Scandinavian Countries to the Rescue of Concentration Camp Prisoners
Even when it was obvious that the tide was swinging against the Wehrmacht, the persecution and extermination of Jews continued unabated except for one particular group. Jewish and non-Jewish political prisoners alike from Norway and Denmark were rescued in “Bernadotte’s Operation.” In 1942/43, Norwegian and Danish prisoners were transferred to German camps. Some 800 of Norway’s 1,700 Jews were sent to Auschwitz. Only twelve survived. About 800 fled to Sweden. The first transport of Jews to Theresienstadt occurred in 1943. Altogether about 6,000 Danes were imprisoned in Germany. About 5,500 Norwegians including 400 Jews were released to Denmark and Sweden before the end of the war. Another 500 returned at the end of the war. Early on the Swedes tried to save Norwegians and Jews and appealed to the Germans, with little success. Approximately 50,000 Norwegians including 800 Jews and 18,000 Danes, including 7,500 Jews streamed across the borders into Sweden. The Swedish treasury supported these refugees. A Norwegian rescue committee under Foreign Minister Detliff was set up in Sweden, which sent food parcels to Norwegian prisoners. Towards the end of 1944 as the Allied armies closed in on Berlin, there were rumors that concentration camps would be destroyed together with their inmates. Detliff, assisted by Bernadotte, the Red Cross, and the Swedish section of the World Jewish Congress headed by Hillel Storch, prevailed on the Germans in early 1945 to release many sick students and to transfer Norwegian and Danish prisoners to camps on Scandinavian borders. In April 17,000 prisoners were transferred to Denmark and Sweden. Himmler’s personal physician, Dr. Felix Kersten and the courageous Norbert Masur of the World Jewish Congress flew to Berlin to meet with Himmler and persuaded him not to destroy the camps. Unfortunately, his orders were ignored. The Swedish government deserves great credit for its positive role.