Most of the immigrants never imagined ending up in Denmark, but approximately 3,000 Jews did not get any further than to Copenhagen, most of them due to insufficient funds for reaching the United States. The majority of these immigrants were poor labourers, and few were able to afford living anywhere but in the worst parts of Copenhagen, such as the Adelgade-Borgergade neighbourhood, where they worked long hours in sewing rooms and workshops, getting paid less than their colleagues. The immigrants brought Yiddish language and culture to the neighbourhood.
The old Jewish bourgeoisie of Copenhagen were worried about how this new influx of alien Jewish culture would affect the Danes' views on Jews. They were afraid that dormant anti-Semitism would awake in Denmark. It was no advantage that many of the Russian Jews were organised Socialists or Zionists - or strictly orthodox. These three very different groups all stuck out compared to the highly integrated and often completely assimilated Danish Jews.
The cultural differences still persist, but have diminished considerably over the decades. But marriage between people from the two groups was unheard of for a long time.
Yiddish, an independent Jewish language, originated more than a thousand years ago. Written in Hebrew characters, it embodies Ashkenazic-Jewish culture. Like English, it is a fusion language. Its four basic components - Hebrew-Aramaic, a synthesis of Germanic elements, Slavic (Ukrainian, Polish, Belorussian) and its own unique development - blended to produce a harmonious lingua franca used by Jews in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belorussia, Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Rumania, Slovakia and Eastern Hungary. The language subsequently established itself in the Americas, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Israel and, to a lesser extent, in Western Europe (according to Yiddish linguist Richard Zuckerman). Before the Holocaust there were approximately 13 million Yiddish-speakers. A few Jews in Denmark speak Yiddish, but it is not a living language here.
"No one who has wandered about in the Jewish quarters of Hamburg or London ever forgets their unspeakable squalor, which is, however, marked by Oriental picturesque ness. The Ghettos are a world of their own, where Old Testament mysticism enters into a strange fusion with the contemporary struggle for existence. Copenhagen is well on its way to getting such a ghetto", wrote the magazine Hjemmet in 1915. A colourful reportage displayed the miserable conditions and exotic environment of Eastern European immigrants in Copenhagen. This alien image of Jewish culture was not what the integrated Jewish bourgeoisie wanted the Danes to see.
The Danish Jews sympathised with these Jews, who had fled from persecution and pogroms, but they were also worried about how they might influence the Danes' attitude towards Jews. Moreover, the Jewish Community was spending a large amount of money on poor help. The Danish Jews had arranged collections and charitable work since 1905, among other things through the Russia Committee and the Jewish Nurses' Association, and the poorest refugees were supported with 2-4 Kroner per week. The chairman of the community, Isak Glückstadt, argued for limiting the number of accepted refugees, and wanted to see as many Russians as possible sent on to America. But important persons within the community such as Professor David Simonsen and Chief Rabbi Schornstein maintained that the Danish Jews were obligated to help.
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Get a discount of 10% at selected cafés by showing your ticket from the museum (Photo: Eddie Michel Azoulay).
- an exhibition about Jews in Denmark
The exhibition is a broad story of Jewish life in Denmark and focuses on co-exixstence and indentity through 400 years. Read more...
September - May:
Tuesday-Friday: 1 pm - 4 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 12 noon - 5 pm