The Resistance Movement in Denmark
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 29 Mar 1945, p. 381-392

Staermose, Robert, Speaker
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The story of Danish resistance against the Nazis in Denmark. Sabotage on factories working for the German war machine, on military corps, on German airfields, on railways and on other targets which started on a large scale in the summer of 1943. Reasons why this resistance didn't show itself before then. The underground activities in Denmark as part of the Allied military operations in Europe. Details of activities. Allied air raids on Denmark and how they have helped the Dutch resistance. Counter measures taken by the Germans August 29, 1943. The speaker's own arrest as hostage. The German persecution of the Jews. Words from the Danish King's famous message to the Primate of the Danish Church. The organization of a refugee service from Denmark to Sweden to help the Jews, and also several Royal Air Force men who had made a forced landing in Denmark. Contributions from the Danish clergy, with illustrative examples. An outline of activities other than sabotage. The story of one young man in the Danish resistance who was executed by the Gestapo and the letter he wrote before being killed.
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29 Mar 1945
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Full Text
Chairman: The President, Mr. C. R. Conquergood
Thursday, March 29, 1945

MR. CONQUER000D: Denmark is such a small country that it was in no position to offer effective resistance against the German invader. But the heart of Denmark is sound, and in the spirit of Denmark there is that love of liberty that makes even a small nation a great nation Today, we are to hear how Denmark maintained its opposition to German occupation.

Our first glimpse of this opposition was given us a little over a year ago when His Excellency Henrik Kauffman. Danish Ambassador to the United States, spoke to this Club.

Our guest speaker today is Mr. Robert Staermose, who made his escape from Denmark to England in a fishing boat in October last.

Mr. Staermose started his business life in a bank in Copenhagen. From 1932-37, he was a teacher in a cooperative school. From there, he transferred to the principalship of one of the famous Folk High Schools. These Folk High Schools are community schools which have made a great contribution to the life of Denmark. We have no counterpart of them here, either in idea or organization. In 1943, the Germans requisitioned his school building and his school had to close.

There was a general election in. Denmark in 1943 and Mr. Staermose was elected a member of the Danish House of Commons. It is reported that, to present a united democratic front, 90% of the electorate went to the polls. Since we are slated for an election or two in the near future here, we might profitably look to the example set in Denmark.

Our guest has taken an active part in the resistance movement, which received support from the Allies.

In 1928-29, he studied in England, but claims that he still speaks English with his head rather than his heart. However, he did so well during the past winter in England that he was invited to come to the United States anal Canada for a series of lectures.

We welcome him to Toronto and I have much pleasure in presenting Mr. Robert Staermose, member of the Danish Parliament and teacher, who will speak to us on "The Resistance Movement in Denmark."

MR. ROBERT STAERMOSE: Mr. President, Gentlemen I thank you for the cordial welcome you have given me and I want to tell you that I am more happy than I can say that you have given me this opportunity of telling you about Fighting Denmark, and to bring to your people a message from our young Danish underground soldiers, who are fighting for the freedom of our country and for the freedom of the world. They fight for the same cause which your gallant forces serve with such admirably sweeping success these days.

His Excellency Henrik Kauffman, our Danish Minister in Washington, enjoyed, as your President told you, the privilege of addressing this audience last year, and I know that he gave you an outline of the history of the German occupation of Denmark from the 9th of April, 1940, when the Nazi military machine rolled in and the most barbarous tyranny ever known in history subjugated our one million homes with our four million peace-loving people.

His Excellency, whose firm stand for free Denmark on the side of the Allies right from the 9th of April, 1940, has been a very great encouragement to us at home, gave you many informative facts, which are on record in your Year Book, and therefore I can concentrate straight away, without any general information, on the story of the Danish resistance against the Nazis in Denmark.

Sabotage on factories working for the German war machine, on military corps, on German airfields, on railways and on other targets started on a large scale in the summer of 1943.

I am very often asked why this resistance didn't show itself before then. People ask me, "Why did you wait three years before you started to make it hot for the Nazis in Denmark?"

Well, I want to explain that and it is very simple. Before 1943 we (lid not succeed in establishing connections with SHAEF, the Allied Military Headquarters, and therefore we could not get supplies, we could not get explosives, arms or munitions. As a matter of fact, we did as much as we could before 1943, but you will agree with me, Gentlemen, that you cannot develop sabotage on any important military scale with the quantity of explosives that you can steal from quarries or gravel pits. Instructors and trained men were required and many young Danes, who escaped from Denmark and trained abroad for their dangerous job, came back by air.

The story of the French resistance has been published and the Danish resistance has also been given publicity, so I betray no security regulations when I say that the underground activities in Denmark are part of the Allied military operations in Europe. Denmark did not come on the military map until 1943, but may I assure you that our fingers itched terribly during those years of relative inactivity.

After the connection with SHAEF had been established, sabotage organizations were built up and activity started. Factories producing parts for V-1 and V-2's were destroyed by audacious exploits of the small Danish sabotage groups. One of the airfields in Denmark, that of Northern Jutland, was another target for a very audacious attack. Our young people succeeded in getting into the air-field and blew up the hangars with forty-two German fighters.

During 1944 we have concentrated on railway sabotage. It started on a large scale right after D-Day when the Germans were drawing reinforcements back from Norway, Finland and Denmark, in an attempt to stem off the wave of the Allied Armies in France. In 1944 we had 328 cases of railway sabotage in Jutland, on the mainland from north to south, and it has been intensified during the two first months of 1945 so that in January and February alone we had 247 cases of railway sabotage.

I am often asked whether Denmark has been heavily hit by Allied air raids, but I say, "No, we haven't." We have only had two or three raids by the Royal Air Force and the reason is that we do the work on the ground. It is very efficient ground work, and there is the advantage attached to it that we can avoid any loss of civilian life. The few Royal Air Force attacks on Denmark have been most welcome and I may mention the two most important. A few months ago there was the pin-point attack on the Gestapo Headquarters in Jutland, where they had taken over some of the colleges of the University of the town of Aarhus. The Royal Air Force bombers came down right on the target, blew the houses up and did it in such a way that the Gestapo Headquarters was totally wiped out. A few days ago they did the same to the Copenhagen Headquarters of the Gestapo, and, therefore, they have been of indescribable value to our underground movement.

The Royal Air Force is the most popular branch of your Services in Denmark. Among our boys it is considered a great treasure if you get hold of an R.A.F. badge, and the German police had quite some work to do to prevent our young girls from wearing caps with the blue and red and yellow rings on top. '

On August 29, 1943, the Germans struck back. Sabotage and strikes and unrest had increased so much that they took counter measures and they were very thorough, as Germans are. They put our Government out of office.

Our King was virtually made a prisoner of war. Our Parliament ceased to function. The last remnants of the Danish Army and Navy were wiped out. The Navy scuttled itself or some of the ships escaped to Sweden and later on the Danish police force was disbanded. Denmark is now a country without a government, without a parliament, without armed forces, and without any Danish police protection for civilians, and with our old beloved King virtually a prisoner.

When that blow was dealt to us we took our own measures. We formed the Danish Council which organized and co-ordinated underground resistance work. A few weeks after the 29th of August one of the worst things that had happened in Denmark came over us. I refer to the persecution of the Jews. I was at that time a prisoner in a German concentration camp. I had been arrested together with several other politicians and representatives of the press, teachers, clergymen, actors, poets, authors, publishers-people who had control of the Danish public opinion. We were all of us arrested as hostages.

Well, in the early morning of the 2nd of October two big German lorries drove into camp and we woke up hearing the names of some twenty of our comrades called out down the dormitory. These twenty men were more or less of Jewish origin. They were forced to line up out in the courtyard in their pyjamas, and two German officers went down the line and asked each man his name and his wife's maiden name, and if this information sounded Jewish the man was told to go and dress and be ready to drive off in five minutes. There were no documents, no -' interrogation, they simply did it in this casual way.

One of our friends took it very quietly. He was a -'Copenhagen wholesale merchant. He said, when he was told to-go in and dress, "Oh, well, I want to shave first." He went in and he shaved, and he took his time about it, and while he was shaving the lorry drove off with the seven unfortunate comrades who had been selected for transport to Germany, and he wasn't taken with them. I mention that as another example of the way in which Germans show their contempt of human life.

It was on this occasion that our King gave his famous message to the Primate of the Danish Church, the Bishop of Copenhagen. I suppose you know it, but I would like to repeat it here. "If the Germans force my citizens of Jewish origin to wear the Jewish Star, I and all my family will wear the Jewish Star as a sign of the highest distinction."

In connection with the persecution of the Jews, we organized refugee service from Denmark to Sweden and by that route we have had to send 17,000 people across to security. And may I say here, that when the full story can be told, it will reveal that Sweden has been of immense value to the fight in Norway and Denmark.

By the same refugee shipping service we have transported to Sweden several of your Royal Air Force men, who had made a forced landing in our country, and we are happy to have been able to bring out and send them home.

Our Danish clergy, our church people, have made their special contribution which I would like to mention. I happen to know a Danish pastor in a small village who had a queer experience. He was wakened very early one morning about five o'clock by the bell ringer who had been over to the church to ring the sun up, as we do in our small villages at dawn. He said to the parson, "Oh, Pastor, there is a strange soldier in the church. He has a blue uniform and he doesn't speak German. I don't know who he is."

"Oh, my!" said the parson, and he jumped out of bed. He didn't give himself any time to dress but ran in his clogs and pyjamas across to the church-yard and met a Royal Air Force pilot. He talked to him in English and told him how welcome he was. The officer asked the Pastor, "Well, do you belong to the underground movement?" The Pastor winked his eye and said, "Yes", and the Pastor arranged for him to be sent out of Denmark. They had agreed on a certain greeting on the wireless when the Pilot arrived and five or six days later the Pastor got his greeting through the BBC.

While I am speaking of the Church people, there is a little story which I think you will appreciate. We have in Denmark an Association of Christian Commercial Travellers, and there is a similar organization in Sweden. The Swedish organization had its 25th anniversary last year, and for the celebration they wanted some guests from their Danish sister organization. They invited them, but the Germans refused exit permits, so the Danish representatives couldn't go. Instead they wrote a letter, and at the foot of this letter they put, "1st Thessalonians 2:17."

Well, the Swedes naturally looked up the Bible-1st Thessalonians 2:17: "But we, brethren, being taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire; wherefore we would have come unto you once and again, but Satan hindered us."

When I tell you stories like this, and I could tell you many more, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the sabotage, the active resistance, the attack on military tar gets is the most important form of Danish resistance to the Germans and the military sabotage has been acknowledged in many communiques from Allied Headquarters. At New Year this year, our young fighting men at home, the small underground groups, had the great joy of receiving a direct message from the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Churchill, a message which gave great encouragement to everybody at home.

We shouldn't lose sight of the importance of the sabotage, but there are several other ways in which Danish resistance is performed and I am now going to give you just a short outline of the various fields of activity.

The Danish broadcasting service and the official newspapers are suppressed; only the truth as the Germans see it is allowed to be published. Yet it is strange to say that the only part of the Danish broadcasting service, which is absolutely free, is Divine service from our churches on Sundays. The Germans have tried to suppress the prayers and the sermons of our clergymen in this radio service but the clergy have refused to yield to pressure and so far they have succeeded

Well, in a country where public opinion is under duress through German censorship, it is most valuable that there is a free news service and the Danish underground press has in this respect done marvellous work. We publish a daily news bulletin every week day of quite a considerable size with inland news. It is a mimeographed typewritten paper of about eight to twelve foolscap pages and it is distributed to all leaders of the underground movement every morning.

We have another daily paper which has been issued now for six months and which has a circulation of 80,000 copies. When I tell you the two largest newspapers in Denmark have a circulation of about 90,000 and 130,000, respectively, you will see that this underground daily paper has made quite a remarkable success.

There is a special form of news service which I am sure will be interesting and amusing to you. In the summer of 1944 we organized underground picture performances in Copenhagen. Denmark has been barred from all American and British films since the 1st of January, 1941, and what we get is more or less German propaganda. So we imported some of your best films in to Copenhagen. Then we sent out invitations to reliable people to come and attend an air-raid precaution lecture at this or that cinema at some hour in the morning. Well, if the Gestapo had come into the cinema they would have seen a speaker on the platform addressing the audience on some air-raid precaution problem, and on the screen would have been rather a harmless air-raid precaution film. But if all was clear and no danger imminent our people would see "Mrs. Miniver", "In Which We Serve", "Desert Victory", "The Battle of Britain", "The Battle of Russia", "The Moon is Down", "Age of Darkness", "The Lambeth Walk", and cartoons from your countries. These underground performances weren't organized speaker would go on to the platform and say to the people: "When you leave this room you will find we have placed a couple of hats on some chairs at the entrance and we want you to place a contribution for our fighting men in those hats, but 1 will remind you that we must make as little noise as possible, and therefore I request you to use the noiseless money."

Another means of resisting the Germans is the organization of strikes and they are not strikes in the ordinary sense of the word. They are national strikes. They are people's strikes and when a national strike is on everything is closed down. There is no train service, no street car service. The little shops and all the big department stores are closed down. The town is absolutely dead as long as the strike is on. Everybody is in it.

I don't know whether you have heard of the big national strike in Copenhagen during the first week of July, 1944. It was organized as a move against a German curfew which compelled our people to stay in the house from eight o'clock at night at midsummer time, and against German court-martials, and other German measures with which they tried to subdue the Copenhagen people.

Well, the strike was established and we showed the Germans what a totalitarian strike means and after five days we forced the Germans to give in and to repeal the curfew and other measures they had introduced.

I just want to tell you one little incident which might convey to you the spirit of that strike. On the fourth day of the strike the food situation grew a little serious and we found out that in a Copenhagen meat factory there were rather large stores of sausages, lard and bacon. So we went down to the factory and found the Inspector and told him that we wanted these things. He said, "I am awfully sorry--I would be very glad to give it to you but the Germans have just been here and requisitioned everything".

We said, "We must have them." "Alright", said the Inspector, "let us try".

The leader of the undertaking was a very brave Danish woman. She organized the whole thing. We got eighty young people with bicycles, and they started to drive away with the packages of lard and sausages and bacon. They came back and said that the Germans had barred the way to the depot where they were supposed to bring the things. The woman said, "Well, then, we must take it into the Church of the Messiah. I was sent on my bicycle to get the key and open the church door. I went to various of the church officials, the church warden and the sexton and the priest, but nobody was at home or in their office. They were all on strike. Well, I finally found the grave digger. Unfortunately, he wasn't at home either but just as I left his house a woman called out of the window that he was coming down the street, so I rode up with my bicycle and said straight away, "Give me the key for the Church of the Messiah. We want to put sausages in it." He produced the key and said, "Alright, that's fine." He didn't ask the reason why.

I went away and opened the door, and do you know what drove up in front of the church door just as I opened it? Two big Marias, two big police cars, with all the sausages and the lard and the bacon inside.

During that strike I, personally, saw some of the atrocities which you have heard about and which you sometimes hardly will believe really happen. When the strike had lasted a few days the food situation, as I said, grew serious, and people assembled in queues in front of the bacon shops and the grocery shops. Out in one of the suburbs where I was out inspecting things, I saw a lorry with a German machine gun on the roof of the driver's seat come down the street and as it passed this queue of people in front of a bacon shop they fired and swept down the queue and we had to bring 23 casualties to the hospital from that civilian queue.

On another street in Copenhagen they went down with airplanes and machine gunned other similar queues. My wife was out in the country, where we live near the main road, and she took people in from the road, who had fled from Copenhagen with their old people and their children. Among the twenty odd people she housed during this strike was a family of a man and his wife and four children. They had evacuated from their flat in Copenhagen because the Germans had driven past in a patrol lorry and had thrown a hand grenade through the windows of their neighbour and had killed the man and his wife and a small girl.

More than 600 of our best young people have so far sacrificed their lives for our country. More than 1,000 have been wounded and in the German concentration camps and prisons in Germany, as well as in Denmark, there are at present 10,000 of our most brilliant countrymen. For to wage an underground fight it takes the best, the most energetic, the bravest, the most courageous people.

I am going to finish this address by telling you just a few things about one of these young men. He bears the very good Danish name of Christian Hansen, and he pass ed his Matriculation in 1942, but instead of going to the university, he devoted all his time to the fight. In 1944, unfortunately, he was arrested by the Gestapo, taken to prison and was sentenced to death, and on the 23rd of June, 1944, he was executed together with seven comrades, members of his group.

Before he died he wrote a letter. It was just a few hours before he was going to be shot. He wrote it to four friends who were in the same prison. These four friends were murdered a few weeks later in the cellars of the Copenhagen Gestapo Headquarters, without any legal procedure whatsoever. Christian Hansen's last letter was written on a small piece of yellow toilet paper and smuggled along to those four friends. I will ask you, when I read it, to remind yourself of the fact that this young man was 23 years old. The letter is a testimonial of the degree to which the underground warfare will ripen the young people's personality. He writes like this: "My friends: This greeting will be the last you hear from me. I have been sentenced to death. In a few hours they will shoot me. When you are young and love life as I do, it is bard to say "Goodbye" to life, hard to say "Goodbye" to the girl you love, the dear ones at home and all the friends. It is hard but not at all meaningless. If a people shall live somebody must necessarily die."

"Promise me that you will not mourn or grow bitter when you hear that I am dead. We are all of us soldiers at the front now. We have all of us chosen to fight here, staking our lives for all that we know is Freedom, Truth and Justice. As young Danes we can be proud that we fight and die for our people and for all that is dear and holy to us on earth."

"My last personal wish is that you will remember me in your gatherings and when you tell your children about Denmark."

"I thank you for the friendship and loyalty I met with you. I assure you I have been quiet all the time and Gestapo has not made me speak by using their special, methods.

"I do not feel inclined to ask you to forgive me that I have let you into the fight and thereby am guilty--of bringing you into prison. I only want to thank you for all you have meant to me. We have experienced the deep ties of friendship. Friends always become part of one another. Part of me will live with you and part of me will die with you."

"When they have shot me and if you get free, tell my dear people at home and my friends that this had to be so. Help my' father and mother, my sisters and brothers, to understand this. Farewell then, you brave boys. We have lived under our seven hundred year old flag with the white cross of peace in the red colour of the ensign of battle."

"Let faith, hope and love remain among you, and the greatest of the three is love. I have loved and lived--loved the growing, dawning life. I have loved people in whom I found the image of God. I have lived and will die in my faith in Him that said, "Fire have I come to spread upon the earth." In a few hours will I face fire. I am no longer. But let the firing squad fire. Let them flog and torture, let the darkness of Long Friday spread over our country. We shall fool them on Easter Sunday.

I shall see you again, dear friends. Goodbye and God bless you.--Christian."

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The Resistance Movement in Denmark

The story of Danish resistance against the Nazis in Denmark. Sabotage on factories working for the German war machine, on military corps, on German airfields, on railways and on other targets which started on a large scale in the summer of 1943. Reasons why this resistance didn't show itself before then. The underground activities in Denmark as part of the Allied military operations in Europe. Details of activities. Allied air raids on Denmark and how they have helped the Dutch resistance. Counter measures taken by the Germans August 29, 1943. The speaker's own arrest as hostage. The German persecution of the Jews. Words from the Danish King's famous message to the Primate of the Danish Church. The organization of a refugee service from Denmark to Sweden to help the Jews, and also several Royal Air Force men who had made a forced landing in Denmark. Contributions from the Danish clergy, with illustrative examples. An outline of activities other than sabotage. The story of one young man in the Danish resistance who was executed by the Gestapo and the letter he wrote before being killed.