Denmark, which saved its Jews during World War II seems to have forgotten the real lesson of this success. It is becoming increasingly intolerant to refugees and Jewish religious practices.
Since 99% of Danish Jews survived the Holocaust, Denmark faces the challenge of
celebrating its country’s success while simultaneously commemorating the Holocaust
tragedy. This is a tough balancing act, which the country has not always gotten right.
The Danish celebrate their role in the rescue of Danish Jews. Overall, too, the government is a staunch supporter of Holocaust remembrance, despite criticism that Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen failed to attend the 2017 Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. As 2018 marked the 75th anniversary of the Jews escaping to Sweden, the prime minister did attend a commemorative ceremony.
What remains problematic is both present-day attitudes towards Jews and immigrants. In 2018, more than 50,000 Danes signed a petition to ban circumcision for anyone under 18 to protect “children’s fundamental rights.” Parliament was forced to debate the proposal but rejected it.
Despite its reputation for tolerance, Denmark is cracking down on immigration. It introduced a new plan to force some migrants to live on an isolated island that is currently home to a facility for researching infectious animal diseases. It is also introducing a new set of laws to regulate life in 25 low-income and heavily Muslim enclaves, saying that if families there do not willingly merge into the country’s mainstream, they should be compelled.
The Holocaust in Denmark
Germany occupied Denmark in April of 1940. The Danes offered little resistance to this
occupation, and as a result, were given some leeway by the German occupiers. The 7,500
Danish Jews remained unmolested by the Nazi regime until October 1943.
The Danish police largely refused to follow Nazi orders to round up the Jews. More than 7,000 Jews fled to Sweden in the following months, avoiding deportation to concentration camps.
Approximately 500 Danish Jews remained and were sent to Theresienstadt. Many of these
survived the war as well. At the end of the war, Jews returned to Denmark, and the initial lack of police cooperation is largely considered one of the most successful countermeasures against the Holocaust.
- June 2004: Danish Jewish Museum opens
- December 2005: Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen apologises for Danish collaboration with Nazis during the Second World War
While Denmark collaborated in part with Nazis during the Second World War, the country has much more to be proud of regarding its Holocaust history. The Danish government considers the Holocaust as a point of national pride rather than national shame.
Some Danish actions are more myth than fact. During the war and in its immediate aftermath, the Danish government propagated a myth that the King wore the yellow star of David in solidarity with the Jews. This was untrue. The myth persists, though the government no longer spreads it. In addition, the Danish government has apologised for all collaboration with the Nazis.
Holocaust education is standard in schools, though no longer mandatory. Denmark’s Holocaust education covers both the international events, as well as focusing on the Danish role. Holocaust literature is also common in schools, including the popular book Number the Stars, which is partially set in Denmark.
The Jewish Museum in Copenhagen plays a significant role in education. The museum is
responsible for programming for school students that leads them to relate the Holocaust to modern issues, such as immigration and human trafficking.
Denmark commemorates what they view as a patriotic act of defiance against the Nazis.
Sometimes, this commemoration sometimes ventures too far from reality. Sara Feldt, the
curator at the Jewish Museum in Copenhagen, laments that the commemoration at the harbour often lauds the boat captains too much, and neglects to mention Jewish refugee victims. In addition, Danes often neglect to mention that Jews were frequently required to pay for their fare to Sweden.
The Danish government has a 75-year moratorium on ‘security’ related documents in archives, and thus the archives will be fully opened this year, though documents with names of living people will be anonymised.
The Jewish community is small, with only about 7,000 members. Denmark was a refuge for
Jewish peoples fleeing the USSR in the 1960s, and indeed has one of the lowest rates of anti-Semitism in the world according to the Pew Research Center.
Still, recent trends in Danish society have been less friendly towards Jews. The 2018
circumcision debate angered many community leaders. “This spring has been nightmarish for the Jewish community,” Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, chairman of The Jewish Community in Denmark, told the New York Times. “The proposal takes as a starting point that Jews are child molesters.” A ban would “make it difficult for the next generation of Jews to maintain a religious life in Denmark,” he added.
-Author Nicholas Haeg