Germany attacked Denmark April 9, 1940; Denmark surrendered to Germany almost immediately following the attack. King Christian and the Danish government realized that active resistance against the Nazi invasion would be useless. Denmark was a small country with an equally small military, and a battle against Germany would have been swift and violent, leading to the deaths of many Danes.

Upon surrender, Denmark was afforded certain concessions not allowed in other Nazi-attacked countries. The Danish government and monarchy would remain intact, and Denmark's newspapers would continue to operate, albeit in a censored state. Germany also allowed Denmark to maintain its military; the Nazis did not consider the Danish army or navy a major threat to German forces.

Why did Germany allow Denmark these concessions when Poland, the Netherlands, and other conquered countries received far worse treatment? Hitler regarded Danes as noble members of the Aryan race, and he considered it improper to violently attack fellow Aryans. Equally important, however, was Denmark's ability to furnish Nazi Germany with supplies. A European "breadbasket," Denmark could provide Germany with food, as well as vital transportation assistance via railway routes into Scandinavia.

In surrounding Nazi-controlled European countries, Germany horribly persecuted Jews and other German "enemies." Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star. Eventually, the Jews of Holland, Belgium, Germany, Poland and other occupied countries were deported to concentration camps and death camps. But Germany needed Denmark's help.

This unique relationship benefited Denmark: non-Jewish and Jewish citizens alike were protected from Nazi persecution. No Danish Jew was ever forced to wear the yellow star. Despite the protection received from Germany, Denmark grew weary of the Nazi presence in its country.

By the summer of 1942, outside pressure from Allied sources for the Danes to actively resist German occupation increased. These calls for sabotage worried Nazi leaders; Germany waited for an opening to introduce stricter control. This opening in September 1942, when Hitler sent King Christian a birthday telegram. Hitler interpreted the King’s response ("My utmost thanks. Christian Rex.") to be a symptom of Denmark's growing defiance; he jumped on the chance to use the reply as an excuse as a way to tighten the reins on Denmark.

Nazis in Germany

Germany assigned Werner Best, a Nazi official, to administer Germany's occupation of Denmark in September 1942. Hitler personally encouraged Best to rule the Danes with "an iron fist"--he wanted Denmark’s "status [to] change from that of a friendly country cooperating with Germany to an unfriendly country that would be governed as a German province" (Petrow 181). Best, however, was hesitant. He chose instead to adopt a lenient manner of administration, provided that the Danes did not challenge Germany's authority. Best felt that any noticeable German increase in Denmark--particularly a harsh presence--would anger the Danish government and its constituents. Germany might then risk the loss of a valuable food source.

Danish sabotage of train lineAs weeks stretched into months, acts of resistance and sabotage gradually increased. Germany recognized the possibility of a Danish revolt in the future; tensions were high between the two countries as Spring 1943 arrived.

Next, click here to read about the Danish resistance to the Nazis.