Returning home

When Denmark was liberated on May 4, 1945, a surge of joy went through Danes both at home and abroad. The over 7,000 Jewish refugees who were in Sweden and the deported Jews, who had been brought home from Theresienstadt in the White Busses, could return home. Soon, however, it became clear that for some of the refugees the return to Denmark was fraught with considerable practical problems and disappointments.  

The re-integration of the Jewish group into Danish society after the liberation in 1945 was actually carried out without any particular attention. This was, however, not an automatic process.  The Danish state would not, and could not, accept a social degradation of the Jewish minority, who had lost housing, businesses, property and fortune and, in many cases, had gone into debt to finance their escape. 

The Danish unity government, established after the liberation, passed the Law of  Compensation to the Victims of the Occupation in October which naturally included the Jewish group. The law provided access to tort compensation for those persons who had been deported, but also covered aid to re-establishing housing and businesses, aid for studies and re-payment of debts incurred in fleeing.  The Danish state thus assisted to a considerable extent – post hoc – in the financing of the Danish Jews' flight to Sweden. Both the collective and the individual memory are virtually blank with regard to these economic issues, which prompted memories – and still do – of moral dilemmas and personal defeats.   


The law of compensation covered as a rule only Danish citizens.  The applications of German and Czech Jews were rejected. On the other hand, dispensation was routinely given to Russian and Eastern European Jews who had immigrated to Denmark in the years after 1900, but who had not yet applied for, or obtained, Danish citizenship. A total of 1.1 million kroner was paid out in tort compensation to those deported to Theresienstadt. 77% of the deported thus received compensation for their imprisonment.

Further, it is estimated that through the compensation law the Danish state contributed directly with at least 700,000 kroner to the financing of the Danish Jews' flight to Sweden. This amount was paid out for repayment of debt incurred during flight, or as compensation for personal effects and property sold to pay for transport to Sweden.
The compensation law has been amended several times since 1945. The 1969 amendment granted compensation to those who had sustained injuries that now caused a 50% disability.  Moreover, the change in the law meant an increased recognition of mental illness, for instance as a result of the diagnosis of concentration camp syndrome. In 1986 another amendment of the law made a disability of 25% sufficient for compensation.

The Central Office for Special Affairs

A few days after the liberation ”offices for special affairs ” were set up in the larger towns in Denmark.  An office that covered Copenhagen and the suburbs of Frederiksberg and Gentofte – the Central Office – led the way for the rest of the country. The task was to provide immediate help and restitution to the victims of the occupation and ensure the repatriation of the refugees in Sweden.  4,200 former Jewish refugees received help and made up 25% of the clients of the Central Office.  The numbers indicate that on return at least half of the Danish Jews needed, and received, economic assistance.

As the Danish refugees came home from Sweden during the summer of 1945, it became clear that many could not return to their earlier homes. In total, 1,534 former refugees and deportees passed through a camp in Denmark before they could establish a new home there. In the period from May 1945 to May 1946 there were in all 6 camps in Denmark. 90-95% of the residents were Jewish.

The acute needs for economic assistance, housing, and compensation have disappeared from both the collective and the individual memory. Probably many viewed it as shameful to receive public assistance. In addition, the compensation cases caused painful conflicts, since theft and misuse by other Danes had caused the greater part of the Jewish families' losses. Public debate of such cases combined with a discussion of the reasonableness of the sums demanded of the Danish Jews for the crossing to Sweden could have driven a seriously disruptive wedge into Danish society.

Space and spaciousness

- 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...

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