Today, six of us travelled from Copenhagen to Gilleleje, a picturesque, tranquil and beautiful fishing town in Denmark. The fishing is famous. The people are kind and the harbor is colorful. It was another beautiful sunny day. We met new friends and connected with those who have helped Holocaust Museum Houston acquire and learn about our Danish fishing/rescue boat.
Geographically, Gilleleje is significant in Holocaust history. Facing Sweden across the open sound, many Danish Jews were carried from Gilleleje to safety in neutral Sweden, hidden in the holds of fishing vessels. Ordinary people did this, inspired by the need of others. In some cases fisherman were paid, in others they did not receive compensation. Each of the captains, whether paid or not, would have suffered grievously under the Gestapo had they been discovered.
One of the fishing vessels resides now at Holocaust Museum Houston, standing alongside our Holocaust era railcar, as a juxtaposition of evil and good, as a reminder that people can make decisions, even in times of horror and conflict, to help others. Over and over again today, I was struck by the power of good and the need to understand this town’s story and share it even more widely than I now do.
Our experiences today were made possible by two very special human beings, Lars and Lotte Starck, who arranged visits and accompanied us throughout our time in Gilleleje. We have new friends and we admire them for their work and compassion. Already tonight, they have sent us a link to the online newspaper, http://www.nordkysten.nu/?Id=19389
Follow this link and you can see pictures of us with Lars and Lotte; Ulla Skorstengaard (pastor of the Gilleleje Church where Jews were hidden in the attic); Tove Udsholt (a hidden child whose mother escaped to Sweden); and Jan Ferdinandsen (who arranged for HMH to receive the Hanne Frank – a fishing vessel). Jan leads Gilleleje now as the town’s mayor.
Ulla, pastor of the Gilleleje Church, spoke to us of the “crack in the evil system,” a crack that allowed news of the expected Nazi and Gestapo actions to spread, a rescue network to form. With support from this network, Jews found probable escape routes and hiding places along these routes. I am struck by the power of Ulla’s description.
I am struck by the power of nature I have seen at so many Holocaust sites, where cracks in solid stone allow plants to grow in areas that were once built by the Nazis to perpetrate horror and anguish. Ulla connected me to the idea that when a small opening is created for a different way of thinking, there is always possibility.
There will always be upstanders, and by telling more people the powerful story of Gilleleje, we will certainly encourage good actions, new growth in and through the “cracks” that are necessary for change.