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Salli Besiakov

“Everything was uncertain, we didn’t know anything”

Writer: Christina Damgaard Andersen

Photographer: Keren-Or Rosenbaum

This is how Salli describes the situation in the autumn of 1943. Born in Copenhagen in 1928 to Russian-Jewish parents, 15-year old Salli’s escape to Sweden wasn’t straightforward. Salli’s parents had been warned in advance and during the night of the action against the Danish Jews, they hid in their neighbor’s apartment. From their windows they could see the German soldiers enter the apartment building, but finding no Jews, they left again. They spent the next week living in a villa belonging to the boss of one of his mother’s acquaintances before attempting to flee to Sweden. The family decided to split up to ensure the entire family wouldn’t get caught. Salli’s parents fled together while Salli himself was to help his aunt and uncle escape. After an unsuccessful escape attempt, Salli got separated from his aunt and uncle, and he ended up sailing to Sweden the next night without his family. In Sweden he was reunited with his parents, aunt and uncle and older brothers who had fled prior to the action against the Jews. The family returned to Denmark in 1945 finding that their apartment in the meantime had been rented out, but that all of their belongings had been safely stored by their neighbors. Today, when 94-year old Salli is asked about the importance of the rescue mission, he highlights the role individuals played in the action: “It was not the Danish government that helped the Jews, but ordinary people who provided summer houses, who helped to find addresses, who helped in many different ways. Otherwise it would never have succeeded.”

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