Copenhagen, Occupied Denmark September 16, 1943

On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, overrunning the tiny coun­try of just over 3.8 mil­lion people and its army of 14,500 sol­diers (the majority recruits) in less than a day. The Danish govern­ment and king remained in place, collab­o­rating as little as pos­sible with the enemy, which stationed a compar­a­tively small number of soldiers (180,000) in the country. (German mili­tary person­nel con­sidered Denmark a cushy posting, humor­ously referring to Denmark as the “Whipped Cream (Schlag­sahne) Front.”) In an effort to create a “model pro­tec­torate” out of Denmark, the German occu­pa­tion author­ities in­i­tially inter­fered as little as pos­sible in Danish govern­ance, policing, and the legal system, even in the face of growing dis­con­tent among Danes over blackouts, shortages of goods, and rationing.

In mid-1942 the banned Danish Communist Party set up sabo­teur groups that carried out sabo­tage using home­made fire bombs—all they had at the moment in their wea­pons arse­nal. Mem­bers were mostly Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) vet­er­ans who had fought against Gen. Fran­cisco Franco and his Axis sup­porters. Other under­ground resis­tance groups included Holger Danske, formed in Copen­hagen in 1942 by vet­er­an volun­teers who had fought on the Fin­nish side against the Soviet Union during the Win­ter War (Novem­ber 1939 to March 1940); the tiny Hvidsten group, started in 1943 but snuffed out in March 1944 when its mem­bers were arrested by the German Gestapo (secret police); and the Borger­lige Parti­saner (“Civic Parti­sans”), or BOPA, started in early 1943 by students who had been excluded from the KOPA (Kommunistiske Partisaner, “Communist Partisans”).

On this date, September 16, 1943, the largest resistance organ­i­za­tions—the Com­mu­nists, Dansk Sam­ling, Frit Dan­mark, and Ringen—formed a joint Free­dom Coun­cil (Friheds­rådet). The Coun­cil aimed to not only coor­di­nate the hither­to scattered resis­tance ini­ti­atives, but to plan for what Denmark was going to become after the war. Through its con­tact with the London-based SOE (Special Opera­tions Exec­u­tive), the Free­dom Council came to repre­sent the entire Danish resis­tance move­ment vis-à-vis the Allies. Following the Copen­hagen workers’ strike of June and July 1944, and espe­cially after the start of the German pogrom against Danish Jews at the end of Septem­ber 1944, the leaders of the German-sanc­tioned Danish polit­i­cal parties felt com­pelled to enter into a com­pro­mise with the Coun­cil. The Danish state even chan­neled money to the resis­tance by way of its Social Minis­try. Coop­era­tion within the Council and the com­pro­mise with Danish politi­cians ensured an almost non­violent transition from wartime occupation to postwar peace in 1945.

Danish Resistance to German Occupation, 1943–1945

Danish resistance: Danish Freedom Council (Frihedsrådet), May 1945Danish resistance group: BOPA (Borgerlige Partisaner)

Left: Partial membership on the Danish Freedom Council (Friheds­rådet), Den­mark’s unoffi­cial in-country govern­ment-in-exile. Created in Septem­ber 1943, the Danish Free­dom Coun­cil attempted to unify the many dif­fer­ent groups that com­prised the Danish resis­tance move­ment (Modstands­bevægelsen). It was made up of seven resis­tance repre­sen­ta­tives and one mem­ber of Britain’s SOE, which was engaged in making air­drops of agents and sup­plies. The resis­tance move­ment grew to over 20,000 mem­bers, and in the lead-up to D-Day (June 6, 1944) acts of sabotage markedly increased.

Right: Members of BOPA (BOrgerlige PArtisaner, or “Civic Partisans”) in a truck. Due to the un­usu­ally lenient terms given to Denmark by the Nazi occu­pa­tion author­ities (Denmark was not offi­cially at war with Germany), the Danish resis­tance move­ment was slower to develop effec­tive tactics on a wide scale compared with some other occu­pied coun­tries (e.g., Poland and the western parts of the Soviet Union). ­How­ever, by 1943 many Danes were involved in under­ground activi­ties ranging from pro­ducing illegal publi­ca­tions to spying, bomb making, sabo­tage, and assas­si­nation. The latter activity dis­pro­por­tionally focused on the Hilfs­polizei (auxiliary police), among whom were vio­lent Danish crimi­nal gang mem­bers who assisted the Gestapo in counterespionage and civil control work.

Danish resistance: BOPA-sabotaged German truckDanish resistance: BOPA-sabotaged factory, June 22, 1944

Left: German truck sabotaged by BOPA. The Danish govern­ment actively discour­aged vio­lent resis­tance because it feared a back­lash from German occu­pa­tion authori­ties. As time went on, many insur­gent groups formed to oppose the occu­pa­tion and shifted to more vio­lent action. At the begin­ning of 1943, Com­munist (KOPA) resis­tance cells were cen­trally coordi­nated under BOPA. BOPA was the most effec­tive sabo­tage organi­za­tion in Denmark and was behind nu­mer­ous acts of sabo­tage, the most famous being the June 6, 1944, sur­prise day­light raid on the Glo­bus fac­tory, which had been making parts for Germany’s V‑2 ballistic roc­ket. On August 29, 1943, German mili­tary autho­ri­ties reacted harshly to the in­creased level of sabo­tage and for­mally seized the reins of power, placing the nation under martial law and making Denmark legally an “occupied country.” (Inter­estingly, it was only in 2003 that a leader of a Danish govern­ment publicly con­demned his coun­try’s 1940–1943 collaboration with the enemy occupiers.)

Right: Copenhagen arms factory (Dansk Riffel­syndikatet) sabo­taged by BOPA on June 22, 1944. The fac­tory in Copen­hagen’s Fri­haven district was the only Danish fac­tory making small arms, anti­tank guns, and artil­lery. Thou­sands of Copen­hageners watched the buildings burn down to an empty shell. By the end of the war the Danish resis­tance move­ment had scored many suc­cesses, losing slightly more than 850 resis­tance mem­bers killed in action, in prison, in con­cen­tra­tion camps, or (in the case of 102 resis­tance mem­bers) exe­cuted following courts-martial. That said, a little more than 3,000 Danes died as a direct result of the German occu­pa­tion, while nearly 1,100 Danish mer­chant sailors (out of 5,000) died in Allied service.

Danish resistance: Freedom fighter Jørgen Haagen Schmith, 1910–1944Danish resistance: Freedom Bent Faurschou-Hviid, 1921–1944

Above: In spring 1944 members of the Holger Danske group were arrested and sen­tenced to long prison terms or sen­tenced to death. Sixty-four mem­bers were exe­cuted by the Gestapo, which twice suc­ceeded in infil­trating the organi­za­tion. Holger Danske had a small liquida­tion cell that elimi­nated more than 200 in­formers. By the end of the war Holger Danske was Den­mark’s largest resis­tance group. Around New Year 1943 Holger Danske began pub­lish­ing the under­ground maga­zine De Frie Danske (“The Free Danes”) full of pic­tures, infor­ma­tion, and the names of snitches. Between May 7, 1943, and Febru­ary 12, 1944, the orga­ni­za­tion carried out, among other things, 4 armed attacks and 18 acts of sabo­tage against the Germans. Two of the most active Holger Danske mem­bers were Jørgen Haagen Schmith (1910–1944), left photo, who helped bomb his own work­shop where­by six German cars and an armored truck were destroyed, and Bent Faurschou-Hviid (1921–1944), both famous under their aliases, Citronen (“Lemon”) and Flammen (“Flame”). No resis­tance mem­ber was more hated or sought by the Gestapo than the red-haired Faurschou-Hviid. The 2008 Danish film Flame and Citron (with English subtitles), a fiction­alized account of Faurschou-Hviid and Schmith, was a huge box-office success.

Contemporary Footage of the Danish Resistance Movement, 1943–1944