Countless historians have addressed nearly every aspect of Hitler’s insatiable lust for conquest, but the invasion of Denmark is usually mentioned only as an aside to the invasion of Norway.
|Memorial to fallen Danish volunteers
In retrospect, German intentions seemed all too clear before the invasion on April 9, 1940. It seems incredible now how everyone from King Christian X, his Government, to British Prime Minister Chamberlain and Winston Churchill were caught by surprise by the invasion. Aerial reconnaissance had shown German troop and material build up in Baltic ports, as well as increased maritime activities towards Norway. There was even a case of R.A.F. planes strafing German ships in the Skagerrak.
|Outside the Danish Resistance Museum, Copenhagen
The invasion itself was carefully planned and executed, and initial Danish resistance was minimal. The King, Prime Minister Stauning, and Foreign Minister Edvard Munch had inexplicably ignored Army Commander-in-Chief General W.W. Pryor’s previous pleas for mobilization. Nevertheless, minor skirmishes were reported in Jutland, and the Royal Guard traded shots with the invaders around the King’s castle, Amalienborg, in Copenhagen. Thirteen Danish soldiers were killed and two German planes were shot down in the fighting. As it was, the Germans would have their hands full with Norwegian defenses and needed Denmark as a staging area. If there was any thought of continued resistance in Denmark that morning, the appearance of Luftwaffe bombers over Copenhagen quelled it immediately. These bombers had been in route to bomb the capital but were re-ordered to simply fly over by the German Chief of Staff for Denmark, General Himer – at very nearly the last minute.
So, what was it like to live in a German “protectorate?” My wife’s grandparents, who were in their early twenties during the occupation, remember vividly, so I put a series of questions to them about life during those five years. Farmor and Farfar (Grandmother and Grandfather) were living in Copenhagen. Grandfather Eli called Farmor that morning with news of the invasion. The appeal for non-resistance from King Christian X and Prime Minister Torvald Stauning had appeared on the front page of Denmark’s oldest newspaper, Berlingske Tidende. As radio stations came on the air that morning, listeners were told to remain calm and there would be no trouble. The family telephoned one other and their friends all morning for simple reassurances.
|Danish Resistance Museum
By April 10, 1940, Stauning had managed to set up a coalition government between the Social Democrats, the Conservative People’s Party, the Single-Tax Party (Danmarks Retsforbund), and the Radical Liberal Party. On the first anniversary of the invasion, the Danish ambassador in Washington D.C., Henrik Kaufmann signed the Atlantic Pact and handed over bases in Greenland to the United States. Stauning died in May 1942 and was replaced by a fellow Social Democrat, Vilhelm Buhl. Erik Scavenius, who was known for his shrewd work in keeping Denmark neutral during the First World War, became Foreign Minister in July 1943, and was Prime Minister by November.
|Danish Resistance Museum
Eli had worked on the streetcars during the first few years of the occupation, and then began driving ambulances for the emergency services company Falck in 1943. Evelyn, who was pregnant with their first son in 1940, worked in a delicatessen. They were required to make “Danish Red Cross Food Parcels,” which they later found out were actually for German troops, not that it was a surprise.
King Christian X was famous for his daily horseback rides through the streets of Copenhagen. As a show of solidarity with his people, he took no bodyguard with him, and when asked why he replied that “the hearts (of all Danes) are guarding the King of Denmark.” He further managed to irritate the invaders by sending a telegram of sympathy to Danish Police who were injured during a riot of 300 local Nazis.
|Germans detained by the resistance, May 1945
Christian Møller had fled to London in 1942 and founded The Free Danes organization. His BBC broadcasts encouraged resistance, and Berlin ordered reprisals by a ratio of 5:1, five murdered Danes for every dead German soldier. In Denmark they were called “clearing murders” and took the place of public firing squads. In a twist of fate, the much loved priest and playwright Kaj Munk, himself an early sympathizer with the Danish conservative youth, who openly admired the German Nazi Party, was murdered. His body was mounted on a fence post with a sign “swine, you worked for Germany just the same.” In August 1943, Berlin sent an ultimatum to the Danish Government which they refused, and subsequently resigned in protest. The Danish Navy scuttled a large part of its fleet, and civil servants took control of their departments.
|Field Marshal Montgomery in Copenhagen
When Denmark is Free Again was the title of a pamphlet published by the country’s four largest resistance groups in 1943. It called for legal action against collaborators, and for free democratic elections. Eli and Evelyn remember how the execution of eight Hvidsten group resistance fighters ignited a national strike, and that in September 1944, 2000 members of the Danish Police Force were arrested and deported to concentration camps.
Notwithstanding the brave rescue of Danish Jews in October 1943, in 2005 prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen issued an apology for Jews deported by Denmark from 1940-1943, acknowledging the country was not without some measure of failure regarding the Holocaust.