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Georg Duckwitz was a German diplomat during World War II who rescued the majority of the Danish-Jewish population in Nazi-occupied Denmark. He organized their escape and safe arrival in Sweden with the help of the Danish resistance and the Swedish government. The efforts of G. F. Duckwitz led to the rescue of more than 7,000 Danish Jews from deportation to Nazi concentration camps.

Birth and Early Career

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was born in Bremen, Germany on September 29, 1904.[1] He came from an old, aristocratic family residing in the Hanseatic city. He attended a commercial college after graduating from high school. He then earned a degree and began trading coffee internationally.

Duckwitz moved between the Scandinavian countries for several years.[2] He pursued these business endeavors during the late 1920s and very early 1930s. In 1932, Duckwitz joined the Nazi Party and took a job in the foreign ministry. He quit in 1935 and started a job at a private shipping firm.[3]

The Nazis in Denmark

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz kept his Jewish sympathies a secret his entire career as a diplomat within the Nazi government.

In April 1940, the Third Reich attacked Denmark.[4] The Danish Government surrendered and the Nazis allowed them to stay in power in exchange for industrial equipment and food.[5]The Nazi Foreign Ministry recruited Georg F. Duckwitz for a position in Copenhagen, Denmark’s German Embassy. They wanted Duckwitz to serve as a shipping diplomat to utilize his connection to Danish leaders and his experiences living in the region for many years.[6]

Duckwitz performed well and, by 1942, he enjoyed a close professional relationship with Werner Best, the newly appointed Third Reich leader of Denmark. Best maintained the more moderate policies of the former Nazi representatives despite previously working for the Gestapo. Around the same time, Adolf Hitler declared a new strategy for Denmark due to recent resistance.[7]

Denmark’s “Final Solution”

When Georg Duckwitz could not save the Danish Jews in a legal manner, so he bravely decided to secretly smuggle them out to Sweden.

Adolf Hitler ordered the deportation of all Jewish citizens living in Demark through the new policy.[8] Werner Best informed G.F. Duckwitz of Hitler’s new orders on October 1, 1943. Duckwitz learned 5,000 of the 7,500 Danish Jews would be deported on two large ships docked in Copenhagen and the remaining 2,500 people by bus.

Duckwitz immediately opposed the decision and flew to Berlin. He attempted to stop the deportation by contacting Nazi officials in the capital. When Duckwitz failed to change their minds, he flew to Sweden instead to find a place for the Danish Jews to escape.[9] Duckwitz even spoke to Sweden’s Prime Minister personally to guarantee his support and cooperation with the rescue.[10] He returned to Denmark and secretly informed the Jewish community of the plans for deportation and his arrangements for safe passage to Sweden through the Danish resistance.[11]

The Escape of the Danish Jews

On Rosh Hashanah, Denmarks’ Jewish citizens attended services at their local synagogues. Their rabbis informed them about the impending deportation scheduled to occur that evening and the word spread within the community. Many of Denmark’s Christians heard of the threat and helped find safe hiding places for their Jewish neighbors. Some even began cold calling anyone from the phone book with a Jewish sounding last name.

In Danish hospitals, Jewish citizens found refuge in the psychiatric wards and morgues. The Nazis arrived without finding most of their targets. Throughout the next several weeks, the Danish resistance transported the hidden Jews by other Danish citizens’ private ships to Sweden for safety. Boat captains tried to charge at first, but the resistance quickly shut that down.

The Nazis never identified Werner Best or Georg Duckwitz as the leaks who warned the Danish Jews to escape.

The Germans realized someone double crossed them and began checking every ship with dogs before it left the harbor. Scientists within the Danish resistance created a mixture to throw the hounds of the scent of hidden stowaways. They used cocaine and a powdered form of rabbit’s blood soaked into handkerchiefs and then placed strategically around the ship. The scent of the rabbit’s blood lured the dogs and the cocaine disoriented them. This prevented them from discovering the escaping Jews.

Georg Duckwitz’s brave choice to warn the Danish Jews about their impending deportation saved more than 7,000 of the 7,500 people destined for concentration camps in Germany. The less than 500 who were sent to Theresienstadt still received support from the Danish government. The government provided clothes, medicine, food, and other needed supplies for their citizens in the camp.

The Danish government also provided sufficient pressure on the Nazis to allow inspections by the Red Cross on a regular basis. Almost all the more than 400 Danish Jews returned to Denmark after the war ended with several prisoners dying of disease while in the camp. The rest returned to their homes in Denmark where their non-Jewish neighbors had maintained their homes and neighborhoods.[12]

Later Life of G.F. Duckwitz

The Third Reich government never discovered Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz’s role in the escape of the Danish Jews. He continued to serve in Germany’s foreign service through West Germany, including becoming the German Ambassador to Denmark and the Director-General of the Foreign Ministry.[13] He retired in 1970.

The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Yad Vashem honored Duckwitz as a member of the Righteous Among Nations on March 29, 1971.[14] George F. Duckwitz died on February 16, 1973, and was buried in Riensberg Cemetery in his home city of Bremen, Germany.[15]

References

Bibliography


Frye, A. (2007). G. F. Duckwitz and the Citizens of Denmark: Collaborators in Compassion (1943 - 1945). Gratefulness.org.[2]

Shoaf Resource Center. (2017). Duckwitz, Georg Ferdinand. Retrieved February 10, 2017, from The International School for Holocaust Studies.[3]


Yad Vashem. (2017). Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz. Yad Vashem: The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority.[4]

Footnotes

  1. Frye, 2007
  2. Yad Vashem, 2017
  3. Shoaf Resource Center, 2017
  4. Shoaf Resource Center, 2017
  5. Frye, 2007
  6. Shoaf Resource Center, 2017
  7. Yad Vashem, 2017
  8. Yad Vashem, 2017
  9. Frye, 2007
  10. Shoaf Resource Center, 2017
  11. Frye, 2007
  12. Frye, 2007
  13. Shoaf Resource Center, 2017
  14. Yad Vashem, 2017
  15. Find A Grave. (2012, February 12). Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz (1904 - 1973). Find A Grave Memorial.[1]

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