A Short Trip to Denmark
I recently took a short vacation to Denmark where I spent time in Copenhagen, Northern Zealand and Aarhus. In between visiting castles, going on a canal boat tour, biking around the city and sampling lots of tasty dishes, I explored the country’s Jewish heritage. As I am writing this on Holocaust Remembrance Day, I thought I would also touch on some of the county’s WW2 history.
In Copenhagen, I stopped at the Danish Jewish Museum. The architecture by Daniel Libeskind (who also did the Jewish Museum in Berlin), was among the most striking parts of the museum. The space was a kind of labyrinth and the floors, walls and ceiling were slanted. I learned that Jews have lived in Denmark for 400 years. Denmark was the first Scandinavian country where Jews were permitted to settle. Jews were first invited by King Christian IV in the 1620s and they worked as merchants or as financiers and jewelers to the royal family. Similar to Maryland, Danish Jews only received full citizenship rights in 1849. In 1943, when the Danish Jews were about to be deported, the Danish Resistance Movement was instrumental in helping to evacuate nearly 8,000 Jews and their families from Denmark by sea in fishing boats to nearby neutral Sweden. While 500 Jews were taken to Thersienstadt concentration camp, Danish authorities often interceded upon their behalf and ordinary Danes protected the property of their Jewish neighbors while they were gone.
Since the war, the population has rebounded. Despite recent episodes of anti-Semitism, the Jewish population of Denmark remains at approximately 6,400.Later in my trip, I took the train up the coast to visit the Louisanna Art Museum and Kronsborg Castle. These were near several of the towns where Jews were smuggled on fishing boats across to nearby Sweden in 1943. I visited around the time of Passover so when I looked out over the water towards Sweden, it made me realize that the Danish Jews also had an exodus to escape a different kind of oppressor as they ferried across the Oresund strait towards freedom. Back in Copenhagen, I explored the historic center where I walked past the Great Synagogue, dating from 1833, which is the main synagogue of the Jewish community in Copenhagen. It is built in the semi-oriental classical style with mixtures of Greek, Roman and Egyptian elements.
The next day, I took the train to Aarhus where I toured the Occupation Museum which is dedicated to the history of the town during the occupation by the Germans in World War 2. The building served as the headquarters for the Gestapo headquarters during the war and as a place of interrogation and torture. I was interested in learning about the resistance to the Nazis in Aarhus, like a radio used to secretly communicate with England.
Throughout my trip, I thought back to our Remembering Auschwitz: History, Holocaust and Humanity exhibit. While many perished in the Holocaust, it was refreshing to hear some of the stories of ordinary Danes who stood up to the Nazis and as a country ended up saving the majority of Danish Jews from Nazi persecution.
A blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.