Har­bor­ing Hope: The True Sto­ry of How Hen­ny Sind­ing Helped Den­mark’s Jews Escape the Nazis

  • Review
By – January 3, 2024

In the author’s note that intro­duces Har­bor­ing Hope, Susan Hood explains that this his­tor­i­cal nov­el-in-verse will tell the sto­ry of the Dan­ish Jews’ escape” rather than res­cue” from the Nazis.

The Ger­man occu­pa­tion of Den­mark was cal­cu­lat­ed to func­tion effi­cient­ly: if Danes coop­er­at­ed eco­nom­i­cal­ly with the Nazi regime, they would be sub­ject to few­er restric­tions than oth­er defeat­ed nations. Despite this fact, the Dan­ish Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty was unique in Europe in that it large­ly sur­vived the war. Alleged­ly, some Ger­man sol­diers out­right avoid­ed vio­lence, fear­ing that if they pro­voked reprisals they might be sta­tioned else­where under harsh­er cir­cum­stances. Many Dan­ish Chris­tians also refused to col­lab­o­rate with the Nazis. One the­o­ry holds that this was because the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion was small and thor­ough­ly assim­i­lat­ed, mak­ing it more like­ly that their fel­low Danes would pro­tect them.

The book’s pro­tag­o­nist is Hen­ny Sind­ing, a young woman who active­ly resist­ed Nazism and helped bring many Jews to free­dom. Work­ing with oth­er Danes who were com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing their Jew­ish neigh­bors, she arranged for the Ger­da III, a light­house sup­ply ship, to trans­port refugees to Swe­den. Although this com­plex sto­ry does por­tray imper­iled Jews as indi­vid­u­als with agency, it inevitably focus­es on the choic­es of Dan­ish Chris­tians, who could have acqui­esced to Nazi laws but coura­geous­ly chose a dif­fer­ent path.

Sind­ing, like many of her fel­low resisters, refused to see her actions as remark­able. Hood con­trasts Sinding’s mod­esty with the real­i­ty that she rou­tine­ly risked her own life. The daugh­ter of a Dan­ish naval offi­cer, Sind­ing was famil­iar with mar­itime life and would use her knowl­edge to chal­lenge author­i­ty. How­ev­er, there was noth­ing inevitable about the course she even­tu­al­ly took. Her par­ents empha­sized hon­esty and inde­pen­dence, yet they also thwart­ed her pur­suit of a career in dance, view­ing bal­leri­nas as inher­ent­ly cor­rupt women. Hood weaves in a num­ber of Dan­ish cul­tur­al influ­ences, includ­ing Hans Chris­t­ian Andersen’s fairy tales, Pip­pi Long­stock­ing, and the Dan­ish leg­end of Hol­ger Danske, a sleep­ing knight who would awak­en and come to the country’s aid.

Hood points out that despite the altru­ism of peo­ple like Sind­ing, not all Chris­t­ian Danes had self­less motives. The vaunt­ed brav­ery of the cit­i­zens who rowed Jews to safe­ty in fish­ing boats appears in a dif­fer­ent light once read­ers learn that many were paid, some­times exor­bi­tant fees, for their efforts. Hood’s com­mit­ment to telling the truth sets the book apart from oth­er, more roman­ti­cized accounts.

In a sec­tion enti­tled So Many Lives, So Many Sto­ries,” the author also demon­strates that Dan­ish Jews were not a mono­lith­ic group, but rather rep­re­sent­ed every niche in soci­ety: Some were landowners,/suddenly homeless,/Some were executives,/suddenly unemployed./Some were shopkeepers,/suddenly out of business./Some were schoolchildren,/suddenly dismissed.”

Hood uses a vari­ety of poet­ic forms in her explo­ration of the anom­alous response of these Danes dur­ing World War II. Many of the poems are writ­ten in free verse, while oth­ers take the form of cinquains, nonets, and tri­o­lets. One con­crete poem is shaped like a light­house, and list poems pro­vide dra­ma in a com­pact form.

The hero­ic acts of Hen­ny Sind­ing and her col­leagues — as well as the resilience of Denmark’s embat­tled Jews — present pos­si­bil­i­ties for defy­ing author­i­tar­i­an terror.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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