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The Danish Solution

2004
Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Singing Wolf Documentaries, Inc.
Directed by Camilla Kjaerulff and Karen Cantor
VHS, color and b&, 58 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Holocaust and Genocide Studies


Reviewed by Karen Plummer, Cataloging Department, Bierce Library, University of Akron, Akron, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 6/9/2004

The Danish Jews were in a unique position compared with much of the rest of Europe. The Jewish community had long enjoyed equal rights and an influx of Jews from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century brought a renewed commitment to Jewish and Yiddish culture. When most European countries were limiting the rights of Jews and beginning mass persecutions, King Christian X of Denmark was attending a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the Copenhagen synagogue.

In order to take control of Norway, the Germans must take Denmark as a stepping stone to northern Scandinavia. On April 9, 1940, the Germans invaded Denmark. The Danes chose to cooperate with the Germans. Taking the path of least resistance allowed them to continue their own government, their own military, and the Danish police continued to perform their duties. The German military was in evidence, but was not initially a threat. Hitler views Denmark as a model protectorate: he was able to maintain order with a minimum military presence.

The new minister of foreign affairs, Erik Scavenius, viewed cooperation as a way to keep some sort of national sovereignty. Whenever the Germans would bring up the so-called Jewish Question, the Danish government confirms their policy that all Danes are to be treated equally. In 1941, Hitler indicated that now was the time to address the question of the Jews. Scavenius commented, “I don’t know of any Jewish Question.” The Germans in Denmark sent messages to Hitler stating that further efforts on this question would result in chaos at this time.

A massive change occurs in 1942. Hitler had sent the Danish King a congratulatory telegraph on the event of his birthday, and the King’s response was curt. This “insult” was the last straw for Hitler and he took this opportunity to take an iron hand with the Danes. Hitler sends SS-General Werner Best to take over the situation in Denmark. Best, known for his brutality towards the Jews of France, was to take a stronger position with the Danish government.

By 1943 the Danes had had enough. They felt that they could no longer go on cooperating with the Germans. They took part in a series of strikes and resistance efforts. The Nazis quickly respond with force, jailing the Danish military and police, taking hostages, and the Jews were now in great danger. Plans were developed to arrest all of the Jews on Oct 1 1943 (the Jewish New Year) and immediately transport them to the concentration camps. The Jewish community was given advance warning through one of Best’s advisors and the rabbis warned people to go to their Christian friends and stay there. Christian priests took the sacred Torah scrolls and hid them until the end of the war. Doctors, teachers, and strangers on the street begin warning the Jews about the impending arrests, advising some to leave the country or offering assistance to help these people hide from the Germans.

The night of the round-up found only 202 Jews being transported away to the camps, less than 5% of the total Jewish population in Denmark. What happened next was miraculous. The Danish people went into action to help their Jewish countrymen. Doctors and nurses were willing to help Jews appear ill and thus hide them in the hospital. Others were hidden in individual’s homes. Priests in the countryside took in families and helped place Jews with other sympathetic families. Niels Bohr, the physicist, went to Sweden and persuaded the government to announce that Sweden was a safe haven for Jews. Fishermen risked life and limb to smuggle Jewish families to Sweden. People gave money to help fund escapes. The Bishop of Copenhagen issued a defiant ecumenical letter to be read every church in the nation. The message was: “We will fight so that our Jewish brothers and sisters maintain the same freedom that we value higher than life itself. We will obey God rather than humans in this matter.” Help came in strange forms as well. The German harbor commanders chose this time to recall many of their patrol boats for repainting. Fewer German patrol boats increased the chances for the fishermen to escape safely with their precious cargo.

In all of these efforts, more than 95% of the Danish Jews were able to survive the war. Approximately 480 Danish Jews were not as lucky and were transported to the Theresienstadt internment camp. The Danish government made a deal with Adolf Eichman specifying that no Danish Jews would be deported to the death camps and the Jews would be allowed to send letters and receive special packages of food and medicine. In March 1945, the Swedish government negotiated a deal with Heinrich Himmler to transport Scandinavian nationals out of the concentration camps and back to their homeland. This deal included the Danish Jews from Theresienstadt. Within a month of the German surrender in 1945, the Danish Jews began returning to their homeland and national celebrations began.

This film, narrated by Garrison Keillor, shows the compassion and courage of the people of Denmark, a people who made humane decisions on a grand scale in a wartime full of inhumanity. The companion website provides expanded information on the film and the history of the Danish Jews. The Danish Solution (the packaging includes the subtitle The Rescue of the Jews in Denmark) is a critical addition to a comprehensive Holocaust film collection and would be appropriate for middle grades/junior high students through adults. Highly Recommended.

Awards

  • Second Place Documentary Film Category Audience Award, Washington, DC Jewish Film Festival, December 2003
  • Special Director's Selection, Lenore Marwil Jewish Film Festival, Detroit, April / May 2004