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COUNTRYMEN by Bo Lidegaard


by Bo Lidegaard translated by Rob Maass

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-385-35015-0
Publisher: Knopf

How a Danish national “we” kept the Nazis at bay—and largely saved its Jewish population.

In this passionately argued study, former Politiken editor in chief Lidegaard (Defiant Diplomacy, 2003, etc.) takes on the complicated creation of the “model protectorate” and discusses why Denmark was able to resist Nazi actions against their Jews when other occupied countries could not. The author combines fine research with specific examples of Jewish families—e.g., pediatrician Adolph Meyer and his children, as they were affected by the events that played out between April 9, 1940, with the abrupt and total occupation of the country by Nazi Germany, through the action taken against the Jews on October 1, 1943. With King Christian X’s decision not to resist the Nazi assault, Denmark entered a “peaceful occupation,” surrendering the export of its substantial agricultural production to Germany in exchange for upholding its neutrality and regard for constitutional democracy. It was an “unparalleled” arrangement, especially regarding the status of the Jews, protected as citizens under Danish law. A move against the Jews, Christian and others had warned, would be seen as an abuse of Nazi power and stir trouble into this working cooperation. Early on, readers may feel they are being fed a dreamy tale of Danish exceptionalism, but Lidegaard meticulously pieces together the myriad facets to this incredible story, including Hitler’s special envoy in Denmark, Werner Best, a committed Nazi who managed to play it both ways until the order for a Jewish action could no longer be delayed; Sweden’s open-door policy toward the Danish refugees; and the enterprising Jewish families who quickly had to go into hiding, relying on a goodwill network of friends and fishermen to shuttle them to safety in Sweden.

A fascinating story about how the “Danish Jews were protected by their compatriots’ consistent engagement.”