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Escape of Thousands of WWII Jews Is Illustrated by Princeton

Matthew Hersh

In 1943, at the heart of the German occupation of modern-day Europe, 7,200 Danish Jews began preparing themselves for arrest and containment by occupying Nazi forces. At the time, Jews in Germany, Poland, and throughout Nazi controlled Europe were being rounded up under the dictates of Hitler's regime.

In Denmark, however, amidst the dark horrors of World War II, a "shining light" emerged in an effort to save Jews from the Nazis. When Nazi soldiers swept through Denmark from house to house on Rosh Hashanah, on October 1 of that year, they were able to capture only about 500 prisoners. The Jewish Danes were largely aided by their countrymen and women in an historic effort that saved the lives of a majority of the Danish-Jewish population by helping them escape to neighboring Sweden.

In her new novel, Candle in a Dark Time (Red Hummingbird Press, 2003) Princeton author Virginia Stuart said she was trying to portray this national effort in an individualized light.

"I wanted to write a personal narration because you usually hear about the larger statistics," she said in a lecture given at the Princeton Public Library last week.

Ms. Stuart said she stumbled upon the history of the Danish Jews nearly 40 years ago while researching her own background. Born in Wisconsin to Danish immigrants, and having spoken Dutch growing up, Ms. Stuart, 89, said she was not aware of the escape effort until she began her research.

"Within the horror of the Holocaust, there was one 'shining light,' and that was the rescue of Jews by other Danish people," she said. "And despite my heritage, I had not heard that before so I immediately went to all the sources I could find," she said.

Candle, is a fictional account, but based on true events, Ms. Stuart said. The town in which the story takes place is not real, but could easily have been any town in World War II Denmark. The setting is based on towns in coastal Denmark where people had summer homes, she said.

Regine Lund, the young heroine in Candle, is not necessarily "real," the author said, but a "combination of characters" based on her extensive readings. Regine and her sisters are part of a Christian family who flee the city to their summer home on the coast opposite Sweden during Nazi occupation. When she learns that their Jewish bookseller friend is in danger of being captured, she offers refuge to his family and eventually more Jews, establishing somewhat of an underground railroad.

"I was trying to get into the mind of the rescuers," Ms. Stuart said.

Having abandoned a previous novel, Ms. Stuart said she could not leave Candle by the wayside.

"My research uncovered such absolutely overwhelming material, that I just couldn't leave it," she said.

While having published her first book at 89, Ms. Stuart has made a career out of the written word. She received her bachelor's in journalism from Douglass College at Rutgers, and went on to become the first women editor at Princeton University Press before retiring in 1989.

Ms. Stuart's book is the first novel to be published by the Princeton-based Red Hummingbird Press.

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