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Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz 1904 - 1973

A Nazi who saved more than 7,000 Danish Jews from deportation when he worked for the Merchant Navy at the German embassy in Denmark

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz

Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz was born in Bremen in 1904 to a cosmopolitan family of merchants. He studied Economics and Law in Freiburg and Bonn. During his studies, he took interest in politics and became a member of a right-wing student corporation. After his studies, he joined a large German coffee company, the “Kaffee Haag”, which sent him to Copenhagen in 1928 to represent the company. He joined the Nazi party in November 1932 but never became an SS officer. In 1933, he entered the office of the Foreign Minister of the Third Reich and took the role of Scandinavian trade expert. Following the purge of the SA in 1934 by the SS also known as “the night of the long knives”, (June 30-July 1), Duckwitz lost faith in his Party, and in 1935 he left the Foreign Minister, after sending Alfred Ernst Rosenberg a letter of resignation.

Duckwitz built his career in the Hamburg-American Line, the first shipping and passenger shipping line for North America. He was appointed representative of the company in New York in January 1939. When the war broke out, Duckwitz, who had always been a member of the Nazi party, was in Germany and, given that the German Ministry of Transport and the Shipowners' Federation opened a tender for shipping clerk positions in neutral countries, he decided to apply for the post in Copenhagen and he got the job. After the German invasion of Denmark (April 9, 1940), his party decided to use his experience as a Merchant Marine expert. In the summer of 1941, Duckwitz married Annemarie Rynert, a woman of Swiss descent, and together they adopted a child, Hanna. During the German occupation of Denmark, Duckwitz and his wife, who were fluent in Danish, become friends with many locals, including leading members of the Danish Social Democratic Party.

When in September 1943 Duckwitz learned from Werner Best (German plenipotentiary in Denmark) that the Germans were planning to deport Jews during the country's ongoing state of emergency, he decided to act and went to Sweden to speak with Prime Minister Albin Hansson in order to persuade his government to welcome all Jews from Denmark.

After receiving assurances from the Swedish government, he returned to Denmark where he provided many Danish Jews with the necessary documents to seek refuge in Sweden. Thanks to German contacts in Denmark, he managed to slow down the preparations for the deportation.

On September 28, Best informed Duckwitz that the raid of the Jews would take place during the night between October 1 and 2. Duckwitz knew he could not prevent the operation, but he still decided to inform his friends of the Danish Social Democratic Party that they would meet that very evening. Thanks to the intervention of Duckwitz, the Danes warned the Jews of the imminent danger and mobilized to help them hide. The Nazis in the raid captured around 200 Jews who were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In the days that followed, the Danes put their lives at risk and helped the Jews to seek refuge in neutral Sweden.

After the war, Duckwitz will carry out a series of diplomatic assignments for West Germany. In the spring of 1970 the Jewish community of Berlin, in view of the twenty-seventh anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, awarded him with the Heinrich Stahl Prize. In April 1971 Duckwitz was awarded the title of "RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS" by Yad Vashem. He died in Bremen on February 16, 1973.

The story of Duckwitz and the rescue of the Danish Jews will be told in the book by Andrea Vitello “Il nazista che salvò gli ebrei. La storia del salvataggio degli ebrei danesi” (Le lettere, Firenze, settembre /ottobre 2021). The book will have a preface by Moni Ovadia and an afterword by Gabriele Nissim.

Biography by Andrea Vitello 

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