Oral history interview with Ralph Oppenhejm
Some video files begin with 10-60 seconds of color bars.
- Ralph Oppenhejm
- Alexandra M. Isles
1994 June 12
2 videocassettes (U-Matic) : sound, color ; 3/4 in..
- Credit Line
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Chalice Well Productions
Record last modified: 2022-07-28 20:10:19
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/irn513393
Also in Power of Conscience: The Danish Resistance and the Rescue of the Jews collection
Oral history interviews with individuals concerning the Danish Resistance and the rescue of Jews during the Holocaust.
Date: 1994 June 08-1994 June 12
Henny Sinding Sundø discusses the start of the persecution of Denmark’s Jews in October 1943 when she was 22 years old; having recently returned to Denmark from language study in England; her father, who was an official serving in the Danish Lighthouse Service (Fyrvæsenet), who helped her become an apprentice there; the role played by the Danish Lighthouse Service in helping Jews escape, and the role of one of its vessels, the “Gerda III” in rescue efforts; guiding Jews to the vessel at night over the course of three weeks; the route first to Sweden, and then on to the lighthouse; giving sedatives to the children to ensure they were quiet; her sense that some higher German officials knew what was going on; the vessel saved about 600-700 Jews before it then began to ferry over others, such as refugees from Poland, Resistance fighters, and downed British and American airmen; her ongoing role in the resistance; escaping from Zeeland to Sweden in February 1944; her work in Sweden with the resistance and Danish Brigade; reaction to hearing the news of the end of the war in May 1945; and her return via Helsingborg, Sweden to Helsingør, Denmark. Peter Ilsøe discusses the sabotage activities of the resistance in Denmark and its successes, which included the need for fewer air strikes; the Danish Freedom Council (Danmarks Frihedsråd) which became an unofficial element of the Danish government after August 29, 1943, and one of its leaders, Frode Jakobsen; methods to minimize the impact of information released by captive resistance fighters under torture, and the Nazi methods of torture; the various escape routes from Zeeland and Jutland, and the receipt of weapons from Danes in Sweden; the cooperation between the resistance and the Danish Royal Air Force; the role of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1944 as directed by the Special Operation Executive (SOE); the efforts to rescue downed Allied airmen and returning them to safety in Sweden; an individual who was active in the finances of the resistance; and the mining of Jutland’s west coast and the related visit of Field Marshall Irwin Rommel.
Herbert Pundik discusses the German invasion of Denmark in April 1940, at which time he was a 12-year-old a Jewish student living in Copenhagen; the first three years of the occupation and the passiveness of the Danes; the history of the Jews in Denmark; helping with the resistance movement’s illegal press activities; the effect upon him of the Danish government’s mass resignation on August 29, 1943; the attempts of the Germans to identify and arrest Jews on October 1-3, 1943, and the subsequent conditions that made escape from Denmark necessary and possible, including the role of local hospitals and the medical community; his own rescue and that of his parents, sister, and brother; the cooperation of the Danish police forces with escapees and the underground until September 1944, when the Germans arrested many of them; the establishment and financing of escape routes; the attitude of the German Wehrmacht; the Nazi race program against Jews in Denmark; the visit by Nazi official Adolf Eichmann to investigate how the arrest order only caught about 500 Jews of the 7000 in Denmark; and his activities and those of other Danes after escaping to Sweden, including schooling, the formation of a Danish armored brigade, and its return to liberate Denmark on May 5, 1945.
Dr. Ebba Lund discusses the German occupation of Denmark and the attitudes of the local population; the changes in Germany’s occupation policy towards Denmark; the deaths of imprisoned Norwegian Jews, who died on a ship that sunk while taking them from Norway to Germany; the actions of Denmark’s Holger Danske group, headed by Jørgen Kieler; the roundup of Jews on September 29, 1943; her connections with shipping companies from the island of Christansø; the secret gathering of Jews in the north part of Copenhagen harbor or at her parents’ home in advance of their escape; wearing a red cap that signaled to other Danes that she could help Jews; helping to save 500-800 people in 20-25 boats escape on ships from the North Harbor; her work in 1944 to transfer documents to Sweden; and the important symbolic role that the King played when Denmark had no formal government.
Jørgen Kieler (Jørgen von Führen Kieler), a Danish citizen, discusses first witnessing Nazi antisemitism in 1934 on a family trip to Prague, Czech Republic; going to Germany in 1937 to study German art and literature at University of Munich for six months; seeing Nazi propaganda posters; Germany’s invasion of Denmark on April 4, 1940 while he was living in Copenhagen and the response of the Danish king; the formation of resistance organizations in 1940 and the impact of illegal newspapers and pamphlets, such as “The Ram”, which published names of prominent anti-Semites; the debate between active and passive resistance; sabotage activities at the direction of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE); the close collaboration between Danish and German authorities and the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact in November 1941, all of which led him to be more active in the resistance movement; the formation of the Churchill Group in Aalborg (Ålborg), Denmark; committing 25 acts of sabotage, which had little military value but had significant psychological impact; the impact of the weak Danish government; escalating his sabotage activities when Germany’s peaceful occupation came to an end and Erik Scavenius became Prime Minister; the sabotage activities in Spring 1943 and the support of the general population; the crisis in August 1943 when German barracks were blown up by Holger Danske (the first iteration) and the Danish government refused Hitler’s command to crack down; the losses to the resistance movement; being involved in re-forming Holger Danske by leading its activist wing; the leader of the group, Svend Otto Nielsen, and other members, including Sven Kieler and a member named Torch; the roundup of Jews beginning in October 1943; beginning rescue operations to help Jews escape to Sweden; the resistance role of the medical community; being arrested early in 1944; his treatment in prison and the physical and psychological effects of malnutrition and torture in the Neuengamme concentration camp after September 15, 1944; and being sent to the Porta Wesfalica labor camps.
Tage Kaarstad, a Danish citizen (Professor at Odense University and Constitutional Adviser to Queen Margarthe II), provides his historical view starting with the German invasion of April 9, 1940; the conditions of Denmark’s surrender; the formation of the Danish policy towards Jews, and the broad support to help them escape to Sweden; his thoughts on Georg Duckwitz (an assistant to Germany’s most senior civilian official Werner Best); the fate of the 500 older or reluctant Jews who chose not to escape and were sent to Theresienstadt, including his friends, the Friediger family; the actions of the Wehrmacht General Van Hannecken, Werner Best, and the Swedish Government that contributed to the successful escapes; the August 1943 declaration of martial law; the increase in Danish resistance in 1943, aided by the Allies’ Special Operation Executive (SOE), the weakening of the Danish government, and the formation of the illegal, quasi-governmental Freedom Council; the role of H.H. Koch, Permanent Undersecretary of Social Affairs, as well as Koch’s role in arranging the White Buses that rescued Norwegian and Danish citizens from Neuengamme and Buchenwald in March 1945, transporting them to Sweden; the goods and services Germany took from Denmark and its local impact; his sense of how Denmark’s image was affected by its wartime actions; the activities of Henrik Kauffmann, the Danish Ambassador to the United States; role of the Churchill Club in the resistance movement; two other major Danish resistance groups, including the one Communist group called BOPA (Borgerlige Partisaner) and Holger Danske; the post-war treatment of criminals and the official purge of the Danish police; the wartime battles at Amalienborg Castle; and the experiences of listening to BBC broadcasts and hearing about the people in the news, such as John Christmas Møller, Churchill, Eisenhower, and Montgomery.
Frode Jakobsen, the founder of the Danish Freedom Council (Danmarks Frihedsråd), discusses his thoughts on Denmark’s response to the Nazis; his first encounter with Nazism when he was bicycling through Italy, France, and Germany; the German invasions of Denmark; Henrik Kaufmann, a Danish diplomat, and his decision to oppose his own government; his decision to join the resistance; his thoughts on the Danish Nazi party (Danmarks national socialistiske arbejder parti); Denmark’s signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact; meeting with the Soviet ambassador in Stockholm as a representative of the Danish Freedom Council; symbolism and the resistance; sabotage attempts, including the disruption of the rail movements of German troops in Denmark to France at the time of the Normandy invasion; how they obtained their weapons; their general avoidance of shooting German troops; captured resistance fighters; the formation of the Danish Freedom Council; the role of Werner Best; the persecution of Jews; his wife who was half Jewish; the rescue of Jews from deportation; the Schalburg Corps; his decision not to flee to Sweden; and the tensions between the Danish Government and the Freedom Council.
Peter Ilsøe discusses the Danish resistance movement after the German attack in 1940 and the subsequent occupation; how the British formation of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) sparked the development of the resistance including action against the Danish government; other factors that developed Danish resistance; his path to joining the resistance; resistance activities around Copenhagen; his role in helping Danish Jews escape the Nazis; escaping to Sweden and joining the overseas Danish military; being transferred to England where he joined one of the Jedburgh Teams; the supply of weapons to Danish resisters by the British and U.S. air forces; the Danish Freedom Council and Frode Jakobsen; the various escape routes from Zeeland and Jutland; the cooperation between the resistance and the Danish Royal Air Force in the bombing of various Gestapo offices around the country; the role of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1944; the efforts to rescue downed Allied airmen; the finances of the resistance; and the mining of Jutland’s west coast and the related visit of Field Marshall Irwin Rommel.