Did He Read the Book?

(Reply to journalist Bent Blüdnikow’s review of my book in the national Danish newspaper Berlingske 4th. of June 2015. – other reviews are found here Politiken,  historie-online, RAMBAM).

It did not come as a surprise when Bent Blüdnikow’s review of my book Udsigt til forfølgelse. Det danske udenrigsministerium og de europæiske jødeforfølgelser 1938-1945 // With a View to Persecution. The Danish Foreign Ministry and the Persecution of the European Jews 1938-1945 was not that great. It was placed in Blüdnikow’s usual category of being moralizing and characterized as typical Danish interpretation of the occupation period, which is not a compliment.

Unfortunately, two thirds of the book are not reviewed at all. The main theme of the book which is the Danish diplomats’ knowledge on the persecution of the European Jews remains unmentioned. The diplomat’s gained an extensive knowledge of all the steps in the persecution process from definition to deportation. The mass murder was at the latest acknowledged in the summer of 1943, but the scope of the genocide remained unknown.

However, since the main theme was missing from the review I could not help wondering if he had even read the book?

The title of the review “Look at the occupation in a new manner” shows the review is used to write a debate piece on how the occupation period in Denmark should be interpreted. The newspaper Berlingske often has the same angle on this period, which corresponds to the views of the journalist Bent Blüdnikow. These usually leave little room for the many grey areas during this period and more often than not books which deal with only perpetrators, victims or resistance fighters are recommended. Clearly, he found my book to be in the wrong.

This focus on “saints and sinners” seems to have blocked for a more nuanced critique of the book’s main subject: the Danish Foreign Ministry’s knowledge and understanding of the greatest persecution of a minority in Europe in recent time.

The title of the book is of course selected to reflect the views on the discriminatory measures against Jews. The stripping of basic civil rights, the plunder, and the many deportations from most of Europe. Fortunately, other reviews of the book (Politiken,  historie-online, RAMBAM, ) included several passages on the Danish knowledge on one of the darkest chapters of recent European history.

Journalist Bent Blüdnikow at the same raises some points of concrete critique. Some of which, I will reply to here.

Firstly, the journalist finds it problematic, that I mainly use the Danish Foreign Ministry’s archival material, but if I was reviewing the book, I would probably have looked at the subheading – The Danish Foreign Ministry and the Persecution of the European Jews 1938-1945. This should serve as an indicator for the main source of archival material used in the book, and is a scientifically valid way to define and limit the subject area.

Afterwards he mentions that an article from the Danish-Jewish periodical RAMBAM is missing from my sources. The article is written by Silvia G. T. Fracapane, who was friendly enough to point me in that direction, but unfortunately the book had come too far along in the publishing process to be included. However, the person – Marie, mentioned in the article, is also present in the Foreign Ministry’s archives. The inclusion of the article would not have changed the overall conclusions.

The journalist often criticizes that victims are only mentioned by first name, which according to Bent Blüdnikow doesn’t happen in the rest of the world. However, the explanation is rather simple. The Danish Law forbids passing on such information unless the file date has passed 75 years. Violating this law brings me in risk of a six-month prison sentence. I still wonder how it can be a point of critique –  in a book review – to stay within the boundaries of the law.

Several times the choice of research literature is characterized as one-sided, which probably stems from the fact that the researchers used represents viewpoints, which are not shared by the journalist. However, it is actually hard to find Danish researchers who share the viewpoints of the journalist.

The review ends with a row of rhetorical questions that have the purpose of questioning the validity of the book: ”Who controlled these decisions and why? The fear of Germany was a great factor, writes the author [me], but how? Was it just an expression of the collaborative policy that the ministry’s director, Nils Svenningsen, was a follower of, or did other factors play a role? Did it matter that two of the Ministry’s bosses were hardened Nazis? A fact Bjerre doesn’t even mention.”

Most of the book is actually about the abovementioned questions. Needless to say the Danish Foreign Minister, and from late 1942 an onwards also Prime minister, Erik Scavenius had the decisive role. And then there is the accusation about the two Nazis in the Foreign Ministry. They are mentioned in the book on page 51 and in a footnote in chapter 9 (footnote 17). That is one more reason to wonder – did Bent Blüdnikow even read the book?

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