Danish resistance movement

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'Denmark Fights for Freedom', a 1944 U.S. propaganda film about the Danish resistance movement

The Danish resistance movements (Danish : Den danske modstandsbevægelse) were an underground insurgency to resist the German occupation of Denmark during World War II. Due to the initially lenient arrangements, in which the Nazi occupation authority allowed the democratic government to stay in power, the resistance movement was slower to develop effective tactics on a wide scale than in some other countries.


Members of the Danish resistance movement were involved in underground activities, ranging from producing illegal publications to spying and sabotage. Major groups included the communist BOPA (Danish : Borgerlige Partisaner, Civil Partisans) and Holger Danske, both based in Copenhagen. Some small resistance groups such as the Samsing Group and the Churchill Club also contributed to the sabotage effort. Resistance agents killed an estimated 400 Danish Nazis, informers and collaborators until 1944. After that date, they also killed some German nationals.

In the postwar period, the Resistance was supported by politicians within Denmark and there was little effort to closely examine the killings. Studies were made in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and people learned that there was sometimes improvised and contingent decision making about the targets, with some morally ambiguous choices. Several important books and films have been produced on this topic.

Nonviolent resistance: 1940-1943

The "model protectorate"

During the invasion of Denmark on April 9, 1940 and subsequent occupation, the Danish king and government chose not to flee the country and instead collaborated with the German authorities who allowed the Danish government to remain in power. The Germans had reasons to do so, especially as they wanted to showcase Denmark as a "model protectorate", earning the nickname the Cream Front (German : Sahnefront), due to the relative ease of the occupation and copious amount of dairy products. [1] As the democratically elected Danish government remained in power, Danish citizens had less motivation to fight the occupation than in countries where the Germans established puppet governments, such as Norway or France. The police also remained under Danish authority and led by Danes.

Daily life in Denmark remained much the same as before the occupation. The Germans did make certain changes: imposing official censorship, prohibiting dealings with the Allies, and stationing German troops in the country. The Danish government actively discouraged violent resistance because it feared a severe backlash from the Germans against the civilian population.

Resistance groups

Immediately after the occupation began, isolated attempts were made to set up resistance and intelligence activities. Intelligence officers from the Danish army, known as the "Princes," began channeling reports to London allies as early as April 13, 1940. Soon afterwards, Ebbe Munck, a journalist from Berlingske Tidende, arranged to be transferred to Stockholm. From there he could more easily report to and communicate with the British. [2]

Following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 the Germans banned the Danish Communist Party and had the Danish police arrest its members. [3] Those members who either avoided arrest or later escaped thus went underground and created resistance cells. From October 1942, they published a clandestine newspaper, Land og Folk ("Land and People"), based on the previous Communist Party newspaper, Arbejderbladet, which was distributed widely across the country. Circulation grew to 120,000 copies per day by the end of the occupation. [4] At the beginning of 1943, the cells were centrally coordinated under BOPA (Borgerlige Partisaner - Civil Partisans), which also began to plan acts of sabotage.

As time went on, many other insurgent groups formed to oppose the occupation. These included the Hvidsten group, which received weapons parachuted by the British, and Holger Danske, which was successful in organizing sabotage activities and the assassinations of collaborators. The Churchill club, one of the first resistance groups in Denmark, was a group of eight schoolboys from Aalborg. They performed some 25 acts of sabotage against the Germans, destroying Nazi German assets with makeshift grenades and stealing Nazi German weapons.

When the Germans forced the Danish government to sign the anti-Comintern pact, a large protest broke out in Copenhagen.[ citation needed ]

The number of Danish Nazis was low before the war, and this trend continued throughout the occupation. This was confirmed in the 1943 parliamentary elections, in which the population voted overwhelmingly for the four traditional parties, or abstained. The latter option was widely interpreted as votes for the Danish Communist Party. The election was a disappointment for the National Socialist Workers' Party of Denmark (DNSAP) and German Reichsbevollmächtigter . Dr. Werner Best abandoned plans to create a government under Danish Nazi leader Frits Clausen, due to Clausen's lack of public support.

In 1942-43, resistance operations gradually shifted to more violent action, most notably acts of sabotage. Various groups succeeded in making contacts with the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) which began making airdrops of agents and supplies. There were not many drops until August 1944, but they increased through the end of the occupation.

Military intelligence operations

On 23 April 1940, [5] members of Danish military intelligence established contacts with their British counterparts through the British diplomatic mission in Stockholm. The first intelligence dispatch was sent by messenger to the Stockholm mission in the autumn of 1940. This evolved into regular dispatches of military and political intelligence, and by 1942-43, the number of dispatches had increased to at least one per week. [5] In addition, an employee of Danmarks Radio was able to transmit short messages to Britain through the national broadcasting network.

The intelligence was gathered mostly by officers in the Danish army and navy; they reported information about political developments, the location and size of German military units, and details about the Danish section of the Atlantic Wall fortifications. In 1942, the Germans demanded the removal of the Danish military from Jutland, but intelligence operations continued. It was carried out by plainclothes personnel or by reserve officers, since this group was not included in the evacuation order. [5] Following the liberation of Denmark, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery described the intelligence gathered in Denmark as "second to none". [6]

Violent resistance: 1943-45

M1917 Enfield used by a resistance group in Haslev. M1917 Enfield 1201287.jpg
M1917 Enfield used by a resistance group in Haslev.

As the years went by, the number of acts of sabotage and violence grew. In 1943, the number grew dramatically, to the point that the German authorities became dissatisfied with the Danish authorities' handling of the situation. At the end of August, the Germans took over full administration in Denmark, which allowed them to deal with the population as they wished. Policing became easier for the Nazis, but more and more people became involved with the movement because they were no longer worried about protecting the Danish government.

In particular, the Danish Freedom Council was set up in September 1943, bringing together the various resistance groups in order to improve their efficiency and resolve. An underground government was established. Allied governments, who had been skeptical about Denmark's commitment to fight Germany, began recognising it as a full ally. [7]

Due to concerns about prisoners and information held in Gestapo headquarters at the Shellhus in the centre of Copenhagen, the resistance repeatedly requested a tactical RAF raid on the headquarters to destroy records and release prisoners. Britain initially turned down the request due to the risk of civilian casualties, but eventually launched Operation Carthage, a very low-level raid by 20 de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bombers, escorted by 30 P-51 Mustang fighters. The raid succeeded in destroying the headquarters, releasing 18 prisoners of the Gestapo, and disrupting anti-resistance operations throughout Denmark. However, 125 civilians lost their lives due to the errant bombing of a nearby boarding school. [8]


Railway shop workers in Frederiksvaerk built this armored car for offensive use by the Danish resistance. It was employed against Danish Nazis, known as the Lorenzen group, entrenched in the plantation of Asserbo in North Zealand, May 5, 1945. DanishResistanceAC2795.jpg
Railway shop workers in Frederiksværk built this armored car for offensive use by the Danish resistance. It was employed against Danish Nazis, known as the Lorenzen group, entrenched in the plantation of Asserbo in North Zealand, May 5, 1945.
An American pilot in occupied Copenhagen photographed by the Danish resistance while a German pilot looks on. March, 1945. J. D. McFarlane.jpg
An American pilot in occupied Copenhagen photographed by the Danish resistance while a German pilot looks on. March, 1945.

In 1943, the movement scored a great success in rescuing all but 500 of Denmark's Jewish population of 7,000-8,000 from being sent to the Nazi concentration camps by helping transport them to neutral Sweden, where they were offered asylum. [9] [10] The Danish resistance movement has been honoured as a collective at Yad Vashem in Israel as being part of the "Righteous Among the Nations". [11] [12] They were honoured as a collective rather than as individuals at their own request. [13]

Another success was the disruption of the Danish railway network in the days after D-Day, which delayed the movement of German troops to France as reinforcements.

By the end of the war, the organized resistance movement in Denmark had scored many successes. It is believed to have killed nearly 400 persons (the top official number is 385) from 1943 through 1945, who were Danish Nazis, informers or collaborators thought to pose a threat to the Resistance, or Danes working for the Gestapo. [14] The rationale behind the executions was discussed, and several accounts by participants said a committee identified targets, but no historic evidence of this system has been found. [14] In the postwar period, while the killings were criticized, they were also defended by such politicians as Frode Jakobsen and Per Federspiel.

Danish SS soldiers disarmed by resistance fighters in Copenhagen, 1945 Kobenhavn, 1945.jpg
Danish SS soldiers disarmed by resistance fighters in Copenhagen, 1945

The movement lost slightly more than 850 members, in action, in prison, in Nazi concentration camps, or (in the case of 102 resistance members [15] ) executed following a court-martial.

The Danish National Museum maintains the Museum of Danish Resistance in Copenhagen.

Since the late 20th century, there has been more discussion about the morality of some of the killings carried out by the resistance, sparked by a TV series about the death of Jane Horney, a Danish citizen killed at sea in what Frode Jakobsen defended as an act of war. [16]

With the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, the issue was re-examined in two new studies: Stefan Emkjar's Stikkerdrab and Peter Ovig Knudsen's Etter drabet, "the first profound approaches into the topic." [17] Both authors used veterans of the resistance movement, and covered the sometimes contingent, improvised nature of some of the actions. It suggested that some of the noted Bent Faurschou-Hviid (Flammen)'s executions may have been mistakenly directed by a double agent. [18] Knudsen's work was adapted as a 2-hour documentary film, With the Right to Kill (2003), which was shown on TV and later released in theaters. [19] These works have contributed to a national discussion on the topic. Flame and Citron (Flammen og Citronen, 2008) is a fictionalized drama film based on historic accounts of the two prominent Danish resistance fighters, directed by Ole Christian Madsen. It portrays some of the moral ambiguity of their actions.

Prominent members

Strategic result

The extent to which the Danish resistance played an important strategic role in the war has been the subject of much discussion. Immediately after the war and until about 1970, the vast majority of accounts overrated the degree to which the resistance had been effective in battling against the Germans by acts of sabotage and by providing key intelligence to the Allies. More recently, however, after re-examining the archives, historians concur that, while the resistance provided a firm basis for moral support and paved the way for post-war governments, the strategic effect during the occupation was limited. The Germans did not need to send reinforcements to suppress the movement, and garrisoned the country with a comparatively small number of Wehrmacht troops. The resistance did not enter into active combat. Even the overall importance of Danish intelligence in the context of Ultra is questionable. [22]

In his history, No Small Achievement: Special Operations Executive and the Danish Resistance 1940-1945 (2002), Knud Jespersen examined the relationship between British Intelligence and the Danish Resistance. He quoted a report from SHAEF stating that the resistance in Denmark

"caused strain and embarrassment to the enemy...[and a] striking reduction in the flow of troops and stores from Norway [that] undoubtedly had an adverse effect on the reinforcements for the battles East and West of the Rhine." [23]

Examining the British archives, Jespersen also found a report concluding "that the overall effect of Danish resistance was to restore national pride and political unity." [23] He agreed that this was the movement's most important contribution to the nation. [23]

Representation in other media

Sabotorspillet, "The Saboteur Game", published in 1945 - showcasing the saboteur as a hero Sabotorspillet 1203321.jpg
Sabotørspillet, "The Saboteur Game", published in 1945 - showcasing the saboteur as a hero




Related Research Articles

Denmark in World War II German military occupation of Denmark during World War II

At the outset of World War II, Denmark declared itself neutral. For most of the war, the country was a protectorate, then an occupied territory of Germany. The decision to occupy Denmark was taken in Berlin on 17 December 1939. On 9 April 1940, Germany occupied Denmark in Operation Weserübung and the king and government functioned as normal in a de facto protectorate over the country until 29 August 1943, when Germany placed Denmark under direct military occupation, which lasted until the Allied victory on 5 May 1945. Contrary to the situation in other countries under German occupation, most Danish institutions continued to function relatively normally until 1945. Both the Danish government and king remained in the country in an uneasy relationship between a democratic and a totalitarian system until the Danish government stepped down in a protest against the German demands to institute the death penalty for sabotage.

Rescue of the Danish Jews

The rescue of the Danish Jews occurred during Nazi Germany's occupation of Denmark during World War II. On October 1, 1943, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered Danish Jews to be arrested and deported. The Danish resistance movement, with the assistance of many Danish citizens, managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark's 7,800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden.

Holger Danske (resistance group) Danish resistance group during World War II

Holger Danske was a Danish resistance group during World War II. It was created by veteran volunteers from the Winter War who had fought on the Finnish side against the Soviet Union. It was among the largest Danish resistance groups and consisted of around 350 volunteers towards the end of the war. The group carried out about 100 sabotage operations and was responsible for around 200 executions of informers who had revealed the identity and/or the whereabouts of members of the resistance. The group was named after the legendary Danish hero Holger Danske.

Georg Quistgaard Danish resistance member

Georg Quistgaard was one of 102 members of the Danish resistance to the German occupation of Denmark in World War II who were executed following a court-martial.

Hvidsten Group Danish resistance group during World War II

The Hvidsten Group was a Danish resistance group during World War II named after the Hvidsten Inn between Randers and Mariager in Jutland where it was formed.

Danish Freedom Council Danish resistance council during second world war

The Danish Freedom Council was a clandestine body set up in September 1943 in response to growing political turmoil surrounding the occupation of Denmark by German forces during the Second World War.

Major Flemming Bruun Muus, DSO was a Danish author and resistance fighter during the German occupation of Denmark in the Second World War.

<i>Flame & Citron</i> 2009 film by Ole Christian Madsen

Flame & Citron is a 2009 historical drama film co-written and directed by Danish director Ole Christian Madsen. The film, a fictionalized account based on historical events, stars Thure Lindhardt and Mads Mikkelsen as two Danish resistance movement fighters nicknamed Flammen and Citronen, during the Nazi occupation of Denmark in World War II. Attracted by the story of the pair since he was twelve, Madsen spent eight years along with co-writer Lars K. Andersen researching historical archives to produce it.

Bent Faurschou Hviid Member of the Danish resistance group Holger Danske during World War II

Bent Faurschou Hviid was a member of the Danish resistance group Holger Danske during World War II. He was quickly named "Flammen", for his red hair. In 1951, he and his Resistance partner Jørgen Haagen Schmith, were posthumously awarded the United States Medal of Freedom by President Harry Truman.

Jane Horney World War II spy

"Jane" Ebba Charlotta Horney, was a Swedish woman, believed to have spied in Denmark for the benefit of Nazi Germany, and to have been killed by the Danish resistance movement on a fishing boat at Øresund, but it has never been confirmed for which nation she actually worked. The Gestapo in Denmark believed that she was an agent for the British or Soviet Union, and after World War II it was denied that she had been a Gestapo agent. Abwehr officers likewise denied, when asked by Säpo, that she had been their agent.

Jørgen Haagen Schmith Danish resistance member

Jørgen Haagen Schmith, better known under the codename Citronen, was a renowned fighter in the Danish resistance movement during the German Occupation of Denmark of 1940-45. In 1951 he and his partner Bent Faurschou Hviid were posthumously awarded the United States Medal of Freedom by President Harry Truman.

Hans Lunding Danish colonel

Hans Mathiesen Lunding (1899-1984) was a Danish officer, eventing rider, resistance fighter and director of military intelligence in Denmark.

Gunnar Dyrberg was a member of the Danish resistance movement during World War II, leading the Holger Danske, a Danish resistance group in the capital Copenhagen, from 1943 to 1945. After the war, Dyrberg became a public administrator, holding several appointed positions in government, and later a public relations executive in banking. For more than 40 years, he also owned and operated a horse farm, breeding and training Icelandic horses in Høsterkøb, North Zealand.

Monica Wichfeld Danish resistance fighter

Monica Emily Wichfeld was a leading member of the Danish resistance during the German occupation of Denmark in the Second World War.

Harald Sandbæk was a Danish theologian, author and resistance fighter. He culminated his career as provost of Holmen, Copenhagen, from 1962 to 1973. During the German occupation of Denmark in the Second World War, he was a member of the Danish resistance in Aarhus before joining Den Danske Brigade in Sweden.

5 Kolonne

5. Kolonne was an organization using violence and sabotage to oppose the occupation of Denmark by German forces during the Second World War. The organization was formed and based in Aarhus and with some 100 members it was one of the larger resistance groups in that area in the later years of the war. The group was created in response to the destruction of the resistance groups in Jutland by the Gestapo between late 1943 and the summer of 1944. The group functioned from June 1944 to the end of the occupation in May 1945.

Kjeld Toft-Christensen MC was a Special Operations Executive officer and Danish resistance fighter during the Second World War. Toft-Christensen was born in Copenhagen to Aage and Elna Elise Toft-Christensen but later emigrated and joined the French Foreign Legion. During the Second World War he served with the Free French in North Africa before he left for England where he joined the British Army. He was trained as a parachutist and in sabotage tactics in the Buffs and obtained the rank of Lieutenant. On 4 April 1944 he was dropped into Skive in Denmark to assist the local resistance under the codename "Dahl". Kjeld Toft-Christensen joined the resistance in Aarhus as a liaison and intelligence officer. He became a part of the newly formed L-groups, focused on assassinations, and worked primarily in and around Aarhus.

Povl Falk-Jensen, better known under the codename Eigil, was a fighter in the Danish resistance movement during the German occupation of Denmark of 1940–45. Falk-Jensen was a member of the resistance group Holger Danske and the leader of the sub-group Eigil. Falk-Jensen was responsible for eleven executions of informers or collaborators and wrote his memoir entitled Holger Danske - Afdeling Eigils sabotager og stikkerlikvideringer under Besættelsen.

Edith Bonnesen Danish resistance member in World War II

Edith Bonnesen née Andersen (1911–1992) was a Danish civil servant who, under the German occupation of Denmark in World War II, became a member of the Danish resistance. She contributed to the illegal newspaper De frie Danske, worked for the Danish-Swedish Refugee Service and joined the British Special Operations Executive (SOE). Arrested but released on several occasions, she made a dramatic escape from Copenhagen's Gestapo headquarters in August 1944.

Varinka Wichfeld Muus Danish resistance fighter

Varinka Corinna Wichfeld Muus (1922–2002), whose mother was the Anglo-Irish aristocrat Monica Wichfeld, was a Danish resistance fighter under the German occupation of Denmark in World War II. In 1943, she became the secretary of her husband-to-be Flemming Muus who acted as chief agent in Denmark for the British Special Operations Executive. When Muus was forced to move to Sweden, Wichfeld was charged with telegraphing messages to London as only she knew the secret codes. Together with Muus, she moved to London in 1944 where they remained until the end of the war.


  1. Poulsen, Henning (1 January 1991). "Die Deutschen Besatzungspolitik in Dänemark". In Bohn, Robert; Elvert, Jürgen; Rebas, Hain; Salewski, Michael (eds.). Neutralität und Totalitäre Aggression (in German). Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 379. ISBN   978-3-515-05887-2 . Retrieved 20 April 2016.
  2. Per Eilstrup, Lars Lindeberg: De så de ske under Besættelsen. Forlaget Union, Copenhagen, 1969.
  3. Nielsen, Martin (1947). Rapport fra Stutthof[Report from Stutthof] (in Danish). Gyldendal. 170 pages.
  4. Resistance in Western Europe, edited by Bob Moore, p. 105.
  5. 1 2 3 H.M. Lunding (1970), Stemplet fortroligt, 3rd edition, Gyldendal, pp. 68-72. (in Danish)
  6. Bjørn Pedersen: Jubel og glæde. (in Danish) Retrieved 21 April 2008.
  7. Jerry Voorhis, “Germany and Denmark: 1940-45,” Scandinavian Studies 44:2 (1972) p. 183.
  8. Rasmussen, Anita Brask (21 March 2012). "Bombningen af Den Franske Skole blev redigeret ud af erindringen" [The bombing of the French School was edited out of the remembrance] (in Danish). Dagbladet Information . Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  9. The Rescue of Danish Jews, Jewish Virtual Library, Retrieved 17 April 2008.
  11. "The Rescue of Danish Jews". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2016-02-08.
  12. Germany — Duckwitz, Georg Ferdinand
  13. "The Rescue of Denmark's Jews". Yad Vashem. Retrieved 2016-02-08. The Underground did not receive the Righteous Among the Nations title, which is only awarded to individuals, not to groups. This was also in the spirit of the request expressed by the members of the Danish underground not to honor them as individuals.
  14. 1 2 Clement Maier, Making Memories: The Politics of in Postwar Norway and Denmark, pp. 259-263, 2007 thesis at European University Institute, available online as pdf.
  15. Quistgaard, Georg (1944). Fængselsdagbog og breve [Prison Diary and Letters] (in Danish). Prefaced by Elias Bredsdorff. Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag, Arnold Busck (published 1946). 101 pages.
  16. Maier (2007), Making Memories, pp. 276-278
  17. 1 2 Maier (2007), Making Memories, pp. 269-272
  18. Maier (2007), Making Memories, pp. 271-272
  19. Maier (2007), Making Memories, p. 272
  20. "Varinka Wichfeld Muus (1922 - 2002 )". Dansk Kvindebiografisk Leksikon (in Danish). KVINFO. Retrieved 5 August 2018.
  21. David Schultz was born in Riga, Latvia. Due to his father's work as the Vice Consul in the Danish Foreign Service, David's family lived in a variety of countries while he was a child: first in Tallinn, Estonia [1926], then in Oslo, Norway [1934], and finally in Copenhagen, Denmark [1937]. He attended a School of Commerce in Copenhagen for two years, and during an apprenticeship in Slagelse when he was 17 (1941), he began taking part in Resistance activities. The Resistance was discovered in 1943, at which point David fled to Sweden. He returned to Denmark in 1944 for another year of Resistance activities before escaping to Sweden again in 1945. David was one of the Resistance fighters presented to Sir Winston Churchill in 1950 to honour and thank the Danish Resistance for their support and sacrifices during the German occupation of Denmark. In 1995, David received the Danish nation's Award of Honour for his work in the Resistance.
  22. "Denmark, Historical Role," by Hans Kirchoff in Resistance in Western Europe (p. 112 et seq).
  23. 1 2 3 Hayden B. Peake, "The Intelligence Officer's Bookshelf", includes a review of Knud Jespersen's No Small Achievement, CSI Studies, Vol. 48, No.1, Retrieved 19 April 2008.

Further reading