Countrymen –
How Denmark’s Jews Escaped The Nazis
By Bo Lidegaard
Atlantic Books – £9.99

With yesterday’s announcement by the Danish Government that they are going to make it less attractive for refugees to seek sanctuary and asylum in Denmark – by confiscating all and any valuables/money (with the exception of wedding rings) – this overtly thought provoking book does put a number of humanitarian issues in perspective.

For instance, at what point does a society or a government stop reaching out to help others? And is it actually beneficial to society as a whole to stop helping others? If so, is it internationally beneficial to be seen to be doing so?

Perhaps the current Danish government have taken a ghastly leaf out of the equally ghastly gospel according to Donald Trump?

Either way, Countrymen – How Denmark’s Jews Escaped The Nazis is an all-encompassing, incisive investigation, into how the Danish government conducted itself during the Nazi occupation of their country during the Second World War. An inconceivably trying time when its ”government initiated a powerful political and moral mobilization aimed at galvanizing the Danish people against totalitarian ideologies and uniting the country around democratic governance and humanitarian ideals as the very essence of the national community.”

Admittedly, today’s Europe as a whole is politically cowering amid the current onslaught of refugees from Syria. As I write, three thousand are still arriving in Germany everyday. But, does that make it morally right, morally acceptable, to economically strip refugees of whatever it is they may have left upon (almost impossible) arrival?

These fourteen chapters (excluding Prologue and Epilogue) do much to show just how much society has changed – Danish society in particular. As The Guardian’s Ian Buruma makes clear: ”The story Lidegaard tells of how Danes, from the top bureaucrats, Church leaders and police officials down to the humblest fishermen, helped the Jews escape when the Germans tried to deport them to concentration camps in October 1943, is indeed astonishing and heart-warming.”

There is unfortunately very little that is ”heart-warming” amid yesterday’s seemingly immoral, rather crude pronouncement by the Danish government. If anything, it’s heart-breaking.

From that of a historical and political perspective, there’s so much of Countrymen that would suggest it’s a mighty big shame that history isn’t actually repeating itself: ”The peaceful occupation of Denmark was in Hitler’s lens the very model for how Germany could control Europe when the Third Reich had prevailed. While the areas and populations to the east were colonized and exploited – in fact mostly obliterated – in order to expand German Lebensraum, the northern and western European countries and populations held a more fortunate position. Denmark was a special case, both racially and because the government had chosen from the outset to base its policy on cooperation.”

For a totally different viewpoint on how the Danish government once was, how it could once tell the difference between right and wrong, have a read this most readable of humane and inspirational of books.

David Marx


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