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Poul (Pinchas) Melchior

“A small light give hope that there are also good people”

Writer: Ori Levi

Photographer: Nimrod Gluckman

In 1940, the German occupation of Denmark began, but for various reasons the occupiers agreed to allow the Danes to continue to maintain the democratic and egalitarian regime. Thus the internal life in Denmark continued as usual, but under German supervision. Poul’s father, while he was trained as a rabbi, during the period in question did not function as a rabbi in the community. In 1941, together with the rabbi of the ultra-Orthodox community in Copenhagen, he authored a book on the Parsha of the Week. They sent a copy to King Christian X who responded with a heartfelt handwritten letter of thanks. In the summer of 1943, the Germans introduced a state of military emergency in the country. As part of this, the deportation of the Danish Jews was planned. But the German leadership played a double game, because they understood that the expulsion of the Jews would provoke a popular uprising in Denmark. Therefore, they leaked the information about the deportation to Danish leaders so that they would warn the Jews. After the arrest of the Chief Rabbi by German forces, Pinchas' father was his unofficial substitute, and was therefore one of the recipients of the warning from the Danish leaders. The next morning he stopped the prayer in the synagogue and asked everyone to warn as many people as possible to find shelter. Thanks to this warning and the dissemination of it by members of the Jewish community, the Germans captured only 200 of the approximately 7,500 Jews that night. The Danish people opened their homes and their hearts and helped the Jews to hide, and within days they organized the transfer of almost all the Jews in ships, mainly fishing boats, to Sweden. During the entire deportation process, the Germans captured 472 Jews who were sent to Theresienstadt. Poul, his parents, and three of his brothers stayed at the house of a priest that his father knew, then they arrived in Sweden after a dramatic 19-hour voyage, when the fisherman, who apparently did not know how to navigate at night, almost brought them back to Denmark and the Germans. Professor Leni Yahil subtitled her book about the rescue of Danish Jews: “Democracy that stood the test.” This choice moved Poul and opened his eyes - the Jews of Denmark were not saved because they were Jews, they were saved because they were Danish citizens, and the Danes internalized that democracy is not only the rule of the majority, but solidarity between the citizens. Poul sees the solidarity that the Danish people have shown towards their Jews at a time of great need as hope and inspiration, according to which he lives his life, when he tells his story to future generations.

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