My childhood ended when I was sixteen, on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 29, 1943. It happened in my classroom at Metropolitan School, in the middle of a French lesson. The principal entered the room, interrupted the teacher, pointed at me and to two of my friends, and said, “Please step out to the hall.”
The courteous tone of his voice made it clear that we were not about to be punished. Then he added, “If there are other students of Jewish origin in the class, would they please step out, too.” The homeroom teacher slipped a few books into his briefcase and joined us. “We have been warned that a manhunt for Jews is about to begin,” the principal said. “You’d better rush home. The Germans may come at any moment .”
I rushed to my desk and packed my schoolbag. My classmates sat there silently. We were old enough to understand what was happening. We knew that at best we would not see each other again for quite some time. Before I left the classroom, my bench mate pressed a scouts compass into my hand as a going-away present.
I had to get home with the speed of lightning. We lived on Osterbro Street, across from the bridge of the port of Lange Linje. I leaped aboard the streetcar, got off at Fridtjof Nansen Square, and ran to a kiosk to buy some newspapers—a stupid thing to do at such a moment.
My parents and brothers were already standing there, dressed and ready to escape, with warm winter clothing and several handbags with essentials . Father said that a friend who attended morning services at the synagogue on Krystalgade Street had phoned his office to tell him that the rabbi had interrupted the service and warned [the congregation] about the danger facing the Jews of Denmark . About a hundred people were there. The rabbi asked them to warn acquaintances and relatives. People were cautioned not to spend the next few nights at home and were urged to find shelter with Christian friends and acquaintances. Within a few hours, almost all the Jews of Copenhagen knew about the German action plan. Many details were still unknown to us at the time I came back from school—among other things, that two German cargo vessels, the Donau and the Wartheland , were steaming toward the port of Copenhagen at that very time to take all the Jews of Denmark to a transit camp somewhere in the south…
…. Friends and acquaintances of Dr. Jorgen Gersfelt had asked him to keep an eye on their summer homes during the winter and had left their keys with him. Many Jews came by train and were received by volunteers who quickly concealed them in these houses. The Gersfelt home became a main artery in this operation. Many Jews found shelter there, and when the time came for them to sail to Sweden, Jorgen drove them to the departure point in the car that, as a doctor, he was allowed to drive at night and even during curfew. The fishermen would tell him how many people they could take each night and how much it would cost. Gersfelt manipulated the passenger lists so that affluent refugees would pay for the indigent. He made young children drink an anesthetic so they would not cry and wake up the Germans, and he injected adults with a tranquilizer. In most cases, Gersfelt relates, it was the adults, of all people, who displayed the most fear. Indeed, they had reason to fear. The voyage was fraught with danger—especially at the beginning, when they set out in rowboats .
In the best case, it took four to five hours to make the crossing, depending on the currents and the weather conditions. At first, the fishermen did the rowing, but volunteers took over when they grew tired. Some of the boats were extremely heavy because of their burden of refugees, making it a nearly superhuman task to row. Gersfelt presents an illuminating example of the goodwill shown by the Danes in aiding their unfortunate compatriots. A retired mailman, a seventy-year-old gardener, and a barber volunteered to help one of the fishermen row his boat. The voyage took an entire night, and only the fisherman was an experienced oarsman .
From: Herbert Pundik, "Bedenmark Ze Lo Yachol Likroth" ("De Kan Ikke Ske I Danmark: Jodernes Flugt Til Sverige I 1943"), Zmora-Bitan, 1996, pp. 16-22.