King's Worcester

4 May

VE Day Assembly – The liberation of Denmark in 1945

This week saw another powerful Senior School Assembly where Geography Teacher and House Tutor, Will Joyce provided an informative address linking into this Saturday’s 76th VE Day Celebrations. His assembly was moving and encouraged pupils to think about self-perseverance and the story of hope, resilience, and a determination to survive against all odds.

First, Upper Sixth Pupil Lizzie gave her monitors address to the school.

Lizzie G (U6,K) Monitors Address

Good morning. Because of the regulations surrounding going out that have persisted throughout this weird time of covid, I’m sure many of you have found yourself spending your time in the same way as me and many others have; inside, consuming media through movies, video games and social media, when we would usually be seeing friends and playing sports. This increase in time spent online has created a monotonous and bleak routine for many, especially when uplifting news stories seem so rare.

However, social media also brings to light the inspirational works of people whom many would consider idols; the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station, Tim Peake, driven environmental activist Greta Thunberg and Marcus Rashford campaigning for free school meals for children to name just a few. All of these idols are widely known in the public eye and for good reason. Yet being a celebrity is not synonymous with being someone worth idolising; you do not need to go to space in order to inspire others. Anyone can be an idol if they have a positive influence over those around them, whether it be a parent, a sibling, or a friend.

Something as simple as speaking passionately about your favourite subject could inspire somebody else to go on to learn about it. Showing resilience when receiving a disappointing test score could inspire your peers to do the same and remain motivated. At the end of the day the people we surround ourselves with in our lives can be more inspirational than those we see online, so make sure that you are somebody worth looking up to.

Mr Joyce – The liberation of Denmark in 1945 VE Day

This photograph {shown in the video still}, was taken on the 8th May 1945, as British troops entered the centre of Aarhus, Denmark’s second city. It captures the scenes of celebration that marked VE Day, the day that Germany signed an unconditional surrender, ending the Second World War in Europe. This Saturday will be the 76th anniversary of VE Day.

But it was on the 4th May 1945, when Admiral Friedeburg, signed on behalf of Germany, the document of surrender in northern Europe, including the Netherlands, northwest Germany and Denmark. The announcement, broadcast by the BBC stated that British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had accepted the surrender of German forces at Luneburg Heath, east of Hamburg.

Denmark had to wait another 12 hours until the liberation officially took effect at 8:00am on the 5th of May 1945, but the announcement brought happy Danes out into the streets. The photograph captures the excitement of liberation and the moment that light returned to Danish cities after five years of darkness.

So, what did the liberation actually mark?

On the 9th of April 1940, 900 years of freedom and independence ended. At 6:00am, after little Danish resistance, Denmark accepted the terms of the German forces and the Danish people, in cities such as Copenhagen and Aarhus woke to find their streets full of German troops. The Danish King declared that he and his government would do everything in its power to keep peace in Denmark.

The occupation largely permitted Danes to go about their lives without the level of oppression experienced by other occupied European countries, and the government initially cooperated with German forces.

But by 1943 the mood was changing. The Danish people were living with blackout blinds due to frequent allied bombing raids. The Danish Resistance Movement was increasingly active, causing the Germans to impose a military state of emergency, that led to the resignation of the Danish Government, and by September 1943, Hitler had ordered the ‘Final Solution’. The Nazi secret police, or Gestapo were ordered to arrest the Danish Jews so they could be sent to concentration camps, just as they had, to millions of other Jews across Europe.

The raids were planned for Friday the 1st October when the Nazis hoped families would be gathering for the Jewish Sabbath dinner. But on the morning of the Jewish new year, the 29th September 1943, Georg Duckwitz a German naval attaché who worked in the German embassy in Copenhagen, tipped off a leading member of the Danish Labour Party, who immediately warned the Jewish community to leave. Duckwitz took enormous personal risk, as a German working for the Nazis who made a stand against the evil that he saw unfolding in Denmark.

The Danish people took it upon themselves to facilitate the escape of the Danish Jews, by boat, to neutral Sweden in an elaborate rescue plan. There were around 8000 Jews living in Denmark, but when the Gestapo arrived, they found fewer than 300 people.

Leo Goldberger was 13 years old in 1943. After hearing of the Nazi’s plan, Leo and his family travelled up the Danish coast to link with local fishermen who could ferry them to Sweden. Leo remembers hiding in bushes behind the beach, in the bitter cold, waiting for the boat to arrive. When it did, they had to wade into the freezing cold sea up to Leo’s chest to reach the boat as the fisherman could not risk the landing. They were concealed in a wet cargo area used to store fish and covered by canvas. Leo’s younger brother who was nine at the time, notes that even today the smell of fish reminds him of freedom.

The family spent two years living with other refugees in Gothenburg where they were well-looked after by their Swedish hosts.

The Goldbergers, along with thousands of other Jews returned to Denmark in 1945 after the country was liberated. When they did, they found their homes exactly as they had left them, fully maintained by their neighbours.

15-year-old Herbert Pundik was in the middle of a French lesson at his school in Copenhagen when the Headmaster interrupted to summon him to the school hall. He warned that the persecution of the Jews would soon begin and that he should hurry home, adding that the Nazis could be here at any moment. When he got home, his parents were dressed in warm winter clothing, and soon, they were in a Danish fishing boat bound for Sweden where they would live as refugees for the next two years.

Many of the refugees were welcomed at the Swedish coast with food and warm blankets, by ordinary citizens going out of their way to help.

Despite fear of the Nazis, there were still decent and selfless people who stood up for what was right, despite the huge risk to their own lives. It is maybe no surprise, that in Europe’s refugee crisis today, many migrants seek refuge in Sweden.

The plight of the Danish Jews is one of the most remarkable and courageous rescue stories of WW2. Of the nearly 8000 Jews living in Denmark, over 7,200 were rescued, and this is in stark contrast to many other European countries.

It is a story of hope, resilience, and a determination to survive against all odds.

It is, but a small part of the much larger history of the Holocaust, but it teaches us a lesson of self-perseverance, and of support from one’s fellow citizens. It illustrates a society upholding its own values, despite the superior force of German occupation.

Leo Goldberger wrote about his experiences in a book, ‘The Rescue of the Danish Jews: Moral Courage Under Stress.’

Having moral courage, even when under stress is something we too can strive for. This could be, standing up for someone who is being picked on. The easy option is to be a bystander, or even take part yourself, due to the influence of peer pressure.

Or, we could have the courage to stand up against what we know is wrong.

The Danish people stood up against the Nazi regime, believing that their fellow countrymen deserved to be treated equally and with decency. They resisted the cruelty of the Nazis because they had clear convictions and lived up to the message in the Bible – “Love your neighbour as thyself.”

The rescue would not have been possible were it not for the courage of both individuals, and the collective action of Danish citizens. As individuals, we have a responsibility for one another. It is our duty as citizens to be active and not passive. A society that has a sense of personal responsibility as a core value, enables courage and avoids ‘innocent bystander syndrome.’

There were brave individuals such as Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist, who was being smuggled out of the country to work on the Manhattan Project in the UK – the project to design the world’s first nuclear weapon.

Bohr told the British and Swedish governments that he would not leave until Sweden guaranteed asylum to Denmark’s Jews. On the 2nd October 1943, an announcement was made over the radio: “If Danish Jews could make it to Sweden, the country would welcome them.”

As we emerge from the latest lockdown, we will once again gather in crowds, and these can have huge power and influence. The Bible says that crowds flocked to see Jesus perform miracles, but they also stood by and watched an innocent man sentenced to death, too afraid to stand up for what was right. There is a moral courage in individuals who stand up against the crowd to uphold their values, and in 1943, Danish citizens demonstrated this collective force for good.

October 1943 marked a turning point in the occupation of Denmark. When in much of Europe, the lights of freedom seemed all but extinguished, the incredible rescue of the Danish Jews was a light resembling hope.

Our school values include love, compassion, and resilience. The rescue of the Danish Jews in WW2 shows us that despite the many conflicts and genocides that still tear the world apart today, these values can prevail.

Leo Goldberger recorded an interview titled: ‘When light pierced the darkness.’ Despite the horrors of the Holocaust, casting dark shadows over Europe, in Denmark, light and hope prevailed.

When Germany surrendered in Northern Europe on the 4th May 1945, Denmark was liberated and over 7000 Danish Jews returned home.

On the evening of the 4th/ 5th May, Danes flooded the streets, tore down their blackout blinds, and placed candles in their windows. Tomorrow, the 5th May, Denmark will celebrate ‘Liberation Day’, as they have done for the past 76 years. Danes continue to place candles in their windows as a symbol of hope and freedom.

It is similar to our response to the Covid pandemic, with rainbows and lights placed in windows and doorways as a sign of hope.

As Mr Sharp explained in his assembly, the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day was – “Be the light in the darkness.”

Desmond Tutu, the former South African Archbishop has said: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

The photograph, taken in Aarhus on VE-Day, the 8th May 1945, captures the joy of liberation.

But the newspaper photographer also captured something else. It shows my grandparents, the very first time they saw each other, with my Grandfather leaning over the side of his armoured car talking to my Danish Grandmother.

As a newspaper report later stated – ‘It was love at first sight!”

My Grandfather served in the Royal Dragoons Regiment, part of the British 11th Armoured Division. They entered Denmark between the 2nd and 8th May 1945, cheered on by huge crowds.

Seeing the photograph in the newspaper, he went to the Press Head Office, where, despite all that was going on, and in the days before GDPR, managed to obtain my Grandmother’s address!

In the 6 months that his Regiment was in Denmark, they saw each other quite a lot, and after the war she moved to the UK and they were married.

The photograph was displayed in the museum in Aarhus and the Danish caption translates to – “In that moment!”

Liberation Day, the 5th May, coincidently, also happened to be my Grandmother’s Birthday.

Love stories are not my usual theme for assemblies, but to me, this story shows the power of love, hope and opportunity.

So, as we grapple our way through the dark times of this pandemic, emerge from lockdown, and gradually regain our freedom, remember, opportunities will arise, and we should be ready to seize them, you never know, it could be the person you end up marrying!

76 years ago, liberation brought joy to Denmark and much of Europe. Light pierced the darkness and hope prevailed. Along with compassion and love, these will triumph again today.