Eva Robinson of Butler knows very well the story of Danish citizens and officials saving thousands of Jews during World War II, defying the Nazis and sending them to safety in Sweden. And she knows many do not.
So the president of the Scandinavian Society of Western Pennsylvania, who was born in Denmark, and her board dug into their savings and scheduled a screening of “Passage to Sweden,” a documentary about this mostly unknown experience, at Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville on Sunday, May 7.
It will be shown twice, at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., and after each screening, co-director, producer and writer Suzannah Warlick will lead a question-and-answer session with the audience. The ticket price is $12, and Robinson urged those interested to reserve their seats online as space is limited. Some tickets will be available at the theater.
Between 1940 and 1945, where you lived made a world of difference to Jews residing in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. While Norway cooperated with the Nazis, the Danes did not, according to the documentary’s website, and Sweden remained neutral. Ordinary Danes defied occupying German forces and protected their fellow citizens by carrying out dramatic rescue operations to save them. Swedish diplomats leveraged their political positions, too, to save Jews living in Hungary and Germany.
Robinson said mostly ordinary Danish people helped about 7,200 out of 7,800 Jews living in Denmark in late September 1943, leaving behind mostly the elderly and infirm who couldn’t make the voyage across a narrow strait to Sweden. The Nazi roundup and raid was set at the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a tactic they used often. Out of those left and sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto, only about 51 didn’t make it home. Through a special arrangement, their fellow residents sent them food and clothing, most likely keeping them alive.
When the war ended, the refugees came back largely to what they were forced to leave behind. Robinson said, “Their homes were still there, [and] businesses still there. [They] took care of their animals. The Danish said, ‘They are our friends. We will take care of them.’ And they did.”
Warlick, a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, had worked on the documentary for 14 years, shooting more than 130 hours of material and weaving in archival film footage, photographs and interviews with people who lived in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Hungary through the war years, according to an article in the Santa Maria, Calif., Sun.
The Valencia, Calif., native used to teach, and she wants Pittsburghers to know more about this operation that resulted in one of the highest Jewish survival rates for any German-occupied European country. She explained this in an interview with the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle published this week.
Robinson knows this well. “I think she’s very knowledgeable,” she said. “She herself is Jewish and did not know the story [before working on the documentary]. Her goal was to spread the news. So many in her Jewish family did know about it. She wanted everyone to know about it.”
Robinson came to the United States in 1957, when she was just about 8. Her father had landed a job with Westinghouse, and they made their home in Monroeville.
She visits her native country often to visit her many relatives there. The honorary Danish consul for the western side of Pennsylvania, too, Robinson is looking forward to a trip to Copenhagen in June for a worldwide consul meeting. The 73-year-old has also prior to the pandemic given talks on hygge, or the Danish good feeling attitude, which she says has been misunderstood.
This is the first time the Scandinavian society here has shown a documentary. The organization that formed in 1983 to promote its culture and heritage does hold annual events and has one coming up on May 17 in Aspinwall to celebrate Norwegian Constitution Day.
Robinson is proud that her home country is the only country the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., has on its Righteous Among the Nations list. “The entire country,” she emphasized.
She doesn’t understand the divisiveness of today, including the hatred of religious or ethnic groups. “I was raised that it doesn’t matter,” Robinson said. “I don’t understand how people can be upset because of the way [others] think. I don’t understand hating a whole group of people because of their religious thoughts.”
The timing of the documentary showing with the start of the synagogue shooting trial in Pittsburgh was just coincidence, Robinson said. It does occur, though, just a couple of days past the anniversary of Denmark’s liberation from German occupation on May 5, 1945.
She has one more goal in regard to the documentary as war rages in Ukraine and Sudan. “I am hoping they can see some similarities to what is happening today,” Robinson said. [And] That there are good people today [trying to help].”
“Passage to Sweden” will be shown on Sunday, May 7, only at 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. at Row House Cinema, 4115 Butler St., Pittsburgh, PA 15201. Limited seating available. Advance ticket purchase recommended. Tickets $12; https://rowhousecinema.com/movies/passage-to-sweden.