Munch-Nielsen, Preben

Munch-Nielsen, Preben

Righteous Gentile
Snekkersten (Denmark)

Munch-Nielsen was born in 1926 and lived in Snekkersten, Denmark, about 25 miles north of Copenhagen. He lived with his grandmother and had three younger sisters. He attended school in Copenhagen and was unaware of any Jewish classmates, since, he claims, no distinction was made between people in Denmark.

The invasion of Denmark by Germany in 1940 brought little change to the lives of the Danes, including those of Jewish faith, since the Danish government and Danish laws remained in effect. To halt increasing sabotage against them, the German occupying forces began ruling the country by martial law in August 1943. Munch-Nielsen, age 17 at that time, became a runner and messenger for the Danish underground movement and after the Germans decided to round up all Jews for deportation, he was used to guide Jews to hiding places. Subsequently, he was involved in taking Jews to harbors and beach sites from which they were smuggled to Sweden.

Munch-Nielsen also participated in transporting Jews on boats and fishing vessels to Sweden, acting in support of the fisherman and boat captains in calming and aiding the Jews during the crossings. He describes the details of the rescue efforts, the equipment used, the monetary arrangements made, and the attitudes of the rescuers. He emphasizes that even though about 1,500 of the approximately 8,000 Jews rescued were not Danish citizens, the rescuers treated them no differently. Since Sweden had committed to only allowing Danes to enter, the non-Danish Jews were given Danish passports to facilitate their entry. Ultimately, Munch-Nielsen himself took refuge in Sweden to avoid being arrested by the Germans.

Munch-Nielsen states that about 500 Jews, many from the Home for the Aged, were arrested by the Germans and deported to the Teresienstadt concentration camp. However, they were not abandoned by Danish authorities. They were visited by the Red Cross and they received a letter from King Christian X of Denmark expressing his support of them, with the hope that they would soon return. Eventually, a deal was made with Germany that freed these Danish Jews just prior to the end of World War II and brought them back home to Denmark through Sweden.

Upon their return to Denmark, the exiles found all of their property and assets intact. Nothing was disturbed by the Danes or the German occupying army. Munch-Nielsen believes that the support given to the Jews by the Danes, their government, and by the king completely confounded the Germans. He thinks that it was beyond the Germans’ comprehension that anyone would want to help Jews and that the resulting confusion worked to the advantage of the rescue efforts.

Interview Information:
Date: December 7, 1993
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 58 minutes
Format: Video recording