Monday, April 1, 2002

A Way Through The Sea: Denmark Children During World War II

A Way Through The Sea begins Robert Elmer’s “The Young Underground” series for young readers (ages 8-13). The Andersen twins, Peter and Elise, have experienced German soldiers in their hometown of Helsingor, Denmark since they were eight years old. It has been three years since the Germans invaded (1940), with no sign of the war ending. Life goes on, as normal as possible, but the adults seem nervous, as does the twins’ Jewish friend, Henrik Melchior. The Danish Jews have escaped the persecution of other European countries – so far. But that situation will soon change.

Throughout the first part of the book, eleven-year-olds Peter, Elise and Henrik enjoy carefree summer days. Often they ride their bicycles across town and release their three pigeons for “pigeon races” to see which bird is the fastest. Peter and Henrik send Morse code signals by flashlight at nighttime, though the Nazi presence makes such games more dangerous. Peter also enjoys visiting his grandfather and Uncle Morten, who operate a fishing boat at the coast. Sweden is just a few miles across the sea, visible from the Denmark coast, but Peter and Elise have never even been out in the fishing boat.

Peter considers himself a Lutheran, in the patriotic tradition – after all, they attend church every Christmas and Easter. Still, he notices that Uncle Morten, who attends a small church every week, is different. Then the children see Uncle Morten having a secret meeting with a Swedish man. He must be working with the Underground Resistance.

In late September 1943, the Nazis decided to round up all the Denmark Jews – about 7,000. But in a remarkable, oft-forgotten true World War II story, the Danish people learned of the plan two days in advance. Unlike the Europeans in other conquered lands, all Denmark’s citizens banded together to rescue their Jewish neighbors and help them escape to Sweden. As related in A Way Through The Sea and the epilogue (historical notes), most of the Jews in fact escaped – Hitler was furious! Peter, Elise and Henrik find their own harrowing adventures in the midst of this terrible time, as they take direct action to send Henrik to Sweden.

The first in a series, A Way Through The Sea sets the groundwork for many more adventures for the Andersen twins. Henrik Melchior later appears in the second book of Elmer’s “Promise of Zion” series, as a 15-year-old in 1947 Palestine. The name Melchior, by the way, may come from an actual person in Denmark history; Rabbi Dr. Marcus Melchior was among those who took action in September 1943.

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