‘Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark’

I did not say it. Shakespeare did in his play, Hamlet. A palace guard, Marcellus is speaking to his friend Horatio and complains about the corruption in the palace.

King Claudius had an incestuous marriage to Queen Gertrude and he died only two months after the marriage.

Prince Hamlet was exceedingly upset with the queen’s lack of mourning for her husband. He compared it to something that stinks like a rotting fish in the political hierarchy and is convinced that the king’s death was due to foul play.

He noted that the corruption in Denmark came from the top of the highest ranks in the government which prompted his outcry “something is rotten in the State of Denmark”.

Moving to twentieth century history, Denmark was the only European nation which acted to save its Jewish population from the Nazi occupation which began on April 9, 1940.

Relations between Danish Jews and Danish Christians had always been on the most cordial and friendly terms and Jews were completely integrated into Danish life and culture. For most, they were Danes first and then Jews.

When Denmark was invaded by the Nazi Germans, Danish Christians helped their Jewish friends and neighbors in every possible way.

The Nazis planned their raid against all Danish Jews for October 1, 1943.

A sympathetic German who worked in the embassy in Copenhagen was aware of the plan and he, Georg Duckowitz, secretly informed the leader of the Danish resistance.

He, in turn, passed the information to the local bishop in Copenhagen who immediately informed Marcus Melchior, the Chief Rabbi of Copenhagen’s largest synagogue, of the impending danger to the Jews.

At Rosh Hashanah services when the synagogue was filled with worshippers, Rabbi Melchior interrupted the services and told his congregants to go into hiding immediately and to inform other Jews.

Sixty Jews together with Rabbi Melchior and his family took hiding in the home and church of the Danish bishop.

Plans were made by the church and the resistance to transport all the Jews to safety in neutral Sweden. Thousands of Jews had been hidden in the homes of Christian neighbors while the plans were being made.

In October 1943, 7,500 Danish Jews made it to safety in hundreds of small fishing boats and were hidden by the Danish fisherman beneath the decks so they would not be spotted by German patrol boats as they made the 19 hour crossing to safety in Sweden. There they were sheltered and cared for by ordinary Swedish citizens and by the kindness of the Swedish government.

On May 4, 1945 the Danish Jews left Sweden and returned to Denmark. They found their homes intact exactly as they had left them two years earlier. Nothing had been taken.

That was Denmark in the 20th century. A country of brave and loyal Christians who risked their lives to help and to save Denmark’s Jews.

I am reminded of the Danish heroism in contrast to the news of today which told a sad story of how two young Danes had overturned monuments in the main Copenhagen Jewish cemetery and had defaced them with swastikas and graffiti. Certainly a far cry from the Danes when their country was under occupation.

So today one might recall Hamlet’s words: “something is rotten in the State of Denmark”.

His reference to corruption at the highest ranks in Denmark’s royal government reminds me of our present less-royal government where corruption likewise lies at the very top.

Although we have no Hamlet in Jerusalem, we do have rotten fish.

But they are not gefilte fish !! And I still enjoy eating a Danish pastry with my coffee.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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