History of the Jews in Denmark
The Jewish community of Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

 constitutes a small minority with a known history back to the 17th century.


Medieval Danish art contains depictions of Jews – visibly wearing pointed hats – but there is no evidence any Jews actually lived in Denmark during that time. With the conclusion of the Danish Reformation
Reformation in Denmark
The Reformation in Denmark–Norway and Holstein was the transition from Roman Catholicism to Lutheranism in the realms ruled by the Copenhagen-based House of Oldenburg in the first half of the sixteenth century...

 in 1536, Jews along with Catholics were prohibited entry into Denmark.

The first known settlement on Danish territory was based on a royal dispensation. When the industrious Christian IV
Christian IV of Denmark
Christian IV was the king of Denmark-Norway from 1588 until his death. With a reign of more than 59 years, he is the longest-reigning monarch of Denmark, and he is frequently remembered as one of the most popular, ambitious and proactive Danish kings, having initiated many reforms and projects...

 founded Glückstadt
Glückstadt is a town in the Steinburg district of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. It is located on the right bank of the Lower Elbe at the confluence of the small Rhin river, about northwest of Altona...

 on the river Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...

 in today's Schleswig-Holstein
Schleswig-Holstein is the northernmost of the sixteen states of Germany, comprising most of the historical duchy of Holstein and the southern part of the former Duchy of Schleswig...

, he allowed one Jewish merchant, Albert Dionis, to settle in the city. This dispensation was extended to a few other Jews, and in 1628 their status was formalized by being promised protection, the right to hold private religious services, and maintain their own cemetery. Albert Dionis rose to special status within the Danish royal court, apparently being a source of credit for ambitious projects. Gabriel Gomez, who also attained this status, persuaded Frederik III
Frederick III of Denmark
Frederick III was king of Denmark and Norway from 1648 until his death. He instituted absolute monarchy in Denmark and Norway in 1660, confirmed by law in 1665 as the first in western historiography. He was born the second-eldest son of Christian IV of Denmark and Anne Catherine of Brandenburg...

 to give general leave for Sephardic Jews to reside in Denmark for purposes of conducting trade. Although this was limited to Sephardim, a number of Ashkenazim were granted letters of safe passage and settled in the kingdom in the coming years.

Of special note is perhaps the story of Gabriel Milan
Gabriel Milan
Gabriel Milan was Jewish governor of the Danish West Indies from 7 May 1684 to 27 February 1686. Though he mainly went by the name of 'Gabriel Milan', he identified himself as Don Franco de Tebary Cordova in his correspondence with King Frederick III of Denmark...

, who converted to Christianity and became governor of the Danish West Indies
Danish West Indies
The Danish West Indies or "Danish Antilles", were a colony of Denmark-Norway and later Denmark in the Caribbean. They were sold to the United States in 1916 in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies and became the United States Virgin Islands in 1917...

 in 1684, only to be executed in 1689 for corruption and abuse of office.

Establishment of permanent communities

Following the Thirty Years' War
Thirty Years' War
The Thirty Years' War was fought primarily in what is now Germany, and at various points involved most countries in Europe. It was one of the most destructive conflicts in European history....

, which cost Denmark many of its possessions and created a fiscal crisis for the Danish crown, Frederik III proclaimed an absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy
Absolute monarchy is a monarchical form of government in which the monarch exercises ultimate governing authority as head of state and head of government, his or her power not being limited by a constitution or by the law. An absolute monarch thus wields unrestricted political power over the...

 in Denmark. To improve trade, the king opened the door to greater immigration. The first Jewish community was founded in the newly established town of Fredericia
Fredericia is a town located in Fredericia municipality in the eastern part of the Jutland peninsula in Denmark, in a sub-region known locally as Trekanten, or The Triangle...

 in 1682, and in 1684 an Ashkenazi community was founded in Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...


By 1780, there were approximately 1600 Jews in Denmark, though all were admitted by special permission granted only on the basis of personal wealth. They were subject to a number of discriminatory restrictions of both social and economic character, and for a brief period in 1782 they were forced to attend Lutheran services. But they were not required to live in ghettos and had a significant degree of self-governance. Judging from art and writings from the time (particularly by the Danish-Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg
Ludvig Holberg, Baron of Holberg was a writer, essayist, philosopher, historian and playwright born in Bergen, Norway, during the time of the Dano-Norwegian double monarchy, who spent most of his adult life in Denmark. He was influenced by Humanism, the Enlightenment and the Baroque...

), these early communities set themselves apart.

Integration into Danish life

As the Jewish enlightenment
Haskalah , the Jewish Enlightenment, was a movement among European Jews in the 18th–19th centuries that advocated adopting enlightenment values, pressing for better integration into European society, and increasing education in secular studies, Hebrew language, and Jewish history...

 reached Denmark in the late 18th century, the king instituted a number of reforms to facilitate integration of Danish subjects into the larger Danish society. Jews were allowed to join guild
A guild is an association of craftsmen in a particular trade. The earliest types of guild were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel, and a secret society...

s, study at the university, buy real estate, and establish schools.

The Napoleonic Wars
Napoleonic Wars
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of wars declared against Napoleon's French Empire by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionised European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to...

 and the disastrous Gunboat War
Gunboat War
The Gunboat War was the naval conflict between Denmark–Norway and the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. The war's name is derived from the Danish tactic of employing small gunboats against the conventional Royal Navy...

 brought about a complete emancipation of Danish Jews (while, in contrast, events
Norway in 1814
1814 was a pivotal year in the history of Norway. It started with Norway in a union with the Kingdom of Denmark subject to a naval blockade being ceded to the king of Sweden. In May a constitutional convention declared Norway an independent kingdom. By the end of the year the Norwegian parliament...

 in Norway resulted in a constitutional ban on Jews entering Norway). Still, there were severe antisemitic riots in Denmark in 1819 that were allowed to run their course for several months, though without any known fatalities.

On the other hand, the early 19th century saw a flourishing of Danish-Jewish cultural life. The Great Synagogue of Copenhagen
Great Synagogue (Copenhagen)
The Great Synagogue is the main synagogue of the Jewish community in Copenhagen, Denmark. The synagogue is defined by its unique architecture around the Ark of the Law. During the first half of the 19th century, synagogues continued to be built in the classical tradition but there began to be a...

 is a landmark building, designed by the architect G. F. Hetsch. A number of Jewish cultural personalities, among them the art benefactor and editor Mendel Levin Nathanson, the writer Meir Aron Goldschmidt
Meïr Aron Goldschmidt
Meïr Aron Goldschmidt was a Danish publisher, journalist and novelist with a Jewish background. Goldschmidt was born in Vordingborg but raised in Copenhagen...

, and founder of Politiken
Politiken is a Danish daily broadsheet newspaper, published by JP/Politikens Hus.The newspaper comes third among Danish newspapers in terms of both number of readers and circulated copies ....

, Edvard Brandes
Edvard Brandes
Carl Edvard Cohen Brandes was a Danish politician, critic and author, and the younger brother of Georg Brandes and Ernst Brandes. He was a Ph.D. in eastern philology....

; his brother literary critic Georg Brandes
Georg Brandes
Georg Morris Cohen Brandes was a Danish critic and scholar who had great influence on Scandinavian and European literature from the 1870s through the turn of the 20th century. He is seen as the theorist behind the "Modern Breakthrough" of Scandinavian culture...

 (who had a strong influence on Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

), Henri Nathansen
Henri Nathansen
Henri Nathansen was a Danish writer and stage director, today best known for the play Inside the Walls ....

, and others rose to prominence in the Danish cultural landscape.

Growth and 20th century crises

As in many other societies, increasing integration also accelerated assimilation of Jews into mainstream Danish society, including higher rates of intermarriage. At the same time, events such as the Kishinev pogrom
Kishinev pogrom
The Kishinev pogrom was an anti-Jewish riot that took place in Chişinău, then the capital of the Bessarabia province of the Russian Empire on April 6-7, 1903.-First pogrom:...

 in 1903, the Russo-Japanese War
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

 in 1904, the series of Russian revolutions, led to an influx of several thousand Jewish refugees into Denmark, of whom approximately 3,000 settled in Denmark.

The new arrivals changed the character of Danish Jewry significantly. More likely to be socialist Bundists than religious, they founded a Yiddish theater and several Yiddish newspapers. These proved to be short-lived, however, and Denmark closed its door to further immigration in the early 1920s.

The Nazi era

In April 1933, Christian X
Christian X of Denmark
Christian X was King of Denmark from 1912 to 1947 and the only King of Iceland between 1918 and 1944....

 was scheduled to appear at the central synagogue in Copenhagen to celebrate its centennial anniversary. When Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 came to power in Germany in January 1933, the community leaders suggested that the king postpone his visit. The king insisted, however, and became the first Nordic monarch to visit a synagogue.

A period of tension ensued, for the Danish population in general and its Jewish citizens in particular. Danish policy sought to ensure its independence and neutrality by placating the neighboring Nazi regime. When Denmark was put under Germany military occupation as a result of Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung
Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany's assault on Denmark and Norway during the Second World War and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign...

 on April 9 1940, the situation became increasingly precarious.

In 1943, the situation came to a head when Werner Best
Werner Best
Dr. Werner Best was a German Nazi, jurist, police chief, SS-Obergruppenführer and Nazi Party leader from Darmstadt, Hesse. He studied law and in 1927 obtained his doctorate degree at Heidelberg...

, the German plenipotentiary in Denmark ordered the arrest and deportation of all Danish Jews, scheduled to commence on October 1, which coincided with Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah , , is the Jewish New Year. It is the first of the High Holy Days or Yamim Nora'im which occur in the autumn...

. However, the Jewish community was given advance warning, and only 202 were arrested initially. As it turned out, 7,550 fled to Sweden, ferried across the Øresund strait. 450 Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In the course of their incarceration, Danish authorities often interceded on their behalf (as they did for other Danes in German custody), sending food.

Of the 450 Jews who were deported, 52 died during deportation.

Post-war era

The number of Jews living in Denmark today is not known. According to the rosters of the synagogues, there are approximately 2,500 members in Denmark. However, the estimated number of people who consider themselves to be Jewish may be around 7,000-9,000 out of a total population of 5.5 million. Almost all Jews are very integrated into main-stream Danish society.

By all accounts, Danish society has maintained a safe and friendly environment for its Jewish minority. There are three active synagogues in Denmark today, all in Copenhagen. The larger congregation in Krystalgade is inclusive of its members, though follows a traditional liturgy. The Machsike Hadas Synagogue is a small Orthodox synagogue, and Chabad
Chabad or Chabad-Lubavitch is a major branch of Hasidic Judaism.Chabad may also refer to:*Chabad-Strashelye, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism*Chabad-Kapust or Kapust, a defunct branch of the Chabad school of Hasidic Judaism...

has a presence in Copenhagen. Shir Hatzafon is the Progressive Jewish synagogue and community in Denmark.

In addition, there are two Jewish periodicals published in Danish: Rambam, published by Selskabet for Dansk-Jødisk Historie; and Alef, a journal of Jewish culture.
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