Heroes of WWII: The German Diplomat Who Helped Save 95% of Denmark's Jews

Heroes of WWII: The German Diplomat Who Helped Save 95% of Denmark's Jews

“I know what I have to do,” Duckwitz wrote in his diary.

WP Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz
Have you heard of Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz? He was a German diplomat who risked his life to save 7,000 of Denmark's Jewish population from certain deportation to concentration camps during WWII.

Born in Bremen, Germany, in 1904, Duckwitz hailed from a family of merchants.
After completing his studies in law and economics, he ventured into right-wing
politics. His journey led him to the Nazi Party in 1932. He initially worked in
the German Foreign Ministry but resigned in 1934, disenchanted with the
brutality he witnessed.

Duckwitz found employment with a German coffee company and later as a
maritime shipping expert, which ultimately led him to serve as an attaché in
Copenhagen, Denmark. It was during this time that his life would take a
remarkable turn.

Occupied Denmark and Looming Tragedy

The year 1940 marked the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. Denmark's
relatively peaceful occupation was partly due to its usefulness as a source of food
for Germany. Initially, the Nazi regime showed restraint, considering most
Danes part of the "Aryan" race. However, as the war dragged on,
relations soured, and the Danish resistance grew.
In 1943, the situation took a dire turn as the Nazis ordered the deportation
of Denmark's Jewish population (approximately 7,800 people) to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. It was at this critical juncture that Duckwitz's path intersected with destiny. Werner Best, a senior SS officer and Reich Commissioner over Denmark, who Duckwitz had befriended, mentioned the plan to him in a private conversation.

Duckwitz's Decision

Upon learning of the Nazi's horrifying plan, Duckwitz knew he had to act. He
fled to Sweden, where he secured the Swedish government's agreement to accept
Jewish refugees from Denmark. Returning to Denmark, he met with prominent
Danish politician Hans Hedtoft, sharing vital information about the impending
deportations. This courageous step set in motion a series of actions that would
save thousands of lives.
News of the planned deportations spread like wildfire, prompting Danish citizens
to rally in support of their Jewish compatriots. Many hid Jewish individuals in
their homes, providing shelter and sustenance. Coastal fishing towns saw a
desperate exodus of Jews boarding small boats, seeking refuge in Sweden.
Despite the dangers, the majority successfully reached Swedish shores, thanks
to the bravery of local fishermen and Duckwitz's intervention.

A few boats were intercepted by German ships and the occupants were arrested. In one more act of courage, Duckwitz persuaded some German
harbourmasters he knew not to send out further military patrols.
Below: Danish Jews being evacuated to Sweden in the dead of night, 1943.
Image source: Unknown photographer/Getty Images

A Lasting Legacy

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz's heroic efforts saved an estimated 95% of
Denmark's Jewish population (over 7,000 people) from deportation to concentration camps. While some were unable to escape and faced the horrors of Theresienstadt, the Danish government provided support to those incarcerated there.

Miraculously, Duckwitz was never arrested by the Nazis and survived the rest of the war.

After the war, Duckwitz continued his diplomatic career, serving as West
Germany's ambassador to Denmark and working on improving post-war relations
between Germans and Poles. Denmark recognised his contributions, and in 1971,
Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial honoured him with the "Righteous
Among the Nations" award. Duckwitz died in 1973 aged 68.

1 comment

  • Mark C

    What an amazing man, his story deserves to be as widely known as Schindler’s.

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