saved by king christian of denmark
Jerry Valfer begins his tale by stating, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget… When you lose all the young years, you got nothing.” Jerry’s story of survival starts with his arrest at age 13 on November 9, 1938 just hours after Kristallnacht. He and his father were jailed along with most of the Jewish adult male population of Mannheim. Jerry was released several days later but his father was sent on to Dachau for several months’ incarceration.
This close call was a sign for the family. Their son needed to get out of the country. The logical choice was to send him to Palestine to join his older brother Karl. Jerry was sent to a Youth Aliyah camp in Schniebichen, Germany near the Polish border to train for life on a kibbutz in Israel. The group was set to leave for Palestine via Trieste, Italy. But when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 all borders were closed. Jerry was one of the 20,000 young people unable to escape Germany.
Jerry’s unlikely savior was the Danish crown. He was one of only 500 children granted papers to enter Denmark. Rather than being deported to a concentration camp with his parents, Jerry was sent to freedom in the Danish countryside. At the age of fifteen, Jerry found himself working at a windmill in rural Denmark. “The work was hard but we got room and board and we were safe.” After an accident at the mill Jerry was sent to work on a farm. “I lived so far away… I didn’t even know there was a war.” During his years away from his family he had absolutely no communication with them. He didn’t know if they were dead or alive. His sanctuary in Denmark came to an end when a spy turned him and nearly 200 other teens over to the invading German army. They were sent by cattle car to the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
Improbably, Jerry was reunited with both his parents in Theresienstadt. Jerry was to spend eighteen months in the camp. On April 15, 1945, King Christian of Denmark again came to his rescue. With the help of the Swedish Red Cross he arranged to get all the Danes out of the camp. After a brief stay in Sweden Jerry returned to Denmark where he resided until he was able to join his parents in the United States in 1948.
How did a teenager survive alone through the horrors of the Holocaust? Jerry’s reply: “Sometimes I didn’t think; I just kept on living.”