A Memorial for a Danish Jewish Family
‘Stolpersteine’ is the largest war memorial in the world. It consists of 74.000 handmade stones in Europe as a memory of victims of the Nazi persecution.
Last week, my husband and I were present at the inauguration of three brazen copplestones, so-called ‘Stolpersteine’ at an address in the North West quarter of Copenhagen close to my first home as a child.
The stones represent the tragic story of the Danish Jewish family Fishermann.
The Danish Jews thought they were safe in Denmark even after the German occupation of our country in April 1940. In August 1943 our Government dissolved itself, and the situation worsened for our Jews. The Germans had got the archives of all our Jews and rumours spread that they had to hide and try to escape to Sweden. Some managed well on their own, but many others didn’t hear the warnings or had no money to pay the fishermen who could help.
The Fishermann family didn’t manage to go into hiding in time and at two o’clock in the night on October 2, 1943, Gestapo knocked at the door. The father Leopold came down from the balcony on the second floor. The two teenage boys Salle and Robert knotted together two bedsheets. In the fall he injured his ribs but managed to get away along with the oldest boy Adolf. The oldest sister Fanny stayed somewhere else, and after some failed attempts to come to the coast, they finally got a rowboat some days after.
That boat was normally used at a lake but totally inadequate to sail ten inexperienced people over to Sweden. The ship took in water and Leopold and his son Adolf drowned. The bandage and injury made it impossible for him to cling to the boat and Adolf drowned in his attempt to dive for his father. A young Austrian Jewish fugitive Bruno Schultz had survived a Nazi razzia on a church roof a few days before this but died in the cold October water.
Fanny Fishermann was a good swimmer, so she and a young man Leopold swam back to the shore to find help. They both were found unconscious at the coast and helped to the hospital in Copenhagen.
Finally, a boat passed the other surviving passengers and took them aboard. The captain refused to sail them to Sweden, and they all met again at the same hospital. They could not stay there as Gestapo was constantly checking on the hospitals. Hardly dry, they were again helped to Northern Sealand and the last part of the way they were hidden in a renovation truck. This time they were saved by a larger fisher boat and managed to get to Sweden. Without lots of voluntary people, the escape routes would never have been a success. Most of our Danish Jews were saved those October days in 1943.
The rest of the family were transported to Theresienstadt in inhuman conditions. The mother Martha, Mogens five years old, Rebecca maybe twelve years old and Salle fifteen and Robert Sixteen years old.
They survived the concentration camp but not without deep hurts. Rebecca took her own life in 1951, and the mother broken down of the losses dies too early too. Non the less, as Salle said in his speech she managed to give the surviving children good educations and had earned a stone for remembrance. Unfortunately, the youngest son Mogens has cut all connections to the family as he was too young to understand what had happened. Salle is now ninety years old and was present at the ceremony. He has spent the last thirty years telling his story at German schools and universities. Robert lives in Israel and couldn’t travel to the occasion. Fanny died a few years ago.
Their story is described in different books as the survivors have written about their boat escape and the time spent in Theresienstadt.
Despite all the tragic events, there was laughter at the gathering before the stones were laid. Somebody said that the Fishermann family had a special sense of time as they were always waiting for everybody to arrive on time.
Bent Bludnikow is a journalist and his father barely survived the boat tragedy. Bent Bludnikow has written a book “My Father’s Escape” about his father’s life and the Fishermann family among many others.
We were there because we have communicated with Salle and his wife on social media Instagram since we attended a talk on his life five years ago at the Jewish Museum in Copenhagen. Last winter our national TV brought a documentary about the traumas in the family made by Mogens’ grandchild Benjamin. He had never heard about any of it and then tried to bring the surviving family members together to speak. He succeeded in having his grandfather meet his sister Fanny shortly before she died.
A sad reminder to this story of meaningless persecution, our police had to be present to protect the people at the ceremony.
When put in a traumatic situation as a very young child, the facts about what happened can be impossible to fathom. I believe the youngest boy has suffered so much loneliness in Theresienstadt that his bitterness denied him to communicate with his siblings.