The Fight for Independence:
Denmark Throughout World War II
Denmark was invaded in 1940. The invasion led to many things. First, many people were angry with the Germans, so they started to do things that disturbed them. Then, the Germans started to punish people, and they sent them to concentration camps. For the first time in years, Denmark was at war with a very powerful enemy.
On April 7, 1940, a German worker went to Denmark dressed in casual Danish clothing to help him blend in with the crowd. He was going to make sure everything was perfect for the secret arrival of a ship near the center of Copenhagen. The ship was bringing German soldiers to invade Denmark. It was close to the King’s home and Danish army headquarters.
Two days later, the boat came into the pier, soldiers came out, and planes dropped paratroopers onto different islands in Denmark.
The Germans announced that they were taking over Denmark to protect it from the British and French. The Danish were also told that if they didn’t agree to the invasion they would be bombed. German planes flew overhead to confirm the threat. Germany destroyed the entire Danish Air Force before a single plane could leave the ground.
In one part of Denmark, some Danes fought the Germans. Unfortunately, the Danish population was a small 4.5 million, while the German population was a strong 75 million. While this short fight was going on, the Danish King and his ministers met to discuss the situation. They knew that many Danes would die if they fought the Germans. The geography of Denmark is also very flat and would leave them unable to launch a surprise attack.
At this time, the Germans assured the Danes that their government would not be destroyed, and their King would remain in power. The government of Denmark knew that their army could not defeat the strong German army, and many Danes would die if they tried. The Danish government agreed to Germany’s rules, and the King ordered all fighting to end. Even though the fighting was brief, 13 Danish soldiers were killed and 23 were wounded.
The First Year
Denmark was very important to German plans. Hitler believed that the Danes were the perfect people, blonde and blue eyed; they represented his ideal Aryan race. Denmark also had a developed railway system able to transport food, clothing, and other things people needed daily from Denmark to Germany. In addition, Denmark was very close to Norway, and it was very easy to travel into Norway. This was important because Norway made many things for Germany, so it created easy transportation. Most importantly, Denmark was a rich farming country producing pork, beef, butter and dairy products that could feed the German people and army. It was in the best interest of the Germans to have a peaceful invasion of Denmark.
The Danish people had heard of Hitler’s plans to exterminate the Jewish population. Hitler believed that the Jews caused every accident or catastrophe. At first, in the occupied countries, Hitler set out to get rid of everyday freedoms for the Jews. Jews were not allowed to work in film or theater, write for newspapers, or work for the government. In addition, they were forbidden to teach, farm, marry, vote, or even go to school. They paid heavy taxes and had their property and passports taken away. Their everyday human rights had been taken away. The Danes lived happily without these restrictions on their Jewish population during the first few years of the invasion.
In the beginning of the German occupation, most Danes agreed to follow the German rules. Their lives were almost the same as before the invasion except for the presence of German soldiers. There were few problems with food or supplies being scarce in the first few years of the occupation. Life was normal for most of Denmark.
After April 9, 1940, the presence of German soldiers was everywhere, and most Danish people became used to them. The soldiers, for their part, liked being in Denmark. The Danes were a peaceful people and there was no fighting. Denmark was a country of culture, with many museums, theaters and the famous Tivoli Gardens offering amusements. In addition, there was an abundance of delicious food, unlike other occupied countries.
Resistance played an important role in Denmark’s part of World War II. Many Danish people fought in the Resistance movement against the German occupation of their country. Some of these people were communists, Danish citizens, police workers, Jews, Swedish citizens, British citizens, and the British Royal Air-Force. Many of these people were arrested and killed.
Many Danes listened to a British radio station called BBC for the true information. Even though it was illegal, many were willing to take the chance.
Illegal underground newspapers were started to give Danes truthful information because the Germans controlled the regular newspapers to prevent the Danes from writing anything bad about the Germans and their occupation. If they did, they were sent to jail. Sometimes they were forced to write a Nazi edition. The Germans would lie about what was going on in the world.
Soon enough, illegal newspapers started to appear. Illegal newspapers were usually underground to make it harder for the Germans to find them. Sometimes they would hide the printing press in a dentist or doctor’s office. One paper was even printed in Dagmarhus, the Nazi headquarters! The illegal newspapers contained true stories about what was happening in the world and even contained a joke or story about the Germans. The two main underground newspapers were the Land and People and Free Denmark. By the end of World War II, more than 16 million copies of illegal newspapers had been distributed.
Some newspapers were illegally taken to Sweden. In the beginning of the war, Danish businessmen carried copies of the paper printed on special extra lightweight paper in hollow pencils. Other times, they were taped under German railroad cars entering Sweden. From there, a Danish Resistance fighter would forward the newspaper to Great Britain.
When someone working for the paper was caught, the paper was closed down, and the people were put in prison. Later in the war, those caught were tortured, sent to concentration camps, or executed. If the whereabouts of the paper’s printing press and workers was not found, a new person would take over, and the paper would keep on printing.
One of the first groups in the Danish Resistance movement was the Church Hill Club. Its 11 members were teenage boys who performed acts of sabotage against the Germans. They stole weapons, set railway cars on fire, poured sugar into German gas tanks, and aided in other acts of sabotage. The members of the Church Hill Club were arrested and sent to concentration camps in 1942.
In 1942, Hitler hired a new high commandant of Denmark, Dr. Werner Best. Sabotage acts were increasing daily. People were attacking the factories that made goods for Germany and then blowing up the railways that transported those goods. The Germans were very angry. These acts of Resistance were starting to interfere with Germany’s plan to exterminate all Jews and have a peaceful invasion with Denmark. Dr.Best knew that if the Resistance acts were to increase, the Germans would have to crack down on the Danes. If the Germans attacked the Danish Jews, the Danish government would resign and the acts of Resistance would grow.
As the war proceeded, more people got involved in working against the Germans. Many people needed weapons as they became more involved with the Resistance, so they smuggled weapons into Denmark, made weapons, and even stole weapons from the Germans.
These weapons had to be hidden. The Germans forbid possession of weapons by the Danes. People hid the weapons in their homes, inside their work areas, and in their gardens. The Germans were getting harsher with their punishments. If weapons were found in homes, the houses were blown up, and the people caught with the weapons were killed.
Great Britain helped Denmark a lot. One of the major things it helped with was the bombing of the Shell House, the Gestapo headquarters, in 1945. It held files on hundreds of Resistance workers. The Resistance wanted it destroyed. At first, the British Royal Air Force refused. The Germans kept the most important prisoners on the top floor, and they kept the files on the lower floors. The prisoners were mostly Resistance workers who had been caught, and they were people who had caused the most damage. The British were almost sure all the prisoners would be killed if they bombed the building, but there were a lot of files on the Resistance workers, so that put many more people at risk. The British finally agreed.
On March 21, 1945, bombers and fighters flew towards Denmark. There were 32 prisoners held on the top floor. The British Royal Air force would bomb the front of the building so some prisoners could escape out the back staircase. A few hours later, the Shell House was bombed. Of the 32 prisoners, 26 escaped. After a half an hour of bombing, the Shell House was ruined, and all the files were destroyed or sent back to the Resistance.
Even though the Shell House bombing was a success, a terrible tragedy took place. One of the planes going to bomb the Shell House struck a railroad tower and crashed into a school. There were a couple of planes behind the one that crashed. Since there was smoke coming from the school, the planes thought it was the Shell House. They then bombed the school. In all 83 children, 20 nuns, and 3 firemen died.
Denmark’s people wouldn’t stand for people being treated unfairly, and their people being misunderstood. I wish we all could have that same bravery to fight and live in independence and freedom.
Levine, Ellen. Darkness Over Denmark. New York: Holiday House Books, 2000.
Stokesbury, James L. "World War II." The World Book Encyclopedia, 2000.