According to the estimates of Sergio DellaPergola’s “World Jewish Population, 2016,” Denmark is home to between 6,400 and 8,500 Jews. The Danish Jewish community has had an almost continuous presence in Denmark since initial Jewish settlement and consists of a wide array of Jews that includes religious and non-religious (secular) Jews. The Jewish community in Denmark is represented by the Det Jødiske Samfund i Danmark (The Jewish Community in Denmark) – the Danish affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.
Denmark was the first Scadinavian country to allow Jews to settle in its territory when King Christian IV sent a message to the leaders of the Sephardic communities in Amsterdam and Hamburg in 1622, inviting them to settle in the recently established town of Gluckstadt. Many accepted this invitation and began engaging in the Danish trading and manufacturing industries. Some Jews even worked closely with the royal family, often as personal financiers and jewelers for the Danish royals. Benjamin Mussafia was appointed physican to the royal family in 1646 and his son-in-law, Gabriel Milan, later served as governor of the Danish West Indies from 1684 to 1686.
The Danish Jewish community continued to grow into the eighteenth century, with the majority of Jewish immigrants living in Copenhagen. Jewish life in Denmark during this period was suprisingly vibrant, with the general tolerance of Danish authorities allowing for Rabbis, teachers, and other community leaders among Danish Jews to practice. The influence of the Jewish Enlightement reached Denmark in the late eighteenth century, and the king issued a number of reforms aimed at integrating all Danish subjects into society. As a result of such reforms, Danish Jews were able to study at universities, buy real estate, and even join guilds.
Despite a manifestation of somewhat pertinent anti-Semitism in Denmark from 1813 to 1819, the ninteenth century saw the pattern of cultural, social, and economic progress for Danish Jewry continue. In 1814, Danish Jews were granted civic equality, and later in 1849, they were granted full citizenship rights. Throughout this period, the Jewish popuation continued to steadily increase.
Intermarriage and a low birth contributed to a drop in the Danish Jewish population in the beginning of the twentieth century, but the arrival of a number of Jewish refugees from eastern Europe after the Kishinev pogrom in 1903 saw it increase by the thousands. Danish Jews were prominent in all aspects of Danish life, with a number of Jews serving in high offices of the state. Edvard Brandes served as Minister of Finance from 1909 to 1910 and again from 1913 to 1920. Perhaps the most famous Danish Jew, the physicist Niels Bohr, was heavily engaged in his groundbreaking work on theoretical physics during this time. The rise of Nazism in Europe saw a small number of Jews from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia arrive in Denmark shortly.
In the aftermath of World War II, the Danish Jewish community was restored. Since almost all of the pre-war Jewish population in Denmark survived the war due to the heroic collective efforts of the Danish people, the Jewish community in Denmark did not experience a large number of aliyahs or Jewish immigrations. In 1968, Jewish refugees from Poland, victims of a Communist Party discrimatory witch-hunt, arrived in Copenhagen.
Today, the Jewish community in Denmark is officially recognized by the Danish government and is well-integrated into mainstream Danish society. There have been some instances of anti-Semitism in Denmark, but this has mostly been attributed to Muslim immigrant populations, rather than Danish society as a whole. Overall, Danish Jews live in peaceful co-existence with their Jewish neighbors.
In the years preceding the Holocaust, Denmark welcomed around 4,500 Jewish refugees, mainly from Germany and eastern European countries directly threatened by Nazi aggression pre-World War II. This ended when Denmark was occupied by the Germans in 1940.
The Nazi occupation of Denmark was somewhat unique in its approach, as the Germans wished to incur favor among the Danish, who they regarded as fellow “Aryans.” Nazi occupying authorities allowed the Danish royalty and government to remain in the country and even retain a considerable degree of autonomy, especially in regards to the “Jewish Question,” which was considered non-existent by the Danish people. As a result, Denmark was not pressed on this issue and Danish Jews were left unbothered.
In fact, Jews living in occupied-Denmark enjoyed a relatively stable existence, especially in comparison with the horrors inflicted on other Jews living under Nazi-occupation. Jewish religious life continued to function unbothered, and Danish Jews were not required to register their properties and assets or identify themselves. Most symbolic, they did not have to wear a yellow star or badge. King Christian X was outspokenly supportive of the Danish Jewish community during this period.
In 1943, resistance activities in Denmark flared and the Danish government resigned rather than capitulate to further German demnads. As a result of increased resistance and sabotage, the German authorities took direct control over Danish institutions. With this, the Nazis made plans to quickly deport Danish Jews. When word of this reached non-Jewish Danes, the Jewish community was immediately alerted, and one of the most remarkable rescue missions during the Holocaust commenced.
The Danish Underground, along with Danish authorities and countless private citizens, carried out a massive operation to get Danish Jews to safety. Danish authorities refused to cooperate with the Nazis, turning a blind eye to Jews found in hiding, and popular protests – including from the royal family – were prominent throughout the country. In a somewhat organized, somewhat spontaneous effort, the Danish Underground moved Jews to temporary safe houses, and then to the coast, with the goal of getting them across the Baltic Sea to neutral Sweden.
In a period of about a month, a number of fishermen ferried Danish Jews across the sea, and the rescue operation expanded to include the Danish government and police. Over 7,500 Jews and non-Jewish relatives – including Christians married to Jews – were rescued in this effort. Unfortunately, over 400 Danish Jews were captured by the Nazis and deported to Theresienstadt. However, the Danish population and authorities insistently and fervently demanded information about their whereabouts and living conditions, largely deterring the Nazis from transporting them to killing centers. 53 Danish died in Theresienstadt.
Denmark has one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any Nazi-occupied country, with the efforts of the Danish people saving almost the entire Danish Jewish community from the Holocaust.
Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated that as of 2001, there were between 6,400 and 8,500 Jews in Denmark, out of a total population of 5,605,948 – that is, 0.11% of the population. This includes non-religious (secular) Danish Jews, with the religiously active members of the community numbering approximately 1,800.
The majority of Danish Jews live in Copenhagen, but there are smaller communities in cities such as Odense and Aarhus as well.
The central body of Danish Jewry is Det Jødisk Samfund i Danmark (The Jewish Community in Denmark), which is run by a council of 20 delegates elected by its members. A board of seven representatives is then elected by the council. Most of the Jewish organizations and institutions are headquartered in the Jewish House, the Jewish community center in Copenhagen that also provides a myriad of Jewish activities. The Jewish House has venues for parties and activities, a café, a library, and an industrial kitchen. It hosts a number of Jewish immersive discussions and meetings, including women’s events with debate.
There is also a broad variety of organizations in the Jewish Community, many of them are branches of international Jewish organisations such as WIZO, The Zionist Federation, Keren Kayemet, Maccabi (Hakoah) and B’nei Akiva. They all contribute to a rich cultural life in the community. Within the local Jewish community, Caroline’s Friends is a school support organization that consists of former and current students, parents, and grandparents, who work to help support educational financial needs. Social institutions also include two homes for the aged and one seniors' condominium with self-contained apartments.
There are a number of synagogues in Copenhagen, with The Great Synagogue being the most prominent as the seat of Denmark’s Chief Rabbi, Jair Melchior. An Orthodox synagogue, a Reform synagogue, and an unaffiliated synagogue also operate in the capital city. There is also a progressive Jewish congregation in the Öresund region (Copenhagen, Malmö, and southern Sweden) called Shir Hazafon and a Chabad in Frederiksberg. In addition, the Jewish House in Copenhagen has a mikveh.
Kosher food is readily available in Copenhagen, with a kosher butchery and options available through The Jewish Community in Denmark.
There is a Jewish day school in Copenhagen, the Caroline Jewish Day School (Carolineskolen), that offers a Jewish-oriented education from pre-school through 9th grade located in the suburbs of Copenhagen. A number of Jewish educational opportunities and events are offered through The Jewish Community in Denmark. In terms of secondary education or general Danish academia, the Royal Library in Copenhagen has a Judaica department and the University of Copenhagen has a Center for the Study of Jewish Thought in Modern Culture.
A number of Jewish youth groups in Denmark are offered through the auspices of the Jewish Community of Denmark, as well as through international organizations such as B’nai B’rith and B’nai Akiva. Additionally, Maccabi (HaKoach) is active in the community.
The Danish Jewish community publishes a magazine, Joedisk Orientering, six times a year. There are also two Jewish periodicals, Rambam and Alef, the latter being a journal of Jewish culture, and the community’s webpage provides updates on the happenings of the community. www.mosaiske.dk
There are a number of notable Jewish sites in Denmark, mainly centered around Copenhagen and its surrounding areas. This includes the Great Synagogue, which was designed by one of Denmark’s most famous architects in the nineteenth century, Gustav Friedrich Hechst, and two Jewish cemeteries, with one containing a memorial to the 53 Danish Jews who perished at Theresienstadt.
The Danish Jewish Museum displays the history of Jewish life in Denmark and the Liberty Museum and Museum of Danish Resistance have exhibits on the Danish Underground’s efforts to save the lives of Danish Jews. Behind the Museum of Danish Resistance is a sculpture, “Wounded Woman,” dedicated to the Danish people by Israel in honor of their heroic efforts to save Danish Jews from the Nazis.
Israel and Denmark maintain full diplomatic relations.
In Jerusalem, a boat-like monument was erected on the 25th anniversary of the rescue of Danish Jewry, and a school was named in Denmark's honor. Many cities and towns in Israel have a street or square commemorating the heroism of the Danes. Moreover, one of the prominent items on display in Yad Vashem is a small boat that was used to ferry Jews to safety in Sweden. On Israels Plads in Copenhagen there is a monument from Eilat stone with an inscription in both Danish and Hebrew, a gift of the people of Israel. Denmark's Queen Margrethe II was the patron of the 1993 events marking the 50th anniversary of the rescue operation of Danish Jews.
DK-2900 Hellerup, Copenhagen
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