Celebration of Courage


PHOTO: A still from the documentary Passage to Sweden, which will screen as part of the annual Raoul Wallenberg Day for Civil Courage event on Jan. 21.

This year’s annual Raoul Wallenberg Day for Civil Courage gathering, on Sunday, Jan. 21, held at Congregation Beth Israel, will explore and honour civil courage in Scandinavia during the Second World War.

Just over 80 years ago, in late 1943, Danes, Norwegians and Swedes had to confront moral choices, when Denmark and Norway dealt with military occupation by Nazi Germany.  Many people defied Nazi policies that threatened the human rights and lives of their fellow citizens and residents.

In Denmark, thousands of Christian Danes risked their own lives, cooperating in the dramatic, swift and secret rescue operation.  The Jews, who faced deportation and certain death at the hands of the Nazis, were ferried to safety in neutral Sweden.  Their homes and properties were safeguarded until their return after the war.  Sweden welcomed and aided the Danish Jews, risking its own status as a neutral nation. 

In Norway, the site of significant armed attacks by Nazi Germany, hundreds of Norwegian police officers refused the orders of Nazi occupiers, a collective action that led to their imprisonment at Stutthof concentration camp in Nazi-controlled Poland.  There, the Norwegian police maintained their solidarity as they acted to reduce the suffering of their fellow prisoners, including many Jews, such as the late Jennie Lifschitz, who settled in Vancouver in the early 1950s.

Finland and the Baltic nations (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) were also engulfed in the war, victims of the Soviet Union’s military occupation and, in the case of the Baltics, annexation and mass civilian deportations. 

While Nordic peoples, like most Europeans, were not completely free of hostility toward Jews and other minorities, they offer a good example of civil courage, based on the belief that Jewish citizens and residents were their equals.

This year, at the local Wallenberg Day event, Vancouver Holocaust educator Norman Gladstone will speak about the remarkable rescue of Denmark’s Jewish population.  Local researcher and author Tore Jørgensen will speak about the hundreds of Norwegian policemen, including his father, who refused to collaborate with the Nazi occupiers.  Historian Gene Homel will introduce the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society and the City of Vancouver proclamation of Wallenberg Day.

As well, the documentary Passage to Sweden will be screened.  The film covers the wartime courage of Scandinavians, including Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg, who acted courageously to protect civilians in Hungary, and was taken into custody by the Soviet army.  His fate is unknown to this day.

The 19th annual Wallenberg Day on Jan. 21 at Congregation Beth Israel will be held at 1:30 p.m.  Admission is free, and donations will be gratefully accepted.

For more about the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society, which organizes the annual event, visit wsccs.ca.

– Courtesy Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society

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