A Time of Terror
Denmark was a country of quiet and peace. Many different nationalities lived in harmony in this small land. The year was 1937. Erica1 had grown up in Denmark. She was thirteen.
Across the sparkling water to the south was the land of Germany. The ferry plied the waters three or four times an hour between the two countries and Erica often rode her bike onto the ferry, feeling the bump, bump, bump of the planks as she settled on the vessel for the short ride across the water. After leaving the boat she rode with enthusiasm through the well-manicured German streets enjoying the burst of color in flowers, buildings and people. It was an enchanted childhood life, but it all ended in 1937. Erica, and many other Danes, no longer went to Germany as they saw the deplorable conditions creeping into the German countryside.
In 1938 Jewish children, ages 3 to 11, began arriving in Denmark from Germany. They were frightened, without parents, and with no idea where they were going. Several hundred came to Erica’s town and a plea was sent out for Danish families to take in some of these refugee children. Erica’s family responded to the need, taking two boys and two girls, offering them a home, safety, food, and love. The young ones became like brothers and sisters to Erica. They did not know where their parents were. Sometimes Doris, the four-year-old, cried herself asleep asking for her mama as Erica cradled the tiny child in her arms.
On April 9, 1940, Denmark was invaded by Germany. In her long national history Denmark had never been overrun by a conqueror before. Some Danes anticipated just such action from their neighbor across the sea. Others refused to believe that their long-time friends would ever plot against them. Nevertheless, on that fateful day, the troops came by boat, wading ashore through the waters of the North Sea, with guns drawn, jaws set in determination, obeying Hitler’s commands. On the heels of the naval landing the sound of a small hum-m-m-m became audible, growing ever louder until the roar of the planes filled the Danes' ears and the German air force filled their hearts with terror.
At first nothing much changed for the Jews living under the protection of the Danish constitution. Danish authorities ruled that the Jews did not have to wear the hated yellow star, but by 1943 the German soldiers refused to honor Danish laws. Germany WAS the law.
A German named Duckwitz2, who had lived in Denmark since 1928, knew the Jews were going to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps. He met with Swedish authorities who agreed to take the German Jews into their country and to protect them from harm. The Germans allowed only Danish fishing boats in the North and Baltic Seas, and so fishing boats were used in secret to carry the Jews to Swedish safety. Babies and small children always presented a problem because they would often cry out, not realizing the danger they were in. Danish doctors were called upon to give the children sleeping drugs to quell their noises until those fleeing were secure on Swedish soil. The German soldiers would often board the fishing boats with dogs trained to find the Jews, but the resourceful boatmen would soak rags in a numbing drug that distorted the dogs’ sense of smell and so the fleeing refugees were rarely found.
Of the 8,000 Jews sheltered in Denmark in the 1940’s, only 202 Jews were caught by the German soldiers. Sweden remained neutral throughout World War II while nearly 8,000 Jews lived in safety and peace thanks to the bravery of many Danish countrymen and one brave German man. It is recorded that only Denmark, of all the countries occupied by Germany during that great war, made a concerted, national effort to protect and assist the Jews in their flight to freedom.
Erica lived through the war in her homeland and eventually immigrated to the United States. She was one of many European nationals who risked their lives and the lives of their own loved ones to help protect the Jews from Hitler’s hate. “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12 NIV 1978)
1 Name changed
2 Real name
Author’s note: Based on a true story.
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