June 20, 2024
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The Heroic and Righteous Danish Gentiles

In 1994 I published an article in the Jewish Press and Aufbau (a German Jewish paper) about my wonderful experiences with my grandmother Elfriede Cohn. Since then, my dearest mother passed and the memories of Denmark and the Danish heroism of the Holocaust is starting to fade.

My mother Anne Margrethe was born into a very affluent and famous family. Her mother was the great-granddaughter of the Wurzburger Rav. My grandmother married my grandfather Georg Cohn, who was a diplomat in the foreign office; expert in international law (there is an area named after my grandfather in Greenland after he won the case proving Greenland belonged to Denmark); adviser to King Christian X of Denmark and the recipient of a knighthood from the King; standing judge at the International Court in Hague; rabbi and doctorate. Many sought his advice, including Ben-Gurion, and Magen David Adom was created due to the vote from my grandfather in Denmark. My grandmother told me she met so many famous people, the most impressive being Winston Churchill. However, what most impressed me was how two Orthodox Jews could attend the royal parties and pretend to drink wine so as not to insult anyone. Torah and Halacha were never to be compromised. At the same time my grandparents lived a very cultured life, engaging in theater, arts and ballet.

There is so much more to say and more written online which I recommend you to search at your leisure, but for now I want to shift the focus to the righteous Danish gentiles who saved my mother and her family’s life.

When my mother was eight years old, she fled from Denmark on Erev Rosh Hashanah. She had to wear many dresses, one on top of the other. My grandmother stayed to cook the fish balls and only after the war did the neighbors inform them that the Nazis came with their dogs looking for them one hour after my grandmother left.

There were five children all living in a large country home with three cousins and a staff of nannies. My grandfather had a friend who was consul to Chile and came to warn them that the Jews were leaving. My grandfather stayed and once again got a second warning, this one more imminent. At that point they initially stayed by the farmhouse of one of their nannies but then had to flee to a home of a freedom fighter when that became too dangerous. My grandfather was able to find a Danish fishermen who would take them over to neutral Sweden. As they were waiting in the boat, a Danish policeman came and everyone was scared until he smiled and wished them a safe trip. My grandfather continued to work as a professor in the university during their time in Sweden.

After the war was over, they returned to their home, which was left intact minus a few articles that the neighbors took thinking they would not return.

Recently, my mother’s dear cousin Ingrid made a video about her experience that was produced by her granddaughter. The same harbor in Hornbaek, a beautiful small fishing village where they were rescued to Sweden, is where I spent my summers with my grandmother in her summer home. I only recently found out that because my grandfather was so famous the Nazis were looking for him, forcing him to hide in a rehabilitation facility under a different name. Through books I have read about the Danish resistance, I discovered that the Danish doctors and nurses hid Jews under different names and with made up diagnoses in hospitals. It is the heroism and utmost bravery of these righteous Danish gentiles that is the reason I and my family are here today!

So many countries and people were faced with the same challenge but the heroic Danes stood up to the bullies and refused to obey and hand over their fellow citizens like so many other countries did. The Danes did not follow the crowd, they did what was right and ethical.

There are many lessons we can learn from the Danish people; among them, intolerance to wrong behavior and ideas, self-respect and doing the right thing even when you are faced with what appears to be impossible.

The Danes are also known for their tremendous sense of humor and they made fun of how the Nazis marched, mimicking them while they marched in town. The king of Denmark kept to his routine, riding his horse daily in town, but contrary to what history says, he did not wear the Jewish star.

My family and my Danish roots taught me to love and protect the Torah and Jewish values and, most importantly, to stand up for what is right and just and be a proud Orthodox Jew.

My mother instilled in me love for Israel and Denmark and kindness and love for my fellow Jew and fellow human being.

Thank you, my dearest Mor (Danish for mother) and my dearest Mormor (maternal grandmother). A better family and upbringing I could not ask for.

Thank you to all the heroic righteous Danish gentiles who risked their lives for the Jewish people and stood behind their principles. A lasting lesson for all generations to come.

Last but not least, to my wonderful husband Zev who always supports me, my wonderful children and to you, Moshe, for encouraging me to write this article in your wonderful paper, The Jewish Link.


DEDICATION

This article is dedicated to the memory of my courageous and wonderful mother Anne Margrethe Shepper and her exceptional and brave parents, the Honorable Georg Cohn and his wife Elfriede Cohn, and to the outstanding and heroic Danish gentiles and fishermen who risked their lives and stood up to the Nazis. Their intolerance for the Nazis, supporters of their fellow Danes and heroism saved so many Danish lives including my mother’s family. May all of their memories be forever a blessing!

Dr. Susanna Shepper and Mr. Zev Berglas and Family.


Dr. Susanna Shepper is a board certified physiatrist and president of Platinum Physiatry. She can be reached at [email protected].

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