Washington Exhibit Celebrates Danish Jewry, World War Ii Rescue

Three dates stand out boldly in the history of the Jews of Denmark — the founding of the Danish Jewish community 300 years ago, the establishment of its “new” synagogue 150 years ago and 1943 when a secret rescue operation, carried out with the cooperation of most of Denmark’s Christian citizens, transported more than 7,000 Danish Jews to safety in Sweden in a makeshift fleet of fishing boats.

These three events are commemorated in a unique and graphic manner at an exhibit opened at the B’nai B’rith Klutznick Museum here Sunday titled “King and Citizens, The History of the Jews in Denmark, 1622-1983.” This exhibit, circulated by the Jewish Museum of New York under the auspices of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, will be on view in Washington until September 15. The portion of the exhibit devoted to the rescue of the Danish Jews will remain on view until Oct. 15.

Throughout the exhibit, original artifacts, photographs, and audio tapes blend to portray the events of three centuries of Danish-Jewish life. The religious life of both individuals and the community is illustrated by lovely ceremonial objects on loan from the Copenhagen Jewish community and rare Hebrew manuscripts from the Copenhagen Royal Library. Also on view are many paintings from the golden age of Danish painting which depict Jewish life in Denmark and the community’s special relationship with the Danish monarchy.

The heroic rescue of the Danish Jews and the Danish resistance movement is highlighted in the World War II section of the exhibit. Artifacts loaned by the freedom Museum of Copenhagen include one of the original fishing boats used in the daring rescue four decades ago.

VICTOR BORGE PARTICIPATES

Victor Borge, the Danish-born entertainer who uniquely combines music with comedy, officially opened the exhibition. Borge was a leading Scandinavian entertainer when the Germans invaded Denmark. He was a target of the Nazis because of his biting satire of Hitler, but he escaped to the United States on the last ship to leave Finland where he had fled to escape capture.

Borge, who is a presidential appointee to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, stated that Denmark’s rescue of its Jewish population “is inscribed in history’s chapter of man’s noblest deeds … even as it happened, it was so remarkable it became a legend. Years have passed but the legend is forever true, forever beautiful.”

Other dignitaries who spoke at the opening were Denmark’s Ambassador to the U.S., Eigil Jorgensen; former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, John Loeb, Jr.; and Chief Rabbi of Denmark, Bent Melchior. Loeb brought greetings from President Reagan which stated, “This exhibition will enhance our understanding of the deep cultural bonds and traditions that meant so much to the Danish people for centuries.” One of Loeb’s direct ancestors, Abraham Mathias Levy, is among those whose story is told in the exhibit.

NEXT STORY