ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg will soon display a boat used to rescue the Jewish population from Denmark in 1943. 

What You Need To Know

  • In 1943, work leaked that Hitler planned to round up Jews living in Denmark and ship them to concentration camps

  • A covert campaign to help Danish Jews escaped began, as thousands snuck on board boats 

  • Boat captains took them to safety, rescuing about 7,200 Jews  

  • Thanks to the efforts of two descendants of Danish Jews, the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg has obtained one of the boats 

The boat, named “Thor,” is a 34-foot, 10-ton wooden boat used to sneak Danish Jews out of the country before Hitler and the Nazis could round them up and send them to concentration camps. Word had leaked the round-up was coming soon, so about 90% of the Jewish population in Denmark escaped by boat before it happened.

“Thor” is one of the many boats used in the covert operation. In just a short time, 7,200 Jews were able to escape Denmark.

Margot Benstock’s parents, both Jewish, were able to flee Denmark on a boat. So were Irene Weiss’s parents, also Jewish. Together, Benstock and Weiss, both residents of Tampa Bay, arranged to have “Thor” purchased from a boat broker and moved from Denmark to Florida.

“Having the boat there will hopefully empower people to make the good choices and the right choices,” Weiss said, explaining her hopes for the boat being on display. “I hope (visitors to the museum) feel optimism and I hope they feel empowered.”

The boat is currently at a warehouse in Largo but will soon make the trip to the museum in St. Petersburg, where it will go on display.

“The first time I saw it, I cried. I really cried,” Benstock said, describing the moment she first saw ‘Thor.’ Her dad fled Denmark on a boat similar to ‘Thor.’ “My father, when he went on the boat to Sweden, he’d already lost his whole family. I can’t even imagine what was going through his head.”

Many of the people escaping Denmark in the boats would hide below deck to avoid being spotted by the Nazis.

“My dad described going underneath and then they put fish over him, to disguise what they were doing,” Weiss recalled.

“All my mother said was that she was very claustrophobic,” Benstock added. “She was petrified the whole time.”

But she was alive, thanks to numerous Danish citizens and boat captains who helped in the rescue effort. It’s that effort that both women want celebrated with the new display.

“The Danes were so good, they were so good to the Jews,” Benstock said. “I don’t know if that would be the same thing today. But I really hope people can look at it and think of the goodness of what people can do.”

The Florida Holocaust Museum will debut the new display in 2024.