About the Conference

"Civil Society: Reactions to the Holocaust," an international conference organized by Humanity in Action Denmark, commemorated the 70th anniversary of the flight and rescue of most Danish Jews during World War II. The conference took place in the North of Copenhagen from Monday, September 30, to Wednesday evening, October 2, 2013.  

The conference dove into themes of civil courage, civil society and reactions within the European societies to the Holocaust with particular focus on Danish history.

The point of inquiry for the international conference were the questions of “How and why did civil societies come to the rescue of Jews in Denmark and Sweden how did civil societies in other selected European countries – Poland, Germany, France, Finland, Holland, Bulgaria and Sweden – respond to the Holocaust? How did civil society in the United States and Great Britain react to news about the Holocaust?”


The speakers included Richard Breitman (USA), Ulrich Herbert (Germany), Ronald Leopold (Holland), Konstanty Gebert (Poland), Sofie Lene Bak and Bo Lidegaard (Denmark). 

The conference included a visit to and a special session in the fishing village Gilleleje from where many Danish Jews fled to Sweden, while others were arrested and deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. There was a special commemoration evening at the end of the conference, and all participants were invited to a special performance at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen in the presence of Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II. The Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning Schmidt, gave the opening speech.

The focus of the conference was the flight and rescue of Danish Jews and the lessons to be learned from the Holocaust relating to minority protection and the role and responsibilities civil society. This inquiry included not only the Danish perspective, but also critical international perspectives.  Therefore, the conference focused on Sweden’s welcome of the Danish Jews, on civil courage among Germans in Denmark in 1943, and on civil reactions to the Holocaust in other European countries. During the past ten years, the Danish-Jewish Museum, the Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Danish Institute of International Studies, and several historians have studied and published various books and findings that have shed new light on the historical circumstances relating to the rescue. Thus, the conference also highlighted these important findings and discuss them from an international point of view.


The organizers include historian and Head of Section of the Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the Danish Institute of International Studies, Cecilie Stockholm Banke; Danish historian Hans Kirchhoff; Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights Eva Maria Lassen; author and Chairman of Humanity in Action Denmark Anders Jerichow and Humanity in Action Inc. The Planning committee included former Chief Rabbi Bent Melchior; Chairman of the Jewish Community in Denmark Finn Schwarz; Director of the Jewish Museum Janne Laursen; historians Sofie Lene Bak and Otto Rühl; Attorney Per Magid; and Eva Truelsen, Peter Christgau, Magnus Harrison and Emilie Bang-Jensen from Humanity in Action Denmark.