ON November 5, 1942, a new German Minister to Denmark, Dr. Karl Rudolf Werner Best, arrived in Copenhagen to replace von Renthe-Fink, a career diplomat who had represented the Reich in Denmark since pre-Nazi days. The new Minister, a high SS officer and Gestapo official, has been in the Foreign Service for only about six months and during this time is said to have elaborated a "European constitution" in accordance with the ideas he formulated last year in his "Grossraumordnung und Grossverwaltung." His arrival was greeted with the greatest apprehension by the Danes, who with their usual sense of irony muttered that they expected a "best-ial" future.

Everything indicates that these Danish apprehensions are justified and that the autonomy which the Germans have permitted occupied Denmark for more than two and a half years is ending. The Nazis seem to have concluded that the preferential treatment which they have accorded the Danes has not paid. It has not won their sympathy and recently has not prevented sabotage from increasing throughout the country. And with North Africa in Allied hands the German supply situation is now so tense that the Nazis cannot afford to look too far ahead and consider what will happen next year if they proceed to empty their Danish storehouse this winter.

Even before Best arrived with his ominous title of "special plenipotentiary of the Führer," the Germans had presented a list of far-reaching demands to Foreign Minister Erik Scavenius, whom they called to Berlin at the end of October. The most important demand was that a new Danish Government, in which the Germans "could have confidence," be formed not later than November 8. After long consultation with all parties, the Buhl Cabinet decided, on the night of November 7, to yield to German pressure and a Cabinet headed by Scavenius was formed.

Because of his signature of the Anti-Comintern Pact and because of several pro-German utterances Scavenius is one of the most unpopular politicians in Denmark today, and we can take it as certain that he was made Premier only at the explicit demand of the Germans. It is not true, however, that Scavenius is a Danish Quisling, as he is sometimes called by writers who should know better. He is not even a Laval. He has no personal lust for power and he is not himself either a Nazi or a Nazi sympathizer. It simply has always been his axiom that Denmark, geographically exposed and economically dependent on Germany, must never come into conflict with that country, no matter what its régime. When he became Foreign Minister after the invasion of Denmark, it was the opinion of many persons, as well as his own firm conviction, that Germany had already won the war. A cynic and a "realist," Scavenius believed that the only chance Denmark had to save anything out of the wreck of her independence in a German-dominated Europe was to accede to any German wishes, since, as he said, "we don't live in the moon." His self-assurance and disloyal behavior irritated his colleagues, but they were unable to get rid of him because the Germans would not accept any other Danish Foreign Minister except a Nazi.

Scavenius has succeeded on several occasions in dissuading the Germans from forcing Quislings upon the Danish Government, and his new Cabinet must be considered as a last attempt to stave off -- for a time at least -- the complete Nazification of the country. The new Cabinet includes not only a majority of the members of the Buhl Cabinet, but also the president of the Danish trade unions, Lauritz Hansen, and it was nominated by King Christian himself and not by Crown Prince Frederik, who was acting as regent during the King's illness.

The other most important demands of the Germans were that 150,000 Danish workers be sent to Germany; that what remained of the Danish Navy be handed over to the Germans; that "occupation Reichsmarks" be accepted in unlimited quantities as payment from members of the Wehrmacht, so that German soldiers could clean out stores in Denmark as they have done in other occupied countries; that Danish shipyards accept a two-year building program for the German merchant marine; that other Danish industries deliver large quantities of cement and metal; and that Denmark ultimately give in to the long-standing German demand for the institution of anti-Semitic laws on the Nürnberg model. It is quite possible that the Germans even demanded a Danish declaration of war against the Soviet Union; but if such was the case, Scavenius seems to have convinced the Nazis that the proposal could not be carried out by any Danish Government which was not out-and-out pro-Nazi.


To understand the background of this turn in Danish affairs we must review developments since the German attack on Denmark on April 9, 1940. This attack had been expected in Danish political and military circles. The General Staff feared an invasion in the very first days of the war, and, beginning in January 1940, the Danish and Norwegian Governments were informed repeatedly by their legations in Berlin that the Germans were preparing a military expedition. These attacks failed to materialize; but during the first week of April the danger signals increased. The general uneasiness in Denmark mounted steadily. Then came, in rapid succession, the German ultimatum, its acceptance under protest, the end of the brief Danish resistance and the occupation of all of Denmark by the Nazis.

Why did the Danes give up so easily? Why did they not fight, even against hopeless odds, as did the Norwegians, the Dutch, the Belgians and so many others?

In the first place, Denmark has no natural defenses against modern warfare. The landscape is flat and devoid of natural barriers. The only really effectual modern defense is, as this war has shown, a mobile defense in depth, and Denmark is too small for that. Jutland, the largest section, is only some 150 miles long and from 30 to 100 miles broad; panzer divisions and motorized troops could cross it in no time.

In the second place, when Denmark allowed her armed forces to deteriorate after the First World War she was only following a general world-wide trend. Humanity, aghast at the results of militarism, took refuge in wishful thinking about permanent peace and the ability of the League of Nations to maintain it. The world woke late to a realization of the new danger and was slow to do anything about it. Even the Great Powers were reluctant to turn to arms again; it took a desperate situation to make up the minds of most of the democracies.

Denmark, as all small countries, received the concept of "collective security" with enthusiasm, and great was her disillusionment when the futility of the Geneva arrangements became apparent. One by one the weaker nations, China, Ethiopia, Albania, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, learned that whatever collective security meant, it did not mean security for them. The world began to rearm, and even Denmark began to discuss defense problems again. But the viewpoint prevailed that the arms which a small, exposed country could obtain would hardly augment its security, and the development of the world situation strengthened this view. What was the good of rearmament, it was asked, when the most heavily armed of Europe's smaller countries, Czechoslovakia, had been forced, by its friends, to capitulate without striking a blow? Furthermore, private investigations in Britain furnished evidence that no help could be expected in an emergency from Denmark's best friend among the Great Powers. The utmost Danish military leaders could promise the Government was that even if the country rearmed they could hold out for a few days, perhaps a week or so, until help could arrive from abroad -- help which, they had to add, probably would not come at all, or at least not in time.

So Denmark decided against rearmament. In 1864 she had shown the world that her population did not lack soldierly qualities when she defended herself heroically, if hopelessly, against two Great Powers, Prussia and Austria. But by 1940 the technique of modern aggressive warfare had outrun her defensive possibilities. Although more populous and richer, she was actually in a position similar to that of her sister nation, Iceland, which made not even a pretense that she would defend herself, but proclaimed in 1918 her permanent undefended neutrality in all future wars. It was Denmark's bad luck that geography had placed her next to Germany, and not, like her happier sister, near Britain.

But if Denmark was not in a position to defend herself, why did the Government not leave the country and direct resistance from abroad, as the Luxembourg Government did a few months later? Many Danes wish today that the Government had done so. There are several reasons why it did not.

In the first place, the idea apparently did not occur to anybody. Denmark was the first neutral country to be overrun in this war; and it was a novel idea that a government which was not able to wage war should go abroad to carry on some other form of resistance from foreign soil. Besides, the suggestion would hardly have appealed to the Danes. It would have been looked upon, even by the Cabinet members, not as a patriotic effort, but as primarily an unheroic flight from the Gestapo, who had been jailing and torturing Austrian and Czechoslovak cabinet ministers.

Moreover, the Danish Government, unlike the Dutch and the Luxembourgers some weeks later, really had nowhere to go. It was known that southern Norway was being attacked simultaneously by the Germans, and it was thought that Sweden might be in the same position in a few hours. In any case, a still neutral Sweden would hardly dare to allow a Danish refugee government to function from Swedish territory. And there was no time to try to get away to Britain. The Germans had started to bomb Danish airfields even before the ultimatum expired. Less than half the Cabinet had been able to assemble before the invasion began; the Minister of the Interior had been arrested in the street by German soldiers before he even knew the country had been attacked.


The people of Copenhagen learned of the invasion at 6:00 A.M. on April 9, half an hour after the acceptance of the ultimatum. Leaflets, printed in advance and signed "Kaupisch, commander of the German troops in Denmark," were dropped from bombers. Kaupisch had arrived the day before as a "tourist" and after the appearance of the first troops he transformed his hotel into German Headquarters.

The pretext for the occupation was the usual one. The Germans had come to protect the country against the British and to guarantee peace in Scandinavia. In addition to the usual invitation not to resist but to go peacefully about one's daily business, this document contained a statement of the greatest political and diplomatic importance. It was a promise that the Danish "Army and Navy shall be maintained, the Danish people's freedom respected and the country's future independence fully guaranteed."

Whatever the German Government's ultimate aim may have been, there seems no reason to believe that the signer of this proclamation did not mean to keep his promise. The main interest of the German Army was to get things done smoothly, and it knew that the least troublesome way to run an occupied country is to run it through native leaders. Even in Norway, where the whole country first had to be conquered, the Germans tried this method for some six months and gave it up only on direct orders from Hitler and against the wishes of his military advisers. It was the German Army which ran the show in Denmark, and it was some time before Himmler was even allowed to open an office in the Dagmarhus Building in Copenhagen. When enemy aliens and German refugees were rounded up, it was done by Danish police and not by the SS.

To the surprise of the Danes, several months passed before the Germans began any serious interference with internal Danish affairs. Whether the purpose was to impress the Swedes and other neutrals with the wisdom of not trying to oppose the Germans, or whether there were other reasons, the Danes have so far been spared open Gestapo terror, and living conditions in Denmark have remained better than in any other occupied country -- until recently, in fact, better even than in many places in Germany. The Danes were accorded a preferential treatment which made them feel, as they themselves described it, like "the canary bird of a murderer."


But if the Germans hoped to win the sympathy of the Danes they failed utterly. Germans have never been popular in the country. Their arrogance has always been antipathetic to the Danes, and Prussian oppression of the Danish population of North Slesvig aroused intense hatred. After Denmark's reannexation of this region in 1920, however, this hostility began to die down, and in the time of the German Republic the relationship between Germans and Danes became quite friendly, although never warm as in the case of Danish sentiments toward the British.

When Germany invaded Denmark less than a year after having pledged herself, in a pact of non-aggression signed upon her own initiative, never again to use force against Denmark, the old hatred reappeared, more intense than before. This feeling of hatred, mixed with disdain, has been growing ever since, nourished by the increasing German encroachments on Danish ideals and interests and by the people's impotent wrath and shame at having been unable to defend themselves.

During the first days of the occupation the Danes even turned against members of their own armed forces; in many localities these were spat upon by furious and uncomprehending civilians. Letters from Danish soldiers, published later, show that the general feeling in the armed forces was utter despair at having had to submit to disarmament at the hands of the Germans. Parts of the Army and Navy defied orders and found their way to Sweden with flags flying and bands playing, in the vain hope of getting a chance to fight the invader side by side with their Swedish brothers.

In general, however, the population have obeyed a personal appeal from the King "to show an absolutely correct and dignified demeanor," and have refrained from letting their feelings lead them to individual actions against the Wehrmacht and its members. On the other hand, they have rebuffed all German attempts to fraternize with them. German officers are never invited to Danish homes; when Germans enter Danish cafés, Danish customers leave; and the few Danish girls who make friends with the foe are exposed to drastic retaliation by their fellow-countrymen. On the street, Danes seem not to notice Germans; they ignore the public concerts given by the Wehrmacht, but applaud demonstratively the band of the Danish Guards. They often wore Union Jack badges until it was prohibited, and answered in English when spoken to in German. It is a favorite sport to invent new methods of irritating the "grasshoppers," as the green-clad Germans are called, and to make them feel uncomfortable. Judging by German complaints, this Danish war of nerves seems to have been effective. All German attempts to win the Danes over by the "cultural approach" have failed. "German music and literature are excellent," the Danes answer, "but we can wait to study them till you have left the country." In the editorial office of the biggest Danish daily, Politiken, the Germans are confronted with a huge portrait of Churchill. It is hard for them to do anything about it, because it is a front page from a Berlin illustrated weekly, with a German caption reading: "Churchill's hopeless expression on learning of the fall of France." A joke among the staff of the paper is to say that they are "hopeless like Churchill."


During the first months of the occupation the Germans restricted their interference to the sort of things that might be expected of any occupying Power. Censorship was established, but handled by Danish authorities under German guidance. Movement into and out of the country was also controlled. Anti-German writers were prevented from publishing their work but were not molested personally. The press was, of course, cut off from Allied sources of information, but it was allowed to print quotations from the London dispatches of Swedish papers. Several papers were able to continue printing stories from their own London correspondents by using Stockholm datelines and giving as sources Swedish papers for which the same men were also correspondents.

More menacing clouds began to appear in the Danish sky during the summer of 1940, when the Germans suggested a customs and currency union and what amounted to common citizenship. The Reich did not force the issue, however, when the proposal was rejected. A little later, the Germans started meddling with Danish internal politics. First, their restrictions on the Danish press became more severe. Danish papers were told, in more and more detail, not only what to suppress, but what to print and how. The editors were forbidden to relay British news via Stockholm and had to conform even their news of Danish events to German wishes. On October 3, 1940, the Trade Minister, Christmas Møller, a Conservative whose courageous and determined stand had long irritated the Germans, resigned in anticipation of new German pressure. A few days later his premonitions were shown to have been justified when the Germans demanded that he resign from the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. This was the first open encroachment on Denmark's political organization.

About Christmas, 1940, the Germans extended their interference to the structure of the Danish Cabinet, asking for the retirement of Premier Stauning and five other members of the Government and giving the Danes the choice of a number of candidates for each post. They did not persist, however, when the King and the parties resisted their demands. They did succeed in ousting Christmas Møller from the Lower House and in forcing him and two prominent Socialists, Hartvig Frisch and H. C. Hansen, to lay down their party offices. The German threat in these and similar cases was either to introduce a Gestapo régime or cut off German coal supplies, on which fuelless Denmark is entirely dependent.

Remarkably enough, among all the candidates of the Germans for the different ministerial posts there was not a single full-fledged Danish Nazi. Their original plan must have included the forcing of the Danish Quisling, Frits Clausen, into the Cabinet. But the Danish Nazi Party was, if possible, even more insignificant than the Norwegian one, and the German experience in Norway probably did not encourage repetition. The Germans staged a test, however, by letting their puppets call for "mass demonstrations" in Copenhagen and Haderslev, North Slesvig, on November 17 and December 6, respectively. In spite of extensive police precautions, the Quislings were soundly beaten up by the infuriated public. This seemed to convince the Germans that Denmark was not yet ripe for the full blessings of Nazism. Some months later the parliamentary elections were banned so that the weakness of the Nazi Party might not be revealed.

While the negotiations over the reconstruction of the Danish Government were proceeding, the German Minister suddenly came forward with a demand for ten of the modern torpedo boats which constituted a substantial part of the tiny Danish fleet. This was refused, and a reference was made to the German promise of April 9, 1940, that the Danish Army and Navy were to be maintained. The German Minister replied that he had been completely misunderstood; Germany wished to hire the boats, he said, and not for war operations, but only for the training of crews and for patrol purposes in the Baltic. The Danes answered that their Navy was not for hire. Then the Nazis started to threaten: if the boats were not handed over, they would be taken by force and the delivery of German coal would be stopped. Under this threat the boats were finally transferred and not scuttled, as their crews would have preferred. In order to make them as useless as possible, the ships were first disarmed and dismantled, and by a coincidence the shop where their equipment was stored burned to the ground in one of the numerous fires which have become frequent in occupied Denmark.

From this time on, the Germans have continued to interfere with Danish internal affairs, even though so far they have not attempted to change the country's fundamental political structure. They have required the adoption of laws which are contrary to Danish tradition in view of the incidents arising between the populace and the army of occupation. The police force has been increased and trained according to German methods and a Police Minister acceptable to the Germans has been installed. The Communists have been rounded up, some of their leaders condemned to Draconian prison terms and some confined in a concentration camp -- operated, however, by Danish authority. Well-known authors have been imprisoned for writings deemed to "endanger Denmark's relations to a foreign Power." The Danish Government had to dismiss Henrik Kauffmann, its Minister in Washington, and accuse him of high treason when he put Greenland under United States protection, and it has had to repeat this procedure with a number of other Danish diplomats in the United Nations. After the German attack on Russia, Denmark had to break off diplomatic relations with that country and was even forced, some months later, to join the Anti-Comintern Pact.

The Danish Government has managed to avoid participation in the war, but has had to endorse the recruitment of a volunteer "Free Corps Denmark" to fight whomever the Germans consider enemies of European civilization. The fate of this Free Corps illustrates the weakness of the German hold on the Danish mind. Apart from some few hundred Nazi riffraff, no volunteers could be found, and the ranks of the Free Corps and of a similar organization, the "Regiment Nordland," had to be filled with recruits from among the German minority in North Slesvig. Later on, when the Free Corps visited Denmark on a mass furlough, the population showed open enmity and a number of encounters resulted, with casualties on both sides; great relief was felt when the "traitors" were sent back to the battlefield.

The signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact on November 25, 1941, gave rise to further demonstrations, and the anger of the masses with "the traitor Scavenius" became so great that on his return from Berlin the Government took the precaution of having the Foreign Minister alight from his train at a way station. The demonstrators did not know what had taken place after the German Minister on November 21, 1941, informed the Government that Germany wanted Denmark to sign the Pact. The Government rejected the proposal by all but two votes. Under increasing German pressure, more of the Ministers gave in, and the King gave his consent provided that Parliament would back the decision. So far everything was clear. Then suddenly a German ultimatum was delivered: the Pact had to be signed the following Tuesday, and the decision of the Danish Government had to be unanimous. Otherwise Germany would consider herself freed from the promises she had given on April 9, 1940.


Economically, the German occupation was bound to mean disaster for Denmark. The country's wealth was derived from its foreign trade, forage and manure being imported from overseas, and bacon and butter being exported to Britain (50 percent of the total Danish exports went to that country). All this trade was cut off.

Germany could to a large extent replace Britain as a customer, but she could not furnish the products Denmark needed to maintain her agricultural production. The mass slaughter of cattle followed in due course, and today only a fraction is left of the former herds. By the spring of 1942 the production of pork had been reduced to one-fourth of prewar days, of eggs to one-third and of poultry to one-seventh. The number of cows is estimated to have been reduced only by 13 percent, but because of the undernourishment of the cattle the production of milk has declined considerably more. In spite of the fact that Danish production is shrinking, Germany's share in it has been steadily increasing. Thus the Germans are reported to have asked for 1,300,000 head of live pigs in 1941-42, or the equivalent in slaughtered bodies, which amounted to practically the total current pork production.

The effect of all this on the economic life of the nation would not be so disastrous if the Germans paid for what they received. But payment is postponed till "after the victory." Except for the dwindling deliveries of coal for those industries which work for the Germans, the Danes get little from the Reich but promises. The German indebtedness forced on Denmark now exceeds two and one-half billion kroner, equivalent to nearly one-fourth of the national wealth. Inflation is thereby forced upon Denmark, for while the account of the Danish National Bank with the Reichsbank in Berlin is constantly increasing, the National Bank has to pay cash to Danish exporters and farmers; and the Germans have been extremely broadminded about the prices they grant, confident that whoever pay them it will not be they. This systematic robbery has many advantages for the Germans in addition to those of an economic nature. It enables them to sap Danish powers of resistance; to destroy the highly developed consumer goods industries in Denmark, which are potential competitors with the industries of postwar Germany; and to increase the number of unemployed, who can then be lured or forced to work in Germany.

According to the Danish trade unions, 42,000 Danes were working in Germany in May 1942, to which number must be added some 6,000 who were lured to Norway under the pretext of working on reconstruction jobs, but actually to build military works. Altogether, some 78,000 Danish workers have been employed in Germany at different times. This means that an astonishing number have managed to get home again in spite of all the Germans could do and in spite of the fact that homecomers as well as unemployed who decline to go to Germany receive no unemployment relief. Such workers have to depend on relatives and friends, whose standard of living is rapidly deteriorating because of the discrepancy between soaring prices and almost stationary wages.

This tendency reflects pretty well the feelings of the Danes toward Germany, but these are still better mirrored in the wave of sabotage which is sweeping the country and which, time and again, has caused the Danish authorities to advise caution.

No wonder that sabotage now sometimes takes spectacular forms, including attempts on trains, and mysterious fires which break out wherever stocks have just been sold to Germany. A big fire last Christmas, for example, destroyed 20,000 Danish-made blankets destined for the Nazi soldiers in Russia. Less perceptible methods of sabotage, such as the slow-down and careless or "erroneous" handling of machinery, are still more effective, because they continue steadily and on a nation-wide scale. In this class was the spontaneous disappearance of all copper coins a few weeks after the occupation. Word was passed around that the Germans intended to confiscate the coins in order to melt down the precious metal for munitions; immediately the hoarding of coppers started in order to prevent the Germans from getting them. When the Government started replacing the coppers with aluminum, the new coins disappeared, because aluminum is important for airplane production. In the end the authorities had to switch to zinc coins, popularly nicknamed "bathtub money."


The irreconcilable attitude of the Danish population, as mirrored in the daily complaints of the Danish Nazi press, has made the position of the Danish Government extremely difficult. In spite of all provocations, it has remained docile in order to postpone for as long as possible the ultimate catastrophe of a Gauleiter and Gestapo régime like that in Norway and other occupied countries. To this end it has time and again had to make decisions which were bound to be extremely unpopular. But there are some demands which no nation could accept without committing suicide. It seems that the Danish Government has rejected many such German demands and left it to the Germans to decide whether or not they would smash their much-advertised "model protectorate." Thus the Germans have failed to induce the Danish Government either to declare war on Russia or to execute anti-Semitic legislation.

In successive crises the Government has had the full and determined support of King Christian. During the whole of his 30-year reign Christian X has never faltered in his loyalty to the constitutional and parliamentary régime; similarly, he has never dreamed of touching the constitution under the pressure of the invader. On several occasions he has rejected suggestions that he do so, whether they came from the Germans themselves or from certain Danes who accepted the New Order in Europe. When the German Government tried to influence him by appointing a nephew of the Queen, the Hereditary Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, as counsellor of the German legation, the King told the Prince that he was welcome to the Royal Castle as a member of the family but not to talk politics.

The King has never concealed his personal opinions. He has visited English prisoners interned in Denmark; he granted audiences to the historian la Cour and his publisher when they were condemned to prison terms because la Cour's writings had "endangered Denmark's relation to a foreign Power"; he sent flowers to a Danish policeman who was badly beaten up in a fight with Danish Nazis and German soldiers; and he decorated the police chief of Haderslev for suppressing Nazi riots. Several times he has taken steps to make sure that German encroachments do not pass unnoticed. When the Germans forbade the Danish press and radio to mention their acquisition of the Danish torpedo boats, he ordered flags hoisted at half-mast and insisted on shaking hands with every single one of the 800 crew members. At least once, after the Germans suggested the adoption of anti-Jewish laws, he attended service in a synagogue in Copenhagen. He is reported to have explained to German officials that there was no Jewish question in Denmark because the Danes "never had had any minority feelings toward the Jews." Since Hitler started flying his personal flag from his Berlin palace every day and every night, regardless of whether or not he is present, the Royal Danish standard flies permanently at Amalienborg Castle in Copenhagen, in contradiction to Danish tradition, a discreet but explicit hint that His Majesty considers himself head of a still sovereign state and as such on equal standing with the head of the German Reich.

Under these circumstances King Christian, who is elder brother of King Haakon of Norway, has acquired more popularity with his people than almost any other King in the thousand years of Danish history. This popularity gives him both an extremely strong position with relation to the Germans and a personal influence unparalleled for a constitutional monarch. He has shown great skill in making the best use of both. But just because his person is generally considered the country's strongest defense against the invader, his health and security are the preoccupation of his people, who feel that she will hardly allow them to retain their preferential status indefinitely, and that she would not hesitate to take advantage of the situation if her troops were still present when Denmark's strongest cornerstone dropped away.

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  • GUNNAR LEISTIKOW, before the war Foreign Editor and editorial writer of Social-Demokraten, Copenhagen; now in the United States
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