In This Review

Countrymen
Countrymen
By Bo Lidegaard
Knopf, 2013, 416 pp.

This understated yet engaging book provides the best modern account of why, alone among all Nazi-occupied peoples, the Danes mobilized effective organized resistance to the Holocaust. They punished anti-Semites, evacuated most Danish Jews to nearby neutral Sweden, and interceded on behalf of the few unlucky enough to be deported to the concentration camp in Theresienstadt, in what was then Czechoslovakia. As a result, 99 percent of Danish Jews survived. These events have been subject to mythmaking over the decades, so Lidegaard’s nuanced and sober account is most welcome. A critical factor in the Danish campaign was the social solidarity of the Danes, who reacted almost unanimously against the persecution of minorities. Danish leaders also organized the evacuation pragmatically, offering direct payments to fishermen who ferried Jews across the straits to Sweden. One surprise is the essential role played by the ambivalence of some local Nazis, who -- perhaps aware that the war was not going well for their side -- quietly looked the other way and, in a few cases, even leaked vital information to the resistance. This intelligent and uplifting tale reminds readers that a tight sense of community and identity can be a force for progressive tolerance in the modern world.