April 13, 2004
Prof: Look past violence, differences to live with global neighbors
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. As war and violence continue to displace ethnic groups, a Purdue University anthropologist says the world could learn a lesson about tolerance from the pages of history.
"Today we often feel besieged by images of people coming to violent conflict over religious and ethnic identities," says Andrew Buckser, a professor of anthropology who studies cultural and religious groups' identities. "But as we step into a violent 21st century, it's even more important to follow the example set by a small Scandinavian country in the 1940s that went to great risks to protect its Jewish population from the Nazis. What's just as remarkable is that the citizens of Denmark have continued to resist the revival of anti-Semitism that has been such a disturbing feature of European society in recent decades."
Buckser's work, which is highlighted in his book "After the Escape: Jewish Identity and Community in Contemporary Denmark," (published by Palgrave MacMillan, 2003) studies how and why the Christian Danes rallied to prevent the deportation of its Jews in 1943. His research, which includes interviews with more than 100 Danish Jews, also analyzes the Jews' return to Denmark and how their community has developed in the decades since.
Buckser says escalating violence in the Middle East is starting to disrupt the relationship between these two cultures that have lived peacefully for decades.
"European press coverage has not been favorable to Israel, and this has led to some disturbing anti-Semitic incidents in many parts of Europe," Buckser says. "In the last few years, I've heard about nasty Jewish stereotypes in Denmark that no one's heard since the early 1990s."
Such conflict can be damaging to the cultural identity of any group. And it comes at a time when Danish Jews are struggling to maintain their group identity while being immersed in a larger society.
Buckser says the Denmark rescue is a great example of doing what is right in the face of adversity, and that more should be done to promote this story to remind people how different cultures can live peacefully together.
In 1943 the Germans dissolved the Danish government and police and intended to deport Jews on Oct. 1, the night of the Jewish New Year. Within 48 hours, more than 6,500 Jews were warned and hidden from the Nazis. Over the next several weeks, almost all of them escaped on fishing boats to Sweden. About 5 percent of Denmark's Jews were killed during the Holocaust compared to 90 percent of Poland's Jews.
Throughout Europe after the war, Jews returned to their homes only to find them destroyed or filled with new families. In Denmark, the homes of Jews were preserved, and Christian priests even protected Jewish religious documents from the Nazis, Buckser says. While Jews elsewhere in Europe were displaced and struggled to preserve their identity, the Jews in Denmark picked up where they left off thanks to help from their neighbors.
Buckser also is the author of "Communities of Faith: Sectarianism, Identity, and Social Change on a Danish Island."
His work was funded by the American-Scandinavian Foundation, the Purdue Research Foundation, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and the School of Liberal Arts.
Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source: Andrew Buckser, (765) 496-2857, email@example.com
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
A publication-quality photo is available at http://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/+2004/buckser-a04.jpg