A few weeks ago when my family went to Emily’s house for a family! Fun! Night! we were playing a hot game of Trivial Pursuit (from the 90s, y’all.) and I kept making jokes about how I hoped I’d get questions about World War 2 or the Holocaust because I am a little obsessed with both of those things. Ok, obsessed is not the right word. Much more interested than the average person is a more apt description.
I read, a lot. I read every night before I go to sleep. And usually I’ll read five or six historical non-fiction books in a row and then I’ll read two or three fiction books. For the past couple years, almost all of the non-fiction books have been about the events that took place during World War 2.
So. Last week I read a book called Darkness Over Denmark, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the Danish resistance, and the rescue of the Danish Jews. It was a really fascinating story. The Danes overall had it much better than other countries the Nazis rolled over in their quest for world domination.
Let me break it down for you: The Nazis regarded the Danes as fellow Aryans and decided to play nice. Even though they busted in and occupied the country, they let the Danish government stay in place. They didn’t mess with the Danish Jews, either. It worked for awhile, but after a couple years of increasingly tough German restrictions, the Danish government resigned, refusing to collaborate any longer. And then, basically, all bets were off. The Danish Resistance, which had been somewhat active before this, got really busy blowing up German factories and rail road lines, etc. The Germans were pretty pissed, and by the fall of 1943, they decided to go after the Danish Jews after all.
There was a German man, a Nazi party member, working in Denmark as the shipping agent for Germany. His name was Georg Duckwitz. Having lived and worked in Denmark for a few years, he really liked the Danish people and had a lot of very friendly relationships with Danish political figures. When he was informed of the Nazi plan to round up and deport Denmark’s 8,000 Jews, he knew he had to take action. First, he traveled to Berlin to try and dissuade Nazi leaders from going through with it. When that failed, he traveled to Sweden and met with the Swedish prime minister to ask him to take in all Denmark’s Jews. The Swedes agreed. Duckwitz could have been arrested and much worse by his own party for his actions, but he pressed on. He returned to Denmark and told his friends in the Danish political arena the date and time that the Nazi round-up would begin. They in turn told the Jewish leaders, who alerted their community that they had 2 days to go into hiding or be captured. The Jewish community got themselves together and got outta dodge, and they were heavily aided by their non-Jewish neighbors.
Through the courageous actions of Georg Duckwitz (who never was found out by the Nazis) and hundreds of non-Jewish Danish citizens, 95% of Denmark’s Jews escaped, most to Sweden, ferried secretly at night in fishing boats. It is truly an amazing story. The round-up of the Danish Jews was a huge, embarrassing failure for the Nazis, and over 7,000 lives were saved. It is really the only Jewish population in Nazi-occupied Europe that was preserved. Amazing.
I had certainly never heard the name Georg Duckwitz before I read this book, and I also knew next to nothing about Denmark. But I was inspired by the story of this German man and his Danish neighbors who worked to save their friends and fellow Danes and I wanted to do my part to keep their story from obscurity.
I hope you enjoyed the history lesson. And I hope that you’ll remember it and think about good old Duckwitz now and then. His courage is certainly worth remembering.