Denmark Forced by History To Revisit Heroic Tale of Jewish Rescue From Nazis

Cracks Emerge in Baltic Nation's Feel-Good Holocaust Story

Heroic Escape: A Jewish family lands in Sweden after escaping from Denmark as Nazis prepared crackdown in 1943.
courtesy of museum of danish resistance
Heroic Escape: A Jewish family lands in Sweden after escaping from Denmark as Nazis prepared crackdown in 1943.

By Paul Berger

Published September 23, 2013, issue of September 27, 2013.
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Metz, whose 40-year-old father lost half his body weight and died of a combination of malnutrition and being worked to death at Thersienstadt, said, “Even an email exchange, supported by facts by me, with the historian did not convince him.”

Metz added: “It was a model camp for one day only.” He said that of the 145,000 people sent to Thersienstadt, 32,000 died and an additional 80,000 were sent onward to extermination camps. Metz and his mother were among the survivors.

“If you call that not a bad [camp], then people don’t know what they are talking about,” Metz said.

Metz’s father died six months after arriving at Theresienstadt, in March 1944. One month later, the Nazis began allowing the Danish Red Cross to send food parcels to Danish prisoners. Those parcels gave Danish prisoners something to barter with and minimized the number of Danes who died in Theresienstadt.

Copenhagen’s social services agency was heavily involved in helping Danish Jews in Theresienstadt. The Nazis allowed the Danish authorities to send clothes to the prisoners. Even the famous visit of the Red Cross to Theresienstadt was arranged by Danish authorities who insisted on inspecting conditions there. A delegation of Danish civil servants joined the Red Cross delegation.

Danish officials are also believed to have influenced Werner Best, the top Nazi official in Denmark, to forge an agreement with Adolf Eichmann that Danish prisoners at Theresienstadt were not to be transported on to death camps.

Statistics of Denmark’s pre-war Jewish population and the number of survivors vary slightly depending upon sources.

Roughly 7,200 Danish Jews escaped to Sweden, according to Yad Vashem. Of the approximately 470 Jews sent to Theresienstadt, Tarabini Fracapane says 412 returned, plus three Jewish children born in the camp.

Bak said that she believes a total of 103 Danish Jews died during the war. It’s a stunningly low number compared with the genocide that occurred all around. But the redemption renders the Holocaust no less traumatic to those who survived.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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