Date of Award

Spring 5-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA History




Mark Molesky, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Dermot Quinn, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Larry Greene, Ph.D.


Denmark, World War II, Nazi occupation, Rescue of Danish Jews, Good Germans Theory, Werner Best, Holocaust


During the Second World War, millions of Jews died as the Nazis expanded their power and harsh racial ideology across Europe. As countries fell under Nazi occupation, the civil and human rights of their Jewish citizens were obliterated and many Jews were deported to camps where they most often perished. However, Denmark was an exception. In October 1943, when, after three years of occupation as a model protectorate, news leaked of an upcoming mass deportation of Denmark’s Jews, the Danes carried out a rescue operation. By hiding and then taking them by boat to neutral Sweden, they saved about 7,000 of the country’s estimated 7,500 Jewish citizens. With just a few days’ notice, the Danes were able to foil a plan that took the Germans a month to create.

This result gave rise to a theory conceived by some historians known as the ‘Good Germans’ Theory. It holds that the deportation in Denmark was initiated and then deliberately sabotaged by the local German administration. These officials, most notably the German plenipotentiary, Werner Best, and a maritime attaché, Georg Duckwitz, took action to alert the Jewish community about the deportation order and then carried out the operation in a way that essentially ensured it would be ineffective. The implication of the theory is that there was some moral imperative driving the actions taken by these Germans.

This thesis explores the ‘Good Germans’ Theory and examines the role played by the German leaders and soldiers in the history of the Danish rescue. It presents evidence to suggest that while the actions of the Germans were “good” because they allowed for a rescue of the Danish Jews to succeed, they were likely motivated much more by political and personal considerations.