Posts Tagged ‘Niels Bohr’

Commemorating the escape from Nazi-occupied Denmark to Sweden 70 years ago

September 30, 2013

image Pierre Mens

The Öresund Bridge connecting Copenhagen with Malmö will be lit up on Tuesday night to commemorate the escape of 7,800 Jews from occupied Denmark to Sweden. They were evacuated by an armada of Swedish and Danish fishing boats with the help of the Danish resistance. The Nazi’s had planned to have a Great Arrest on the night of the Jewish New Year on 1st October, 1943 and transfer the Danish Jews to concentration camps. But their targets largely disappeared. The Gestapo succeeded only in arresting some 450 people.

Wikipedia: Only around 450 Danish Jews were captured by the Germans, and most of these were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in German occupied Czechoslovakia. After these Jews’ deportation, leading Danish civil servants persuaded the Germans to accept packages of food and medicine for the prisoners; furthermore, Denmark persuaded the Germans not to deport the Danish Jews to extermination camps.

The Local:The light manifestation will be focused on the man-made island Peberholm in the middle of the Öresund straight and along the bridge itself.

“Öresund was the route to safety in October 1943. It is a beautiful idea, to use the foundation of the fixed link over the Öresund, which rests on Peberholm, as a platform for all the lanterns we want to light in the October darkness,” said Ingeborg Philipsen at the Museum Amager in Denmark.

Some 700 lanterns will be lit on Peberholm to symbolize that “October 1943 was a light in the darkness”.

One of those who escaped was Nils Bohr and Lubos Motzl describes his story which I reblog here. His reference to 60,000 Danes who escaped to Sweden must include all Danes during the II World War and not just the Jews. I am also not sure if his reference to the help provided by the Swedish aristocracy is entirely accurate. The Swedish King, Gustav V was an alleged Nazi sympathiser – even if not a fanatic. He is “credited” with blackmailing the Swedish Government into permitting the transit of German troops through Sweden by threatening abdication. He certainly had great admiration for Hitler’s actions against Russia and even sent a congratulatory letter to Hitler – privately – against the wishes of his government:

Bohr’s dramatic escape: 70 years ago

Exactly 70 years ago, on September 29th, 1943, the Danish underground movement received the message. Brothers Niels and Harald Bohr – who had a Jewish mother but that wasn’t the only sin – would have to be arrested and transferred to Germany.

So far, Bohr would be often invited to emigrate but he would be refusing it with words resembling Zeman’s “Why should I leave? They should leave!”

But the new situation was way too serious so both brothers and all of their offspring and families had to escape Denmark. So Bohr and his wife Margareta are suddenly walking on a Copenhagen street and meet a biochemistry professor they know. He is a part of the resistance movement and gives them a secret sign, everything is fine.

They go to a Copenhagen dwellers’ popular recreational beach with fancy buildings outside of the capital. Harald, his wife, and children are there in a moment, too. The boat needs two hours. The fishermen, also belonging to the underground, know the schedule of German patrols so they may optimize the trajectory. On Thursday, September 30th, they finally reached a Swedish village.

Margareta stays in the village. Niels Bohr has some extra work to do. He takes an express train to Stockholm. There he meets with the secretary of state and other officials. Ultimately, he has a meeting with the king, too. Bohr has almost certainly contributed to the official October 1943 publicly declared decision of Sweden to accept all refugees. Thanks to the friendly and courageous Swedish aristocratic reaction, about 60,000 Danes escape a German prison during October 1943.

Sweden is not quite safe for Bohr, either. Germany could send secret agents or soldiers to silence him. Britain and America are safer; they seem like a more practical place for Bohr to help the Allies to kick the German bastards into their socialist balls (or, in the leader’s case, ball).

Bohr agrees with the British proposal. His condition is that his son Aage, a physics student, must accompany him. Now, the main technical task is to transfer Bohr from Sweden to Britain. In between these two countries, you find Norway which is occupied just like Denmark.

The solution is a British combat aircraft, a bomber called Mosquito. The model is fast and can reach great heights – and escape from most German aircraft into the clouds. At some points, it’s actually crucial for the height to be above 10 kilometers to be mostly safe; this also requires the British pilots to teach Bohr to use the oxygen mask. Where would Bohr sit? Well, in the bomb bay! Aage would fly in another aircraft.

A small technical glitch forces Niels Bohr’s aircraft to return. He wants to take the first yellow cab. The Swedish agents are pulling their guns. But OK, they force him to sleep at this airport and nervously await the invasion of some Germans who could just find out where Bohr is and make a “friendly visit” at every moment.

Mosquito’s average speed is about 600 km/h which means that 1,200 km to Britain is a 2-hour trip. Things went fine and the Mosquito landed in Northern Scotland. The pilots immediately go to see Bohr in the bomb bay. A sleeping and tired man didn’t hear any instructions because the helmet wasn’t large enough for his quantum skull. Also, he failed to use the oxygen mask so he fainted somewhere in the clouds but survived. “Next time, it will be better,” he promised.

A more luxurious commercial aircraft took the co-father of quantum mechanics to London. He met some similarly active British physicists like Chadwick. Niels Bohr was impressed by the progress made by British on their tube alloys project (British nuclear bomb). In December 1943, he would fly to the U.S. As guests of the Manhattan Project, Niels and Aage would be renamed as Nicholas Baker and James Baker, respectively, for security reasons. I doubt that this secret name enabled Aage Bohr to become Reagan’s Secretary of State.

Bohrs would only spend some time in Los Alamos. Oppenheimer credited Bohr for contributing to modulated neutron initiators and for his being an inspiring role model for younger physicists like Feynman – although Feynman himself wasn’t exactly obsessed about authorities of any kind.

Incidentally, Enrico Fermi started the nuclear age 10 months before Bohr fled Denmark. It just happens that Fermi would celebrate his 112th birthday today. Enrico Fermi was born on September 29th, 1901.


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