During World War II, in defiance of their German occupiers, the people of Denmark saved nearly the entire Jewish population of their country. Gerda III was just one of the boats used to secretly ferry Danish Jews to safety. In 1989 an act of Danish Parliament donated Gerda III—an ordinary work boat with an extraordinary history—to the Museum.
The renowned Mystic Seaport Museum has expertly maintained the vessel and showcased its story, keeping alive the history and values that the Gerda so powerfully represents.
Below is the Mystic Seaport’s overview of Gerda III and the role it played in saving Danish Jews:
Built in 1928 for the Danish Lighthouse and Buoy Service, the Gerda III appears to be a common workboat. But in October of 1943, as the persecution of Danish Jews began, this lighthouse tender played a much more important role. The crew of the Gerda III—Skipper Otto Anderson, John Hansen, Gerhardt Steffensen, and Einar Tonnesen—with the support of the director of the Danish Lighthouse and Buoy Service, Paul Sinding, and especially the support of his 22-year-old daughter, Henny Sinding (Sundo), a member of a Danish Resistance group “Holger Danske 2,” used the Gerda III to ferry Jewish refugees from Denmark to Sweden.
The refugees were brought to a warehouse and smuggled abroad the Gerda III, where they hid in the cargo hold. The vessel then set out on her official lighthouse duties, but detoured to the coast of neutral Sweden and put her “cargo” ashore.
Although the vessel was regularly boarded and checked by German soldiers, the refugees were never discovered. The Gerda III rescued approximately 300 Jews, in groups of ten to fifteen, in October 1943. The rescues on the Gerda III were part of a spontaneous effort in Demark in which more than 7,000 Jews—almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark—were saved.
After the Danish Jews had been ferried to Sweden, an additional 600-700 people-mostly Danish Resistance fighters but also Allied pilots and parachutists-were rescued on the Gerda III.
By an act of the Danish Parliament, the Gerda III was donated to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The vessel was restored to her wartime appearance by the J. Ring Anderson yard in Denmark. Mystic Seaport is proud to help care for the boat and display her for the first time in the United States.
Funds for the restoration were generously provided by Dr. and Mrs. Justin Lee Altshuler, the A.P. Moeller and Chastine McKinney Moeller Foundation, and the J. Aron Foundation.
Plan your visit at mysticseaport.org.
Read more about the story of Gerda III in Henny’s Boat by Howard Veisz.