Readers React: Heroes saved many Jews during War War II, readers say — but some countries were complicit with their occupiers

A hand touches the Wall of Names at a Sh
A hand touches the Wall of Names at the Shoah Memorial in Paris on Jan. 27, 2005.
(Joel Saget / AFP/Getty Images)

When it comes to the amount of letters to the editor we receive on any given issue, there are topics that draw a lot of submissions over a long period of time (cough, Brett Kavanaugh, cough), articles that result in a brief but voluminous burst of responses (weekly columns, for example), and topics that lead to a prolonged back-and-forth between a handful of readers.

I find that the latter category produces some of the most interesting, print-worthy letters sent to the L.A. Times. The latest example is the Sept. 30 op-ed article on the rescue of Denmark’s Jews during World War II, which prompted a response from a reader, printed on Oct. 10, who said his father risked his life during the Nazi occupation of France by hiding Jews in his barn. That letter moved others to write.

Barbara Grillet of El Cajon thanks resisters in every occupied nation:

Thank you to reader Robert Grillet, who wrote of his father’s heroism in sheltering more than 60 people, including Jews, from the occupying Nazis in France. In every Nazi-occupied country, including Germany, courageous individuals risked their lives to protect the innocent in defiance of their own governments’ powerlessness in the face of, and even complicity with, Nazi atrocities.


They may not have thought of themselves as heroes, but they were, and are.

Eileen Barish explains why Denmark deserves special recognition:

Denmark was the only occupied European country to save almost all of its Jewish residents from the Holocaust. After being tipped off about imminent roundups by prominent Nazis, resisters evacuated the country’s 7,000 Jews to Sweden by boat, a historical anomaly.

They left at night by any means possible and fled to the countryside. Members of the Danish underground movement emerged who could tell the Jews who was to be trusted. There were police officers who not only looked the other way when the refugees turned up in groups, but also warned about Nazi checkpoints. Denmark was a small county with a big heart.


Although the French did try to help the Jews, of the 340,000 Jews living in France, more than 75,000 were deported to death camps. Although most deported Jews died, the survival rate of the Jewish population in France was up to 75%, among the highest in Europe. But it was nowhere near the scope of the efforts of the Danes.

Recall the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup of Jews in Paris, which was aided by the French police. This roundup included more than 4,000 children. They were held in extremely crowded conditions, almost without food and water and with no sanitary facilities before being shipped to death camps for their mass murder.

Thomas V. Mertens of North Hills praises an American rescue group:

It is time to recognize an American organization that saved more than 1,000 Jewish children from Europe in 1941. It is the Quaker organization American Friends Service Committee.

I was one of 56 youngsters on the Serpa Pinto, a merchant ship from Portugal that made it to New York on Sept. 26, 1941.

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