We have been focusing on the Danish resistance movement during WWII in my Danish Language and Culture class. So, in this post I will share some of my newly acquired knowledge with my loyal readers.
Denmark came under German control in 1940. It was the second country to be invaded (Poland was first, of course). Denmark was valuable territory because it served as a stepping stone to Norway, which housed several valuable British ports. Also, German men were encouraged to reproduce with Danish women to proliferate the Aryan race.
Side note: It is not surprising that in WWII, Germans assigned Danes high reproductive value. When I visited Berlin, I was actually surprised to find that it was quite a diverse city. I would have expected Germany to look more like Copenhagen — fairly homogenous and full of beautiful tall, blonde, Aryan-looking people.
It only took Germany two hours to occupy Denmark. The Danish military did not stand a chance against the German army, and Christian X (the Danish king) thought it was best to surrender than to sacrifice thousands of Danish lives in a war he would eventually lose. At first, Denmark was allowed to perserve its government through a “loyal cooperation” with Germany. Christian X kept his throne, while the Danish court and parliamentary systems also continued to function. However, this arrangement required that the Danish government accept and adopt German wishes in order to preserve itself.
This “loyal cooperation” lasted for several years. During this period, Denmark was also able to protect its Jewish inhabitants. However, the arrangement ended when Germans insisted upon a condition that the Danes refused to accept — the death penalty to any Dane who actively fought German occupation. When the Danish government refused to institutionalize capital punishment, Germany dissolved the Danish government and installed its own.
Danes resisted in small ways. They paraded behind Christian X during his daily tour of Copenhagen to show that they recognized their own king, and not the newly established German government. Before the war began, Christian X was not a particularly popular king. But, during and after WWII, he became quite popular and a symbol of national pride. Danes also resisted German occupation by, “being cold to the German soldiers” and, “talking about the Germans behind their backs” — pretty wimpy resistance if you ask me. Many Danish children aslo carried around a piece of paper that showed four pigs and asked, “Where is the fifth pig?” When the paper was folded a certain way, the pictures of the pigs formed Hitler’s face, suggesting that he was the fifth pig.
A popular tale claims that during one of his daily tours of Copenhagen, Christian X bore the Star of David to encourage non-Jewish Danish citizens to also bear the Jewish symbol, thus making it was difficult for Germans to identify Jews. However, during our class trip to the Danish Resistance Museum, we learned that this tale is merely a myth. In fact, Danish Jews — who were treated very well in comparison to Jews other German-occupied countries — were not required to wear the Star of David at all.
There were only about 8,000 Jews living in Denmark. As many have heard, the night before Jews in Denmark were supposed to be deported to concentration camps, this information was leaked. That night, Denmark was able to save most of its Jewish inhabitants by transporting them to Sweden (a neutral country) in boats. In fact, 99% of Jewish Danes survived the Holocaust. Many suspect that it was a German diplomat who leaked these plans for Jewish deportation to members of the Danish government. Why? By this point, it was clear that Germany would not win the war. Accordingly, many believe that the German diplomat revealed this information so that he would have a better platform and defense when he stood under examination at Germany’s defeat.
As the war came to a close, was unclear which country — England or the Soviet Union — would liberate Denmark from German control. England actually sent a letter to the Soviet government, asking for permission to liberate Bornholm (one of Denmark’s eastern islands). However, Soviet forces ignored the letter and occupied Bornholm before responding to English forces with a letter essentially said, “Whoops! Too late.” Soviet forces occupied Bornholm for over a year. However, English forces liberated the rest of Denmark. Accordingly, different parts of Denmark had extremely different liberation experiences.