A seas captain’s heroism saved hundreds of lives

The World War II experiences of Erik Raahauge are memorable enough.

But it turns out that Raahauge’s father Alfred was part of something big, as well, during

Erik Raahauge

the Holocaust period when the German Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler was exterminating Jews and others across Europe, during the war.

Alfred Raahauge was a sea captain and owner of a shipping line that hauled cargo from one port to another in many countries. He was sympathetic to the Jews that the German Nazis were bent on exterminating, during World War II. Raahauge’s part in saving what amounted to at least 700 Jews, according to his granddaughter Sonja Barrows, had to do with Alfred shipping coal.

Alfred would hide Danish Jews beneath piles of coal on board ships when Alfred was sailing out of Denmark, Barrows said. The coal was in a dark hold of the ship and had enough air holes in the pile to breath through if hiding underneath, she said. Nazi soldiers, suspecting that such cargo could be holding Jews, would come aboard in the Danish port and shove spears into the coal to hear if anyone was below the coal, Barrows said.

One particularly harrowing story involved a brave sacrifice that resulted in the saving of 200 Jews, Barrows said. It went as follows: One time Alfred had a ship about the size of a football field, readying to leave a port in Denmark, bound for Sweden, in which the hidden passengers included a woman with seven children.

The mother worried that her three-year-old child, who was sickly, would make noise and the Nazis would then know she and her children were beneath the coal pile. The child was not, at that time, nursing from the mother and so the mother could not quiet the child that way, Barrows said.

So in order to save her other six children, the mother pressed the face of the sickly child close to her chest until it was smothered.

When the ship docked in Sweden, which was a neutral country during the war and thus a safe haven for Jews, the mother was surprised to learn that she and her children were not the only Jews hiding on board, Barrows said. All told, 200 more Jews emerged from the ship’s hold, according to Barrows.

Barrows says that her father Eric Raahauge happened to be a young crew member on that ship when the incident happened, but he didn’t know what all took place until he was told afterward

The Nazis interrogated Alfred many times during World War II about whether he was helping Jews escape, Barrrows said, but he was able to keep his actions secret.

Barrows said she has evidence of all this in the form of silver and gold tableware pieces that she inherited from her grandfather Alfred. Those were what the grateful Jews gave to Alfred for saving their lives, she said.

This story is put together from interviews with Erik Raahauge, his daughter Sonja Barrows and  granddaughter Jen Barnwell.