"Denmark 1943": Using Music to Teach Holocaust Rescue

By Lindquist, David H. | Social Education, October 2007 | Go to article overview

"Denmark 1943": Using Music to Teach Holocaust Rescue


Lindquist, David H., Social Education


Addressing the topic of rescue efforts poses particular challenges for teachers planning Holocaust curricula. While the issue leads many students to develop an engaged empathy with rescuers, teachers must avoid overemphasizing what was a limited occurrence within the overall Holocaust.

The idea of goodness makes rescue appealing to students, but creates a pedagogical dilemma for teachers. Studying the Holocaust involves examining humanity's starkest aspects, and students who confront the evil that is central to the event rightfully seek relief from that confrontation. The Holocaust, however, provides little relief from encounters with death and destruction. Students thus gravitate to stories of rescue as a sign of hope, a reassurance that right will triumph in the end. This was not the case in the Holocaust, of course, yet rescue is a vital part of Holocaust history.

This article presents a plan for using music to teach about the Danish Rescue. It discusses the need to contextualize rescue within the Holocaust's larger story; overviews the rescue; introduces the song "Denmark 1943"; and provides notes and details about the lesson plan. The song's lyrics, a list of names and places mentioned in the song, and a discussion guide are also included.

Contextualizing Holocaust Rescue

Rescue unfolded in all areas affected by the Holocaust. The scope of rescue efforts varied greatly-influenced by the course of the war, geography, particular German occupation policies, the number of Jews living in a given area, and pre-existing local levels of antisemitism. Similarly, rescuers spanned all social and economic classes, religions, occupations, educational levels, behaviors, and personalities.

The fact that many resources on rescue exist may give the impression that rescues occurred with much greater frequency than was the case. In reality, "less than 0.5 of 1 percent of all people in Nazi-occupied Europe were rescuers." (1) This statistic can be problematic for teachers as they consider how much attention to give to rescue stories. The study of rescue should be included in Holocaust curricula, but overemphasizing the topic, or portraying rescuers idealistically, romanticizes what happened and distorts reality.

It is critical, therefore, that rescue be contextualized within the Holocaust's overall history. Rescue should be discussed only after major Holocaust themes, such as persecution and annihilation, have been studied. Conversely, placing rescue at the end of a Holocaust unit may leave students with the distorted view that "all is well with the world..... in the end, justice was done." (2)

Rescue's overall dynamics should be considered before specific cases are presented. Students should understand that becoming a rescuer brought practical, and sometimes life and death, considerations into play as individuals decided how to react when rescue opportunities presented themselves.

Historical Overview

While most of German-occupied Europe bore the brunt of severe policies soon after invading forces arrived, Germany implemented a comparatively mild occupation in Denmark from April 1940 until mid-1943. Because Nazi racial policy depicted Danes as Germany's "Nordic cousins," the brutal policies enacted in places where locals were "non-Aryan" were not implemented in Denmark. Also, because Denmark's economic situation was favorable to Germany's war effort, the Danes were subject to relatively few restrictions. Similarly, and notwithstanding the apocryphal legend of the yellow star, anti-Jewish policies enacted in other conquered nations were not enforced in Denmark, a unique circumstance during the Holocaust. (3) Thus, occupation policies applied to Jewish Danes were not noticeably different from those placed on the general Danish population.

In mid-1943, when sabotage against German interests increased dramatically, Germany tightened its control on Denmark and prepared to move against Jewish Danes. …

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