Miracle Across The Sound
by Christine Egbert
In its final and most virulent strain, Anti-Semitism is once again pandemic. It’s on the rise in Europe, in Asia, and in the United States on college campuses, and shockingly in main-line Christian denominations.
In our twenty-first Century, politically correct parlance this ancient hatred for the Jewish people is now referred to as anti-Zionism. But I’m not here to expound on how Islam is fanning the flames of anti-Semitism. Most of my readers are quite aware of this growing menace. Instead, today I want to inspire you. That’s right, inspire you with some little-known history.
Did you know that during WWII, there was one small, occupied nation that saved 7,000 of its 7,500 Jews over the month of October in 1943? That country was Denmark. Denmark’s incredible but little known history inspired me to write a historical romance novel titled Miracle Across the Sound, available through Amazon.com and Kindle. The introduction says this:
While Flem and Liesel’s love story is fiction, the greater love story—a story of ordinary Danes and their love for their fellow man—is pure history. Miracle Across the Sound dramatizes the selfless actions of ordinary folks, from ambulance drivers to Lutheran pastors. Courageous men–men like George F. Duckwitz, head of German shipping, and physicist Niles Bohr–stood up to evil and gloriously shouted, “No!” in October of 1943. Their awe-inspiring history must be told, and that is why I have written Miracle Across the Sound. But there is one other reason I wrote this novel. I wanted to write a Christian novel in which at least a few characters understood that the Jewish Messiah did not come to start a new religion.
The bulk of this article will focus on those historical facts that I wove into my novel’s storyline, but at the end of this article, I will include a short excerpt from the novel that dramatizes the role renowned physicists Nile’s Bohr played in this magnificent tale of love and valor.
HERE IS THE HISTORY
Denmark’s Righteous Gentiles
In 1939, Germany signed a non-aggression pact with King Christian, who foolishly failed to fortify Denmark’s border with Germany–not that it would have done much good if he had. Then, in the wee hours of April 9, 1940, German paratroopers rained from the sky. At Langelinie Pier, German soldiers docked, and at 4 a.m., Hitler’s troops marched into Jutland.
Denmark’s Army engaged in a brief skirmish, while the Royal Guard defended Amalienborg Castle. Thirteen men died, twenty-three were wounded, and the Danish Navy did nothing.
The King knew that resistance would be suicidal. Denmark, unlike its mountainous neighbors, was flat. Fighters would have nowhere to flee, nowhere to hide. So the King surrendered. But while the Danish Parliament was entering into a policy of negotiation with their German occupiers, Denmark’s merchant seamen acted heroically. Instead of sailing to neutral ports as they had been ordered, the merchant seamen sailed away to join the Allied Forces. Thus began Denmark’s occupation. Not very glorious. But the finish of a race is far more important than its start. And to understand what changed three years later, during the fall of 1943, one must know some Danish history.
Denmark Had No Ghettoes
As far back as 1690, while most of Europe was persecuting Jews and placing them in ghettoes, Denmark’s Parliament fired one of its police chiefs for suggesting that Denmark do likewise. Only firing that police chief didn’t go far enough. So the Danish Parliament, adamant about civil and religious freedom, took the matter one step further and wrote a resolution condemning ghettoes as inhuman. Knowing this bit of history should make it easier to understand what happened in Denmark, three years after it was occupied by the Germans.
While Jews in all the other German-occupied lands sat rotting in ghettoes, stripped of their humanity, or dying in concentration camps, Denmark’s Jewish citizens, for the first three years of the occupation, had retained all of their civil rights. Civil and religious rights were and had been an integral part of who Danes were. It defined them.
An example of their boldness occurred one afternoon at a song fest in Gjorslev, when a bold college student, right under the noses of the Gestapo, requested audience participation for two national anthems. The first was Denmark’s own—no surprise there. But that second anthem caused the Reich’s dignitaries to practically fall out of their seats. When the students stood, the Zionist flag was unfurled, then the students belted out the lyrics to Hatikvah, the song destined to later become Israel’s national anthem.
In the international press, however, Denmark was known as “Hitler’s pampered canary.” For while individual Danes showed bravery in things like singing Hatikvah, their Parliament submitted to Denmark’s “policy of negotiation with Germany.” On their farms and in their factories Danes worked to provide Hitler’s war machine food and munitions–at least they did on the surface.
Without fighters hiding out in non-existent mountains, Danes resisted the only way possible, through strikes and sabotage, both of which were up in the summer of 1943, and Hitler was fit to be tied. He demanded that after three years of occupation, Denmark’s Jews finally be rounded up and sent to a concentration camp.
On August 29, 1943, Berlin demanded an end to all Danish resistance. Public gatherings were prohibited, a curfew enacted, and press censorship was imposed. Firearms and explosives now had to be surrendered before September 1st. Everyone found in possession of them, as well as all saboteurs, were to be executed. And harassment of Danes who cooperated with the Germans would no longer be tolerated. Special tribunals, dealing with infringements of these new laws were established.
When the Danish Parliament resigned, refusing to meet Berlin’s new demands in 1943, Germany enforced martial law. To implement Hitler’s “Final Solution”, plans for rounding up all of Denmark’s Jews in a surprise raid on Rosh Hashanah were put into place. Hitler’s plan might have worked had it not been for one heroic German named Georg F. Duckwitz. George had been living in Copenhagen for over a decade before the occupation and was the head of German shipping. He’d first heard about the upcoming raid from Germany’s civilian administrator in Denmark, Dr. Werner Best, and George had been agonizing about the raid for weeks. He knew he had to do something, but what?
As soon as the ships that would take the Jews had docked in the harbor, George knew what he had to do, and he had to go it quickly. With only twenty-four hours to go, he hurried to where the Social Democrats were meeting and whispered into the ear of Hans Hedtoft, “The disaster is upon us. Ships are in the harbor. They will round up all the Jews at midnight on Rosh Hashanah.”
Thus began the miracle. Hans Hedtoft warned C.B. Henriques, head of the Jewish Community, as well as Dr. Marcus Melchior, the acting chief Rabbi. Word of the deportation spread throughout Copenhagen, where most of Denmark’s Jews lived. Only the few unwilling to believe that an atrocity of this magnitude could happen in Denmark refused to go into hiding, as well as those who were too old or too sick to leave their homes. Most Jews were sheltered by friends and by neighbors, but many by total strangers who refused to allow evil to triumph.
At midnight, on October 1st, when jackbooted S.S. kicked in every Jew’s front door, only a handful could be found. Over the month of October in 1943, ordinary Danes, now being aided by the resistance, miraculously smuggled nearly all of Denmark’s Jews across the sound, into neutral Sweden.
In Germany most Lutherans were part of the problem, but not so in Denmark. In Denmark Lutherans provided the solution, by loving their Jewish neighbors as themselves, not merely in word but in deed.
One Lutheran pastor stored a TORAH scroll in the basement of his church until after the war. And on October 3rd, pastors in every Lutheran church throughout Denmark, read from the pulpit a letter denouncing Germany’s round up of the Jews.
By the end of October, 7,000 of Denmark’s 7,500 Jewish citizens, virtually all of them, had made it safely across the Sound into neutral Sweden. Only 500 Danish Jews ended up being deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia, and all but 51 of those who were sent survived the Holocaust and returned after the war. How did this happen? It happened because Danish officials and citizens pressured the Germans to allow them to send care packages to their Danish Jewish citizens, and just like the unjust judge in Yeshua’s parable, Germany acquiesced.
I could go on and on with inspiring tidbits of all that happened, but I will stop here, hoping you’ll be moved to learn more and go to Amazon to order “Miracle Across the Sound.”
And now here is that excerpt I promised you, a short scene near the end of the novel, which dramatizes how renowned physicist Niles Bohr put his safety in jeopardy to see justice done.
“Niles Bohr remained adamant. “I don’t care! I’m not leaving Sweden until this matter is concluded.”
“But, Niles,” begged Professor Fredrick Lindemann, Churchill’s personal consultant, “the plane is waiting. You must fly to London. It’s why we smuggled you out of Denmark.”
“I am quite aware of why I am here, Fredrick, but this takes precedence.”
“You’re worried about Jews when Hitler could develop an atomic bomb at any moment? Tyranny will rule the entire planet!”
Unmoved by Fredrick’s impassioned tirade, Niles donned his spectacles. “I’m not leaving until you get me an audience with King Gustav.” Niles unfolded his newspaper and began to read.
“But you’ve already met with the Foreign Minister. What more can you do?”
“Yes, and it was a waste of time,” Niles replied. “I must speak to the King himself.”
“And what about Einstein? He’s expecting you in Manhattan in two days.”
“He’ll have to wait.”
“But you can’t! We can’t protect you here. Every hour you delay places you at a greater risk to be kidnapped…assassinated. You must leave Stockholm today.”
“Then get me that audience with the King. Those are my terms. Take them or leave them.”
With a angry intake of air, Fredrick Lindemann turned on his heels. “I’ll see what can be done.”
Early the next morning, Niles Bohr rose when King Gustav entered. “Thank you for granting me this audience, Your Highness.”
“My aides tell me you are quite a stubborn fellow.”
“What I am is a Dane,” Niles explained as the King took a seat at the head of the conference table. “Not to mention half Jewish. So you see, I must do whatever I can under these circumstances.”
“Does that include stomping your feet until you get your way?”
Niles grinned. “If you prefer I can hold my breath, Your Highness.”
“Just sit and make your request.”
“Offer asylum to Denmark’s Jews,” Niles replied, still standing.
“I have! Germany turned me down.”
“Germany? Forget Germany! Announce it to Denmark! To the world! Run it as a headline in every Swedish newspapers.”
“You certainly know how to make demands, I will give you that.”
“Ah, but I’m not finished.”
The King smiled. “Why am I not surprised?”
“I want you to broadcast it into Denmark, once every hour. The Jews must be assured they have a haven here in Sweden they can flea to.”
“That’s out of the question! Why Hitler would be furious. We’re supposed to be neutral!”
“Damn Hitler, and damn your neutrality. You’re the King, act like it! The Reich will eventually lose this blasted war. What will you do then?”
A long pause ensued. Niles didn’t like the set of the King’s jaw. Fearing he’d pressed him too far, Niles was about to apologize when the suddenly the king rose. “Very well. Consider it done.”