A look inside the new exhibit “Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark” that will open at Museum of the Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Photo: Provided.
New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage will open its first exhibition for elementary school students that highlights Denmark’s citizens who risked their lives to help save over 95 percent of the country’s Jewish population during World War II.
While Holocaust education in New York City public schools normally begins in the eighth grade, Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark, which will be unveiled in the fall of 2023, is designed for children ages 9 and up. The exhibition “will use age-appropriate themes of separation, bravery, and resilience to help young people make connections to their own lives and reflect on the dangers of prejudice—as well as their own potential for compassionate, moral, and courageous collective action and upstanding,” the museum said.
In a show of support for the exhibition, the Consul General of Denmark in New York, Ambassador Berit Basse, said, “Educating our children about the Holocaust and the story of the courage and compassion of the people that stood up against it in Denmark is a crucial initiative in the fight against hate crime and antisemitism. Our children are our hope for a better future.”
In 1940, the Danish government negotiated with Nazi-occupying forces for limited self-autonomy and refused to implement antisemitic policies in their country. However, by the end of September 1943, the Nazis had plans to round up and deport thousands of Jews to concentration camps on Rosh Hashanah. In an act of defiance and resistance, many Danes hid their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis and less than a week later, Sweden announced it would accept all Danish Jews as refugees.
Three hundred Danish vessels, including fishing boats and kayaks, secretly carried 7,000 Jewish refugees (over 95 percent of all Jews in Denmark) safely from Denmark to Sweden. One such vessel was a work boat called the Gerda III and it saved an estimated 300 Jews in total during multiple trips in October 1943. The vessel will be featured in the upcoming exhibit and Henny Sinding Sundø, a member of the Danish resistance who was 22 when she helped with the Gerda III’s rescue voyages, will be among the exhibition’s narrators to talk about her experiences during the Holocaust.
Gerda III was donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage by the Danish Parliament in 1989 and is currently docked at The Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.
The exhibition will also feature interactive “Discovery Walls,” in which visitors can step into a depiction of the Copenhagen Synagogue and feel like they are getting transported back to 1943 through video, photographs, and audio experiences. The exhibition will additionally feature three holographic narrators, based on real people, who will share their stories about the Danish occupation and rescue missions.
Jewish actress and Jeopardy! host Mayim Bialik, who is a donor of the exhibit, said, “As a mother, as an educator, and proudly Jewish, I am honored to support this incredible exhibition for children and families. Courage to Act inspires children from all walks of life to take a stand against prejudice and bigotry. Educating the next generation is one of the most important steps we can take to honor those who came before us and combat hatred that is still happening all over the world.”