Rivlin at the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen
Rivlin at the Great Synagogue in CopenhagenHaim Zach/GPO

President Reuven Rivlin spoke on Thursday evening at a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the rescue of the Jews of Denmark at the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen.

The ceremony was attended by Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, president of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder, president of the Jewish community in Denmark Dan Rosenberg Asmussen, Danish Holocaust survivors and members of the Danish Jewish community.

During the ceremony, Bent Melchior and Birgit Krasnik Fischermann told the story of the rescue of the Jewish community in October of 1943. The Great Synagogue was attacked some three years ago and this was its reopening after it was restored.

At the start of his remarks, the president talked about the exceptional nature of the rescue operation 75 years ago and the special relations between the Jewish community and the Danish people: “The Second World War put this relationship to the hardest test. But here, in Denmark, solidarity and humanity overcame darkness. The Danish people refused to stand by and the vast majority of the Danish Jewish community was saved. The majority of the Danish people stood up to racism stood up to anti-Semitism. The rescue of the Jewish community of Denmark was an expression of their morality and of their feeling of shared fate with their fellow Jews.”

President Rivlin addressed Crown Prince Frederik and praised the leadership of his great-grandfather, King Christian X, who spoke out against forcing Jews to wear a yellow badge, and said, “We must also remember our brothers and sisters, the Danish Jews that were deported and murdered at Theresienstadt.”

“The Nazi death machine could not have succeeded without the deep and rooted hatred of Jews and other minorities throughout Europe,” continued the president. “Auschwitz was the end-result of years and years of anti-Semitism. We must show zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism and racism. It is the Danish government’s rejection of anti-Semitism that paved the way for the rescue of the Jews. Then as today, standing up against anti-Semitism, against anti-Zionism, against racism requires strong and determined European leadership. We must never surrender to those dark spirits again. On behalf of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, we thank the Kingdom of Denmark and the Danish government for its strong stand in the battle against anti-Semitism.”

“Dear friends, the terror attacks in Copenhagen in February 2015, part of which happened outside these very doors, took the lives of Finn Nørgaard and Dan Uzan, and injured five police officers,” said the president. “The very fabric of Danish life and Jewish life in Denmark were again under attack. But once again, the Kingdom of Denmark together with the Jewish community of the city of Copenhagen, made sure that humanity was stronger than hate. Dan, who was brutally murdered while protecting this community, gave his own life to save many others. His name will be forever written in the history of this Great Synagogue. We are thankful, Mr. Prime Minister, that under your leadership like under previous Danish governments, Jewish life in Denmark is secure. I am certain that the special spirit of this nation will not allow these security measures, needed to protect the Jewish community, to become a wall that separates the Jewish community from the Danish people.”

“Let me wish that this holy house will be a house of peace, of faith, and of flourishing Jewish life,” he concluded, ending with a quote from Psalms 118:22-23: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.”

The Danish prime minister’s speech moved the crowd when he said, “The Denmark that saved the Jews 75 years ago is the same Denmark today. Then, now and in the future. An attack on the Jews of Denmark is an attack on all of Denmark.”

President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S Lauder said, “What Denmark did 75 years required unbelievable courage of the kind we did not see anywhere else in Europe. She saved over 7000 people.”

He continued, “In Judaism, we say that when you save one life, you save the world. Here in Denmark you saved 7000 worlds. For that, the Jewish people is grateful now and forever.”

Bent Melchior was born in 1929 in the German town of Beuthen to a family with Danish roots. At the age of 14 he returned to Denmark with his family where his father, Rabbi Marcus Melchior, was the Chief Rabbi of the community. In October 1943, his family went into hiding in Denmark and was later smuggled in a fishing boat to Sweden in a 19-hour trip. After the liberation of Denmark in May 1945, the family returned to Denmark where Bent completed his studies. In 1948, he volunteered to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and took part in the War of Independence. His oldest son is former Israeli government minister Michael Melchior.

Birgit Krasnik Fischermann was born in Copenhagen in 1938. In 1943, when she was five years old, she and her parents were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp and was imprisoned there for a year and a half. Birgit is chair of the Danish Theresienstadt Association.