Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted
the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens. On September
28, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, secretly informed
the Danish resistance that the Nazis were planning to deport the Danish Jews. The Danes responded quickly, organizing a nationwide effort to
smuggle the Jews by sea to neutral Sweden.
Warned of the German plans, Jews began to leave Copenhagen,
where most of the 8,000 Jews in Denmark lived, and other cities, by
train, car, and on foot. With the help of the Danish people, they found
hiding places in homes, hospitals, and churches. Within a two-week period
fishermen helped ferry 7,220 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members
to safety across the narrow body of water separating Denmark from Sweden.
The clandestine rescue of Danish Jews was undertaken
at great personal risk. The boat pictured below and several others like
it were used by one of the earliest rescue operations organized by a
group of Danes code-named the “Helsingor Sewing Club.” The
escape route they provided, named the “Kiaer
Line” after Erling Kiaer, founder of the “Helsingor Sewing Club,” enabled
several hundred Jews to escape across a narrow strait to the Swedish
coast. On each trip, the boat carried 12-14 Jewish refugees. Kiaer himself
was betrayed and arrested in May 1944.
The Danish rescue effort was unique because it was
nationwide. It was not completely successful, however. Almost 500 Danish Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Yet even of these Jews, all but
51 survived the Holocaust, largely because Danish officials pressured
the Germans with their concerns for the well-being of those who had
been deported. The Danes proved that widespread support for Jews and
resistance to Nazi policies could save lives.