Built in 1926, this ordinary work boat was used in October 1943 to ferry some 300 Danish Jews to safety under German occupation. In April 1940, Germany invaded and occupied Denmark, allowing the Danes to maintain most of their democratic institutions, their legal system, and their army and navy. From 1940 through 1943, the Jewish community continued to function, holding religious services regularly. The Jews in Denmark were never forced to register their property or assets or to wear yellow stars the way they were in some other occupied countries.
By August 1943, Allied military advances inspired increasing unrest on the part of Danish resisters. In response, Germany declared martial law, seized control of the police and the military, and began planning to deport the Jews.
When news of the planned deportations leaked out, the response—on the part of Danish citizens, authorities, communal leaders, and the royal family—was immediate and spontaneous. Over the course of one month, October 1943, the Danes found creative ways to spirit almost all of the country’s 7,500 Jews to Sweden, mostly by boat. With limited time to organize a coordinated resistance movement, individuals invented ways to ferry Jews to safety, as we learn from Henny Sinding, one of the rescuers, whose father’s company managed the Gerda III.
Jewish refugees came to Christianshavns, where they hid briefly in the homes of Danish citizens. Each night, Henny brought some of them to a warehouse along Copenhagen’s waterfront. Before dawn, she sneaked them into the hold of the Gerda III, and the crew concealed them with cargo. Then, Gerda III set out on her scheduled supply route, detouring to Sweden to put the additional “cargo” ashore. The vessel was regularly boarded and checked by German soldiers, but the refugees were never discovered.
The Gerda III rescued approximately 300 Jews in groups of 10 to 15. Using similar methods with a variety of vessels, almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark was rescued in this fashion.
As a symbol of the courage of the Danish people during World War II, the boat was given to the Museum of Jewish Heritage by an act of Danish Parliament in 1989.
Gift of the government of Denmark. Funds for restoration were generously provided by Dr. and Mrs. Justin Lee Altshuler, The A.P. Moeller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Moeller Foundation, and the J. Aron Foundation.