Book reviews, Comments, Culture, In Focus

The Holocaust and the Danish exception

Nearly two decades have passed since the publication of Norman Finkelstein’s “The Holocaust industry”. The exploitation of the Holocaust continues apace and, apart from the book’s impact costing Finkelstein his tenure at DePaul University in Chicago, little has changed.  

 

Judy Glickman Lauder, Bohušovice train station near Theresienstadt concentration camp, Czechoslovakia; from Beyond the Shadows (Aperture, 2018)

Sean Sheehan

 

It comes as a welcome relief, then, to see a new photobook from Aperture, “Beyond the shadows”, that is not part of the Holocaust industry.

Denmark was occupied by the Nazis from April 1940 to the end of the war and the degree of collaboration between the various coalition governments and the Germans is open to debate.

Rosa Luxemburg’s observation that it is ‘a distorted form of bourgeois hypocrisy that leads each nation to recognise infamy only when it appears in the uniform of the other’ serves as a reminder that the Holocaust could not have taken place without the active participation of citizens and government bodies outside of Germany. Jews were deported from the Channel Islands and at least one photograph shows a British policeman assisting in the deportation of Jews. This suggests that Britain would have been no exception to what took place in other countries under Nazi occupation.

Ordinary citizens in Denmark did, however, prove to be an honourable exception when, in August 1943, the Germans imposed martial law and began planning the deportation of the country’s Jewish population to the death camps in Poland.

Judy Glickman Lauder, Birkenau extermination camp, Poland; from Beyond the Shadows (Aperture, 2018)

A network of citizen emerged to give sanctuary to Jews and assist them in escaping from Denmark. Within weeks, over 7,000 Jews were able to flee to Sweden and after the war they were all welcomed back and they were able to resume their normal lives and occupations.

This might seem like an outline for one of those Hollywood movies that shamelessly distort historical truths in the interest of an emotionally satisfying story that it is calculated to accrue maximum revenue.

In this case, not so: it is the plain truth and Judy Glickman Lauder’s photographs, taken in the 1980s and ‘90s,  are testimony to  both the Danish exception and the reality of what awaited Jews sent to the camps from other occupied countries. The first set of photographs, at the sites of Nazi camps in eastern Europe, pertain to the reality of the Holocaust: the railway tracks, the victims’ possessions, the gas chambers, bare barracks.

The monocrome photos are grainy, semi-blurred, ghostly and stark, some are infrared images. In most of them, any natural light that is available shines weakly through small windows or from overcast skies. More than visual documents, they affectingly convey hideous truths.

Judy Glickman Lauder, Jens Møller, Gilleleje, Denmark; from Beyond the Shadows (Aperture, 2018)

Prefacing the second set of photographs, pages of text tell the story of what happened in Denmark. The pictures that follow are portraits of some of the men and women who risked their lives assisting Jews to escape. They are not ghosts.

The book draws to an end with photographic reminders of the past: the site of mass graves, Jewish cemeteries, exhibits at the extermination camps today,the execution camp at Auschwitz.

“Beyond the shadows: The Holocaust and the Danish exception”  by Judy Glickman Lauder is published by Aperture.

(Photos by © Judy Glickman Lauder, provided by the publisher)

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