The Lutheran church in Denmark has asked the members of the ELCA to remember in prayer the courageous work 70 years ago this October by Danish citizens that prevented most Danish Jews from being captured by the Nazis during World War II. You could remember this 70th anniversary in your congregation as part of a Global Church Sunday celebration (www.ELCA.org/GlobalChurchSunday).
In a letter to ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, Danish Ambassador to the U.S. Peter Taksøe -Jensen recently wrote:
“This coming October, it will be 70 years since the vast majority of the Danish Jews were rescued from annihilation by the Nazi occupation forces and brought to safety in neighbouring Sweden. This is a remarkable historical episode and one in which the Danish Lutheran Church played an important role.
“To ensure that we never forget but continue to learn from this episode, even as the years pass, we are currently planning a series of events in the United States to commemorate the rescue on its 70th anniversary, and I would like to invite you and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States to join us in this effort.”
Ambassador Taksøe-Jensen goes on to describe how in September 1943 it was learned that the Nazis occupying Denmark planned to capture and deport all the Danish Jews to prison camps. That news prompted the Danish bishop to send a letter of protest to the Nazis stating the church’s opposition to the prosecution of the Jews. That letter was read from all the pulpits in Denmark. The letter said in part:
“Wherever Jews are persecuted because of their religion or race it is the duty of the Christian Church to protest against such prosecution. … Our different religious views notwithstanding, we shall fight for the cause that our Jewish brothers and sisters may preserve the same [religious] freedom which we ourselves evaluate more highly than life itself. … [while] there is a clear understanding of our duty to be law abiding citizens who will not groundlessly rebel against the authorities … . [we shall] unequivocally adhere to the concept that we must obey God before we obey man.”
This public letter of protest from the church, the ambassador says, helped give Danes from all walks of life the courage to protect their Jewish neighbors by secretly taking them in early October to the coast of Sweden and safety. In just a few days without advance planning, Danish citizens, often using small fishing boats, took about 7,000 people to safety. Less than 500 of the Danish Jews were captured by the Nazis.
For a detailed account of the rescue effort, click here.