In contrast to the general Holocaust experience, ”exile” has a different meaning for the Danish Jews. For the European Jews who succeeded in escaping from Germany and the occcupied countries, exile in reality meant emigration and settling in a new country. Few felt a need to return. The situation of the Danish Jews in exile in Sweden, however, was different. They wanted to go home. This national experience of ”exile” is yet another exception from the European experience of the Holocaust.
The Danish Jews' identity and feelings of belonging were decisively affected by their experiences during the Second World War. Not only because of the obvious gratitude to Denmark, a gratitude which grew when the mass murder of the European Jews became known, but through a series of integration and assimilation efforts. This happened despite the great costs of assimilation, since Jews in ”mixed marriages” had often paid the highest price when Nazi persecution split the home and family.
Flight and exile in Sweden had great economic and emotional consequences for the Danish Jews. Even though the flight had been short, and Sweden was culturally and linguistically close to Denmark, fleeing and exile produced considerable mental strain. There was a high level of suicide among the refugees, and the conditions in the Swedish refugee camps make a plausible case that many refugees show signs of Post Traumatisk Stress Syndrom, PTSD.
The dramatic events both united and divided. The divorce rate among the Jewish refugees was higher than in the Danish population as a whole. As the Jewish refugees gradually found work in Sweden, housing and working conditions did not always allow their children to live together with their parents. Some parents were so affected by the flight that they were unable to care for their children. The refugee children were instead placed in children's homes or with foster families.
The rate of marriages and births rose in general drastically in the wake of the Second World War. There was also a baby boom in the Jewish exile population in Sweden, which in addition exhibited a higher marriage rate than in Denmark as a whole. Research into the family and divorce patterns among Holocaust survivors in general supports this ambiguous picture of the consequences of persecution for families.
By far most of the Jewish refugees in Sweden adjusted their traditions to the new conditions in exile. Many families who had kept kosher before fleeing, celebrated the Jewish holidays and regularly attended the synagoge, never resumed the Jewish rituals to the same extent.
After returning home a rising number resigned from the Jewish Community. The number of mixed marriages was already a statistical fact before the war, a development that continued after return. Two thirds married non-Jews. Many families dropped the external, visible rituals and Judaism as a daily practice. This was a development away from Judaism, but not necessarily away from a feeling of Jewish identity. In many families the events of the war were the beginning of a feeling of Jewish identity and a new consciousness of family and common destiny.
After the Second World War, general secularization affected developments in both Danish-Jewish society and in the Christian population. However, the Danish people as a whole had not been challenged with regard to their religious and national identity. This accelerated development was a particularly Danish-Jewish experience.
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Get a discount of 10% at selected cafés by showing your ticket from the museum (Photo: Eddie Michel Azoulay).
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- 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...