Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Forgetting or overlooking the Holocaust demeans the memory of the 6 million killed by the Nazis and their collaborators — as well as those who stood up for the lives of those who were murdered.
Among those who stood up were members of Gilleleje Lutheran Church, and its pastor, Kjeldgaard Jensen. Situated in Denmark, this tiny fishing village was just across the water from Sweden. When Hitler’s troops invaded Denmark in 1940, it took only 4 hours before Denmark surrendered. But surrender by its leaders was not indicative of the Danish people’s will to resist. This became evident in 1943 when the Nazis began systematically rounding up Denmark’s 7800 Jews. “Almost overnight,” Rod Gragg writes, “Denmark changed from a model of compliance with Nazi rule to a model of national opposition to the Holocaust — becoming an example of unified support for the Jewish people that was unequaled by any other nation in World War II.”
Gragg describes how fishing boats were mobilized to shuttle Jews to safety in neutral Sweden, and Danish universities were closed so students could help Jews to flee. Danish police looked the other way. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark wrote to its congregations, urging them to aid the Jewish community, stating:
We shall fight for the right of our Jewish brothers and sisters to keep the freedom that we ourselves value more highly than life. We shall, if occasion should arise, plainly acknowledge our obligation to obey God more than man.
Pastor Jensen read the letter to his church on Sunday, October 3, 1943. His people stepped up, sheltering Jews, providing food, helping with children & elderly, and contributing money. Though some were captured or killed, and others faced dangerous conditions on the water, of the 7800 Jews who lived in Denmark in 1943, 95% escaped the Holocaust — a number unmatched by any other occupied country. When Israel established Yad Vashem to honor those who saved Jews during the War, they were asked to honor the Danish resistance as one — a group of people, including many Christians, who said: Not on our watch.
Something to ponder this week, as we remember the 77th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. For no matter where or when or what it looks like, we who wear the name of Jesus are called to follow God first of all — no matter the cost.