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Despite the fear or indifference of most Europeans, a brave minority risked their lives to help Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe. Rescue took many forms. In the fall of 1943 the Danish resistance movement ferried almost all of Denmark’s Jewish population to safety in neutral Sweden. In other countries, churches, orphanages, and families hid Jews or aided those already in hiding. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg and other individuals acted courageously to rescue Jews. These acts of conscience and courage, however, saved only a tiny percentage of those targeted for destruction.
Throughout most of German-occupied Europe, the Germans sought to round up and deport Jews to killing centers in occupied Poland. Some Jews survived by hiding or escaping from German-controlled Europe. Some escape routes out of occupied Europe led to belligerent states (such as the Soviet Union), neutral states (such as Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey), and even to states allied with Germany (such as Italy and Hungary before they were occupied by Germany). After the German attack on the Soviet Union, more than a million Soviet Jews escaped eastward, fleeing the advancing German army. Thousands more Jews managed to leave Black Sea ports in Bulgaria and Romania, seeking to reach safety in Palestine.
Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish businessman assigned as a diplomat to Sweden's embassy in Budapest, led one of the most extensive and successful rescue efforts during the Holocaust. Supported by the American War Refugee Board (WRB) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Wallenberg protected tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews, issuing documents testifying that the Jews were under the protection of neutral Sweden. Diplomats from other neutral countries also participated in the rescue effort. Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat, issued certificates of emigration, placing nearly 50,000 Jews under Swiss protection. Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca, posing as a Spanish diplomat, issued certificates of protection to many Jews in Budapest under the name of nations which neutral Spain represented. At liberation, more than 100,000 Jews remained in Budapest, mostly because of these rescue efforts.
Germany occupied Denmark in 1940. When the Germans decided to deport Jews from Denmark in August 1943, Danes spontaneously organized a rescue operation and helped Jews reach the coast; fishermen then ferried them to neutral Sweden. The rescue operation expanded to include participation by the Danish resistance, the police, and the government. In little more than three weeks, the Danes ferried more than 7,000 Jews and close to 700 of their non-Jewish relatives to Sweden, which accepted the Danish refugees. The Germans seized about 500 Jews in Denmark and deported them to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Bohemia. The Danes demanded information on their whereabouts. The vigor of Danish protests perhaps prevented their deportation to the killing centers in occupied Poland.