Jewish Congress Honors Danish Scholar for Rescuing Jews from Nazis

Dr. Aage Bertelsen, distinguished Danish educator and author, was honored at a reception here by the World Jewish Congress and American Jewish Congress for his participation in the underground operation which spirited virtually all of Denmark’s 6,000 Jews out of the country in 1943 under the nose of Nazi occupation troops.

Only 475 were taken captive by the Nazis and deported to concentration camps, the 6,000 men, women and children, all of them facing imminent deportation to concentration camps, were shuttled across the narrow channel separating Denmark and Sweden, through the ingenuity, active help and courage of the entire Danish people.

The rescue operation which Dr. Bertelsen and his wife helped to lead, at the risk of their own lives, had its origins in a warning given to the former Prime Minister of Denmark, Hans Hedtoft, by a German on September 28, 1943, to the effect that all Danish Jews were scheduled for deportation by the Gestapo on the night of October 1st. Mr. Hedtoft immediately communicated the disastrous news to the head of the Danish Jewish Community. Dr. Bertelsen, then a teacher at a Danish high school, and his wife, were among a small group of Christian citizens who gathered to draw up a plan of action.

Jews from all parts of Denmark flocked to the coast nearest Sweden and were hidden in Christian homes until passage was arranged. In the space of less than one month, some 1,200 Jews were transferred from Dr. Bertelsen’s home alone. Not one of these fell to the Nazis. Danes from every walk of life contributed funds for the rescue operations, money which was given largely to fishermen who nightly risked their lives in ferrying across the dangerous channel crossing.

Both the Danish and German Gestapos placed a heavy price on the head of Dr. Bertelsen once his role leaked out. When their search proved unsuccessful, they arrested his wife, Cerda, whom they held for nine days, and then released. Dr. Bertelsen, his wife and their two young children later found safety in Sweden, where he taught Danish refugee students, many of whom were Jews he had helped to rescue.

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