The first example took place in central Denmark. A Danish lady said that her parents took in a young Jewish girl from Germany and hid her on their farm despite the risks of deportation to concentration camps if they had been discovered. There was no ideological basis to their action. They did not know her. They were not active politically. She was a girl in danger and they made her part of their family to save her life. Later in the war she made her way to Sweden with Danish Jews. Eventually she emigrated to the U.S. She was the only member of her family to survive the Holocaust.
Mazower talks about Danish resistance being so low key that as of 1943 not a single German soldier stationed in Germany had even been attacked. Instead, I think of this family, resisting German goals to exterminate the Jews of Europe. In Eastern Europe there was far greater military resistance to the Germans but also far greater local co-operation in the Nazi campaign to eradicate Jews.
The second story involved a young Dutch woman, just out of high school in 1940, working for the local telephone company. She was recruited by the resistance to alter the birthdates on identity documents of young men to save them from being taken to German for slave labour. On one occasion she was almost forced into hiding when a young man whose document she had altered was taken into custody. During the last winter of the war, forced to wear a winter coat to work because there was no heat, her chilled hands botched the alteration of a document and she had a nervous breakdown as she worried about the consequences for that young man. She recovered and, on the day the Canadians were to take over her town, she walked to work at the request of the resistance despite German warnings anyone found in public would be shot. Over 65 years later she still regretted not trying to hide a Jewish girl earlier in the war she knew who was subsequently killed in a concentration camp. The Dutch woman I met never fired a gun or set a bomb but she resisted resolutely the occupation of her country.
Mazower sets out that the resistance in Western Europe had no impact on the Wehrmacht or Germany’s economy. Danish produce flowed smoothly into German. Dutch manufactured goods were supplied to the Reich until the Netherlands was invaded by the Allies. The book discusses how often politicians, civil servants, police and industrialists co-operated, even collaborated, with the Nazis in keeping the Nazi war machine operating through the war. It outlines how the Holocaust was aided by ordinary citizens.
Yet Mazower does recognize there was resistance by average people when he stated:
“Yet it will not do to reduce the resistance to a question of military accounting. For most of those involved it was a question of pride, and a demonstration that the rule by force had not succeeded in crushing the spirit of freedom.”
Hundreds of thousands of Europeans were killed or deported to concentration camps for participating in different forms of resistance to Nazi rule.
The Danish farm family and the Dutch lady acted against two of the worst Nazi programs – the genocide of the Jews and the slave labour deportations. They quietly defied the Nazis. Their humanity was not extinguished by occupation. They did what was right. Their bravery is striking.
Since hearing their stories and reading Mazower’s book I wonder what I would have done during such an occupation. I hope I would have been like the Danish family and the Dutch lady. After hearing the Dutch lady’s story at our local Rotary club I wrote a letter, signed by all the club members, expressing our thanks for her actions and our admiration for what one woman could do when faced with an occupying army.