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Countrymen

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The Germans gave Denmark a length of rope for a number of reasons, writes Lidegaard  – largely diplomatic, though Berlin rarely worried about diplomacy by that point. The spoils went to the strongest, yet why squander military resources when they were needed elsewhere? Why roil the natives when you could use their foodstuffs and industrial goods, especially now that you were their only trading partner? Why not showcase them as a "model protectorate," with its measure of autonomy and predominantly "Aryan" population, as a model of what was to come once the "Thousand-Year Reich" had stabilized things?

For the Danes, with their minuscule military, survival practically dictated accommodation and a careful strategy of using time to their advantage while wrestling with a humanistic dilemma: limited cooperation with evil to avoid certain death versus the necessity for heroic, if suicidal, resistance. The artful dodger or the romantic? Denmark chose to live to fight another day through its underground organizations, which spanned the political spectrum, engaging in sabotage, strikes, and secret operations. And there the rope ended: The German security apparatus was happy to lay the gathering acts of resistance at the Jewish doorstep as a pretext to set deportation in motion.

The Nazi roundup of Danish Jews was scheduled to start late one night at the beginning of October 1943. Lidegaard does a masterful job setting the stage and following the action, drawing on diaries, letters, and contemporary reports to describe what was going through the minds of various segments of the Jewish population (working class, middle class, and upper crust); elaborating the predicament that any mass departure posed, as it would bring the Germans down on the heads of those who stayed behind, Jewish and non-Jewish alike; explaining the urge of Danish citizens to demand respect under the rule of law; and detailing the specifics of the escape, which are breathtaking in their presence and urgency.

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