The escape of Danish Jews from the German occupiers

The coast of North Zealand and the inhabitants of the area saved the majority of the Danish Jewish population during World War II. In the area around Gilleleje, you can visit a number of memorials marking the area’s dramatic contribution to the rescue operations. However, not all had a happy ending.

The Danish Jews were relatively safe during the policy of collaboration between Denmark and Germany from 1940 to 1943 during World War II. This policy specified that discrimination against Jews was not permitted. However, when the policy of collaboration collapsed on 29th August 1943, things looked bleak for the Jews. The Germans immediately started planning the deportation of the Danish Jews to the dreaded concentration camps.

But the Danes rebelled. A network of citizens and the Danish Resistance Movement quickly formed, and their aim was to help the Jews escape across the Oresund to Sweden. Fortunately, the majority of the Danish Jews had succeeded in escaping to Sweden when October 1943 rolled by.

However, the 7th October 1943 became a fatal day for some of the Jews still in the country.

76 Jews were hidden in the attic of Gilleleje church by the vicar and other Gilleleje inhabitants. In fact, a large part of the villagers participated in the rescue operations in different ways.

The Jews in the attic of the church had attempted to get on a ship from the wharf earlier that day during a major salvage operation, but they had been left on the wharf in the ensuing chaos.

From the attic, they could see Sweden in the horizon while they waited to be sailed to safety on fishing boats from the harbour. They hoped they would all be saved, like so many other Jews had been from Gilleleje.

Unfortunately, they were not that lucky. An informer had revealed their location to the Gestapo, who came for them in the early morning. Only one escaped the Nazis: A young boy who hid so well in the attic that they did not find him. From Gilleleje, the captured Jews were transferred to the ”Jewish camp” in Horserød and from there to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic.

When the Gestapo had left, only the victims’ small belongings were left in the attic of the church: Glasses, shoes and raincoats forming a lamentable sight after a tragedy.

But the citizens of Gilleleje did not give up. During the following week, they helped around 500 Jews escape to Sweden. However, not all of the courageous Gilleleje fishermen who sailed to Sweden with their fishing boats filled with Jews were able to return: Their boats got registered in Sweden, and they had to sail in Swedish waters until Denmark’s Liberation in 1945.

An old unloading pier at Nivaagaard’s brickyard was also used for transporting Danish Jews to Sweden. Around 900 people escaped the Nazis from that harbour alone.

Following World War II, several memorials were erected different places in Gilleleje. Both to commemorate the Jews, but also to commemorate the many fishermen who lost their lives at sea because of sea mines. In the attic of Gilleleje church hangs a plaque of thanks from Israel for the villagers’ efforts during World War II. The candlesticks that the church also received as a thank-you gesture are placed in the church and are in use, and in the church porch you can see a small medal that the church received as a thank you from the survivors of Theresienstadt.

Today, the attic is open for visitors who wish to commemorate the many tragic destinies, and you can also join a public guided tour every Thursday from 2-3 PM. Read more on the website of the church.

Sources: Gilleleje Kirke (Gilleleje Church), local paper Netavisen Gribskov (website in Danish)and (website in Danish)

Coordinates:  Latitude: 56.130261
Longitude: 12.311408.

Andre Søkortsfortællinger

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