Danish rescue boat provides symbol of courage & compassion at Holocaust Museum

- At a place of unceasing remembrance, you will find them, side by side.

One, a symbol of utter despair, a mechanism of mass removal to unspeakable, premeditated, human slaughter.

And then there is the other, a vessel humble, yet sublime. In the hands of those who stood against hate, her signature voyage offered an aching world a measure of decency and selfless courage.

"It is a difficult thing to talk about. So much evil, you know," said Ole Philipson.

And yet 72 years, later Philipson feels obligated to bear witness. He was a boy of nine when the Nazis invaded Denmark. He remembers the skies blanketed with German aircraft, the Wehrmacht goose stepping through Copenhagen.

"My father was very worried because everybody knew what happened to the Jews in the rest of Europe," said Philipson.

But unlike other nations they'd enslaved, the Nazis chose not to move against Denmark's Jews, detecting the population's deep affinity for all its citizens, regardless of religion.

"For three years while Europe was burning, we lived on, normal lives," said Philipson.

It would not last.

On October 1st, 1943 Adolf Hitler gave the order. Some how, advance word leaked to Denmark.

"It was a total shock. It came like  lightning on a sunny day," recalled Philpson.

For the people of an occupied nation, it would prove a defining moment. Within hours a collective moral choice triggered the movement of nearly 8,000 Danish Jews, first into hiding and then to the northern coast.
Philpson's family was among them.

"And in the middle of the night one our friends came running in saying the Gestapo is here! Get out, Hide!"

Over a truly perilous three week period, those who evaded capture were secretly stowed aboard Danish fishing boats like the Hanne Frank and at great risk to their Christian crews ferried to neutral Sweeden and safety.

"Some ships went down, some were caught, some went to concentration camps," said Philipson.

But most, including the boat bearing the Philipson family, got through. A dozen at a time, 7,500 souls in all. In a world ripped asunder by hate and brute force, it remains an uncommon act of compassion.

The restoration of Hanne Frank has fallen to Walter Hansen, a master shipwright who for much his adult life served as an agent of the FBI.

"Hundreds of boats, hundreds of trips," said Hansen of the evacuation.

For him the lesson she has to teach justifies four years of painstaking labor.

"The Danes did it spontaneously, they did it individually because they knew it was the right thing to do. This is a choice that we have in how we conduct our selves and our lives and it's probably one of the most important choices we can make," said Hansen adding, "It has real impact, real importance for the young people who come through here, day in day out, every year."

For retired Ambassador Ole Philipson, the somber moments within the walls of the Holocaust Museum serve to reconfirm what was for so very many and what could have been for him.

"These people who sat in the boats and took us, they went against all of this brutality and they raised our hopes. They saved our lives."

In a Holocaust that took six million, only 50 Danish Jews failed to survive.

The gift of safe harbor. The defiance of evil. It is a story of collective integrity forever worth the telling at Holocaust Museum Houston.

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