The initial Jewish arrivals in Denmark date back to 1622. Despite being a minority, Danish Jews have contributed significantly to the country’s economic, political, cultural, and scientific advancement. Notable figures like Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, entertainer Victor Borge, and Academy Award winner Susanne Bier are among those who have left their mark.
King Christian IV extended an invitation to the first Jews in 1622, aiming to boost trade and commerce. These Jewish merchants from Amsterdam and Hamburg were granted extensive trade privileges and protection from religious persecution. Over time, eminent Jews attained prestigious positions, such as serving as the royal family’s physician and acting as governors of the Danish West Indies, now known as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Fleeing from pogroms and antisemitism in Eastern Europe, over 100,000 Jews traveled through the port of Copenhagen en route to “Di Goldene Medine,” America. Among them, approximately 3,000 chose to make Denmark their home instead of continuing to the United States. However, they were met with unease by the affluent Danish Jews, who were concerned that the influx of immigrants could strain their relations with the Danish population. The established Jewish community feared that the newcomers, who were often poorer and held different political and religious beliefs – being Zionist, socialist, or orthodox – could jeopardize their social standing. Despite these tensions, some gestures of assistance were made, such as offering boat tickets to Ellis Island.
Mainly hailing from Poland and Russia, these Jewish immigrants settled in Copenhagen, where they toiled long hours, often working 15-20 hour days, to forge a new life. Charlotte’s great-grandfather, Salomon Bornstein, notably founded a thriving clothing factory in the city center, symbolizing the resilience and determination of these newcomers.
Taking place amidst the Nazi occupation of Denmark, the rescue of the Danish Jews unfolded in September 1943, when Adolf Hitler issued orders to detain and transport all Jews in Denmark. Despite immense danger, Danish citizens spontaneously orchestrated a rescue mission, aiding the Jews in reaching the Danish coastline.
Courageous fishermen then transported them to neutral Sweden. Through collaboration with the Danish resistance movement, close to 7,000 Danish Jews and roughly 600 non-Jewish spouses were successfully evacuated, defying the odds and demonstrating remarkable bravery in the face of adversity.
To learn more about Jewish culture in Denmark we have created theme tours covering different aspects of Jewish life and history in this country.