[The Occupied Nations]
Battle of the Denmark Strait, 24 May 1941
In the early morning hours of 24 May 1941, the German battleshipBismarck and cruiser Prinz Eugensteamed southwesterly through the Denmark Strait, shadowed by the British heavy cruisers Suffolk andNorfolk. Shortly before 6AM, Prinz Eugen, which was ahead of Bismarck, sighted ships to the southeast. These were the Royal Navy's battlecruiser Hood, long the World's largest warship, and battleshipPrince of Wales, a new ship that was not yet properly "shaken down".
The British capital ships soon opened fire with their forward turrets, while rapidly closing the range. Hood initially fired her fifteen-inch guns at Prinz Eugen. Her consort, which carried fourteen-inch guns, shot at Bismarck, but neither made hits. As the British began a turn to bring their after turrets to bear, the two Germans opened fire at Hood, whose identity was clearly apparent. Bismarck's fifteen-inch guns, and the much smaller eight-inchers of Prinz Eugen, soon found the range and started hitting. Fire broke out amidships onHood, and at a minute past Six, immediately after Bismarck's fourth salvo arrived, the great battlecruiser's after ammunition magazines exploded in a jet of flame and a large cloud of smoke. Hood's bow rose as her shattered after hull filled with water, and she was soon gone, leaving but three survivors of her crew of over 1400 officers and men.
The Germans shifted fire to Prince of Wales, making three 15" and four 8" hits that seriously damaged the British ship. She was troubled throughout the action by gun functioning problems, but still managed to hit Bismarck with three shells before her own damage forced her to turn away and break off the battle. One of the three British 14" projectiles hit Bismarck's hull forward, flooding some of the German ship's bow compartments. Another hit low and amidships, bringing more water into the ship. This damage, though hardly vital, left Bismarck listing to port, down at the bow and unable to use all her oil fuel. Her maximum speed, seakeeping ability and range were all reduced, and she was now leaving an oil slick in her wake. The third shell, which struck high and amidships, made it impossible for Bismarck to launch her floatplane.
The brief Battle of the Denmark Strait, which lasted only about seventeen minutes from opening shot to "cease fire", caused the Germans to terminate Bismarck's sortie. After parting ways with Prinz Eugen later in the day, she turned southeast, toward France. The British, who already had sufficient cause to want Bismarck eliminated, now had an additional motive: revenge for the tragic loss of Hoodand nearly all of her crew.
This page features views of the 24 May 1941 Battle of the Denmark Strait, between the German shipsBismarck and Prinz Eugen and the British HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales.
The first known Jewish settlement on Danish territory was based on a royal dispensation. When the industrious Christian IV founded Glückstadton the river Elbe in today's Schleswig-Holstein, he allowed one Jewish merchant, Albert Dionis, to settle in the city. This dispensation was extended to a few other Jews, and in 1628 their status was formalized by being promised protection, the right to hold private religious services, and maintain their own cemetery. Albert Dionis rose to special status within the Danish royal court, apparently being a source of credit for ambitious projects. Gabriel Gomez, who also attained this status, persuaded Frederik III to give general leave for Sephardic Jews to reside in Denmark for purposes of conducting trade. Although this was limited to Sephardim, a number of Ashkenazim were granted letters of safe passage and settled in the kingdom in the coming years.
Of special note is perhaps the story of Gabriel Milan, who converted to Christianity and became governor of the Danish West Indies in 1684, only to be executed in 1689 for corruption and abuse of office.
Establishment of permanent communities
Following the Thirty Years' War, which cost Denmark many of its possessions and created a fiscal crisis for the Danish crown, Frederik III proclaimed an absolute monarchy in Denmark. To improve trade, the king opened the door to greater immigration. The first Jewish community was founded in the newly established town of Fredericia in 1682, and in 1684 an Ashkenazi community was founded in Copenhagen.
By 1780, there were approximately 1600 Jews in Denmark, though all were admitted by special permission granted only on the basis of personal wealth. They were subject to a number of discriminatory restrictions of both social and economic character, and for a brief period in 1782 they were forced to attend Lutheran services. But they were not required to live in ghettos and had a significant degree of self-governance. Judging from art and writings from the time (particularly by the Danish-Norwegian playwright Ludvig Holberg), these early communities set themselves apart.
Integration into Danish life
As the Jewish enlightenment reached Denmark in the late 18th century, the king instituted a number of reforms to facilitate integration of Danish subjects into the larger Danish society. Jews were allowed to join guilds, study at the university, buy real estate, and establish schools.
The Napoleonic Wars and the disastrous Gunboat War brought about a complete emancipation of Danish Jews (while, in contrast, events in Norway resulted in a constitutional ban on Jews entering Norway). Still, there were severe antisemitic riots in Denmark in 1819 that were allowed to run their course for several months, though without any known fatalities.
On the other hand, the early 19th century saw a flourishing of Danish-Jewish cultural life. The Great Synagogue of Copenhagen is a landmark building, designed by the architect G. F. Hetsch. A number of Jewish cultural personalities, among them the art benefactor and editor Mendel Levin Nathanson, the writer Meir Aron Goldschmidt, and founder of Politiken, Edvard Brandes; his brother literary critic Georg Brandes (who had a strong influence on Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen), Henri Nathansen, and others rose to prominence in the Danish cultural landscape.
Growth and 20th century crises
As in many other societies, increasing integration also accelerated assimilation of Jews into mainstream Danish society, including higher rates of intermarriage. At the same time, events such as the Kishinev pogrom in 1903, the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, the series of Russian revolutions, led to an influx of several thousand Jewish refugees into Denmark, of whom approximately 3,000 settled in Denmark.
The new arrivals changed the character of Danish Jewry significantly. More likely to be socialist Bundists than religious, they founded a Yiddish theater and several Yiddish newspapers. These proved to be short-lived, however, and Denmark closed its door to further immigration in the early 1920s.
The Nazi era
In April 1933, Christian X was scheduled to appear at the central synagogue in Copenhagen to celebrate its centennial anniversary. When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in January 1933, the community leaders suggested that the king postpone his visit. The king insisted, however, and became the first Nordic monarch to visit a synagogue.
A period of tension ensued, for the Danish population in general and its Jewish citizens in particular. Danish policy sought to ensure its independence and neutrality by placating the neighboring Nazi regime. When Denmark was put under Germany military occupation as a result ofOperation Weserübung on April 9 1940, the situation became increasingly precarious.
In 1943, the situation came to a head when Werner Best, the German plenipotentiary in Denmark ordered the arrest and deportation of all Danish Jews, scheduled to commence on October 1, which coincided with Rosh Hashanah. However, the Jewish community was given advance warning, and only 202 were arrested initially. As it turned out, 7,550 fled to Sweden, ferried across the Øresund strait. 450 Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp. In the course of their incarceration, Danish authorities often interceded on their behalf (as they did for other Danes in German custody), sending food.
Of the 450 Jews who were deported, 52 died during deportation.
Realizing that successful armed resistance was impossible and to avoid civilian casualties, the Danish government surrendered after a few skirmishes on the morning of the invasion.
The Nazi German government stated that its occupation of Denmark was an "act of protection" against the Allies and that Germany did not intend to disturb the political independence of Denmark. Because the Danish government promised "loyal cooperation" with the Germans, theoccupation of Denmark was thus relatively mild at first. German propaganda even referred to Denmark as the "model protectorate". King Christian X retained his throne, and the Danish government, the Rigsdag(parliament) and the national courts continued to function. Even censorship of radio and the press was administered by the Danish government, rather than by the occupying German civil and military authorities.
During the early years of the occupation, Danish officials repeatedly insisted to the German occupation authorities that there was no "Jewish problem" in Denmark. The Germans recognized that discussion of the Jewish question in Denmark was a possibly explosive issue, which had the potential to destroy the "model" relationship between Denmark and Germany and, in turn, cause political and economic consequences for Germany. In addition, the German Reich relied substantially upon Danish agriculture, which supplied meat and butter to 3.6 million Germans in 1942 alone. As a result, when officials in Berlin recommended instituting anti-Jewish measures in Denmark, even ideologically committed Nazis, such as Reich Plenipotentiary Werner Best, followed a strategy of avoiding and deferring any discussion of Denmark's Jews.
In late 1941, upon the visit of the Danish foreign minister, Erik Scavenius, to Berlin, German authorities there (including Hermann Göring) insisted that Denmark choose not to avoid its "Jewish problem". A Danish anti-Semitic newspaper used these statements as an opportunity for a slanderous attack on the country's Jews; shortly thereafter, arsonistsattempted to start a fire at the Great Synagogue in Copenhagen. The Danish state responded robustly; the courts imposed stiff fines and jail sentences on the editors and would-be arsonists, and the government took further administrative action. Denmark's punishment of anti-Semitic crimes during the occupation were interpreted by the German authorities in Denmark as signaling the Danish view toward any future measures that might be taken against Denmark's Jews by the occupiers.
In mid-1943, Danes saw the German defeats in the Battle of Stalingrad and North Africa as an indication that having to live under German rule was no longer a long-term certainty, as it had seemed in 1940. At the same time, the Danish resistance movement was becoming more vocal in its underground press and its increased sabotage activities. During the summer, several nationwide strikes led to armed confrontations between Danes and German troops. In the wake of increased resistance activities and riots, the German occupation authorities presented the Danish government with an ultimatum on August 28, 1943; they demanded a ban on strikes, a curfew, and the punishment of sabotage with the death penalty. Deeming these terms unacceptable and a violation of national sovereignty, the Danish government declared a state of emergency. Some 100 prominent Danes were taken hostage, including the Chief Rabbi Dr.Max Friediger and a dozen other Jews. In response, the Danish government resigned on August 29, 1943. The result was direct administration of Denmark by the German authorities; this direct form of rule meant that the "model protectorate" had come to an end—and with it, the protection the Danish government had provided for the country's Jews.
The deportation order and rescue
Without the recalcitrant Danish government to impede them, Denmark's German occupiers began planning the deportation to Nazi concentration camps of the 8,000 or so Jews in Denmark. On September 28, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, after unsuccessfully attempting to assure safe harbor for the Danish Jews in Sweden (the Swedish government told Duckwitz they would accept the Danish Jews only if approved by the Nazis: of course the Nazis ignored the request for approval), leaked word of the plans for the operation against Denmark's Jews to Hans Hedtoft, chairman of the Danish Social Democratic Party. Hedtoft contacted the Danish Resistance Movement and the head of the Jewish community, C.B. Henriques, who in turn alerted the acting chief rabbi, Dr. Marcus Melchior. (The official chief rabbi, Dr. Max Friediger, had already been detained as a "hostage" on the night of August 29, 1943, along with some 100 prominent Danes, including a dozen Jews, in a camp near Copenhagen.) At the early morning services, on September 29, the day prior to the Rosh Hashanah services, Jews were promptly warned by Rabbi Melchior of the German action and urged to go into hiding immediately and to spread the word to all their Jewish friends and relatives.
The early phases of the rescue were improvisational. When Danish civil servants at several levels in different ministries learned of the German plan to round up all Danish Jews, they independently pursued various measures to find the Jews and hide them. Some simply phoned friends and asked them to go through telephone books and warn those with Jewish-sounding names to go into hiding. Most Jews hid for several days or weeks, uncertain of their fate.
Although the majority of the Danish Jews were in hiding, they would eventually have been caught if safe passage to Sweden could not be secured. Sweden during World War II had earlier turned away the Norwegian Jews to their certain deaths and they were determined to do the same to the Danish Jews. Fortunately, Niels Bohr, the Danish physicist, made a determined stand for his fellow countrymen. He was spirited off to Sweden, whose government was under strict orders to get him to the United States without delay to work on the then top secret Manhattan Project. When Niels Bohr reached the shores of Sweden they told him he had to board a plane immediately for the United States. Bohr refused. He told the Swedish officials, and eventually the king, that until they announced over their air waves and through their press that their borders would be open to receive the Danish Jews, he wasn't going anywhere. Bohr wrote of these events himself . As related by the historian Richard Rhodes (sources cited in note 4), on 30 September 1943 Bohr persuaded King Gustaf of Sweden to make public Sweden’s willingness to provide asylum, on 2 October 1943 Swedish radio broadcast that Sweden was ready to offer asylum. Historians are divided, however, on the implications of Bohr's political actions in Sweden, some arguing that he was among those rescued and therefore could have played no role in facilitating the mass rescue, whereas Richard Rhodes and others (note 4) interpret Bohr’s actions in Sweden as being a necessary precursor without which that mass rescue could not have occurred. Whether or not the mass Rescue of the Danish Jews could have happened without Bohr’s political activity in Sweden, there is no doubt that he did all that he could for his countrymen. The Jews were smuggled out of Denmark over the Øresund strait from Zealand to Sweden—a passage of varying time depending on the specific route and the weather, but averaging under an hour on the choppy winter sea, as noted by Preben Munch-Nielsen in an interview with the USHMM. Some were transported in large fishing boats of up to 20 tons, but others were carried to freedom in rowboats or kayaks. The ketch Albatros was one of the ships used to smuggle Jews to Sweden. Some refugees were smuggled inside freight cars on the regular ferries between Denmark and Sweden, this route being suited for the very young or old who were too weak to endure a rough sea passage. The underground had broken into empty freight cars sealed by the Germans after inspection, helped refugees onto the cars, and then resealed the cars with forged or stolen German seals to forestall further inspection.
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. The Danish underground took an active role in organizing the rescue and providing financing, mostly from wealthy Danes who donated large sums of money to the endeavour.
During the first days of the rescue action, Jews moved into the many fishing harbours on the Danish coast for rescue, but the Gestapo became suspicious of activity around harbours (and on the night of October 6, about 80 Jews were caught hiding in the loft of the church at Gilleleje, their hiding place having been betrayed by a Danish girl who was in love with a German soldier. Subsequent rescues had to take place from isolated points along the coast. While waiting their turn, the Jews took refuge in the woods and in cottages away from the coast, out of sight of the Gestapo.
Some of the refugees never made it to Sweden; a few chose to commit suicide, some were captured by the Gestapo en route to their point of embarkation, others were lost at sea when vessels of poor seaworthiness capsized, and still others were intercepted at sea by German patrol boats. Danish harbour police and civil police often cooperated with the rescue effort. During the early stages, the Gestapo was undermanned and the German army and navy were called in to reinforce the Gestapo in its effort to prevent transportation taking place; but by and large they proved less than enthusiastic in the operation and frequently turned a blind eye to escapees.
Arrests and deportations
In Copenhagen the deportation order was carried out on the Jewish New Year, the night of October 1–2, when the Germans assumed all Jews would be gathered at home. The roundup was organized by the SS who used two police battalions and about 50 Danish volunteer members of the Waffen SSchosen for their familiarity with Copenhagen and northern Zealand. The SS organized themselves in five-man teams, each with a Dane, a vehicle and a list of addresses to check. Most teams found no one, but one team found four Jews on the fifth address checked. There a bribe of 15,000 kronerwas rejected and the cash destroyed. The arrested Jews were allowed to bring two blankets, food for 3–4 days, and a small suitcase. They were transported to the harbour, Langelinie, where a couple of large ships awaited them. One of the Danish Waffen-SS members believed the Jews were being sent to Danzig.
On October 2, some arrested Danish communists witnessed the deportation of about 200 Jews from Langelinie via the ship Wartheland. Of these, a young married couple were able to convince the Germans that they were not Jewish, and set free. The remainder included mothers with infants, the sick and elderly, and also chief rabbi Max Friediger and the other Jewish hostages mentioned above, who had been placed in the Danish internment camp, Horserød, on August 28–29. They were driven below deck without their luggage while being screamed at, kicked and beaten. The Germans then took anything of value from the luggage. Their unloading the next day in Swinemunde was even more inhumane, though without fatalities. There the Jews were driven into two cattle cars, about one hundred per car. During the night, while still locked in the cattle cars, a Jewish mother cried that her child had died. For comparison the Danish communists were packed into cars with "only" fifty people in each; nevertheless, they quickly began to suffer from heat, thirst and lack of ventilation; furthermore, on October 5, shortly before being unloaded in Danzig, they received (filthy) water for the first time since they had left Copenhagen.
Only around 450 Danish Jews were captured by the Germans, and most of these were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in German occupied Czechoslovakia. After these Jews' deportation, leading Danish civil servants persuaded the Germans to accept packages of food and medicine for the prisoners; furthermore, Denmark persuaded the Germans not to deport the Danish Jews to extermination camps. This was achieved by Danish political pressure, using the Danish Red Cross to monitor frequently the condition of the Danish Jews at Theresienstadt. Some 51 Danish Jews—mostly elderly—died of disease at Theresienstadt, but in April 1945, as the war drew to a close, the 400 or so surviving Danish Jews were turned over by the Germans to Count Folke Bernadotte of Wisborg of the Swedish Red Cross (see White Buses). The casualties among Danish Jews during the Holocaust was one of the lowest of the occupied countries of Europe.
The myth of the Danes and the yellow star
It has been popularly reported that the Nazis ordered Danish Jews to wear an identifying yellow star, as elsewhere in Nazi controlled territories. In some versions of the myth, King Christian X opted to wear such a star himself and the Danish people followed his example, thus making the order unenforceable.
The order was, in fact, never issued (although the yellow star was imposed on Dutch Jews).
The myth may have originated in a contemporary cartoon, published in a Swedish daily paper, depicting the King asserting to a former prime minister that, if the order to wear the star was imposed on Denmark's Jews, "We'll all have to wear yellow stars."
A recent study shows that the assumption that a cartoon initiated the perception that King Christian X threatened to wear a yellow star is incorrect. The story about the King and the Star and other similar myths originated in the offices of the National Denmark America Association (NADA) where a handful of Danish nationals opened a propaganda unit called "Friends of Danish Freedom and Democracy", which published a bulletin called The Danish Listening Post. This group hired Edward L. Bernays, "The father of Public Relation and Spin” as a consultant. Whether Bernays was the inventor of the story about the King and the yellow star, is not known.
The facts differ from the story. Although the Danish authorities cooperated with the German occupation forces, they and most Danes strongly opposed the isolation of any group within the population, especially the well-integrated Jewish community. The German action to deport Danish Jews prompted the Danish state church and all political parties except the pro-Nazi National Socialist Workers’ Party of Denmark(DNSAP) immediately to denounce the action and to pledge solidarity with the Jewish fellow citizens. For the first time, they openly opposed the occupation. At once the Danish bishops issued a hyrdebrev—a pastoral letter to all citizens. The letter was distributed to all Danish priests, to be read out in every church on the following Sunday. This was in itself very controversial since the Danish church is decentralized, apolitical, and without a central leadership.
The unsuccessful German deportation attempt and the actions to save the Jews were important steps in linking the resistance movement to broader anti-Nazi sentiments in Denmark. In many ways October 1943 and the rescuing of the Jews marked a change in most people's perception of the war and the occupation thereby giving a "subjective-psychological" foundation for the myth.
A few days after the roundup, a small news item in the New York Daily News reported the myth about the wearing of the Star of David. Later, the story gained its popularity in Leon Uris' novel Exodus and in its movie adaptation. It persists to the present, but it is unfounded.
The Fate of the Jews of Denmark
The Germans invaded Denmark on 9 April 1940, in a combined attack against Norway, a few hours later the Danish Government accepted the German ultimatum and surrendered.
But Denmark was not prudent, and in June 1942, when the Germans were pressing for a Danish “Jewish badge” decree, similar to which had been in force in the Reich since September 1941, King Christian was reported to have said that he would be the first Danish citizen to wear the badge.
Aarhus, Denmark. 1944-10-31. Eight Mosquito aircraft from No. 464 Squadron RAAF were in a force which made low level attacks on the German Gestapo headquarters. In addition to damaging buildings the attacks destroyed records held by the Germans of the Danish resistance movement.
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.
BOPA (Borgelige Partisaner, Bourgeois Partisans) was a group of the Danish resistance movement operating at the time of the occupation of Denmark by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
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
The Jews were smuggled out of Denmark by transporting them by sea over the Øresund from Zealand to Sweden, a passage of approximately 10 miles. Some were transported in large fishing boats of up to 20 tons, but others were carried to freedom in rowboats or kayaks. Some refugees were smuggled inside freight cars on the regular ferries between Denmark and Sweden, this route being suited for the very young or old who were too weak to endure a rough sea passage. The underground had broken into empty freight cars sealed by the Germans after inspection, helped refugees onto the cars, and then resealed the cars with forged or stolen German seals to forestall further inspection.
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.
During the first days of the rescue action, Jews swarmed into the many fishing harbors on the Danish coast for rescue, but the Gestapo became suspicious of activity around harbors (and on the night of October 1-2, eighty Jews were caught hiding in the loft of the church at Gilleleje, their hiding place betrayed by a Danish girl in love with a German soldier). Subsequent rescues had to take place from isolated points along the coast. While waiting their turn, the Jews took refuge in the woods and in cottages away from the coast, out of sight of the Gestapo.
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.
Himmler still insisted on the full application of the Final Solution in Denmark and Ribbentrop as usual, gave way. On 22 May he informed Best that while he could not take instructions from Himmler, the next steps might be discussed with Himmler in the precincts of the Foreign Office, if necessary in Ribbentrop’s presence.
Nothing however was done till August when a disturbance in Denmark gave Himmler the pretext he required. On 5 August 1943, Sweden renounced the 1940 agreement by which German troops stationed in Norway were permitted to use her railway system.
But even now Best and von Hannecken could not take over the government of Denmark, since they had to rely on a Committee of Ministerial Directors to act for the absent Danish Cabinet.
But as a witness at the War Crimes trial in Nuremberg on 31 July 1946, Best tried to put the cart before the horse, he claimed that he had only approved of martial law for Denmark after Himmler had fixed the date for the deportations, which, he feared would cause riots.
Best in the meantime, continued to cover himself either way. Thus on the night of the round-up, he promised Ministerial Director Svennigsen of the Danish Foreign Office to forward the King’s petition that the Jews should be interned in Denmark.
Furthermore, on 28 September Best assured von Ribbentrop that the deportations would start as soon as the steamer Wartheland berthed in Copenhagen, and he complained that through the non-co-operation of von Hannecken, the Security Police were unable to proceed with the round-up in Jutland and Fuenen.
Von Hannecken had in fact been engaged in an intrigue to shift the responsibility on to Best’s shoulders. He had asked Keitel on the 23rd to suspend the round-up during the period in which the German Army was responsible for maintaining order, if indeed, it was not possible to cancel altogether such unpopular measures, which would mean “the loss of Danish meat and fats.”
Keitel replied that Gottlob Berger, Himmler’s chief of personnel would be in charge of the “aktion.” Von Hannecken thereupon refused to lend the Security Police the use of his Feldgendarmarie and Secret Field Police – a direct challenge to Keitel and the High Command.
On 29 September Ribbentrop telegraphed Best that he had read his complaint to Hitler in the presence of Keitel, who denied that he had banned the use of Wehrmacht police, and swore that he would demand an explanation from Hannecken. But the latter told the Danish Commission in 1945 that, even after the rocket he got from Keitel, he only provided fifty men of a guard battalion to cordon the embarkation on board the Wartheland.
At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial, Colonel – General Alfred Jodl, chief of the operations section of the High Command, insisted that these fifty men must have been policemen. He had telephoned von Hannecken to have nothing to do with the deportation order, which was Himmler’s affair.
One is to gather from al this that, except for those who were conveniently dead like Himmler, no German carried out the Fuhrer’s order in Denmark. In reality, the misgivings of Germans in office played less part in saving the Jews than the unique geographical position of Denmark, separated by a bare ten miles of sea from the neutral Government of Sweden, the only Government to offer unconditional asylum to an entire Jewish population which was threatened by the Final Solution.
The figures are eloquent, only 284 Jews were arrested on the night of 1 October, of whom 50 were released and only 202 embarked in the Wartheland. They were mostly people who were too old to hide from the police. Casual arrests in the next few days brought the number to 477, but more than 6,000 full Jews and 1,376 half-Jews were smuggled into Sweden in fishing boats between 26 September and 12 October 1943.
On the morning after the round-up, Best suggested that the interned Danish soldiers should be released at once to show that the “Danish peasant boys” were not being treated like Jews. Von Hannecken at the same time demanded the abandonment of martial law.
On this project von Thadden, the successor to Luther and Rademacher , reported back to his chief Wagner, on 25 October that the RSHA thoroughly disapproved, because it would create an impression of weakness among the Jews, if any were brought back to Copenhagen.
Officially they were still in hiding in Denmark and the Swedish Government offered to intern them if the Germans would hand them over. On 4 October the Swedish Minister in Berlin begged that Sweden might at least be allowed to take the children.
If the occasion arose, this attitude would force us to answer in a manner not to be misunderstood. It was not appreciated here why Sweden was unequivocally taking the side of Bolshevism, while our blood and the blood of our allies was being expended to keep the Communist danger from Europe and thus also from the Nordic countries.”
It had been decided early in September that the Danish Jews should go to Theresienstadt not Auschwitz. About 360 were sent via the port of Swinemunde, and of these twenty died on the journey and fifty in the camp.
His appeal was not heard by the High Court till 20 July 1949, when in the light of new evidence, his sentence was reduced to five years imprisonment. He was released on 29 August 1951.