Writer and broadcaster Sandi Toksvig has told of how her family helped save Jews in Denmark during the country’s Nazi occupation in the Second World War.
QI quiz show presenter Toksvig, 61, who also co-presents Great British Bake Off, told of her grandparents’ bravery in 1943 as they hid Jews aiming for safety in Sweden.
“In the autumn of 1943, word was leaked that the Jews of Denmark were to be deported to concentration camps,” she wrote in the weekend’s edition of Guardian Books. “On 29 September the Danish Jews were warned by the chief rabbi of Denmark to go into hiding immediately.”
She said her journalist grandfather, who she called Farfar (meaning ‘father’s father’ in Danish) “built a false wall in the apartment and painted it to look like the end of their sitting room… Behind this theatrical piece of set he and Farmor (father’s mother) concealed Jewish families on the run”.
She said her own father, though still a little boy at the time, “went door to door, removing Jewish names from doorbells and replacing them with ordinary Danish ones”.
She continued: “One day my grandparents got word that the German authorities were coming to raid the apartment. Farmor took a knife and cut her legs, applying theatrical makeup to the wounds.
“When the men arrived, she was lying on a sofa. The terrible running sores on her legs persuaded the invaders they did not want to stay. The apartment was not searched, and the hidden family not found.”
Sweden, which was neutral during the war, declared on 2 October that it would take all Danish Jews. “This land of freedom lay just 10 miles or so across open water,” she said. “Fishermen up and down the coast gathered with any boat they could find. Across the Øresund the exodus of the Jews began.”
Sharing her family’s personal story will help educate and inform Europeans about a little-known but significant moment in history, with 99 percent of Danish Jews escaping successfully, aided by Danes who were sympathetic to their plight.
“It was the finest example of cooperation in the face of injustice,” Toksvig wrote. “My family had no reason to risk their lives for strangers, but when I asked my father why they had done it he simply shrugged and said it was the right thing to do.”
Last October, a ceremony took place in the port town in Køge, 30 miles south of Copenhagen, unveiling a sculpture created to honour the remarkable and little-told rescue of 7,000 Danish Jews on the 75-year anniversary of the operation.