At precisely 4 am on the morning of April 9th, 1940 the first Nazi soldiers crossed the border between Denmark and Germany at Padborg in Southern Jutland. Two hours later King Christian X and his government capitulated and Denmark was officially a province of The Third Reich.
The governing coalition of parties, the Social Democratic Party and the Social-Liberal party with the misleading name The Radical Left, Det Radikale Venstre, invited two of the right-wing parties, The Conservative People’s Party and the farmer-friendly party with the even more misleading name The Left, Venstre, to form a common government under the principles of co-operation with the occupying Nazi forces.
The negotiations were understandably hard and lengthy. It was the Social Democratic Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning’s opinion that the only way to keep the Danish Nazi Party and their newly arrived southern friends away from destroying democracy was to accept the lesser of two evils, and he presented the idea of what was later known as The Co-operation Policy to the King. That circumstance also presented the first of many absurdities of the occupation: the people’s highest representative had to ask the King’s permission to govern according to the rules of democracy. (That’s still the situation for a Danish PM today, actually …)
The King agreed, on one condition: Since the Foreign Minister Peter Munch from Det Radikale Venstre had been the architect of the neutrality policies towards Germany in the preceding years, he was no longer a friend of King Chris and considered persona non grata in his government. Stauning sacked Munch. So far so good.
Now the PM needed the Conservatives and Venstre on board, but that was to prove considerably more difficult than convincing the King to give up his kingdom. What followed in the next few months more resembled a hawker’s market than serious political negotiations. The Conservatives had actually been quite fascinated with fascism in the early 1930s resulting in several members of the Conservative Youth Organisation marching through the streets with an alarming number of stiffly extended right arms, but they were also one of the first political movements to identify and distance themselves from the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s reign in the late 1930s. Their reservations over The Co-operational Policy sprang from the difficult choice between futile resistance or the less heroic pragmatism.
Venstre’s hesitation was of a different kind. These guys had their ideological roots planted deep in the lush farmlands of rural Denmark. They entered the negotiations with the same attitude as they had entered any farmer’s market through centuries, haggling with the Social Democrats over the price of their participation in a national unity government. Since Hitler had announced that Denmark was now the pantry, or Speisekammer, of The Third Reich, the prices of their crops had sky-rocketed so they saw no reason to make their best customer unhappy. But to be an active member of a government together with the Social Democratic Party that had had the temerity to fight for higher wages for farm workers down the years was almost too much for their self-understanding. The price of their participation was pinioned unions, a 20% drop in wages for farm workers, termination of the right to strike – and the introduction of ‘employment committees’ channelling the unemployed, and therefore state-subsidised, workforce to their fields as free labour.
So deals were made, agreements signed and ministers appointed. The Co-operational Policy was a matter of fact, officially until August 29th, 1943 but unofficially for the duration of WW2. And the Danes more or less continued with their humdrum daily lives. Actually Danish lives were some of the humdrummiest in the world during WW2. If you think that counting casualties is a fair way of measuring the price a nation has paid for involvement in a war, only Cuba and Mexico made a better deal than Denmark did. Estimates are that a little over 2,700 Danish soldiers gave their lives during the war. 16 on the day of the invasion, 63 as members of the allied forces, approx. 650 members of The Resistance – and 2,000 as members of the Nazi forces at the Eastern front. That’s about 0.08% of the population. Compare that to Belgium’s 86,000 (1.02%), Indonesia’s 4,000,000 (5.76%) or Poland’s appalling 5,000,000 (18.51%) casualties and you pretty much get the idea behind the horse sense of The Co-operation Policy.
Civilian casualties are estimated at approx. 1,000 – the largest single chunk hereof was 125 killed during an allied air strike against what the pilots thought was the Nazi headquarters but unfortunately turned out to be a Catholic school, so of the 125 killed that day, 86 were children and 18 were nuns.
But the number of casualties is inversely proportional to the level of heroism in the Danes’ narrative of the Occupation. There is no end to the tribulations that Danes had to endure, no song unsung about the agony that swept across the country in the form of coffee rations and nightly curfews. And most important of all – the self-sacrificial efforts to transport Jews across the Øresund in fishing boats to Sweden’s safer shores. Over and over and over again I and everybody else who has attended a Danish state school or just fallen into conversation about WW2 with any Dane have had our ears bent with the valour of the fishermen who regardless of their own safety hid the collective number of 8,000 Jews in the cargo holds of their minuscule fishing smacks and sailed the whole night (!) to save Danish Jews from the concentration camps.
The stories of ‘The Miracle at the Øresund’ are correct as such but only up to a point. What no-one seems eager to mention is that the fishermen weren’t unmindful of their own wallets, since the quiet tuck-tucks from the nocturnal boat trips were accompanied by the loud ka-chings of the 1,000 kroner per yamaca that was the fare for freedom. That’s 20,000 kroner (EUR 2,700/USD 3,900) in today’s money. Or 400,000 kroner in tax-free earnings per trip. In the only book ever written about this, The Expensive Escape, published – and ignored by Danes – in 2010, the author estimates that during the two weeks of the rescue mission 250 million today-kroner (EUR 34 million/USD 49 million) changed hands. A quaint twist to this story is that it is exactly the same amount of money that is going to come out of the public purse in financing the idiotic enhanced border patrol that’s effective from today at, among other places, Padborg in Southern Jutland. More about that in a moment.
On the night of May 4th, 1945 the occupying Nazi forces capitulated. In the morning of May 5th all hell broke loose.
21,800 persons were detained by The Resistance. Not the actual Nazi soldiers since they were protected by what was later known as The Geneva Convention and transported safely back to their respective Bundesländer. The detainees were those who had already been named ‘traitors’, Landssvigere, most of them because their names were on a secret list called The Central Records, Centralkartoteket, produced by The Resistance during the final years of the occupation. But a substantial number of people were seized simply because ordinary citizens had fingered them as ‘Nazi friendly’. On top of those seized by The Resistance, an additional 16,800 were arrested by the police and 2,000 were held as POWs by the allied forces so a total of 40,000 people were put behind bars to await trial.
Danish women who had been dating Nazi soldiers, field mattresses in layman’s terms, had their hair cut off by force and were driven through the streets in open trucks; yelled at, spat at and stoned by the huddling masses. Many ordinary citizens grabbed the opportunity to settle private disputes by simply yelling “TRAITOR!” at someone they didn’t like and gunning them down before they had the opportunity to defend themselves. Historians estimate that three times as many Danes were killed by Danes in the first five days after Liberation Day than Danes killed by Nazis during the five years of occupation.
On June 1st, 1945 some sort of civilisation kicked in with the event of the so-called Judicial Battle, Retsopgøret. Technically speaking it was a set of laws called The Collaborationist Laws, but their level of civilisation was so-so, since it is one of the pillars of a civilized justice system that you cannot be punished for deeds that weren’t illegal at the time you did them – a principle the lawmakers disregarded due to ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and made The Collaborationist Laws retroactive. It was now made a crime, punishable by death in some cases, to do exactly what the Danish Government had obliged its citizens to do 5 years earlier: co-operate with the Nazi occupational forces.
The Judicial Battle was fought with little honour. 13,500 people were found guilty. 10,000 were imprisoned, 3,000 for 3 years or more, 66 for life. 103 were sentenced to death out of which 46 were actually executed, the last in 1950.
Almost all those punished were ‘the little fish’. A woman owning a laundry in the small town of Esbjerg got 6 months in prison for pressing Nazi uniforms from the nearby barracks. Two huge construction companies that had made millions by using concentration camp prisoners as slave labour in Germany, Lithuania and Poland got away scot-free. And the owner of the Danish Industrial Syndicate, The Rifle Syndicate in daily speech, who had made even more millions by producing and selling weapons to the Nazis had absolutely nothing coming to him. Except of course a sole concession for all Danish oil production in the North Sea that the company still holds today.
Appalled? Don’t be. The worst is yet to come:
During the last months of WW2, millions of German civilians were fleeing from the horrors of the war. 244,500 came to Denmark – wounded from air raids, malnourished and sick from dysentery, typhoid and starvation. They were all interned in camps ringed with barbed wire because of the ‘danger’ of them sliding into general Danish population making it difficult to deport them again when things had cooled down, so they had little or no access to food or fresh water. When the authorities asked the Danish Doctor’s Association for help in March 1945 the only answer was a short note: “Considering the present conditions of the country it is not the Association’s belief that it can offer any relief assistance to the German refugees.” No more, no less.
From January to December 1945 13,493 people died of diseases that could have been cured. 7,746 were children. Let’s take that one more time, shall we?
7,746 children detained in camps ringed with barbed wire died in one year because Danish doctors refused to treat them. For the sole reason that they were German.
Five one-year-olds in one hole. One “unknown”.
Strangely enough that wasn’t what our erstwhile Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen referred to almost 60 years later in 2003 when he held a speech at The Naval Academy and said this:
“The doctrine from August 29th, 1943 should be that if you take our values of freedom, democracy and human rights seriously, then we’ll have to make an active contribution to defend them. Also when odds are difficult. Even when unpopular decisions have to be made.”
Mr. Rasmussen wasn’t referring to his own party, Venstre’s haggling over the prize of their participation in the Co-operation Policy either.
He wasn’t referring to his own decision to form a coalition government in 2001 with a party whose chairman has stated that “Muslims breed like rabbits” and whose voters have the highest approval rate of the opinion that dictatorship is better than parliamentarianism (20% – I’m not kidding!).
He wasn’t referring to the fact that of all the statesmen around the world who lied about weapons of mass destruction in the prelude to the war in Iraq, he’s the only one still denying that he was lying.
Today 8 years after his speech, it’s still unclear to me what Anders Fogh Rasmussen suggests the alternative to the Co-operational Policy should have been. Maybe he just thinks that more Danes should have died in World War 2.
He is now the Secretary General of NATO, a position he got by a whisker in 2009. He needed Turkey’s vote but had difficulties getting it because of his reactions during The Cartoon Crisis. But he got the Turks on board eventually. The price for that was an active contribution to the closure of the Kurdish TV station ROJ TV’s headquarters in Denmark, even though he had vigorously defended the Kurds’ right to freedom of speech on several occasions, including a couple of state visits from Turkey’s Prime Minister.
Where does all this lead, you might ask. Well, it all leads to this very day.
Since the end of WW2, huge efforts have been made by statesmen to ensure that nothing of its like could ever happen again. Different solutions have been suggested, but if you ask me, the most fruitful of them is the idea that countries who mutually benefit from trading goods and services have nothing to gain and everything to lose by going to war with each other. In Europe that first resulted in the so-called European Coal and Steel Community, which later through many detours turned itself into the European Union with a total of 27 member states – including Denmark.
One of the pillars of the EU is the common market; a term describing the freedom of movement of goods, people and capital among its member states. Borders are counterproductive to a common market, so in 1985 The Schengen Agreement was formed removing passport control, customs declaration and other obstacles to free trade. Denmark joined the Schengen area in 2001 and removed its barriers from the borders with Sweden and Germany – including the one at Padborg in Southern Jutland.
But there’s a war going on in Denmark right now. A war between political parties, and they are fighting over a very tiny territory commonly known as The Chair of the Prime Minister. The final battle will take place no later than November 12th since that will be exactly four years since the last election for our parliament, Folketinget. Venstre is the principal governing party at the moment, but it is completely dependant of the votes of three other parties and a couple of independent MPs. A single vote can turn the fortunes of war in favour of the opposition.
One of the parties supporting the coalition, The Danish People’s Party, Dansk Folkeparti, is built on the idea that being in favour of something is just too boring. What one really should do in politics is be against lots of things. So they’re against people who are not Evangelical Lutheran by faith. They’re against resocialisation of criminals – especially those criminals who are not Evangelical Lutheran by faith. They are against every lifestyle that’s not a nuclear family. They are against the Danes’ right to marry foreigners, in particular those foreigners who are not Evangelical Lutheran by faith. They are against the EU. But most of all they are against the Schengen Agreement.
So their price for keeping Venstre in the Prime Minister’s chair at the budget negotiations this spring was “a heavy rearmament and a permanent and visible control of the Danish borders” since “there has been a substantial rise in cross-border crime in Denmark, especially property crime committed by foreign gangs, smuggling of drugs, weapons, persons and large amounts of money(…)”
But there’s a problem with that agreement. Well, two problems, actually. First of all, there has NOT been a substantial rise in cross-border crime in Denmark, but every time someone has presented the crime statistics made by the Danish police to Dansk Folkeparti they have answered that they have made their own statistics because they are against official statistics in general.
The second problem is, that if you want to enjoy the benefits of the Schengen Agreement, you CANNOT have heavily armed, permanent and visible control at your borders – it’s a quid pro quo thing.
So what does a Prime Minister do if he wants to keep both his chair and his country inside the Schengen Area? He lets his Tax Minister do the English translation of the agreement with Dansk Folkeparti and … No wait, let me rephrase that: He lets his Tax Minister REWRITE the agreement with Dansk Folkeparti in English making sure that all the things that violate the Schengen Agreement are left out and replaced by a fairy tale about “road equipment (…) constructed with a high focus on the safety on persons and traffic while ensuring flexible and efficient handling of traffic” at the borders and hope no-one will notice the popping of champagne corks at Dansk Folkeparti’s offices in Folketinget.
Unfortunately, someone did notice.
So right now Denmark is paying the price for shutting its doors to its neighbours. We are under intense scrutiny by the other countries in the EU, of which several have suggested that visa applications should now be obligatory for all Danish travellers. The German EU minister of the Hessen Bundesland Jörg-Uwe Hahn has suggested that German tourists should find somewhere else to go on holiday. (That’s actually good advice in general since Danish consumer prices are the highest in the whole of EU).
But a low ebb was reached when Germany’s Deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer wrote an article in the Danish newspaper Berlingske stating that:
“Those who seek re-nationalisation and want to turn back the wheel, those who long to get back to national currencies or even border controls, deny the core results of Europe – freedom and welfare.
(They) play with the fire of nationalism. A phenomenon which we for decades so earnestly have wished to put behind us (…) after the indescribable sufferings that were visited on the European continent in my country’s name.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.