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Bent Melchior

“Make the difference”

Writer: Christina Damgaard Andersen

Photographer: Yael Pharhi Gravesen

Born in 1929 in modern-day Poland where his father Marcus Melchior served as a rabbi, Bent grew up in Copenhagen. In October 1943, Bent was 14 years old. Bent’s father was the one who warned the Danish-Jewish community to escape. Bent had to flee his home together with his parents and three of his brothers. They first found refuge in the home of a priest who lived near Slagelse. After securing the funds to pay for the passage to Sweden, they took the train to Nykøbing Falster, where they found a man who would sail them to Sweden together. When they left the harbor on the evening of October 8th, they didn’t know that the trip to Sweden would last 19 hours. The fisherman who sailed them had never sailed so far out of the harbor before and he was not used to sailing at night. When the sun rose and they could see land, it turned out that it was not Sweden at all, but rather that they were near Gedser in southern Denmark. They then decided to sail east towards the rising sun, and luckily they managed to find Sweden, where they went ashore on the southern coast. Here they were received by a local family who took them in and gave them money. In Sweden his father served as a rabbi for the Danish Jews in Sweden, and Bent was able to continue his education. In 1945 the family returned to Denmark. In 1948 Bent helped fight for the establishment of the State of Israel as a volunteer in the Israeli War of Independence. Like his father, Bent became a rabbi. After his father’s death in 1969, Bent became Chief Rabbi of Denmark, a position that today is filled by Bent’s grandson Jair. Bent’s own experience as a refugee during the war made a lasting impression on him. He was an important advocate for refugees in Denmark and was involved in interfaith work. Bent Melchior died in Copenhagen in July 2021 at the age of 92. He will be remembered as a person who took care of other people and who didn’t close his eyes to the problems in society. As he stated: “I think the moral is that you have to listen to your conscience. If you feel that there is something to do, don't say: “Well, let others, but do it yourself. Make the difference.”

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