Nazis enter Denmark

On April 9, 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, but it did not treat this country as badly as it had other invaded countries. There were several reasons for this less severe treatment.

Because its army and navy were so small, Denmark did not fight the invasion; German leaders were pleased, and they decided to let the government of Denmark continue to function normally. Germany allowed Denmark to keep its king, its government, and its military.

Denmark produced a lot food every year and the Germans needed food for their soldiers. German leaders wanted to stay on friendly terms with the Danes because they wanted them to supply food for the Nazi troops. If Germany acted too harshly towards Denmark, the Danes might refuse to give them the food they needed. Then Germany would have to send in more troops to take the food by force--something neither country wanted.

Adolph Hitler, the German leader, mistakenly believed that most Germans were part of a race called the Aryans, and that this race was better than other races. Because Hitler thought that the Danes were also Aryans, he decided that it would not be right to hurt them. Because he believed that the people other countries like Poland were not of the Aryan race, his Nazi forces treated the Poles very badly. The German army killed many Polish people.

Despite Germany's efforts to remain friendly with Denmark, the small country grew tired of helping the Nazis. Denmark wanted the German troops to leave, but the Danish army and navy were too small to push the Germans out of Denmark. By the summer of 1942--almost two years after the invasion--the Danes no longer wanted to sit still and let Germany have its way. England and America pressured the Danes to actively resist Germany. Some Danes began to bomb factories that made weapons for the Nazi troops and planned other acts of resistance.

Worried Nazi officials believed that the Danes would not cooperate with Germany for much longer. Adolph Hitler and his men waited for an opportunity to move more troops into Denmark. Finally, on September 26, 1942--the seventy-second birthday of King Christian--Hitler found his excuse. He had sent a telegram to the king wishing him a happy birthday. He did not like King Christian's brief response: "My utmost thanks. Christian Rex." Hitler felt that King Christian's answer was rude and considered it a sign of the growing Danish inclination to disobey Germany’s rules.

Hitler decided to send a man named Werner Best to be in charge of Denmark for Germany. Hitler wanted Best to be very firm with Denmark, and to rule the small country with an "iron fist." Best had a different idea, though. He did not want to anger Denmark. Denmark helped to feed, clothe, and make weapons for German troops. If Germany angered Denmark by increasing pressure, Best worried that it would be very hard to force Denmark to give these supplies to Germany. He decided to hold off German troops for the time being and see what would happen.

Best's plan did not work. The Danes grew more and more frustrated with Germany, and they tried to make things difficult for the Nazis. By the spring of 1943, tensions between Denmark and Germany were high.

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