From the first time I read the Diary of Anne Frank as a child I’ve held an interest in the Second World War and the treatment handed out to European Jews by the Third Reich. Even as a child I could not comprehend that one race could see itself as superior to another and could try so systematically to erase an entire people. Over the years I’ve read lots of survivor memoirs and it saddens me that even in this day and age genocide still exists. I was recently offered the opportunity to read Countrymen, a book which charts the escape of Danish Jews during the early 1940’s.
Written by Bo Lidegaard and published through Atlantic Books, Countrymen using memoirs of survivors, Danish politicians as well as some German officers to share a moment in history. I knew nothing about what happened in Denmark during the Second World War and found this book captivating. Although occupied, the Danish people really did so much to protect their fellow citizens. They didn’t judge people by their religion, they were seen first and foremost as fellow Danes, and this belief ultimately saved thousands from the gas chambers of central Europe.
The book begins on 26th September 1943 and follows the unfolding events in Denmark over the next two weeks. We meet the various characters who helped shape this part of history including the Danish King Christian, German Werner Best along with various families and their helpers who escaped to Sweden during October 1943.
Countrymen really does provide a unique and true story. A country standing together in defiance of the Nazi regime. A story of normal people working together to ensure that over the course of two weeks over 7,000 Jewish Danes managed to reach the safety of Swedish shores. Yes, there were those who weren’t so lucky, some ended up in Theresienstadt, some to the extermination camps, but so many survived. It’s a story of hope for humanity in a time where hope must almost have been lost.
Between a nation that stood together and local German leaders who seemed to not favour the wishes of Berlin, to the local police who actively helped those trying to flee, Countrymen is a fascinated read.
It’s an eye opener, and a thoroughly interesting read. I find it strange that the events in Denmark during this timeframe have not been better published before. Even in one of the darkest periods of modern history there was hope. Evil didn’t win through, it was possible to stand up for deep-rooted beliefs and win through. I’m really glad I’ve read this book, and seen a different side to this era.
disclaimer: we were sent this book in exchange for an honest review