boats, pregnant with me. The rest who were waiting there were sent to Theriesenstadt. There was a 'Quisling' who saw that the Jews were waiting in the church loft, and informed on them to the Germans. A Dane."

Rabuchin is philosophical, not bitter, about the last minute betrayal of the remaining Jews. "Among all people, there's always someone who's bad. I would say though that 99% of the population was against the Germans. They hated the Germans, and to this day, Germany is not very popular in Denmark. The liberation on May 5, 1945 is still celebrated." Rabuchin's eyes became moist and his throat tightened as he concluded, "They put candles in the windows. And they have never asked for compensation for the millions the Germans stole, for the crimes they committed. Even the fishermen did not want to ask for any recognition after the war or to be treated as heroes. The Danes considered it a duty to do what they did."

Rabuchin's admiration for the Danes extends to their behavior towards the Jews who returned home to Denmark at the end of the war. "Of course, there were people who benefited from the war. Some of the Jews had to sign over their property to non-Jewish Danes. Some of them sold it, some of them stole it, because nobody ever thought that the Jews would come back. But our case was much more typical. My father's colleague from the army took all of our furniture and put it in storage. And although there were shortages of everything, he didn't even allow his wife to touch the salt shaker.

"So when my parents came home, my father went to the office from which they had rented their flat and said, 'Now the Rabuchins are coming back and we want our flat back.' At that time there were Germans living there, and they said, 'Okay'. And we came back to the same flat. And everything was there. Nothing was taken. I would say that 90% of the Jews returned like that. Most of them got their jobs back, their factories, and their businesses.So although I am a Holocaust survivor, I never suffered for one moment. The story of the Danes, and their moral courage, is amazing. There was nowhere else where they saved so many Jews."

One can only wonder why the "moral courage," so plentiful in Denmark, was in such short supply elsewhere in Europe during those fateful years. 

 

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Thursday, 13 May 2021

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