Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning
By Timothy Snyder
Tim Duggan Books, 2015
At the minute I am immersed in Timothy Snyder’s magisterial, if in many places infernally grim Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.
So when I came across an article on the BBC website, ‘How the Danish Jews escaped the Holocaust’ (14 October 2015), certain distortions of fact were apparent. There is, for starters, the bland assertion: ‘Sweden, which remained neutral during the Second World War…’ Well, for most of the war Sweden supplied Nazi Germany with iron ore, so enabling Hitler’s forces to carry out their murderous policies of genocide and destruction. It is more accurate to say, in Arne Ruth’s words: ‘Sweden was not neutral, Sweden was weak.’
Let us, however, concentrate on Denmark. In Black Earth, Timothy Snyder compares the fates of Jews in Estonia and Denmark. Here, on page 217, is how he summarises the situation with regard to the Danes:
Jews who were Danish citizens survived, which is not exactly the same thing as Jews in Denmark surviving. Danish authorities did not accept Jewish refugees after 1935 [let us be clear what this means: in 1938 and 1939, when Jews were desperately seeking refuge following the collapse of Austria and Poland, Denmark’s borders were firmly closed], and they deported some of the ones who had arrived earlier back to Germany. The Jews who were denied state protection in Denmark shared the fate of Jews who lacked state protection in Estonia or, for that matter, elsewhere: death.
As an antidote to the BBC’s strange attempt to whitewash the war record of the Danes, I would recommend a read of the writings of Vilhjálmur Örn Vilhjálmsson. He, along with Bent Blüdnikow, has probably done the most to bring the darker aspects of Denmark’s history during World War Two to light. Here are two of his articles, the first of them written with Bent Blüdnikow:
A full review of Timothy Snyder’s magnificent book will follow shortly.