By Gail Green-Anderson, Ph.D.
When I first learned that the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust was organizing a member trip to Mystic Seaport to visit the historic boat Gerda III, I jumped at the opportunity, reserving places for my husband and me. The invitation was compelling: “Visit the Museum’s offsite artifact, Gerda III, a Danish workboat used to rescue Jews from Nazi-occupied Denmark. Hear from Gerda III expert Howard Veisz on the boat’s historical significance….”
I anticipated that the trip would provide an opportunity to see Gerda III at Mystic Seaport, a remarkable museum in its own right. I assumed that Howard Veisz would provide sufficient information to help us understand the “historical significance” of the boat that Henny Sinding used to take at least 300 Jews from occupied Denmark to unoccupied Sweden. I had not imagined that that our trip to Mystic would provide far more, giving us the opportunity to imagine ourselves in a different time and place; to ask the age-old question, “What would I have done?” from a number of perspectives; and to begin our learning about a culture that compelled Henny Sinding and many others to risk their lives to save Jewish “countrymen.”
The term “countrymen” was key to Howard Veisz’s remarks which he shared on the bus that took us from our Manhattan meeting point to Mystic. “Countrymen” as a concept became essential to my understanding of the events that brought many Danes to alert Jewish neighbors of approaching danger, to hide Jews from capture and shipment to concentration camps, and to risk their lives to save others.
Howard Veisz’s remarks provided crucial preparation us for our experience at Mystic. Before our arrival, Gerda III had been moved to a place which enabled us to board it. We were allowed to climb down a ladder into its hold, to imagine hiding beneath fishing supplies, leaving established lives in Denmark behind.
The day was full, even after our Gerda III visit. At lunch with fellow Museum members, we shared responses to the morning. We then went on to tour the Mystic Seaport, visiting the whaleship the Charles W. Morgan, and receiving a guided tour from a Mystic artisan of the restoration of Mayflower II.
Before we boarded the bus to return to Manhattan, we purchased Howard Veisz’s book Henny and Her Boat: Righteousness and Resistance in Nazi Occupied Denmark in the Mystic gift shop. Our learning about the context for Henny’s actions and the rescue which we imagined from the cargo hold of Gerda III started on October 21st, thanks to the trip organized by the Museum.
Gail Green-Anderson, Ph.D., is Professor Emerita, English Department, LaGuardia Community College, CUNY – and a Museum member.