Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Revolt & Resistance
Acts of Resistance
Danish Resistance during the Holocaust
Hans Holmskov Schlüter -Copenhagen
At the beginning of World War II, the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway declared their neutrality. That means they would not take sides in the conflict. With memories of the devastation of World War I still fresh in the memories of many Danes, the governments thought that by being neutral their citizens would be spared the horrors of this new crisis.
This however was not to be the case.
As a result of the rapid turn of events, the Danish government did not have enough time to officially declare war on Germany. Sixteen Danish soldiers died in the invasion, but after two hours the Danish government surrendered, believing that resistance was useless and hoping to work out an advantageous agreement with Germany
Within the first years of the German occupation, the Germans had often raised the question of the status of the Danish Jews. However the Danish government had consistently refused to engage in any debate on the "Jewish question" as they insisted there existed no "Jewish question" in Denmark.
It became increasingly clear to Berlin that if they wished to maintain a peaceful occupation and secure the collaboration of the Danish government, it would be opportune not to put pressure on the government. It was abundantly clear that a compromise was out of the question, and as long as the Danish government adhered to collaboration the "problem" was put aside.
On January 25, 1943 a group of students — who had previously been refused membership of the communist resistance group due to the mistrust held by its members toward any elitism — set fire to a stock of German listening devices at Dansk Industrisyndikat in Hellerup using a bottle of spirit. The students were hereafter accepted into the group, and this caused a change of name from the original KOPA (Kommunistiske Partisaner, Communist Partisans) to BOPA. The new name was at first used jokingly by old members, but it soon became the most widely used name.
Operations grew in magnitude as individuals with inside knowledge of possible targets joined the group. Especially young apprentices from large factories proved useful in identifying targets which were supplying the German military, and this resulted in attacks on factories such as Burmeister & Wain and Riffelsyndikatet in 1943, Riffelsyndikatet (again) and Global in 1944 and Always in 1945.
Holger Danske, as well as the rest of the Danish resistance, was very opposed to this collaboration and continued to believe that the Danish should have resisted the invasion much more fiercely. Gunnar Dyrberg recalls in his book how he had seen Danes engage in friendly conversation with the Germans immediately after the invasion and cites this as one of the reasons he later decided to enter Holger Danske.
In 1942-43, resistance operations gradually shifted to more violent action, most notably acts of sabotage. Various groups succeeded in making contacts with the SOE which began making airdrops of supplies. The number of drops were slow until August 1944, but increased in the last part of the war.
As the war dragged on, the Danish population became increasingly hostile to the Germans. Soldiers stationed in Denmark had found most of the population cold and distant from the beginning of the occupation, but their willingness to cooperate had made the relationship workable.
The government had attempted to discourage sabotage and violent resistance to the occupation, but by the autumn of 1942 the numbers of violent acts of resistance were increasing steadily to the point that Germany declared Denmark "enemy territory" for the first time. After the battles of Stalingrad and El-Alamein the incidents of resistance, violent and symbolic, increased rapidly.
German maritime attaché Georg F. Duckwitz leaked the information to Danish politicians and the news spread like wildfire through friends, business acquaintances, and strangers wanting to help. Ordinary citizens all over the country offered refuge in churches, attics, and country homes, and residences. Complete strangers walked up to Jews on the street to offer keys to their apartment. Medical staff hid more than 1, 000 Jews in Copenhagen hospitals.
Read more about the fate of the Danish Jews HERE
Some of the fishermen assisting in the rescue charged money to transport Jews to Sweden, while others took payments only from those who could afford passage. Some profiteers took advantage of the confusion and fear during the early days of the escape, but as time passed, the Danish underground movement ousted them and took an active role in organizing the rescue and providing financing, mostly from wealthy Danes who donated large sums of money for the rescue.
In September 1943, the 'Danish Freedom Council' was created. This attempted to unify the many different groups that made up the Danish resistance movement. The council was made up of seven resistance representatives and one member of SOE. The resistance movement grew to over 20,000 and in the lead-up to D-Day acts of sabotage markedly increased. Though the D-Day landings were to be in Normandy, SOE believed that the more German soldiers tied up elsewhere in Europe, the less that could be present in northern France. Therefore, the more acts of sabotage in Denmark, the more German troops would be tied down there.
Later that fall, when the Germans try to deport Danish police officials whom they believe are turning a blind eye to sabotage and disorder, Copenhagen goes on strike again, joined this time by 58 other cities and towns. Unafraid of Gestapo arrests, civilians flock to the resistance movement; enrollment exceeds 45,000 at its highest point. In May 1945, war-ravaged Berlin succumbs to advancing Allied forces, prompting Germany to abandon Denmark altogether.
Many people criticized the process for victimizing "small" people disproportionately, while many politicians and businesses were left untouched. Another difficult issues was what to do with collaborators who were essentially "following orders" that their own government had given them, such as business executives who had been encouraged to work with the Germans.
The Museum of Danish Resistance
Holocaust Historical Society
Danish Peace History
Copyright 2007 Hans Holmskov Schlüter & C.L H.E.A.R.T
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