I. On April 9, 1940, the German military invaded Denmark and Norway. Denmark, a small country with an even smaller military, ended open resistance within a few hours. Norway openly resisted until late May. The Norwegian government relocated to London. The Danes stayed.
Denmark was able to retain many of its government functions through the first part of the occupation. The Germans were able to milk propaganda value out of this by their claims of benevolent occupation. Danes were able to provide valuable agricultural products to the German war effort through much of the war. Denmark suffered less than any other European country occupied by the Germans during the Second World War.
Denmark was one of several countries occupied by or in alliance with the Nazis who were pressured over years to address their “Jewish problem.” They irked the Nazis by not acknowledging there was any such problem. Occupied Norway and Denmark, and Nazi ally Finland all had fairly small Jewish populations, but they were fully emancipated, and had been for some time before the war. Only in Norway did Nazi demands to limit Jewish freedoms gain traction. By late 1942, at the height of both Nazi power and that of the Norwegian fascist Quisling government, arrests and deportations commenced there:
The deporation followed a series of steps to discriminate, persecute, and disenfranchise Jews in Norway. Jewish individuals were at first arrested, Jewish property was confiscated, Jews were ordered to report to local police stations and have their identification cards stamped with a “J” and fill in a lengthy form about their profession, holdings, and family. Based on the lists the police compiled, most Jewish adult men were arrested and detained in October 1942, and by November 26, women and children were also arrested for deportation.
This is the only time in Norwegian history that Norwegian police had been ordered to arrest children.
Of the 775 of Norway’s 2,200 Jews the Nazis managed to deport, only about 30 survived the war. The late 1942 actions in Norway gave warning to the Danes that should they want to save their Jewish citizens, action might have to soon be taken.
Some of the commonly believed stories about Danish actions on behalf of their Jewish brethren are not true. The most famous, that of King Christian X, the Star of David, and all Danes wearing them, when the Nazis demanded Danish Jews wear one, simply is not true:
During World War II King Christian X became the hero of a number of myths about his defense of the Danish Jews. The story which became best known says that the king showed his support for the Jews by carrying the star of David when riding in the streets of Copenhagen.
This myth dates back to the wartime but gained a second youth in 1952 with its retelling in Leon Uris novel Exodus. In this last version the king orders the whole population to follow his example – and everybody then wore the star to force the Germans to abandon their anti-Jewish policy. The story is told in a few lines and in a very realistic style. It was repeated in the film Exodus. However, it was not invented by Leon Uris, but during the war and probably by a person hired by a Danish-American club in New York. This has been shown by the Icelandic historian Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson in The King and the Star. Myths created during the Occupation of Denmark. The myth has been read as a metaphor for the general warm relation that existed between Danes and the Danish Jews, which resulted in the Rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943.
The truth, however, is more powerful:
Although the majority of the Danish Jews were in hiding, they would eventually have been caught if safe passage to Sweden could not be secured. Sweden had earlier turned away the Norwegian Jews to their certain deaths and they were determined to do the same to the Danish Jews.
Fortunately, Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist, made a determined stand for his fellow countrymen. He was spirited off to Sweden, whose government was under strict orders to get him to the United States without delay to work on the then top-secret Manhattan Project. When Bohr reached the shores of Sweden they told him he had to board a plane immediately for the United States. Bohr refused. He told the Swedish officials, and eventually the king, that until they announced over their air waves and through their press that their borders would be open to receive the Danish Jews, he wasn’t going anywhere. Bohr wrote of these events himself. As related by the historian Richard Rhodes, on 30 September 1943 Bohr persuaded King Gustaf of Sweden to make public Sweden’s willingness to provide asylum, and on 2 October 1943 Swedish radio broadcast that Sweden was ready to offer asylum. Historians Richard Rhodes and others interpret Bohr’s actions in Sweden as being a necessary precursor without which that mass rescue could not have occurred. Whether or not the mass rescue of the Danish Jews could have happened without Bohr’s political activity in Sweden, there is no doubt that he did all that he could for his countrymen.
The Jews were smuggled out of Denmark over the Øresund strait from Zealand to Sweden—a passage of varying time depending on the specific route and the weather, but averaging under an hour on the choppy winter sea, as noted by Preben Munch-Nielsen in an interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some were transported in large fishing boats of up to 20 tons, but others were carried to freedom in rowboats or kayaks. The ketch Albatros was one of the ships used to smuggle Jews to Sweden. Some refugees were smuggled inside freight cars on the regular ferries between Denmark and Sweden, this route being suited for the very young or old who were too weak to endure a rough sea passage. The underground had broken into empty freight cars sealed by the Germans after inspection, helped refugees onto the cars, and then resealed the cars with forged or stolen German seals to forestall further inspection.
The collective efforts of Danes to support their Jewish citizens, protect and save their lives, was honored by postwar Israel, declaring Danes “Righteous among Nations.”
Last Friday, Denmark and Finland jointly announced they were joining Sweden, which had granted Palestine embassy status. The formal announcement was Monday, at a Scandinavian ministerial conference. Here’s Friday’s statement:
It is with satisfaction that we announce our joint intention to work with the Palestinians to be able to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Missions in Copenhagen and Helsinki. After this process all Nordic countries will be offering the same working conditions for official Palestinian representatives as is the case for accredited diplomats serving in an embassy of a recognized state.
Palestine is in a phase of state-building, and many challenges remain for President Abbas to handle before we can recognize Palestine formally as a state. But it is important to keep focused on the aim of Palestine becoming a fully recognized state and as such claim its rightful place as part of the international community of states. Denmark and Finland took, together with the majority of EU member states and all Nordic countries, an essential step by voting in favour of the upgraded status of Palestine in the UN on 29 November 2012.
We hope that the intention to give, for all practical purposes, the Palestinian Missions in our capitals conditions for work identical to those of an embassy will encourage President Abbas to engage with determination in the necessary negotiations with the Israeli government on a two-state solution. The present efforts undertaken from the US and strongly supported by the EU deserve the support of the Palestinian and the Israeli governments.
As yet, Israeli reaction has been muted. All the Nordic States now recognize Palestine.
The efforts during World War II by Scandinavian diplomats, most notably Swedes, to rescue Jews and other war prisoners in the debacle consuming the shards of Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich were remarkable. They evolved into support by those same countries after the war for the most humanitarian aspects of the United Nations, and international humanitarian agencies. This recognition of Palestine and Palestinian aspirations by these countries is part of that.
II. The muted restraint by the Israeli government to recognition of Palestine by Denmark and Finland over the past weekend can be contrasted to Israeli outrage to Google‘s announcement that it has given Palestine the same upgrade:
Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin wrote to Google CEO Larry Page on Sunday urging the company to rescind its decision to refer to the Palestinian territories as “Palestine” on all its products. Elkin claimed this decision was liable to have a negative impact on efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“By so doing,” Elkin wrote, “Google is in essence recognizing the existence of a Palestinian state. Such a decision, is in my opinion, not only mistaken but could also negatively impinge on the efforts of my government to bring about direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“ … I would be grateful were you to reconsider this decision since it entrenches the Palestinians in their view that they can further their political aims through one-side actions rather than through negotiating and mutual agreement.”
Elkin concluded by proposing that Israeli representatives meet with representatives of Google to discuss the issue.
Where does Elkin propose they meet?
Copenhagen? Helsinki? Stockholm? Oslo? Reykjavik?
Relations between Israel and Palestine have certainly been eclipsed recently by the Syrian meltdown, but they will remain to be important. However, whenever the subject of Palestinian freedom comes up this year, it seems that acknowledgement of the egregious occupation, and the insidiousness of colonial settler expansion into more Palestinian territory, is becoming more widely accepted.
Photo Christian X of Denmark, in the public domain