Przyslala Rimma Kaul
When Alexander Bodin Saphir’s Jewish grandfather was measuring a high-ranking Nazi for a suit in Copenhagen 75 years ago he got an important tip-off – the Jews were about to be rounded up and deported. It has often been described as a „miracle” that most of Denmark’s Jews escaped the Holocaust. Now it seems that the country’s Nazi rulers deliberately sabotaged their own operation.
It was a cold October night 75 years ago when my grandparents, Fanny and Raphael Bodin, stood on the dock of a harbour on the east coast of Denmark with their 15-month-old daughter, Lis, in their arms.
I imagine they peered into the darkness, nervously awaiting the fisherman who would take them across the water to the safety of neutral Sweden. Until that point the Jews of Denmark – unlike those in other parts of occupied Europe – had been free to go about their business. But now the order had been given to transport them to Germany „for processing”.
So my grandparents and aunt fled. As they boarded the fishing boat they handed the fisherman a substantial sum of money for the hour-long boat trip across the Oresund – the narrow stretch of water between Denmark and Sweden. Then it started to rain and my aunt began to cry. The fisherman, fearing the Germans would hear her cries, ordered my grandparents either to leave their child on the dock or get off the boat. They chose the latter and watched as the boat cast off for Sweden with their money and perhaps their last chance of escape.
Fortunately, it wasn’t their last chance. They succeeded in making the crossing the very next night – after giving their daughter a sleeping pill to ensure she remained silent – and lived out the rest of the war in Sweden.
Their story mirrors that of the vast majority of Danish Jews. According to Sofie Lene Bak, associate professor in history at Copenhagen University, 7,056 of them escaped to Sweden, with only 472 captured and deported to Theresienstadt.
This became known as the „Miracle Rescue” but many Danish historians now believe it was less miraculous than it seems. And my grandparents’ experience provides evidence for this theory.
My grandfather – usually known by his nickname, Folle – always claimed that the reason they managed to escape early in that month of miracles was because of a high-ranking German officer who came to his brother-in-law’s tailor shop, N Golmanns, on Istedgade in the seedy red light district of Copenhagen.
After the war my grandfather would open his own shop, R Bodin on St Kongensgade, one of the most fashionable streets in Copenhagen, but in 1943 he was still learning his craft. Together with his brother-in-law, Nathan, they would take measurements of new customers and note them down with other relevant information on A5 cards. These cards were stored in a bureau in the shop. I suspect my grandfather’s hands shook as he took the measurements and fitted the suit of this particular German officer, who must have been pleased with the finished article as he then offered my grandfather and brother-in-law a warning: „Get out, while you still can. There’s a round-up coming.”