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  • The Lie of the Lie of Christian’s Yellow Star March 19, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    cartoon christian x

    One of the most attractive stories to come out of the Second World is that of Christian X of Denmark and the yellow star. When told that Jewish Danes would have to wear said star the elderly king threatened to wear one himself. The King, adored by his people and a symbol of Danish nationhood, took daily rides through Copenhagen (see video below) and so a yellow star on his person would have been a powerful statement and one that would have been taken up by loyal subjects, who had, in any case, far fewer anti-Semitic prejudices than German neighbours to the south.

    It is a very attractive story and a salve for Europe’s scabbed conscience over the holocaust. It has been written up a thousand times and there is even a children’s book (which is to be recommended) entitled The Yellow Star by Carmen Agre Deedy and a celebrated film/book Exodus.

    However, spoilsports have pointed out that it is not true. First, Jewish Danes never wore the yellow star (at least not in Denmark), because of the energetic attempts by their own government to protect them. Second, by extension Christian had no need to wear the star himself, even on his horse rides through Copenhagen. Those cads on Wikipedia have gone so far as to call it an ‘urban myth’. Jens Lund, the folklorist, wrote, meanwhile, a very good article decrying the story and a later piece in the New York Review of Books on the same subject.

    Danish cobblers then? Well, apparently not entirely. A recent work on Denmark’s remarkable evacuation of its Jewish population to Sweden, Lidegaard’s Countrymen, a real act of Scandinavian heroism subscribed to not just by Christian X but by almost the entire Danish population, has reported a new source, the king’s diary. First, though it will be necessary to trace the origin of the star myth.

    10 Jan 1942 (just before Germany decided upon the Final Solution) a cartoon was published by a Norwegian Ragnald Blix in a Goteborg newspaper: the cartoon at the head of this post. In that cartoon, Blix has the king talk to the last Danish Prime Minister before the Germans took full control of the executive, Thorvald Stauning in the background. TS asks:

    What shall we do, your Majesty, if Scavenius* says that our Jews also have to wear yellow stars?

    Christian X replies: ‘Then we’ll probably all have to wear yellow stars.’

    This cartoon was long taken for the seed of the legend of how Christian X threatened to wear the yellow star. It was spread through Britain and America not least to improve Denmark’s rather poor reputation as a resistor, particularly after Denmark’s Jewish evacuation, widely reported as a redeeming act among the free Allied nations. Since then the yellow star story has taken on a life of its own: in fact, it is commonly told as the king riding on his horse with a yellow star, rather than threatening to, a wonderful ‘I am Spartacus’ moment. The first report of this legend, incredibly, dates to 1943 and the (happily few) Jewish Danish prisoners taken to Theresienstadt concentration camp. They were told the story on their arrival by inmates from less happy lands.

    Now the idea that the king wore the yellow star on his horse rides is, as noted above, simply untrue. However, there is now evidence that the king did threaten to wear the star. In the fall of 1941 the previous Prime Minister, Vilhelm Buhl had talked to the king and the king had recorded the conversation in his diary (10 Sept). There he had written:

    Naar man saa den umenneskelige Behandling, Jøderne var Genstand for ikke blot i Tyskland, men ogsaa i de besatte Lande, begyndte man at være ængstelig for, at Kravet ogsaa en Gang blev stillet os, men det maatte vi pure afvise som følge af disses Retsstilling inden for Grundloven. Jeg udtalte, at jeg heller ikke vilde gaa med til et saadant Krav overfor danske Statsborgere. Hvis et saadant Krav rejstes, imødegik vi det bedst ved, at vi alle anlagde ‘Davidsstjernen’. Finansminsteren indskød, at det var jo altid en Udvej

    When we saw the inhuman treatment applied to the Jews not only in Germany but also in the occupied lands, we began to be afraid that we might be required to do this. We had to flatly reject this though as a result of their Legal status within the Basic Law. I said that I did not want such a claim to be made against Danish nationals. If such a requirement was raised, it would be best if we all put on ‘Stars of David’. Finance Minster Eren agreed that it was always a way out.

    The truth is that Denmark is a small country and news of conversations spread among the nation’s leadership rapidly. There is one notable instance where a private conversation with a German official was reported almost word for word in the illegal newspapers in 1943. The tale of Christian X may have come up spontaneously, but it is more likely that it sprouted on Copenhagen’s gossip circuit and bloomed shortly afterwards in the retelling before becoming a cartoon.

    Historical myths do not convey truths, they convey needs. But every so often the needs of a given people happen to be true historically speaking. The positive self-representation of a small European people prepared to defend their traditions and their neighbours from invaders found perfect expression in Christian X’s yellow star wearing: how fitting that the story is based ultimately on fact.

    More holocaust legends: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    *Scavenius the much maligned Danish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister who led the ‘collaboration’ with the Germans. Many Danes continue to see Scavenius as a traitor: he, in fact, saved countless Danish lives including the lives of many Jewish Danes in the Second World War, while acting as Christian X’s lightning conductor with the general population.