• Judi Merrill

Determined, Courageous and Brave

Well, it's the 11th of January, 2020 and by this UBC challenge standard, I should have 11 blogs posted by the end of today. But, I am officially behind almost one week, and I love that I've made it this far! It was suggested to pick a friend, family member, or colleague and write about the quality you most admire in them. Qualities you aspire to in your own life.

I decided to write about my uncles whom I have never met. Whom I'm in awe of their determination, courageous efforts in helping others, and bravery.

Here is their story.

They left at night, thousands of Jewish families, setting out by car, bicycle, streetcar or train. They left the Danish cities they had long called home and fled to the countryside, unfamiliar to many. They found shelter in the homes of friends or business partners, squatted in abandoned summer homes or spent the night with hospitable farmers. Many Jews sought refuge with Christian friends posing as sons and daughters, siblings, children, spouses, etc., which meant the breaking up of their families and the threat of exposure and retribution for the Danes who took them in. The Jews encountered kind and good people who helped them, but neither had any reliable way of knowing who could be trusted until members of the Danish underground movement emerged.

This underground movement, the Danish Resistance, was a formidable, trustworthy group. They could tell the Jews who to trust. There were police officers who not only looked the other way when the refugees turned up but also warned them about Nazi checkpoints. And, there were skippers who were willing to take refugees across the Baltic Sea to Sweden in their crafts such as cutters, sailboats, and fishing boats.

My uncles, Hans and Peter Christiansen, were two of those skippers. They were part of the Danish Resistance.

Hans and Peter Christiansen

While they may or may not have been involved in sabotage actions against firms working for the Germans, against German ships and airfields, or against Danish railroads (which was highly appreciated by the Allies because it tied up 40,000 German troops to guard the railways in Jutland)...

... they hid Jews and smuggled them out of the country in their fishing boats (see below).

The book Number the Stars by Lois Lowry is a quick and easy read, one used in my grandchildren’s elementary school. Lois tells the story of a fisherman and his family during the Danish Resistance. With characters named Peter and Ingeborg (which happens to be the names of my relatives), and places like Copenhagen being mentioned (which happens to be where my mother once lived), it felt as though I was reading a book written about my family.

Following is an excerpt from Number the Stars:

'... soldiers are so angry about the escaping Jews - and the fact that they can't find them - that they have started using trained dogs... trained to sniff about and find where people are hidden... they can sniff out hidden Jews right through the dead fish piled on the decks meant to cover up human scent.

Peter took the problem to scientists and doctors... and they have created a special drug... it is put in a handkerchief... it attracts the dogs but ruins their sense of smell.

Now each boat captain will each have such a handkerchief. When the soldiers board our boats, we will simply pull the handkerchiefs out of our pockets. The Germans will probably think we all have bad colds! The dogs will sniff about and sniff the handkerchiefs we are holding, and then roam the boat and find nothing. They will smell nothing.’

That section of the book had me wondering if my uncles carried such a handkerchief? If they did, I wonder if they ever had to use it? I wonder what other parts of this book might have been similar, might have taken place in their lives?

In the pictures of Hans and Peter above, they look exactly like what I’d imagine a Danish resistance fighter looked like (especially Peter). Sleeves rolled up, cap on head, just ordinary, young, working men with a look of strength and determination.  

Today we aren't sure which boat shown above was whose. But we are sure they are my uncles’ boats used in smuggling the Jews! Family members are seen on one (the little girl holding an umbrella in the bow is my mother, her sister is leaning against the mast, her mother is standing directly behind her also holding an umbrella, her aunt next to her mother). The other picture is taken in front of the family home (it is the building with four front windows immediately to the right of the two-story - it looks like it could be part of the two-story but it is not).

Because of the determined, courageous and brave actions of the Danish Resistance over 99% of Denmarks' Jewish population survived the Holocaust. 

And to think my family was part of that!

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