In a chilling sign of escalating anti-Semitism in Denmark, an act of vandalism reminiscent of one of the most sinister medieval blood libels was discovered at a Jewish cemetery in the Danish city of Aalborg on the last day of Pesach.
Headlines across the world reported the spectacle; a bunch of children’s dolls doused with fake blood alongside dozens of flyers marked with a large Star of David and the message, “Pesach, another Jewish celebration of bloodshed.”
The red-streaked dolls were left at the entrance to the cemetery as well as thrown over the outer wall into the graveyard, symbolizing the notorious blood libel that Jews kill Christian children to obtain blood for baking matzo. Red paint was also poured on many of the graves.
Henri Goldstein, president of the Jewish Community in Denmark, called the acts of vandalism “an act of classical anti-Semitism, an insane conspiracy theory that we have seen for centuries in Europe,” noting that it was aimed at increasing a rising sense of insecurity among Denmark’s Jews.
The incident is being investigated as a hate crime, and security around Jewish institutions across Denmark has been heightened.
There are less than 8000 Jews in Denmark out of a population of nearly 6 million; they are mostly concentrated in the capital, Copenhagen.
Denmark takes pride in the fact that during the Nazi occupation, 90 percent of its 8,000-strong Jewish population were smuggled to safety in neutral Sweden. But in a sign that Jew-hatred knows no boundaries, anti-Semitism appears to be intensifying even there.
In the Pesach incident, the flyers were signed with the online address of Nordfront, the Danish wing of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) that has been active across the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Denmark.
Nordfront’s website effectively claimed responsibility for the cemetery desecration, posting photos of the bloody-looking dolls and calling the vandalism an “information campaign” about the “Jews’ foreign customs.”
The website described “Passover” … as commemorating a time “when the Jews rebelled in Egypt and vengefully killed the host nation’s firstborn children.”
Coordinated As A Show Of Force
Authorities believe the acts were coordinated as a show of force with the movement’s branch in Sweden, where a shul in the Swedish city of Norrkoping was similarly vandalized and littered with the same propaganda leaflets.
In the Swedish version, dolls splashed with red paint were hung near the shul which was strewn with flyers about Pesach being a Jewish holiday “celebrating bloodshed.”
Denmark’s Justice Minister strongly condemned the vandalism in Aalborg, calling it “outrageous and deeply shameful.” The European Jewish Congress (EJC) issued a statement deploring the cemetery desecration.
“EJC stands in firm solidarity with the Jewish community in Denmark following a repugnant act of anti-Semitic vandalism that targeted the Jewish cemetery in Aalborg,” the statement said. “We denounce this act of hate and hope the police will find the perpetrators.”
Holidays Singled Out for Harassment
The organization has a known history of harassing Jews on Jewish holidays. Throughout the week proceeding this past Yom Kippur, the neo-Nazi group targeted Jews in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland with anti-Semitic campaigns.
The movement’s own websites reported actions its members carried out in almost 20 different cities. Pictures on the sites show NRM members confronting Jewish worshipers and stationed in front of synagogues. Other photos depict anti-Semitic posters placed in public areas and flyer distributions in public areas.
The movement wrote that it was choosing Yom Kippur as an opportunity to “make the Nordic people aware of foreign customs and Zionist ruling schemes throughout the Nordic region,” with posters displayed in multiple countries attacking shechitah, bris milah and the custom of kaparos.
The NRM subscribes to a neo-Nazi dogma that is avowedly anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and pro-Hitler. It is an organization with ‘pure Nazism’ as its ideology,” Tina Wilchen Christensen, a researcher in extremism at Denmark’s Aarhus University, told Ritzau (“The Local”), an English-language Danish newspaper.
The group has set itself apart from other far-right organizations by adopting traditional Nazi ideology, she said. “They have the old Nazi message that all bad things are caused by Jews and Judaism,” Christensen said.
“With regard to NRM, they are anti-Semitic and holocaust deniers, they have summer camps for people in the movement at which they preach Nazis ideology,” she said.
The NRM movement emerged in Sweden in the late 1990s but did not attempt to establish itself in Denmark until recent years. “This has been playing out for a long time in Sweden, since 1997… and they have been trying to establish themselves (here),” Christensen said.
Calls to Ban Nordic Resistance Movement
In a statement, Israeli Ambassador to Denmark Benny Dagan condemned “this anti-Semitic act in Aalborg using the infamous blood libel of murdering Christian children and baking matzos with their blood,” and called on Danish authorities to outlaw Nazi Nordfront, as has been done in Finland.
Finland has recently banned the group, citing its “revolutionary and militant activities,” according to the Helsinki Times, and stating that its objectives were in violation of the foundations of a democratic society.
“Writings published on the organization’s webpage have targeted various population groups in a way that has to be considered ethnic agitation and therefore criminal,” the court said. “In addition, the use of violence linked to the organization’s activities has to be considered a part of the organization’s operations.”
2015 Terror Attack Set the Stage
The vandalism in Aalborg followed several incidents in the last two years that saw Jewish cemeteries in the town of Randers being defaced by neo-Nazis. Last October, two men were jailed for the crime; one of them admitted being a member of NRM.
Although anti-Semitic acts in Denmark have so far stopped short of physical assaults against Jews, the threat of an outbreak of violence is ever-present, attested a report by the AJC (American Jewish Committee). The situation has prompted the government to post a military guard outside Copenhagen’s main synagogue.
Such measures have been considered essential since 2015, when Islamist terrorist Omar el-Hussein shot and killed Dan Uzan, a Jewish volunteer who was stationed outside a synagogue to guard 80 children celebrating the bas mitzvah of Hannah bentow.
At the recent bar mitzvah of Hannah’s brother Elias, the children’s mother, Mette Bentow told PBS that returning to the scene of terrorism five years on has triggered her son’s post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I have never seen him so heartbroken and I have never felt so heartbroken in my life,” she shared. “When we look at our specific family history, of course, I can’t help but feeling so very responsible and guilty for having chosen to lead a Jewish life in Denmark. Had I chosen to live anywhere else, this wouldn’t have happened…”
Targeting The Only Jewish Butcher in Denmark
The Copenhagen shop of Gil Zchout, the only Jewish butcher in Denmark, has been repeatedly subjected to vandalism, reported the EJC. In one incident last summer, his window was smashed by a heavy stone.
Since the terrorist attack against the synagogue in Copenhagen on February 14, 2015 when the Jewish guard Dan Uzan was shot and killed, the shop has been monitored by PET (Police Intelligence Services), yet the store has repeatedly been exposed to vandalism and stone throwing.
“I came one morning. Then there were ‘Jew pigs’ here on the facade, Gil Zchout told TV Lorry, a Danish news station.
“You can go out on Lyngbyvej and have a look – there are no other stores that have been hit—only mine. And not the first time,” Zchout added.
According to the Copenhagen Police, a masked perpetrator was seen on video surveillance from the store, but according to police, the “motive cannot be concluded yet.”
The Jewish community collects data on anti-Semitic incidents, the EJC report noted. The latest figures show a 50 percent increase in incidents from 30 in 2018 to 45 in 2019.
The hike in incidents may be even higher than reported, as many Jews who have been the victim of an anti-Semitic hate crime are fearful of contacting authorities, an EJC spokesman said. “When it comes to trial, [authorities] by law cannot prevent the perpetrator from discovering who reported the incident, triggering the fear of reprisals against witnesses who testify.”
Movement to Ban Bris Milah
In addition to a long-running spate of anti-Jewish invective and verbal harassment of Jews in Denmark, rising anti-Semitic sentiment has underpinned various movements to ban circumcision in recent years.
Not confined to Denmark, these movements have swept through Iceland, Finland and Sweden as well. [Sweden recently adopted compromise legislation that imposed some conditions regulating the procedure and requiring medical oversight, while still permitting a bris to take place in a shul or family home on the eighth day.]
In 2018, a ‘citizen proposal’ calling for a ban on male circumcision collected more than 50,000 signatures and was debated in the Danish Parliament in what Jewish leaders feared would turn out to be a fatal blow against bris milah.
The government voted against a ban, but the anti-circumcision movements renewed their campaigns, lobbying hard for legislation that would effectively outlaw the practice of bris milah by imposing draconian conditions and regulations.
Danish anesthesiologists, for example, insist circumcision should be carried out under general anesthesia, and only after the child has turned 1 or 2 years old.
Bris Milah Ban Debated in Danish Parliament
In December 2020, matters came to a head when a bill that would have outlawed infant circumcision came before the Danish parliament. Many of the smaller parties voted for it, but the two biggest parties, Venstre and the Social Democrats, voted against it.
Both parties officially stated that a ban would violate the religious freedom of the Jewish minority in Denmark. The Danish prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, even compared banning circumcision to the atrocities against the European Jews during the Holocaust, according to a report by the European Academy of Religion.
She stated that in light of Europe’s bloody history regarding the treatment of Jews, outlawing one of the minority’s most sacred religious rituals would be unacceptable.
While circumcision still remains legal across Europe, anti-circumcision forces in Scandinavia and other European countries continue to agitate and steadily gain momentum.
Scandinavian Jews Have Reason to Be Concerned About Future
According to a February 2016 JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) report, many Jews feel that the “Scandinavian spirit” that had protected minorities and civil rights for so long is weakening.
With the influx of anti-Israel immigrants and anti-Zionist ideology into these communities, accompanied by verbal and physical harassment, Jews in Scandinavian countries are beginning to be concerned for their immediate safety, and their future.
In Denmark, changing demographics have contributed to a rise of a minority that is rampantly anti-Semitic, intimidating the small community of 8000 Jews. Incidents of cemetery desecration, threatening phone calls and explicit anti-Jewish invective on social media have mounted significantly.
Before World War II, approximately 2,000 Jews lived in Norway. But in 1940, under Nazi occupation, 750 Jews were deported to Auschwitz and only 25 survived. According to Reuters, in 2015 Norway’s Jewish community has since remained “one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1,000. The Muslim population, in turn, has been growing steadily, and numbers about 200,000.
Plagued by a growing environment of anti-Israel sentiment and high concentration of Muslim immigrants, the tiny community of Norwegian Jews feels embattled and keeps a low profile in their public and personal lives.
Some believe that anti-Semitism in Norway is an ingrained element of Norwegian culture. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the anti-Jewish sentiment flows “mainly from the leadership – politicians, organization leaders and church leaders.”
In October 2012, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized Norway for an increase in anti-Semitism and blamed officials for failing to address it.
Approximately 1,400 Finnish Jews reside primarily in Helsinki, in one of the northernmost Jewish communities in the world.
The Jewish Community Center of Helsinki houses a Jewish kindergarten and a comprehensive Jewish school serving children in grades one through nine. There is a library and cultural activities, a chevra kadisha and a mikvah.
While rising anti-Semitism has become a feature across Europe and Scandinavia, Finnish Jews have not felt particularly threatened. However, a number of isolated incidents have raised concern, including the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, swastika graffiti and threatening telephone calls.
Home to the largest Jewish community in Scandinavia with a Jewish population of 20,000, Sweden has provided a safe haven to Jews seeking refuge against discrimination and racism since the 1930s. Tragically, only about one-third of Swedish Jews are Jewishly affiliated.
With the influx of Muslim immigrants, Swedish society has undergone radical changes, including its openness and tolerance toward Jews.
For some Swedish Jews, especially in Malmo, daily life has been impacted by the desecration of cemeteries, vandalizing of shops, and general anti-Semitic harassment.
Lena Posner-Korosi, President of the Council of Jewish Communities in Sweden, states that “with weekly anti-Semitic incidents taking place in Malmo, there is fear among the Jews there every day.”
Swedish Jewish Community Bows to Persecution
When the Jewish Community of Umea, a tiny enclave of 70 people in northern Sweden, was dissolved in 2018, it sent shock waves across the Jewish communities in Scandinavia, reported the Jerusalem Post.
The move came in response to intimidation by neo-Nazis from the Nordic Resistance Movement, making it the first time in decades that a Jewish organization in Western Europe acknowledged that it felt compelled to close shop over safety concerns.
The closure caused a national uproar, according to the Jerusalem Post. Amid intense media coverage in Sweden of the affair, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven cited the event in a speech denouncing anti-democracy forces in his country.
His condemnation made little impact on the reality that in Sweden, Muslim extremism and the far right are part of a broader landscape of anti-Semitic forces threatening Jewish communal life.
Denmark’s Past Record of Nobility
Through World War II, Denmark’s people supported the Jewish community, never adopting anti-Jewish policies or resorting to persecution.
Invaded by the Nazis in 1940, Denmark was able to maintain its democratic institutions in exchange for trade with Germany, notably by exporting its agricultural goods to Berlin.
Anti-Semitism was not widespread in Denmark at the time, and in contrast to the collaboration with the Nazis by sizable segments of the population in France and Norway, Danish wartime authorities did not discriminate against Jews. SS raids were met with hostility among the Danish people at large.
In August 1943 the Danish government resigned, refusing to bow to Nazi demands to crush resistance within the country to the occupation.
Shortly afterward, the Nazis mounted a massive operation to hunt down and deport the country’s Jews. With the help of the Danish resistance, the majority escaped across the waters in fishing boats to neutral Sweden.
Historians estimate that more than 7,000 people avoided deportation, while 500 Danish Jews were arrested and 51 killed.
While the Danish resistance movement is estimated to have included well over 20,000 Danes who worked to actively undermine the German occupation, another estimated 6,000 Danes brought shame to their country by supporting the pro-Nazi Free Corps Denmark .
Historians say this group of Danish Nazis actively participated in the murder of 1,400 Jews at a prison camp in Belarus during World War II.