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Whoever Saves a Life

Posted by Anna Burnstein Gilette on 1/26/2021 to Holocaust

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27. National Jewish Book Award finalist, The Whispering Town is the perfect read for our time.

The history books tend to focus on the “big stuff,” the events that turn our lives upside down (for good or bad) and become permanently etched onto our memories. Dig a little deeper, however, and you will find that the story of our past is shaped as much by the everyday behavior of ordinary people as it is by the events that make headlines. Collectively, small acts of humanity and kindness are as powerful a force as any to change the world.

During World War II, Denmark was the only country in Western Europe to save most of its Jewish population from the Nazis, more than 90 percent by some counts. The Whispering Town tells the story of Danish Jews who survived with a little bit of help from a lot of people.  Some families hid Jews, the local baker made sure those households had extra bread, and the farmer slipped them extra eggs.  

The Danish Jews ultimately needed to escape to Sweden by boat. The townspeople of Gilleleje came up with a creative solution: they waited for a cloudy night to guide the hidden Jews to the boats that would take them to safety. One whisper would disappear in the darkness but what about a whole town whispering? What if from every doorway came a whisper of “this way” followed by another whisper of “over here, this way…?”

For the Danish Jews who survived the Holocaust, the little whispers that guided them to the fishing boats that night would resonate for far longer than the sound of armies marching to war.  

The Talmud says that “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if they have saved an entire world.” The people of Gilleleje, who whispered that night, saved the world many times over.

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