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Countrymen

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Countrymen

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Countrymen
The untold story of how Denmark's Jews escaped the Nazis, of the courage of their fellow Danes - and the extraordinary role of the SS
By Bo Lidegaard
Translated from the Danish by Robert Maass
Alfred A. Knopf: New York: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-35015-0

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - October 14, 2013

In the annals of the Holocaust, Denmark is unique. It was the only country to actively resist Nazi efforts to deport the country's Jews to concentration camps. More important, in an unprecedented move, the citizens of Denmark banned together to help ferry Danish Jews to Sweden, which was neutral at the time. While not 100% successful, they did manage, in a scant two weeks, to whisk more than 6,500 Danish Jews out of Denmark, to safety in neutral Sweden. Of the 500 or so Jews that were captured by the Nazis, only about 50 perished. In large part, the Danish Jews that were captured by the Nazis survived because Danish officials never abandoned the captives. They hounded the Nazis about their well-being and status, and even made physical visits to Theresienstadt to check on them. In Countrymen, Bo Lidegaard chronicles the tremendous efforts of the Danish people, the stories of the Jews and others that they rescued, and of the help that the Danes received from some very unlikely sources.

September 28th, 2013 marked the 70th anniversary of this extraordinary event, and this book was published, in part, to commemorate the mass evacuation of Danish Jews. More important, this book also is the first comprehensive book detailing these remarkable events. In writing this book, Lidegaard, not only made use of official records, but also the diaries and writings of the rescued and the rescuers. He also interviewed many of the surviving participants.

Lidegaard is not as well known in the US as he should be. However, in Europe, and other parts of the world, he is a highly regarded historian, writer, and diplomat, to name but a few of his attributes. Countrymen provides an in-depth and authoritative overview of how, and why, the Danes protected 'their' Jews. In writing this book he provides a glimpse not only into the actual events of the rescue, but also in the lives of people from all walks of life - Jewish and non-Jewish, and how the Danish reaction to the Nazi occupation differed from other countries. He details how it was possible for almost the entire Danish nation to band together to arrange for this massive exodus - under the very nose of their Nazi oppressors. Lidegaard also tackles the sensitive issues of those who did not want to, or who were afraid to help the Jews. A very real fear, for none knew what the Nazi reaction would be to the flight of the Danish Jews, or what would happen to anyone found to have helped the Jews escape.

From beginning to end, Countrymen is an uplifting and fascinating book. In an attempt to include all the information that there is on the subject, Lidegaard's narrative occasionally gets a bit dense, but it is well worth the effort to press on. This is an unforgettable book that provides a unique glimpse at a little talked about aspect of the Holocaust and the righteous gentiles that helped to save their neighbors, their friends, and even complete strangers from near certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

A remarkable and timely book, Countrymen should be added to every private and public library, and should be required reading in high school and university level courses dealing the World War II and the Holocaust. I highly recommend this book!


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