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Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark to Open October 2023, 80th Anniversary of Heroic Achievement

NYC’s Museum of Jewish Heritage exhibition invites children and families to explore the meaning of courage. Exhibition to include extensive educational outreach.

July 11, 2023—New York, NY—Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark, a new exhibition about the extraordinary rescue of Denmark’s Jewish population in 1943, will open on October 15 at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark commemorates—through archival materials, photographs, recordings, testimonials, and other artifacts—one of the most effective and exceptional instances of mass resistance in modern history. This inspiring moment of individual and collective action raises the daunting question: do you have the courage to act?

Despite the enormous risk, Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors of all ages mobilized to evacuate thousands of Danish Jews to Sweden, as threats of deportations increased. Together, these ordinary citizens united against Nazism and saved nearly 95% of Denmark’s 7,800-person Jewish population.

Designed for visitors ages nine and up, the exhibition will incorporate themes of 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 moral and courageous action.

Created in conjunction with the award-winning firm Local Projects, Courage to Act uses state-of-the-art technology and creative storytelling, including dynamic hologram-like technology, to immerse visitors in the story, allowing them to hear directly from the past through the stories of people who engaged in the rescue and whose lives were saved.

“We’ve been fortunate to work with Local Projects to bring this innovative exhibition to life and discover new ways to educate the public, particularly young people, through engaging technology,” said Jack Kliger, Museum President and CEO. “As the number of Holocaust survivors decreases and we confront resurgent antisemitism, we must proactively engage new generations in the fight for a better world. Our charge is to inspire and equip young people to be compassionate citizens and leaders.”

The project director for Courage to Act is Ellen Bari, the author and creator of award-winning, multimedia exhibits and programs for children and adults. Bari’s own family was forced into the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia, where the Danish Jews who were not rescued were also sent.

“Eighty years later it seems almost impossible that the people of Denmark took such acts of courage,” said Ellen Bari, the exhibition project director. “Yet those who risked their lives to save their neighbors saw it as simply ‘the right thing to do.’ It’s the simplicity of that reasoning that underscores how truly incredible this story is. I am honored to share these acts of courage with young people, as they think about opportunities in their own lives for positive action and their own potential. As the Talmud says, ‘to save a life, is to save the entire world.’ We all have that potential.”

Working alongside Bari, the Ukrainian artist Sveta Dorosheva and Bomb author Steve Sheinkin serve as the illustrator and script writer, respectively. Interactive Discovery Walls will allow visitors to look back in time as they open windows, part curtains, or step into a depiction of the Copenhagen Synagogue and be transported back to 1943 via video, photographs, and audio. Courage to Act will also feature three hologram-like narrators, based on real individuals, who will share experiences of the Danish occupation and rescue throughout the exhibition.

In a climate of widespread antisemitism and Holocaust denial, Courage to Act will address a critical need by reaching younger children. The Museum is also developing educational materials, prepared by exhibition director Ellen Bari, Museum VP of Education Elizabeth Edelstein, and the Museum’s education team that will be available to schools around the country. In addition, an extensive online museum experience will be created for people who cannot attend the exhibition in person. 

“We’re proud to support this exhibition highlighting the courage and compassion of these heroic Danish people toward their neighbors,” said Ambassador Berit Basse, Consul General of Denmark in New York. “The Danish Rescue, despite significant risk, is a profound example of the human spirit and provides immense hope, both in the fight against antisemitism and for solidarity and civil society engagement in general.”

Regina Skyer, a Trustee of the Museum and founder of Law Offices of Regina Skyer and Associates, New York’s premier special education law firm, said, “Courage to Act is a special opportunity to reflect on the Holocaust, one of the darkest moments in history, while also considering our individual capacity to act with bravery. These are lessons we can all remember in times of moral difficulty, and they’re particularly important for children as they grapple with our past and build our future.”

“We are proud to be a sponsor of Courage to Act and grateful to New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage for honoring the extraordinary bravery of ordinary citizens during one of history’s darkest chapters. The exhibition reminds us of what courage and compassion can achieve. Preserving these lessons and inspiring new generations is our shared mission,” said Laurie Sprayregen, President of Thanks to Scandinavia.

The Danish Rescue

While the exhibition looks further back to provide the larger story of Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust, the story of the Danish Rescue itself begins in 1940 when the Danish government successfully negotiated with their German occupiers for limited self-autonomy and refused to implement the antisemitic policies that were being imposed upon the rest of European Jewry. But, by the end of September 1943, any semblance of cooperation deteriorated and the Nazis planned again to round up and deport thousands of Jews, on the High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah no less, the Jewish New Year. In an improvised act of resistance, Danes from all walks of life worked to hide their Jewish neighbors any way they could.  

Within days, Sweden announced it would accept all Danish Jews as refugees. Some three hundred Danish vessels—from fishing boats to kayaks—made perilous and clandestine passages across the Øresund Sound to Sweden, ferrying more than 7,000 refugees, or over 95% of all Jews within Denmark, to safety. The compassionate response of Swedish communities saved those Jews who reached their shores from the concentration camps. Unlike most other countries in Europe, Denmark also protected the property of Jewish refugees. At the war’s end, it received its returning population with open arms.

Featured in the exhibition is the story of the Gerda III, one of many small vessels used in the Danish Rescue. The Gerda III alone saved an estimated 300 Jews in groups of 10-15 at a time on clandestine journeys to Sweden. Twenty-two-year-old Henny Sinding Sundø, who led the Gerda III’s rescue activities, will be among the exhibition’s narrators telling stories of their experiences during the Danish Rescue. Donated to the Museum by the Danish Parliament in 1989, the Gerda III is currently docked at The Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Courage to Act: Rescue in Denmark is made possible with leadership support from Regina Skyer, Jonathan Goldberg, and Family; Bruce Ratner and Family; and Jane Oster Sinisi and the Oster Family Foundation.

Generous support is provided by presenting partners Ulrika and Joel Citron; Amy and Rob Feilbogen; Patti Askwith Kenner and Family; Jacob, Logan and Jackson Kirschner; The Pickman Foundation; and Yes I Can.

With special thanks to our benefactors Anonymous; Bloomberg Philanthropies; New York State with the assistance of Assembly Member Dan Quart; Thanks To Scandinavia; Laurie M. Tisch; and in Loving Memory of Penny Lieberman.  

Additional support provided by advocates Atlas Concrete Surfacing, Melvin and Miriam Cohn z”l; The Molly Blank Fund of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation; the Gray Foundation; The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation; and Wendy Lowenstein Sandler and Neil Sandler; and by sponsors The Achelis & Bodman Foundation; Anonymous; Anonymous II; Judy and Ron Baron, Baron Family Foundation; Ellen & Ronald Block Family Foundation; David Berg Foundation; The Bialik Fund for Freilachkeit; Corner Foundation; Gallery Educator Friends of the Museum; Jaqueline Heller, in memory of her parents, Survivors; Bob and Susan Morgenthau; The Rothberg Family, LATICRETE International, Inc.;  Stacey, Marc, Elliott and Jared Saiontz; and Mark and Jane Wilf.