Jacob Abudaram’s remarks
January 24, 2013
Remarks at: “Rescue During the Holocaust: The Courage to Care – The Story of the Danish Jews.” A program hosted by the Department of Public Information, non-governmental organizations at the United Nations in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.
As a child, one often hears fairytales and legends of heroes who save the day despite all the odds being stacked up against them. The oppressive “bad guys” attempt to blot out all traces of good, but ultimately fail to do so. When I learned about the Holocaust as a child, I learned of the death and destruction brought upon Europe and the Jewish people, as the Nazi regime destroyed millions upon millions of innocent lives. European Jews were humiliated, deported, and murdered and acts of resistance were swiftly crushed by the Nazi demon. But I heard nothing of the heroes of the Holocaust, that is, those who saved lives. When I was a participant on Kivunim, a gap-year program that examines the Jewry of Israel and the Diaspora, I was finally able to find these heroes in places unknown and stories untold. Throughout Europe, courageous acts by Christians saved thousands of Jews, manufacturing hope in what was a dark time for the world.
It is the Danish Resistance and Danish populace that deserve recognition for their heroic acts. In the face of the utmost danger, the Christian Danes risked absolutely everything to save their Jewish brethren and defy the Nazi occupation. It would have been easier to do nothing. It would have been easier to sit back and let the Nazi War Machine deport and exterminate the Jews. But that is not what heroes do. These heroes warned their Jewish counterparts and then successfully smuggled them to Sweden. They were inspired by King Christian X of Denmark, who rode through the streets of his capital during the occupation unafraid of his invaders, instilling a sense of national confidence, independence, and resistance. In fact, when Adolf Hitler asked the King to change his policy towards the Jewish problem, King Christian X responded, “We have no Jewish problem. We have only Danes.” While 7-8,000 lives saved may be a small number in comparison to six million taken away, life is precious, and every saved life meant the world to someone and many more thousands in their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. During those ten fateful nights in which the Danish Jews were shipped across the Øresund (Aw-Reh-Soont) strait, Denmark proved that humanistic values could shine through during a time where horrible atrocities were being perpetrated all around them. They did not let religious differences interfere with their humanity. Denmark nationally refuted the Nazi occupation by allowing its democratic ethics and unprejudiced society to fight back against the evil through the salvation of the Jews. Today, the Jewish community in Denmark thrives. Six thousand Jews are integrated into society, making strong impacts in politics, art, and media. Danish values of tolerance, openness, and respect of democratic principles still reign strongly throughout the country, creating the same feelings of equality and cohesiveness that Denmark has sustained for hundreds of years.
This is a remarkable story that very few know about. Why is it that after thirteen years of Jewish education, I never knew about these brave heroes and the many others who fought against the oppressive Nazi war machine? Why has the legacy of the Holocaust only been viewed as the paradigm of the strong against the weak and of a complete darkness enveloping Europe? My experiences on Kivunim with the Jews of the Diaspora gave me hope, and let me find the bright lights that fought against the vast and endless dark. These heroes can be found throughout Europe. People hid their Jewish neighbors in their attics, leaders refused to release the names of their Jews, and Jews mounted resistance in many different forms and places. The story of the Danish people’s resistance and the Danish underground, however, is the most widespread as it involved an entire nation making the collective choice to save their fellow countrymen. I am of the strong opinion that stories like this, of the rescue of the Danish Jews, should go hand-in-hand with the stories of the atrocities that the Nazi Regime committed. That the paradigm of study should be : the morally bankrupt against the morally noble. In this manner, not only do the deaths of the six million souls remain in our memories, but we can also use the stories of the morally good to inspire and teach ourselves and our children. The Danish people teach us the importance of maintaining our integrity, that it is in the face of adversity where it is most vital to uphold one’s morals, ethics, and principles. When the Danes could have stood idly by, they chose to help even complete strangers in order to protect their high moral standards and defy the Nazi evil, just as we must challenge ourselves and our children to do the same. Such bravery by so many cannot be lost to the abyss of time.
We can also learn to channel the underlying principles behind the actions of the Danish people: religious and societal differences do not warrant animosity, humiliation, torture, or death. It is together that we as the human race must commit ourselves to the greater good and accept one another as fellow humans. It was when the stakes were highest that King Christian X remained steadfast and kept his ground, inspiring his people and the Danish Resistance to stand tall in the face of danger. I want to see more of that in this world. I fear that more people are becoming bystanders while injustice is committed before their eyes. It is the type of person who says, “NO,” and does something about it that I strive and challenge US all to become. The story of Danish Jews has personal significance to me given my family’s Turkish-Jewish history. Since the Ottoman Empire, Turks have helped Jews during times of strife. After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the Ottoman Sultan sent ships to bring Jews to his empire where they lived freely to practice their religion. During the Holocaust, Turkish diplomats in France fought for and saved thousands of Turkish Jews and provided them safe transport back to Turkey. It is the example of the Turks and Danes that I want all of us to follow, that it is during our fellow man’s darkest of times that we must rise up to uphold our humanity.