h i s t o r y the hope that they could accelerate Jewish emigration. Van Tijn had limited success, finding the Americans – or anyone else – reluctant to take Jewish refugees.
A few months later, the SS decreed that German and stateless Jews must register for emigration. Van Tijn had already encountered German duplicity when she gave a list of Jews on the training farm to Klaus Barbie, a young and fanatical SS officer. He claimed they were going home to Germany; but they were actually sent to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where most soon perished. Nevertheless, van Tijn was torn: what if the Germans were sincere? After all, they had apparently sent her to Lisbon in good faith. She began work on the list but prevaricated for as long as possible. When the SS required the Jewish council to prepare file cards for every Jew in the country, Cohen and Asscher permitted a brief internal debate – and then conceded.
Early the following year all non-Dutch Jews were ordered to Westerbork, which was converted into a concentration camp. As long as the Germans pursued foreign Jews the council was complaisant, but van Tijn refused to disclose the identities of those on her emigration list who disobeyed the instructions. The imposition of the yellow star on all 140,000 Dutch Jews and the start of conscription for alleged work in Germany came as a terrible surprise. After debating how to respond, the council resolved that it was best to comply in the hope of preventing worse treatment. They used the promise of cooperation to obtain protection for their employees, who swelled in number to 17,000.
Van Tijn, who was excluded from the council, consistently criticised Cohen and Asscher. However, she accepted their invitation to run a department to assist those slated for deportation. This activity brought comfort to the poor souls consigned to Westerbork and, after that, transportation to the east. It gave her the chance to mingle among the deportees and slip them council armbands that might save them. It also provided employment and protection for her staff. But it made her a component of the SS machine. Ferdinand aus der Fünten, the officer who managed the SS ‘Emigration Office’, so valued her work that he twice intervened to save her from deportation.
Finally, the SS dissolved the council and van Tijn was dispatched to Westerbork. There she found the camp administration dominated by embittered German Jews who had been surrendered by their Dutch co-religionists. In June 1944 she was included in a group of Jews to be exchanged for German nationals in Allied hands. She arrived in Palestine a month later and soon afterwards wrote the first account of how Dutch Jewry was destroyed. It was also an indictment of Cohen. After the war he was tried as a collaborator, first by a Jewish honour court and then by the Dutch. The Jews condemned him; the Dutch let the case lapse. Van Tijn also faced accusations of collaborating and settled in the USA partly to escape the poisonous atmosphere in Palestine and Holland. Wasserstein tells van Tijn’s story beautifully, weaving the historical background almost seamlessly into the narrative. While leaning on her unpublished autobiography, he corroborates her activity using documents from numerous archives. His evaluations are judicious and humane.
The same qualities inform Bo Lidegaard’s day-by-day chronicle of the confused German action against the Danish Jews in October 1943 and the muchmythologised Danish reaction. He too relies on first-person accounts, but he lacks Wasserstein’s storytelling skill. His narrative is lumpy, repetitive and tiresomely didactic. Lidegaard maintains that the 7,742 Danish Jews were saved because ‘Danish democracy had mobilized itself to protect the values on which it was based’. Since the German occupation in April 1940, the Danes had cooperated with the Germans, supplying essential foodstuffs to the Reich in return for extensive autonomy. But they drew the line at interference with their Jewish citizens. When Werner Best, a senior SS officer and the German plenipotentiary in Copenhagen, decided in September 1943 that it was time to round up the Danish Jews, he provoked a storm of opposition. Realising that if he pressed ahead he would jeopardise a major portion of the Reich’s larder, Best rowed back. He effectively let the Jews slip away to Sweden, which had publicly offered them sanctuary.
The solidarity between Christian and Jewish Danes was owed in large part to the tiny size of the Jewish community and its thorough assimilation. Unlike the Netherlands, Denmark had rigorously excluded Jewish refugees from 1933 onwards: there were only 1,500 German Jews in the country in 1940. Moreover, Denmark’s Jews had kept their jobs and property and were not obliged to wear the yellow star. Danes were not, therefore, being called upon to rescue destitute, emaciated wrecks of humanity crammed into squalid ghettos. Nor had they been subjected to brutal repression for expressing support for the Jews earlier, as was the case in Holland. Crucially, thanks to German dependence on imported Danish foodstuffs and lack of manpower, the Danes had leverage.
The entire operation was a farce. Best wanted to make a show of cracking down on the Jews so that he could enhance his authority in Denmark. He had no intention of carrying it through and allowed Georg Duckwitz, one of his deputies, to tip off a leading Danish politician and, for good measure, the Swedes. The Danes warned the Jews, while the Swedes announced that ‘Sweden is open’. Rather absurdly in view of Best’s ‘public diplomacy’, for a while neither the Danes nor the Jews believed it could be true. The Jewish community leadership never issued any advice to flee, while the Danish underground took days to organise a response.
When word of the action was leaked, the majority of Jews in Copenhagen abandoned their homes and sought refuge in the countryside, most in small ports on the northern coast. About a thousand crossed to Sweden on their own initiative in the first chaotic days of the crisis, paying handsomely for the passage. After raiding empty homes on 1 October, the German security police and their Danish SS helpers did little more. Over the next week, the Danes systematically helped Jews reach Sweden. The Germans did nothing to stop them. They could not effectively patrol the channel between Denmark and Sweden because they had temporarily detained Danish naval crews and had none of their own to spare. Although they didn’t know it, the worst that the Jews had to worry about was rough weather. Lidegaard never speculates how ‘Danish democracy’ would have fared if the Germans had really meant business. To order these books, see the Literary Review bookshop on page 29
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