A few personal notes on the life in occupied Denmark 1940-45


By Erik Day Poulsen

Erik Day Poulsen


Prior to WWII Denmark was a small independent state which had the misfortune to be situated next to Germany. Denmark had a long history of being neutral. A policy which kept the country out of WWI.

Denmark is a very small country and it had no political or military importance except for one: When Hitler planned to occupy Norway to secure the supply of iron ore and hence keep it from the British, Denmark was in the way. In the northern part of Denmark is the city of Aalborg (my home town) and right outside is a large air field. This air field was crucial since it was the only place the Luftwaffe could operate from when they invaded Norway. Therefore the Denmark occupation.

A bit of family history

On the morning of the 9th of April 1940 my grandfather was taking my mother to school. She was 7 at the time and had just started school. She told me that on the way to school they heard and saw many German bomber planes circling over the city. Leaflets was dropped all over, and in very poor Danish the civilian population was told to keep quiet so the German bombers didn't have to do to Danish cities what they had done to Polish cities. My mother remembered how she took a good grip at her fathers very large hand and asked what that all meant. My grandfather was a mason and a very large man. My mother was surprised how frighten he became (he never needed to fear anybody). He told her that we were at war but it would be all right. She did not believe him since he also was afraid.

At the same time the Germans landed paratroopers in the city center. They were dropped in order to secure a vital bridge across a fjord that is still running through the city of Aalborg. The airfield was on the other side of the fjord. This parachute drop is, as far as I know, the first during the war. It was rather small and not nearly as famous as Crete.

In other places the Danish army (very small and equipped with WWI weapons) took up the fight but it was no match for the battle hardened German troops. The most casualties was taken protecting the King in his castle.

Because of the German bombers hanging over the cities ready to turn them in to a Warsaw, the government and the King decided to give up. The same day, it was declared that the German forces would work together with the Danish government to keep peace. The government, in effect, started to work together with the Germans!

Over the summer of 1940 it became clear that Hitler would probable win the war, and the policy of cooperation looked as if it was a good idea. The only problem was that the Danish people did not agree. We could not fight the Germans outright but we could show them who's side we were on. During the time of the battle of Britain young people started to wear a new kind of hat fashioned after the red, white and blue markings on the RAF planes. It came overnight and was very popular until the Germans outlawed them. Also the famous V sign was all over as was the name of Churchill. Written on walls, fences and even on the local German army barracks.

In the 400 years old college in Aalborg (my future alma mater) some young students decided that hats and Victory signs was not enough. They, as most of the population, were ashamed that we let our British friends do the fighting for us, without us doing anything. Therefore they founded the first resistance group in Denmark properly named the Churchill Group. They started out by trying to produce nitroglycerine

the Churchill Group after they have been put in prison. Click Image for a larger view

in the schools chemistry shop. It did not work! So they stole German supplies and guns, and blew up a few trucks and barracks. It did not give the Germans much trouble and the guys were soon caught and put in prison. They were put in the local prison and had a good time. One should think that the sabotage would stop there, but they managed to loosen two of the iron bars in the window and that way they could sneak out during the night at continue the work. In the morning they would be back in bed. What better alibi? After about a month the Germans caught one of the guys and the trick with the window was found out. They were transported to a more secure location after that.

There was many such stories about the Churchill Group, and most of them are true. The effect was not very great in terms of destroyed German property but in terms of morale this was the thing that showed the Danes that resistance was possible. That meant that after the Churchill Group followed many other groups who did real damage to the German war effort. The resistance movement was from 1943 on so well organized that the government in effect was without power. In its place the Freedom Council operated in close cooperation with London. Nobody knew who the members were but they held more power than the elected government. When they gave an order for a strike to happen or boycott of German products to take effect then it was followed to the letter by the population.

Again on a personal note, my granddad became an active member of the resistance. Meaning that he did partake in sabotage actions both at the above mentioned airfield and on the railways. Denmark was to the Germans known as"the whipped cream front" because the chances of getting killed was much smaller than on the eastern front, and there was enough food. Denmark became in effect the bread basket for Germany. Therefore was disruption of the rail lines vital.

Cover of De frie Danske ( the free Danes ) Invasion issue June 1944. Translation: The free Danes welcomes our allied friends. This was the largest illegal paper. Most were just types pieces of paper copied and then distributed. Click Image for a larger view
My grandfather became deeper and deeper involved in the resistance movement. At home they had mortar rounds, grenades machine guns and pistols stored in the attic. My mother and her sisters was used as messengers between the members of the group. They also distributed illegal newspapers. In it self this was a hanging offense, but they were never caught.

One night in 1944 my grandfather was arrested by the Germans. The Gestapo came assisted by Wehrmacht troops very late and dragged him out of bed. My mother told me that they gave him 5 minutes to get dressed and say good-bye. She also told me that of the Gestapo people who came, the worst was the two Danes working with them. They were very evil. At the same time there was some normal Wehrmacht troops there and she told me that one of the soldiers stood in the middle of the living room and cried as if he had been whipped. He kept saying I am so sorry, I am so sorry. But never the less my grandfather had a 3 days visit to the cellars under Gestapo
HQ. Nobody knows what happened except that he kept quiet but after that he was never again the same man. He was always nervous and for the rest of his life he woke up in the dead of night screaming.

After the Germans had taken my Grandfather my grandmother had to warn the others in the group so at 3 am the 4 small girls had to run with the message the he had been taken. Also they

had to get rid of everything guns and newspapers.

After the torture my grandfather was sent in KZ where he was until he early in April 1945 was released. A Swedish Count had made a deal with Himmler that all Danish and Norwegian KZ prisoners because of their Aryan blood could be released. Himmler hoped that this would help save his life after the war. Thank God it didn't but my grandfather was taken to neutral Sweden on "the White busses". No doubt this saved his and many others lives

Count Bernadotte who negotiated the rescue with Himmler. Click Image for a larger view

When my grandfather was in the camps my grandmother had to survive with 5 small children. It was only done because the group helped. It was part of the deal that if anybody was taken the others would look after the family.



The white busses. Click Image for a larger view

The Jews

In Denmark there was about 7.000 Jews in 1940. Of course they didn't enjoy the prospect of having the Germans here but nobody really believed that anything really bad would happen. In Denmark the Jews were an integrated part of the population. They were not orthodox and they dressed normally. In fact nobody ever thought about people as Jews. They were just Danes.
The tactics of the Germans in the occupied countries was to issue identity cards specifying religion . That was against the law in Denmark and it was never done. Normally after a while the Germans would than try to exclude the Jews. (from the id's they knew who they where) from society by banning them from public life and some jobs. After that came the Star of David that they were required to wear. And then came the transports to the camps.

In Denmark it was difficult to find the Jews. because they were such an integrated part of the population. Since they could not be issued special ID's the only option was the Star of David. In 1943 the Star of David was introduced or so the Germans wanted it. In the movie Exodus the little girl Karen tells how when the Jews. was required to wear the Star then the next morning every Dane was wearing one. This is a very good story and flattering too. But; it is not true.

The true story is that when the Germans presented the decree to the Danish government, the King (who has to sign every law before it is legal) said that if any of his subjects was told to wear the Star of David, so would he! I am one with my people he said. The King was a very powerful man because he became the rally point for the entire population during the war. Every morning he rode his white horse in the streets of Copenhagen and everybody he met was greeted with a good morning (naturally not the Germans.) The Germans knew the PR value the King had and wisely the gave up the introduction of the Star of David in Denmark. Because of this it was difficult to single out the Jews. and that helped in saving them.

Admiral Canaris of the Abwehr (German Intelligence) leaked from time to time information to the Danish ambassador to Berlin and, in this way, it was known a few days in advance that the Jews. was going to be taken. This information was passed on to the resistance and a massive rescue mission was organized. The amazing thing is that it was ordinary people who came to the rescue. It did not matter who it was. It was a fellow Dane in need and the people rose to the occasion. It was not only the resistance who did the work, It was ordinary people who wanted to make a difference.

The Jews. were smuggled to neutral Sweden where they would be safe. In all, this mission save almost all the Danish Jews. Only about 800 was ever taken to the camps. In the words of Churchill: "If our country lasts a thousand years people will say that this was their finest hour."

The end of the war

Early in 1945 the world was almost coming to an end. The allies was crushing Germany, and the Germans in Denmark became very worried. The started to shoot people more often and was in general trigger happy. Many a Dane was killed that way. Especially the troops on R and R from the eastern front shot many. They were used to people trying to kill them so they shot first and asked questions later. My father who was 14 at the time almost got killed because he wanted to tug his scarf into his jacket. Some soldiers thought that he was reaching after a grenade and almost shot him. He had to open his jacket very slowly so they could see that he was unarmed. They were SS on leave from Russia.

At the end it was normal when the resistance held up Germans in the streets during the day and took their weapons, so the resistance more or less ruled the streets, and then on the 4 of May the news came from London that the Germans had surrendered to Montgomery. People ripped down the blackout curtains and burned them in the streets. Informers and girls who had German boyfriends was rounded up and given what people meant they had coming. Also a lot of private scores was settled at that time. Not our finest hour.

After the war the Russians occupied one of our islands for almost a year. That helped the Danes to turn firmly to the Western allies. Not that there was ever any doubt who our friends were, but this just showed that we were right.

Even today almost 60 years later the Danes are deeply grateful for the help we received from the United States and Britain. We feel a deep friendship with the two nations and support where ever we can. The friendship is so strong that Denmark every year celebrate your independence day the 4th of July. I know of no other country that does that. The celebration takes place just outside my hometown of Aalborg, where there is a big party. Our Queen and our Prime Minister always attend. The American ambassador is also there and, over the years, three former American presidents has spoken there. Then, of course there a 20-50.000 people to help make it a good day. The US Navy every year sends a vessel to visit Aalborg and the US Air Force is there too.

So yes, we still try to say thanks to our good friend who have helped us many a time.

War News and Propaganda

Here are a few examples of what was in the illegal papers besides war news and propaganda

Text: Well guys. One thing about the Danes: They sure know how to cook. Notice on the tray there is a bottle of cyanide and the paper the waiter is carrying is the Free Danes ( see last mail) Click Image for a larger view








How the master race was viewed. (Note the swastika) Click Image for a larger view

Title: Scoundrel Walk ( notice the play with words in Danish (s)lambert walk as in the dance ). Text: Do you see anything funny about our Fuhrer? No absolutely not! Notice all the Danes are having a good time seeing Goering, Hitler and Goebbels on the screen. Click Image for a larger view

Caption translation: Please sign this document stating that I had nothing to do with your execution, then you will not be tortured. Click Image for a larger view


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