World War 2 in Denmark

My novels, The Informer and Codename Panzer, are set in Copenhagen during the ending of World War II. A perfect background for gloomy crime noirs, I think. If you know nothing or very little of this part of Danish history, you can read more her.

May 31, 1939, with World War II lurking in the future, Denmark and neighboring Nazi-Germany sign a nonaggression pact. Being neutral, Denmark managed to stay out of harm’s way as World War I ravaged Europe. No need for policy change in 1939. Denmark is a tiny Kingdom just north of Germany with no military significance. The triumphant days of the Vikings long gone.

Early morning April 9, 1940, Nazi-Germany broke the nonaggression pact and invaded the small neighboring country of Denmark. Nazi-Germany invaded Denmark to get access to Norway where they planned to place submarine bases. Nazi-Germany claimed invasion of Denmark was to protect the tiny neighbor against aggressions from England and France. After only two hours of intense resistance Denmark surrendered to Nazi-Germany. The supremacy unquestionable, resistance futile. 16 Danes died during the Nazi-invasion, 20 wounded. The Germans lost 203 men; 75 wounded. The German invasion of Denmark was so swift many Danes slept through it. Going to sleep in a free country to awake in an occupied one.

The Nazi occupation of Denmark was unlike anywhere else. The Danish Government continued, still controlling the domestic policy. The Danish police continued under the Nazi occupation, however now its duties included the arrest of all German emigrants. After the German invasion Denmark cut all Allied relations – stopping all exports. Now Denmark would supply The Third Reich. The Nazi occupation was good business. Denmark sold agricultural products, industrial products – and even weapons to the Nazis.

The first year of the occupation Denmark was a quite safe place to be—even for the Danish Jews. The German soldiers nicknamed Denmark ‘The Whipped Cream Frontier’. Of course, it was now illegal to print or act in a way that could disturb the relations between Denmark and Nazi-Germany.

However, the gift of youth is to rebel and it was the youth in Denmark that started the resistance during World War II. The youth was infuriated by the lack of resistance from adult Danes. It seemed to them Denmark was acting like a German ally. The first Sabotage Groups in Denmark were teenagers destroying minor German properties or writing anti-Nazi slogans on city walls.

June 1941, Nazi-Germany attacked the Soviet Union—as a result, the Danish Communist Party was banned. The Danish police was ordered to arrest 66 named Communists by the Nazis. They arrested more than 300. Even members of the Parliament. The Danish Communist Party joined the resistance, forming one of the fiercest Sabotage Groups called BOPA in 1942.

The Official Denmark was against the sabotage and encouraged the public to report the resistance to the police. The Official Denmark encouraged Danes to join ‘Frikorps Danmark’ to fight on the Eastern Frontier on German side.

In June 1942, C. F. von Schalburg, leader of ‘Frikorps Danmark’ fell on the Eastern Frontier, instantly becoming a Nazi hero.

Summer 1943, the resistance, now getting weapons from England, launched a wave of sabotage against railroads and factories.

August 1943, after days of public protests and riots in 17 Danish cities, Danish Government resigns, and the first Danish saboteur is executed by the Germans.

September 1943, the Gestapo comes to Denmark to fight the resistance. Establishing HQ in the Dagmar House in Central Copenhagen. The Schalburg Corps—a Danish Nazi corps—formed to fight the resistance by any means.

October 1943, the Danish Jews flee with the help of the resistance to safety in neighboring, neutral Sweden, while the first Danes are deported to the German Concentration Camps. Danish resistance answers to German executions by killing informers and known Nazis.

January 1944, The Schalburg Corps of Danish Nazis begins reign of counter-sabotage and retaliation killings. The Schalburg Corps kill at least one Dane (most often by random) for every informer—Nazi or German—killed by the resistance. The famous Danish writer, Kaj Munk, among first victims of the Nazi retaliation killings. The Gestapo moves its HQ to the infamous Shell House in central Copenhagen.

June 6, 1944, D-day, the Allied attack and landing in Normandy.

June 22, 1944, sabotage group BOPA hits major weapon factory in Copenhagen making the Nazis go berserk. The whole city was punished with a harsh curfew. Tivoli and other places bombed by the Schalburg Corps. Several saboteurs executed.

June 25, 1944, strikes and public riots in most of Copenhagen. The Germans answer with brute force, killing Danes at random. As the riots continue the following days, the Germans move troops to Copenhagen, shutting off power, water and city gas.

July 3, 1944, unable to stop the riots even after killing 60 Danes and negotiating with Copenhagen Politicians, the Germans give in. Two days later, the riots in Copenhagen cease as the resistance calls them off.

September 1944, the Germans dissolve the Danish police force, deporting almost 2000 police officers to Concentration Camps. Denmark is now a country without any police. Crime flourishes in the city of Copenhagen. The Nazis form small but extremely violent Nazi police corps, the Hipo aka The Hilfspolizei, aiming to keep some order in the city. The Hipo Corps uses the main Police station as HQ as they terrorize Copenhagen. Soon they’re more feared and hated than even Gestapo.

The men in the Hipo Corps are Danes. They are all placed on the death lists of the resistance. Unlikely as it may seem, the Germans in the Gestapo are bound to certain limits in the use of violence and torture. The Danes serving the Nazis are not bound to the same restrictions and therefore torture and kill more randomly. As the resistance ambush and kill several patrolling Hipos, the Hipo remove the car doors to be able to exit the cars faster.

As the end of the war came closer, the fighting gets fierce with daily killings and bombings, as both sides let hatred run free. This was no longer a ‘Whipped Cream Frontier’ or teenagers rebelling. This was a pure killing spree in broad daylight. No one could feel safe anywhere. You could get shot by mistake by the Resistance or at random by the Nazi retaliation killing squads. As good fought evil, the Criminals took over. This is where my novel, The Informer, begins.

October 1944, Allied forces penetrate the German borders. Allied liberation brings some European countries close to anarchy as different parts of the resistance try to sieze power.

December 1944, Nazi-Germany launches the final offensive campaign on the Western frontier in the Ardennes. It lasts for a month, but fails. The first Danish prisoners return home from the German Concentration Camps.

February 1945, first German refugees, fleeing Soviet forces, arrives in Copenhagen. More than 250,000 follow during the next months. Nazi-Germany’s losing WW2, but who’s to liberate Denmark? Soviet or the British? And what will happen then? Allied Forces bomb several large German ships sailing refugees to Denmark, killing thousands. Germans evacuate concentration camps, forcing captives on death marches, killing hundreds of thousands. The Schalburg Corps are abolished, most members join the Hipo Corps, not wanting to go to the frontiers. Swedish Red Cross negotiates with the German leaders to have Scandinavians freed from Concentration Camps.

March 1945. The Gestapo HQ in Copenhagen bombed by the Brits, accidentally bombing a local school at the same time. The Gestapo establishes a new Copenhagen HQ at the old central police station also housing the Hipo Corps. First convoy of the White Busses rescue operation transport Scandinavian captives from Concentration Camps to freedom. About 15,000 prisoners were rescued by the White Busses before the end of the war, and 10,000 in the months after.

April 1945. Soviet forces reach the outskirts of Berlin.

April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler commits suicide inside the Führer Bunker.

May 5, 1945, German forces in Denmark surrender to the British. Denmark celebrates the Resistance as heroes. Danish Nazis, the collaborators and others detained by the Resistance. It’s time for the reckoning. Danish women having affairs with German soldiers are hunted down by angry mobs in most cities.

May 8 1945, Not minding the liberation of Denmark, Soviet forces bomb cities on the Danish island of Bornholm.

May 9 1945, Germany finally surrenders completely, ending WW2 in Europe. Soviet forces occupying the Danish island of Bornholm, staying there for a year. The Danish politicians responsible for the cooperation with occupying Germany return to power.

Summer 1945, the Danish Government reintroduces the death penalty for high treason and adopts retroactive laws. Although the Danish Government had urged Danes to join the German forces, those who did so were now prosecuted, not the politicians. 40,000 Danes prosecuted after the war, 13,500 convicted. 78 Danes were later sentenced to death for high treason, 46 of these were executed. As it went, the smaller fish got the worst punishment, the bigger got less, and some might have been too big for justice.

Some statistics: 102 Danish members of the Resistance executed during World War II, while around 600 Danes died in the Concentration Camps. About 2,000 Danes died fighting on the side of Nazi-Germany at the Eastern Frontier. Around 6,000 Danes deported to the Concentration Camps. The Resistance killed well over 400 Nazi-informers in the last two years of the war.


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14 Responses to World War 2 in Denmark

  1. Pandora Jorgensen Heathcoe says:

    Steen, my grandparents and father lived in Copenhagen that fateful day in 1940; my father was six years old. They immigrated to the US in 1950. I have photographs of Copenhagen right after it was bombed and much documentation by my grandmother during the occupation. I too have begun to write a book about my family. My grandfather and great uncle were in the Danish Resistance and smuggled Jews out of Denmark into Sweden.

    • That’s interesting. My parents was born during the war. However, my grandparents never really wanted to talk about the war. They kept to themselves, end of story. Makes you wonder, right? Still, most people did, at least until the last months of the war.

      Good luck with the book. If I can be of any assistance, just ask me.

  2. cheyenne says:

    Thank you so much i needed this for my assignment so helpful thanks!

  3. David Will says:

    80 years have passed since the war and the number of resistance fighters (ANTIFA), past and present grows ever larger and braver. The number of those whose grandfathers were resistance fighters seems to grow as well, I it nice to know that they killed x-number of Germans to off-set any Jews that were killed…(really?).
    I hope the Danish don’t profess their love of the Jews and secretly call for the eradication of Israel.
    Denmark is a very peaceful country now, but I suspect that from 1940 to 1949 there are some white spaces in the history book (I suspect it was the Germans turn once the wind blew the other way- “tyske flygtningeborn”).
    We need to learn what leads people to loose their humanity and act! The layer of civilization is very thin indeed, to see evil (coming) and do nothing is evil.

    • I don’t believe the Danish resistance ‘killed x-number of Germans to off-set any Jews that were killed’, however most of the Danish Jews escaped the Holocaust by being shipped to Sweden the night before, the Nazis would have deported them to the KZ-camps.

      I believe fear, anger and a feeling of having been cheated by the ones in power leads people to turn to fascism.

      • Kathleen L. Nelson, MD says:

        I agree completely. Maybe a tincture of paranoia…Apparently, we must keep learning that “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword,” and it’s cousin, “the meek shall inherit the earth.”

  4. Nika Rad says:

    i have a question nobody really has answered, and i hope you can help. Hoe did the King of Denmark (King Christian X) participate, or what did he controls as a king. Did he have the power to rule and decide everything during World War 2?

    • Since 1849 when Denmark became a democracy, the kings officially doesn’t have any political power. They aren’t even allowed to say much in way of politics. Christian X became a national symbol riding on his horse through the streets of Copenhagen during the occupation. I can’t say exactly how much power the King and now our queen do or do not have unofficially. They do sign the laws and any new government has to be approve by the ruling king for example. I do not believe they have ever refused to approve a government or a law but I guess they could.

      • I have just learned that a Danish king did allocate a democratic elected government back around 1920, during what is known as the Easter Crisis. The reason was that in the aftermath of WW1 which Germany lost, some southern parts of Jutland were to be returned to Denmark. We had lost these parts of the country in the war of 1864. However, not all of the lost parts was returned to Denmark, as there was an election where the population in these parts of Jutland had to vote if they wanted to stay German or return to Denmark. This election made the city of Flensburg stay German and some Danes weren’t happy about that. Among them the king. The government however wanted to respect the election, so the king allocated the democatic elected government. However, Flensburg did stay German after all, but for the few days the Easter Crisis lasted, there were demonstrations in Copenhagen demanding a republic state. Christian X did stay as the king and the monarcy didn’t fall and it all settled down like it allways seem to do here.

  5. Eric says:

    My best-afar was sent to the USA by the Danish government before the war really got going ,,best-afar would take the Jews out of Germany on his fishing boat with another man ..(bee keeper)… I found this out from the bee keeper much later in life ,,, I guess the Germans had a contract on best-afar so he left his life behind in Bornholm ,,Best-afar was in the royalgard a dairy farmer & ran a fishing boat ,, I am trying to find more info on the things that went on after he came here and the ties he had with the hiding of German Jews & others here in the USA ,,, there was a lot of things that I was told to not talk about with others (mom & dad & gramma ) only my taunta Elna who was from Bornholm
    I was born in 1965 and yet Best-afar was still meeting people and speaking what I thought was Danish ,,was German , Swedish ,and Danish mixed all together, when I went to Denmark I found this out ,,, I did not speak Danish ,,, the bee keeper liked this he laughed his ass off as we talked,, he said it brought back memories of my best-afar (he spoke no English )

    • Hi Eric,

      Thanks for sharing your story. I have to admit I was wondering what a best-afar was until the penny dropped. You mean ‘bedstefar’, your granddad. Best-afar is actually quite close to how it is pronounced in Danish, so I ended up smiling.

      I myself am a bit younger than you are. Born in 68. However, the war was something nobody spoke much about in my family. Not really a taboo. However, all that was said to me was like ‘we kept to our selves’ – and I figure my need to know more about the war and the half truths, the lies, the polical cover-ups, the taboos and all that came from my own familys unwillingness to tell about what happened to them during this period.

  6. Torben Flyvenring Hansen says:

    Interesting reading.
    I was born in Copenhagen in January of 1945
    Denmark was still occupied.
    My Mormor told stories of helping the Danish Jewish people escape.
    My father was interned in Buckenwald prison camp until liberated by the Americans.
    My father did not want to relive that experience.
    Sponsored by my Uncle we made our trip to America in 1948.

    • The Buchenwald Concentration camp was one of the largest concentration camps on German soil. It was considered worse than Dachau or Sachsenhausen due to the bad housing facilities, overpopulation, lack of basic nutrition like water, and terrible sanitation. And of course, Buchenwald was also the place where Ilse von Koch earned her reputation. Many Danes were sent here during the war, among them most of the Danish Police force. Even though many of the Danes survived, none of them returned unharmed by the experience. I have heard of quite a few that never wanted to talk about it.

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