Elisabeth K571 is not a name that fires the imagination, but for Denmark and its tiny Jewish community it is a symbol of resistance and safety.
The 30-foot cutter, now owned by a museum and recently restored, is the last surviving vessel to have ferried Jews to the safety of Sweden in October 1943. This month it was guest of honour at a 75-year anniversary event.
It took place in the port of Køge, 30 miles south of Copenhagen, with 100 guests witnessing the unveiling of a nine-foot granite sculpture
honouring the little-told rescue of 7,000 Danish Jews.
It is a story Danes are rightly proud to tell, of a nation’s reaction when – in October 1943, under Nazi occupation – Danish Jews started being rounded up.
Panicked Jewish families that had not yet managed to escape saw safety in neutral Sweden, a few miles away across the Øresund sound. But the coast, like the towns and cities, was patrolled by the Gestapo.
In the days and weeks that followed, Jews from Danish cities were transported secretly by the Resistance to places like Køge, sometimes in mock funeral corteges, sometimes in ambulances under assumed names. From Køge, the persecuted were helped to the coast.
“From the town square Jews were transported in trolleys, lorries, buses and taxis to a little place near the coast south of Køge, where they were hidden in a farm,” recalls Bruno Juul, a project manager at the town’s Home Guard Association, which has organised the ceremony.
“Then, in the darkness, they rowed out to two waiting fishing boats. On 8 October 1943, up to 500 fugitive Jews sailed to freedom, landing at the small harbour of Klagshamn in Sweden.”
Juul said the Køge operation was Denmark’s largest, but similar efforts were made all along the coast. Jews were spirited out to Sweden by whatever means available, including rowing boats, sailing boats and fishing boats, hidden under deck, always at night, always under the noses of German patrols.
In nearby Dragør, up to 700 Jews were ferried in boats including Elisabeth K571, skippered by fisherman Einar Larsen. He alone saved 70 Jews before being interrogated by the Gestapo in 1944. He soon fled himself, living the rest of his life across the waters with those he saved.
He was lucky ones. Some non-Jewish Danes lost their lives for their bravery, including Snekkersten innkeeper H. C. Thomsen, who was sent to Theresienstadt where he died.
Juul says Danes’ wartime deeds have “so far been overlooked and not described in the history books”, but in the village of Gilleleje, where up to 900 Jews left and many local fishermen were interned, stands
a 20-foot statue, a gift from Israeli billionaire and shipping tycoon Yuli Ofer in recognition of residents’ help.
The Home Guard Association in Køge added another symbol of defiance, a reminder of the heroism
of Danes, in the two-hour ceremony attended by Danish ministers
and the Israeli and Swedish
Also among those present was 88-year-old Rudolf Bier, father of the Danish film producer Susanne Bier, who was one of those rescued..
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