EP123: Niels Bohr and the Sleeping Dane

By Jonathon Sullivan.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Strange Horizons July 2005.

“Herr Doktor Bohr!” The captain’s cruel smile returned. “What a relief. We’ve been very concerned about you.”

Bohr sighed, looked up at the Gestapo captain with calm resignation, and took his wife’s hand. He started to get up.

“You are mistaken, sir,” Papa said.

I was nineteen years old. I had followed Bohr’s career for half my life, with something bordering on worship. A terrible miracle of circumstance had finally brought me into his presence. But at that moment his life meant nothing next to my own. Niels Bohr was already a prisoner of the Third Reichโ€šร„รฎnothing could stop that now. Papa’s action could only put us on a boxcar to Theresienstadt.

Rated PG. Contains scenes of graphic violence.

Comments (37)

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  1. ComputerKing says:

    Good Story, with a combination of Metaphysics and actual physics that I liked. It also presented another aspect of the Golem myth that I enjoyed.

    I felt something was missing, though. Itzach(sp.) didn’t say goodbye. Not even in a roundabout way that David wouldn’t understand until later. It’s a small thing, but it would have made his final act even more predictable, so I can understand the omission.

    All in all I liked this entry very much.

  2. Aaron says:

    This was a great story, very enjoyable. When I read the first comment I was worried that the story was going to be the same as a cartoon I saw once, but it in fact was much more interesting.

  3. RR Anderson says:

    After this story I wish Bohr had been captured by those goose-stepping one-horned devils. It would have saved me allot of headache.

    When can we have stories with robots and space ships again?

  4. David says:

    Just a fun fact: in the French playing cards set, each face card has a historical representation. The Jack of Spades in Holger Danske, and the King of Spades is King David. Weird coincidence I guess.

  5. Daniel says:

    The end was kind of predictable from the moment the mytic powers of the rabbi was established and the “sleeping dane” came into play.
    Perhaps running this story so shortly after PseudoPod’s “Brothers” was not such a good idea.

  6. Seth says:

    Thanks for such an appropriate story for this time of year. Shana Tova!

  7. Bob says:

    Oy vey,

    I’m sorry that I didn’t like it. The very wise, but cranky rabbi animating a golem is as overused a stereotype as the goosestepping nazi. The story was rather predictable but I did like the reading by Stephen.

    If only the nazi’s had turned out the be alien demons from dimension X….

  8. Ari from Boston says:

    Hey Steve,

    I’m midway through the story, and I’m really enjoying it so far. As someone who’s fluent, I feel a need to tell you that most of your Hebrew pronunciation is way off. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Bill Ruhsam says:

    This story made me cry. That’s a good thing.

  10. This story was awesome…great allegorical representation of religious/traditional interpretation giving reluctant but necessary recognition to science/technology;
    Very well done…and entertaining to boot…Cheers!!!

  11. Neil Leslie says:

    Brian from NYC wrote:

    great allegorical representation of religious/traditional interpretation giving reluctant but necessary recognition to science/technology


    I would’ve said the opposite–science acknowledging the value of religion and metaphysics–but then, I’m one of those backward, benighted religionists–Catholic to be precise. I think the point of the dialog between Bohr and the rabbi is that science and religion are two ways of understanding reality that can be or should be complementary rather than opposed.

  12. Neil Leslie says:

    Bob wrote:

    The very wise, but cranky rabbi animating a golem is as overused a stereotype as the goosestepping nazi.


    Maybe the cold-hearted goose-stepping Nazi is an overused cliche, but what other kind of Nazi is there? Warm and fuzzy?

    As for wise but cranky rabbi–Yeah, but this rabbi can do the Jedi mind trick, man! ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Bob C. says:

    I appreciated your comments on science and religion. As a Christian and a Darwinist, I was starting to think that I was the only one who wasn’t a fundamentalist of one side or the other. Reading the recent works of those whose line is “religion must be stamped out in order to save the world”, it strikes me as a close parallel of “kill the infidels” and “you’re not a real Christian unless you’re an evangelical”. I enjoyed the story also.

  14. Hi Neil,
    I absolutely agree with science and spirituality being two different ways of viewing the same scene…I still feel that the story was trying to convey a kind of changing of the guard (traditional to modern ideals); the rabbi and Bohr are on equal footing in their given fields, but the rabbi seems to sacrifice himself so that Bohr may survive and care for (teach) his son; I do feel that science had no choice but to acknowledge religion, by virtue of the manner in which the rabbi saved Bohr, et al. A lot can be taken away from this one.
    BTW…Something about this reminded me of the style of Bernard Malamud.

  15. Tammy says:

    Am I the only one who gets annoyed by supposedly Jewish characters who use the term “Yahweh”?

    First time I heard that word in relation to the Jewish religion was in a junior-high history class, and it confused the heck out of me.

    Didn’t anyone talk to any Jews during the production of this story? Writing or reading?

    Nevertheless, it was a really neat story with a lot going for it. Especially the fact that it didn’t bother with the ridiculous “science and religion are mutually exclusive” idea, which….just isn’t a Jewish thing.

  16. Le Stew says:

    Maybe I’m not up on my Danish/Jewish/German WW2 History, but I had this pegged as a Alternate History or Historical Fiction piece rather than a Fantasy piece. Then well the sleeping Dane came in and the rest is History.

    Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I’ve strayed from Escape Pod recently due to lots of things the least of which is 7th Son. DAMN YOU J.C.!!! But this story reminded me why I listened to this excellent podcast. Keep up the good work! and I promise to keep listening.

  17. Gary H says:

    The story was good, it kept engaged. The intro was great. It kept me wanting more.

  18. dgcom says:

    Even if this story is a good one, I do not find it appropriate for this site.
    Don’t feel it is a sci-fi, more alt history and it has too much of “reality ” to my taste.

  19. draconfly says:

    At first I was kind of taken aback by the profusion of stock characters and stock action in the story (from Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark to Der Golem). Then it occurred to me that the story served to highlight, consciously or not (but probably the former) the integral contributions to modern sensibilities of science fiction and fantasy made by the Judeo-Jedi warriors who were instrumental in creating the genre. (Anybody remember the names Hugo Gernsback and Isaac Asimov? And I think some famous sci-fi/fantasy film directors are also Jewish ๐Ÿ˜‰ [OK, Lucas isn’t Jewish but the values/mythos he includes in his films are allied enough with those of Judaic ideals that he’s been awarded the American Jewish Committee’s lifetime achievement award in 2000.]

    “ET phone home– it’s your mother calling and I just made you a big plate of blintzes.” (Sorry just felt the need to genuflect to a stereotype that wasn’t used in “…the Sleeping Dane” ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. Gregoir says:

    I loved this story and I consider it one of the best published on Escape Pod. I enjoyed the top three characters (I know — some people consider them stereotypes, but this is perhaps what made them work). I was wondering when something fantastic would happen, and the animating of the sleeping Dane as a golem was a great way to save the day.

  21. Nuchtchas says:

    I loved this one! It is one of the episodes I will be sharing. I love the relationship between physics and religion, it is exactly what I have been thinking for a good part of my life.

    I was listening to this on a plan coming back from an exhausting business trip, by the end of the story I was sobbing. Not hysterical or anything like that but the tears they were a streaming. Normally I would not say crying is a good time, but this was.


  22. pb says:

    I’m halfway through it, and I’m with Ari from Boston on this: Stephen, please, next time you read a story with Yiddish or Hebrew in it, have someone go over the words with you. tiFERet not TIferet (though as hasid, especially of that era, would have said tiFEYres).

    The odd details are making the listening a little hard-going: As Tammy points out Jews seldom pronounce the name of God unless they mean to be shocking. Even a lapsed hasid would say “Hashem” (“the name”) rather than pronounce the Tetragrammaton. And maybe a hasidic rabbi would shave his beard, but I can’t imagine that he would shake a woman’s hand.

  23. planetheidi says:

    Arghh.. I could see the ending coming a mile off. And yet, there was still a huge lump in my throat at the end. Frak you, Steve, for making me get all weepy on the morning bus ride.

  24. Dan the Man says:

    The story itself seemed a little mediocre, but I had a chance to visit that exact castle several years and I actually saw “The Sleeping Dane.” It didn’t seem such a big deal at the time, but while hearing the story I thought it was cool to have been there. I may even still have a postcard of the sleeping Dane.

  25. Tineil says:

    I’m not one for Kabala or for Golems, but I do love the very intricate bond woven between father and son even when it may seem to be strained by personal choices and/or situations.

  26. Rich says:

    I enjoyed this story and the reading a lot. I like space ship stories and noticed your pronounciation of Hebrew and Yiddish words needs polishing (noble try, though), but any story that entertains and educates is a double treat for me. We all owe the Danish people a debt of gratitude for showing the best of humanity during a low moment in our existence — that part of the story is very true. And it’s fun to hear undated versions of golem (and genie) stories. This one put me over the top — I’m hooked on Escape Pod and have sent in a donation. Keep it up and don’t look back!

  27. Janni says:

    I found this one genuinely moving, perhaps because the relationships between its three main characters felt very real to me.

    The fact that it isn’t all robots and rocket ships is one of the reasons I like contemporary SF more than the older stuff. The whole point of story is that it puts ideas in a human context.

    That’s the whole reason we need story, and that we can’t all just only stick to the (often excellent as well) nonfiction science writing out there instead.

  28. Jamie says:

    I’ve just started my second year of reading Physics at University in the UK. For a while I’ve been a bit disillusioned by it all, I’ve had a lack of motivation. But this story, and more specifically its portrayal of Bohr has encouraged me. It has reignited my enthusiasm and I’ve gone out to buy some popular physics books to help as well. Thanks for running a story so powerful. I thought it was well written, particularly the way that David found analogs to physics in seemingly obscure events, such as Gaussian distributions in masses. One of the most compelling episodes yet.

  29. Lisa says:

    Steve great selection! I agree with the others that the Hebrew and Yiddish needed a little help ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks as always for a great podcast!

    I have read several rabbi/golem stories and this is one of the better ones. I am now going to check out the one on Psuedopod.

    To Bob: Alien demon Nazi’s from dimension X can be found on the Secret World Chronicle. Always a fun listen!

  30. Mark says:

    Hi Steve.

    It was a nice story…the only thing I found a bit off was having the Rabbi use works such as schmuck and putz which are not works a Rabbi from (hopefully) any century would use. They are not polite words. Let me know if you do need help pronouncing hebrew/yiddish things in later readings….

  31. Mike says:

    Fine story moved me like few others.
    Belly ‘magic’ had me under too!
    Off now to wiki for more Bohr…

  32. Jesse the K says:

    If this is your first encounter with golem stories, there’s lots of fun in store.

    A thrilling SFnal version — with time & space travel on our planet — is Marge Piercy’s novel He She It

  33. WOW! What a powerful story! I cried while listening to it. I know, I know – I am a softy! ๐Ÿ˜›

    More stories like this, please, though it’s more fantasy or horror than sci-fi! Keep up the great work, Steven!

  34. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    I can summarize this story in one line and save your time:

    “A bunch of Jewey mystical crap happens, and then an animated statue kills people.”

    Hated it.

  35. […] I just finished listening to a back issue of EscapePod titled Niels Bohr and the Sleeping Dane. […]

  36. Enjoyable.
    although I could see the ending coming a mile away.

  37. scatterbrain says:

    Except for the daft Torah-related metaphysics, I did enjoy this story.

    We do need more father and son-WW2-golem stories.