Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Is "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen" Now Off-Limits for Jews?

On December 17, 2012, the Simon Wiesental Center issued a travel advisory for Copehagen and Denmark, following a warning by the Israeli Ambassador to Denmark, advising Israelis not to wear kippot, jewelry with religious symbols, or to speak Hebrew on the streets of the Danish capital. The advisory follows reports of physical attacks on Jews in Copenhagen.  Men who visit Copenhagen's Great Synagogue (pictured above) are warned not to put on a kippah (yamulke) until they actually enter the synagogue.

The necessity of issuing such a warning is a very sad, black mark on the history of Denmark, particularly in light of the manner in which Denmark protected its Jewish population from Nazi persecution in World War II.  As noted by the Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Abraham Cooper:
“World Jewry remains deeply grateful to the people of Denmark, who throughout Nazi occupation during WWII treated their fellow Jewish citizens as equals. And in unparalleled acts of courage and humanity, Danes saved all 7,500 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis by spiriting them out to neutral Sweden.”
The Danish rescue efforts culminated in October 1943, following an order by Adolph Hitler to arrest all Danish Jews and deport them to the labor and death camps of "the Final Solution." Ordinary Danish citizens, using ferries, yachts, and fishing boats, secretly smuggled the entire Jewish population across the Oresund strait into neutral, unoccupied Sweden.

Ironically, Malmo, the Swedish port city where many of the Danish Jewish refugees landed, is itself the subject of a Simon Wiesenthal Center travel advisory, after multiple violent assaults on the local rabbi and other Jews went unanswered by the police and political leadership of Sweden’s third largest city. It would appear that the perpetrators of the attacks in both Copenhagen and Malmo are young Muslim immigrants. Unfortunately, the Danish local authorities have not responded as courageously as did their forbearers in World War II.

When I was a little boy, my mother told me a popular story about how following the occupation of Denmark by the Nazis, the SS ordered all Danish Jews to wear an armband with a yellow Star of David in public.  The story goes that the following day, when King Christian X went out for his daily afternoon walk, he wore a yellow armband with a Star of David on his sleeve, and the next day all Copenhageners were wearing the Star of David on their sleeves.

The story is only a myth, but growing up, it shaped my view of the Danes.  To me, Copenhagen symbolizes that story and the courage of the Danes who evacuated their Jews in defiance of the Nazis.  To me, Copenhagen is the wondrous city that I visited in college, the city of Hans Christian Andersen, the Little Mermaid statue in the harbor, Tivoli Gardens (photo below), the Carlsberg and Tuborg breweries, and the Great Synagogue, in which a young Danish friend showed so much pride in showing me.  It is singing "Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen," from the movie Hans Christian Andersen, starring Danny Kaye, a Jew, playing the title role.  I may only hope and pray that the courageous Danes return to that Copenhagen.


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