Wartime Wednesday: The Night Denmark Bested the Nazis
With the memories of WWI still fresh in their collective minds, the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway declared neutrality against Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, for Denmark and Norway, Hitler ignored their position and invaded both countries.
After its invasion and in April 1940, the Danish king and government didn’t flee. Instead, they attempted to arrange for lenient terms for the occupation. Because the Nazis wanted to highlight Denmark as a “model protectorate,” the democratically elected government remained in power. Life remained much the same for the Danes, and there was very little resistance.
However, there was a small number of citizens who pursued underground activities such as spying and sabotage. Reports also indicated that intelligence officers in the Danish army sent reports to London as early as a week after the occupation began. By October 1942 a clandestine newspaper, Land og Folk (“Land and People”) was in circulation, and by the end of the war was producing 120,000 copies per day.
For the first half of the war, the Germans often asked the Danish government about its Jews, and the leaders insisted there was “no Jewish question” in the country.
|Georg F. Duckwitz|
Then came August 1943. SS General Werner Best declared martial law and demanded the government institute capital punishment. They refused. The government also refused to resign preventing the Germans from taking over. Frustration grew, and the following month the Gestapo decided to take matters in their own hands and arrest the country’s Jewish population.
What (or rather who) the Nazis hadn’t counted on was German maritime attaché Georg F. Duckwitz. He leaked the information to Danish politicians about the anticipated arrest. The news spread within hours, and the population sprang into action. Citizens from all walks of life offered refuge in churches, attics, country homes, and residences. Medical staff hid more than one thousand Jews in Copenhagen hospitals.
Fishermen with boats of all shapes and sizes transported hundreds of passengers between Denmark and Sweden. Others escapes in rowboat, kayaks, and canoes. A group of refugees were smuggled into empty freight cars, then sealed in with forged or stolen seals to prevent further inspection. A few Jews hid in the woods and waited for the initial arrest activity to cease before making their way to neutral Sweden.
The response to the arrest announcement was “grassroots,” that is to say, not coordinated at a high level or with any sort of organization, but on the night of the raid, Germans only found 284 Jews of the nearly 8,000 living in Denmark. Statistically, this was the lowest Jewish casualty rate of the war.