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Bente (Batya) Melchior

"Bente, the very beautiful dress, and the cousin who couldn't swim"

Writer: Omer Afriat

Photographer: Nimrod Gluckman

October, 1943. Bente is a 21-month-old baby when her family is forced to flee to Sweden. Bente thinks of her father, whose responsibility it is to save his wife and three daughters: ”We suddenly had to decide the fate of the family, what do we do? How do we raise all the large sums? Run away? Close the business? These are very difficult decisions in the middle of life.” Earlier, during the summer of 1943, life went on almost as usual, and the family lived in their summer house north of Copenhagen. They went to work or school every day, and felt a sense of relative security. One day, her older sister, Leah, was called to stay in the principal's office at school during recess. At the end of the day, she went to her father - and did not find him. She was told he was hiding with friends. From there, they sent her home to pack only a backpack for her and her sister, and without the possibility of taking luggage, lest they arouse suspicion on the street. ”She packed the most important things, which is her very beautiful dress. She completely forgot underwear,” Bente says with characteristic humor. On the evening of October 6, the general curfew began two hours later, at 10:00 p.m. Batya and her family went on the escape voyage in a small fishing boat. The mothers and babies were hidden below, and the adults were on board. Suddenly, gunfire started on the ship. Her sister Leah, only 14 years old, noticed the water starting to flow on the deck. Because she passed a water rescue test in middle school, “she was sure she could take care of the father, and the middle nurse could take care of the mother, who was smart enough to keep me above the water. Then she said about the cousin who couldn't swim: “There's nothing to do.” Luckily they managed to cross the maritime border, and therefore a ship could leave the Swedish military port and pull the sinking fishing boat to safety. “There, and it makes me very emotional to tell this, the soldiers said: "Welcome to Sweden" and I think it's something amazing.” After a year and a half in Sweden, Bente and her family were able to return to their home in Copenhagen. “I think they helped us because we were Danes, it could have been, as they say, the redheads or the cyclists. This time it was Jews. That's how it was perceived there. An occupation they didn't agree to and opposed.” At the age of 19 Bente married Poul, a Danish survivor himself, and the two immigrated to Israel. They have 4 children, 16 grandchildren and 1 great-granddaughter. And all thanks to the Danish rescue operation.

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