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Preben Munch-Nielsen

Rescuer of Danish Jews




Preben Munch-Nielsen 1944

Preben Munch- Nielsen was born on 13 June 1926 in the fishing village of Snekkersten, Denmark. He was brought up by his grandmother, who was also responsible for raising five other grandchildren.


During his schooling he commuted daily to a school in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, approximately 25 miles south of Snekkersten.


Preben Munch Nielsen recalled his schooldays:


“There were very few Jews in my elementary school, but I didn’t think of them as Jews, we were all just Danes.”


On 9 April 1940 the Germans invaded Denmark and Preben recalled his early contact with the occupiers, and his rescue work:


“In April 1940 I arrived in Copenhagen, where I saw planes overhead and German officers in the street. I joined the resistance as a courier, but I became more involved in October 1943, when the Gestapo hunting down Danish Jews.”


In the spring of 1943, however, the situation changed. Inspired by the Allies’ progress in the war, the Danish people stepped up their resistance to the German occupation. Labour strikes and acts of sabotage intensified.


On August 28, 1943, the German military commander in Denmark declared a state of emergency and commanded the Danish government to institute martial law. Acts of sabotage were to be punishable by death, the press was to be censored, and demonstrations were to be banned. The Danish government refused to accept these measures and resigned.


The presiding Nazi official, Werner Best, saw this as an opportunity to begin the deportation of the Danish Jews and the arrests were set to begin on October 2, but the efforts of Best were not to prove fruitful.


Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German official stationed in Denmark, leaked the news of the pending deportation to Danish leaders, who informed the Jewish community.


The people of Denmark, aided by members of the resistance, church leaders, students, policemen, physicians, ordinary citizens, spontaneously came together to thwart the arrest and deportation of the Danish Jews.


Preben Munch Nielsen, a high school student from Snekkersten, a fishing village north of Copenhagen, was among those who participated. The rescue work carried the death penalty but this did not deter the resolve of the rescue teams.

Preben's first mission recalled:


A policeman came to his house and asked him to pick up several Jews at a nearby train station and escort them through the woods to the shore. They would be smuggled by boat across the sound to Sweden.


Preben completed the mission and joined the Friends of the Sound, a group of Danes based in Snekkersten that co-ordinated the secret crossings to Sweden, which was a neutral country, and the Swedish Government encouraged its citizens to welcome and harbour Jews. The Friends of the Sound used the Snekkersten Inn as their headquarters, many Jews hid in the Inn, or in nearby homes.


Danish boat "Sunshine" actually used to ferry  Jews to Sweden

Preben recalled the process for hiding Jews prior to transporting them to Sweden:


“We hid them in houses near the shore and brought them to waiting boats at an appointed time. Under cover of darkness, we took up to twelve Jews at a time across the straits to Sweden. The four mile trip would take about fifty minutes."


In a later interview with the USHMM Preben told about the boat he used:


"We got this boat. It was bought by the bookbinder Kerr from.... It was a boat laying in the harbor of Elsinore and that was a very good boat, a sound boat built in the beginning of the '30s.


It was of course a wooden boat with a good engine and it was able to go rather quick, about eight or nine miles, and that is, that is much for a motorboat.


And when it started, Kerr, the first night I remember had two or three, no two trips to Sweden and I think we got ten to twelve passengers every time. And then later on we had in October seven hundred Jews and, totally I know that this boat brought about one thousand four hundred people from Denmark to Sweden."


In Sweden,he joined the Danish voluntary forces in Sweden(‘‘Den Danske Brigade’’) and only returned to Denmark in May 1945, when Denmark was liberated from Nazi occupation forces.

After returning to Denmark, Munch Nielsen began working in the import-export business. Only at the age of 59 did he consider a role as a public speaker and educator. After sharing his story with some Jewish travelers to Denmark, he was encouraged by friends to continue to share his personal experience and educate people about the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943.


All told, Preben helped transport 1400 Jewish refugees to Sweden and was honoured for his wartime heroics by the Garden of the Righteous Program in Washington with a plaque being dedicated and in 1997 he was honoured for his wartime heroics by the then American President Bill Clinton.


The small boat actually piloted by Mr. Munch-Nielsen was located and donated to the Holocaust Museum as a permanent exhibit. Mr. and Mrs. Munch-Nielsen returned in subsequent years to honor other honorees.



Preben Munch-Nielsen died in October 2002








Jewish Foundation for the Righteous






 Copyright. Chris Webb  H.E.A.R.T 2008 


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