Hidden WWII History
A reunion with the nurses where I trained in the early seventies made me think about how I learned the problematic skills needed to become a staff nurse at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen.
The architect of the hospital is Martin Nyrop (1849-1921). He mixed Historicism with other themes into his buildings: Art Nouveau, Roman architecture, Middle-aged Italian style. An original Roman bath inspired the bath building.
I have learned that many doctors and nurses played significant roles in hiding and helping wounded resistance fighters during the German occupation 1940-1945. An operation nurse held a unique position in creating new identities for the wounded. The staff made up the patient’s case to fit his situation and read aloud to learn by heart.
In October 1943, when the German occupiers decided to round up the Danish Jews, many of the persecuted Jews were helped in the elaborate tunnels underneath the buildings or at hospital beds with false diagnoses and names. At times so many fugitives came through the hospital that many nurses gave up their rooms and flats to host families or even hide clothes and weapons.
A porter with a photographic memory stayed long hours after his duty to watch over who entered the hospital. He managed to warn the doctors and nurses in time whenever an acutely dangerous situation arose.
An administration leader opened her office called “The Central” for organising help for the fleeing Jews in October 1943. The helpers needed lots of money, and people donated to her ‘shoebox’ from all over Denmark. Sometimes it contained 100.000 DKK. = 16.000 $, which would be a lot more nowadays. The helpers brought with them large amounts of cash to pay for transportation and food etc. The king donated, and ordinary people, an eye specialist passed by and handed over 50.000-75.000 DKK for the organisation. The involved people never wrote receipts on the donated cash.
About 1500-2000 Danish Jews passed through the tunnels and hiding places at the Bispebjerg Hospital during those critical two weeks in October 1943.
Removal men, ambulances, taxis all in union helped the fleeing Jews and saboteurs to neutral Sweden via different ship routes.
In a jubilee book on the hospital’s history, an older man looks back to his childhood during the war. His father was a surgeon and played a significant role in helping the Jews. At a certain point, The Gestapo got an eye on him. Fortunately, he escaped to neutral Sweden. Many were involved at the hospital to help the thousands of people in need, nobody spoke about it. They took the boy’s mother to a camp in Denmark, and a young medical student was shot in his flight from the doctor’s flat. The doctor managed to get to England, where he went with Montgomery’s men to Europe in the last part of the war.
I would have loved to have heard the story of this heroic personnel. All my life the WWII have had my interest. Recently I became conscious that the architecture is unique. The founders thought of healing via the beauty of architecture and the importance of fresh air and sunshine combined with the professionals’ good care.