Denmark Under the Nazi Heel

The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 10 Feb 1944, p. 284-294
Kauffman, His Excellency Henrik, Speaker
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Item Type
A description of Denmark, pointing out the differences and similarities with Canada. A brief history of Denmark. What Denmark was like before invasion by the Germans. The speaker's decision, at the time of invasion, that he could no longer accept orders from Copenhagen as orders of a free government; support in the United States for that decision. Changes in Denmark since the invasion. How the German war machine works in a country like Denmark. Working for the hour of liberation. The increase in sabotage. The deportation of the Danish Jews and Hitler's justification for it. Assisted escapes of persecuted nationals. The Danish nation looking forward and wanting to make its contribution to the victory of the United Nations. Denmark tomorrow.
Date of Original
10 Feb 1944
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Full Text
Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys.
Thursday, February 10, 1944

MR. HUMPHREYS: Co-operation is in these days a vital word, and our guest of honour, His Excellency, Henrik Kauffman, Danish Ambassador to the United States, believes especially in co-operation between the Scandinavian countries. He believes in, and works for, what he calls a United Scandinavia.

Today, however, His Excellency considers with us "Denmark Under the Nazi Heel".

Denmark, an independent kingdom from the beginning of history until the German occupation. By the way, Denmark covers 16,000 square miles-Ontario 320,000, but the population is about the same. Denmark that gave us Hans Christian Andersen and Hans Christian Oerstedd, the discoverer of the aluminum process.

We are honoured in this opportunity to meet the man who would not accept orders which, he suspected, the Germans forced his government in Copenhagen to issue. Thus, in 1941, His Excellency signed the famous agreement with the United States regarding the defence of Greenland.

Under duress, the government in Copenhagen was forced by the Germans to dismiss our guest, but neither he nor the United States Government recognized the dismissal as valid.

His Excellency, a Doctor of Law, University of Copenhagen, also studied at Oxford and Geneva.

After serving with the Royal Dutch Guard, his diplomatic career took him to the United States in 1913. Afterwards, he went to Germany, Italy, Tokyo, Pekin

and back to America, where he is now Danish Minister to the United States, as well as administrator of the functions usually carried out by a government, such as charge of Danish public funds in the United States, thus enabling the continuation of interest payments on public Danish dollar bonds.

Gentlemen: I have the honour to introduce His Excellency, Henrik Kauffman, Danish Ambassador to the United States.

MR. KAUFFMAN: I wish I were going to be here, not for five hours, but for at least five days. This is not my first visit to Ottawa. I have been here five or six times.

I have had a good time on every visit, and I should like to have been able to make it longer. Perhaps I shall have a better chance the next time. When I was here last and had the pleasure of being a guest of your Club and listening to my friend Mr. Atherton speak, I was asked by another friend of mine, Dr. Keenleyside, whether I would not come up and address you one day, I said yes, I would with the greatest pleasure, and now I am here. It was difficult for me to get away. We have been having at Atlantic City at U.N.R.R.A., the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Conference. The Conference ends only tomorrow, but, having promised to be here, I wanted to live up to the Danish tradition; that is, once you have said yes, you stick to it.

I want to tell you a little bit about my country. Very few of you, with the exception of the American Ambassador, have been in Denmark. Let me begin by giving you a, very brief description, and in doing so let me point out certain similarities and certain differences between Canada and Denmark. Many of the differences are quite striking. Canada is one of the largest countries in the world and Denmark is one of, the smallest. Canada is a country that has been steadily growing and will probably be growing in the future. We have made great progress in science and engineering, and who knows but may be, before many generations pass, we can learn to take some of the excess heat of the Sahara and move it to colder spots and make not only the southern fringe but the whole of Canada a paradise on earth? My country, on the other hand, has been growing smaller in the centuries gone by. In the very old days King Canute of Denmark also ruled England. A little later the Kings of Denmark were also Kings of Norway and Sweden. Sweden we had already lost around 1500. The Kings of Denmark remained as Kings of Norway after the Wars of Napoleon. The Shetland and Orkney Islands were once Danish. One of the Danish princesses married one of the Kings of Scotland, and the King of Denmark promised as a wedding gift quite a considerable amount of gold. He could not pay that amount when the wedding came; so instead he handed over the Shetland and Orkney Islands. (Laughter.)

The Germans took away from us Schleswig and Holstein in 1864, and in 1940 they invaded my country, and today the only free spot in Denmark is Greenland. Greenland has just been mentioned by your president. Greenland is in a more fortunate position geographically than Denmark: it is not Germany that is our next-door neighbour, but Canada and the United States. I wish that the whole of Denmark were in such a good neighbourhood.

In order to talk about Denmark today, I think I must just give you a little bit of an idea of what Denmark was like before we were invaded. It is an agricultural country. We have no natural wealth, but we have a population that is well trained. I think the average honesty is not too bad. We are a co-operative people and we managed to build up during the last fifty years our reputation as exporters of butter, bacon and eggs.

It was mentioned that I was in Japan some years ago. I stood one day in front of an audience of Japanese youngsters who wanted to know about Denmark's economy. I felt that if I wanted to get anything across I had to do it in a very clear and simple way. So I started out by telling them that in Denmark we had considerably more pigs than human beings; we had the same number of cows as human beings; the amount of butter we sold to England annually about equalled in weight the total weight of the Danish population, including the fattest men-and some Danes are quite fat; the number of eggs that the people of England got on their breakfast tables every day, and that came from Denmark, equalled the number of inhabitants of Denmark-just under four million eggs a day.

The standard of living in Denmark was high. We were probably one of the most democratic peoples in Europe. We were believers in the principle that very few people should have too much and still fewer too little.

When we were invaded, on the 9th of April, 1940, the invasion came without any warning. Our Government was not faced with the choice of leaving the country or remaining there. Once the fighting had to be stopped to avoid complete destruction of the country, our government was faced with the choice of going on strike, you might say, and telling the Germans: "We have not been able to defend our country. Our airfields are bombed. We have therefore, in order to save our population, hoisted the white flag, so to speak. But we still have nothing to do with the administration of the country. That is now your responsibility." That was one alternative. The other alternative was to carry on the administration, trying to act as a brake on the Nazi encroachment and preserve as much as possible of the Danish way of life. The latter course was chosen; but upon that day, it seemed to me, the Government of Denmark no longer was a free Government; and I know that that is also the view held by the man in the street in every Danish city and by every Danish farmer.

I felt that I ought to draw two conclusions from that fact. One was that I should act on my own; that I should follow my conscience and that I could no longer accept orders from Copenhagen as orders of a free government. It was my great privilege to be in a country that, in spite of being neutral, backed me and helped me to carry out that policy and has done so now for practically four years. The other conclusion that I drew was that as long as I considered the people, the government and my King not to be free I was not to judge them as being free and treat their actions as actions of free people.

Since the invasion of Denmark the picture at home has changed considerably. It was a country where there were great similarities with Canada. We did not have the wide open spaces, but I think we had been able to create in Denmark on a smaller scale what approaches, I think, the best way possible on this earth of living happily. Our hospitals were good. Our schools were first-class. Every little farmer had a nice and neat little garden, and people had, I think, the pleasures that it is possible to provide on this earth of ours.

Now, of course, things in Denmark look different. I am often asked, "What is the situation like? Are the people starving? Have the Germans taken everything away?" I should like to answer that by giving you a little brief picture of how the German war machine works in a country like Denmark. It would not pay the Germans to remove all the Danish cattle. That would be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. We have today in Denmark about five-eighths of the cattle that we had before, a little over half the pigs we had before, and about one-quarter of the chickens. The production of butter has gone down considerably more, because the cows were not fed the way they used to be. The Germans are taking out of the country what they can in the way of meat and butter and fats, but owing to the fact that they have to take it out of the country and that it is not possible to have a Gestapo man in every town, the people in Denmark are much better off than in some of the other occupied countries, who depend on imports of food from Germany or are in other ways at the mercy of the Germans in order to get food.

When I am asked the question, "Do the Germans pay for what they get?" I have to say both yes and no. They pay in one way, because the farmer gets Danish notes; but our Danish Central Bank has to provide the bank notes. The Germans buy all these on credit coming to our Central Bank and forcing our bank to provide them with the necessary funds, and then saying to us, "What could be better than to have a huge credit balance in the Reichbank in Berlin? When Hitler has conquered the world, then he will see to it that that credit balance in Berlin can be used by you in Denmark"; just as Hitler tells the people of Holland, Norway or Belgium that they do not need to worry over the credit balances that they have accumulated in Germany during the last four years.

The people in Denmark realize, of course, that their credit balance is not worth anything at all. We have figured that we have lost about one-third of our national wealth. What Denmark will be like when this is all over we do not know. We do not know how long the war is going to last, and we do not know what the last phase is going to be like. As long as the Germans think that the war will last for an indefinite time they will probably not take all the cattle away, because they will want the cow to go on producing milk and butter and so on, and that can be done better, for the Germans, in Denmark than in Germany itself. But they have told us that we can be sure of one thing; that is, that the German collapse will not come about this time the way it did the last time. They say to us: "Germany will not collapse," but even if, for the sake of argument, we want to know what happens in case Germany should be defeated, then, they tell us, nothing will be left of Denmark. They have mined most of our factories and they tell us that before they leave they will blow up whatever there is.

The people in Denmark realize that they may have to start from scratch again, but that is something that does not worry them so very much. There is one thing that takes precedence over everything else in the heart of a Dane, and that is that he is not only hoping and praying, but he is also working for the hour of liberation.

A free Denmark, no matter how poor is something that to every Dane seems heaven, compared to the conditions in Denmark today.

Some of you may have heard about the sabotage in Denmark during these last months. Sabotage has been on the increase, and when I am asked why that is the case I say there are several reason for that. One reason is that there is more hope in every occupied country today than a year ago. Another reason is that the Danes, who are matter-of-fact, practical people, realize that now their sabotage can be of more use than it could in the beginning.

Denmark today is the only line of communication overland between Germany and Norway. Most of the traffic has to go through Jutland. During one night the railroad going up through Jutland was blown up in twenty different places.

The last reason I should like to mention is the feeling of justice. The decency of the Dane has been outraged more than ever by things that lately have happened. A couple of months ago the Nazis transported Norwegian prisoners through Denmark; not only men, but women, too and children. That could not be concealed from the Danes, and when they saw it they went on strike. Their sabotage flared up more than it ever had before.

Hitler decided about two months ago on deportation of the Danes of Jewish faith and race in Denmark. There are very few Jews in Denmark compared to most other countries. There are about five thousand, all told, in Denmark, and when Hitler said that it was the Jews who flared up anti-Nazi feeling, that it was the Jews who caused the sabotage, every Dane knew that it was exactly the opposite of the truth. The German officials in Denmark were against deportation; they realized that it would not pay; but these were orders that came from Hitler, and when that is the case they have to be obeyed. Two ships were sunk by Danish patriots while the ships were lying in the harbour of Copenhagen, before they were loaded with the Danish Jews. The third one the Nazis managed to get away with eleven hundred people. The oldest was a woman of 101; the youngest was a babe in arms. The Germans also took people who were not Jews, and quite a number who were only "half Jews", to use Hitler's phrase. They promised then to return the ones who had been taken by mistake, and to give names of people they deported. The reply came three weeks later that for technical reasons no information could be given. Nothing has been heard about those eleven hundred people who were dragged away.

However, during the last month there have been happening in Denmark incidents that are more on the happy side of things. When the deportation of Jews started all the Danes resented it, and every Dane tried to help. To give you one incident: a truck loaded with inmates of a Jewish home for aged was just going to leave with a Gestapo man, and all the people were going to be dragged off to Germany, or Poland, when a young man jumped out from behind a bush, killed the Gestapo man and drove off with the truck, and those old people are now in safety in Sweden.

There has been splendid co-operation and on the dark nights people in Denmark help their persecuted nationals to escape across the Sound. The Germans have killed some; but apparently the German patrol is not as effective as it was in the beginning. Very many were bribed, and I think there may also have been some Germans who were willing to help. We know that with these people who escape there are also German soldiers who escape to Sweden. That, of course, creates always difficult problems, because we can never be sure whether they really are refugees or are spies. We know that some of them were spies. Others may have been genuine people who wanted to escape the Nazi rule.

The developments in Denmark now, where we have direct German military control, where our King is virtually a prisoner and there is no Danish Government functioning, cannot really be foreseen with any accuracy. We still have in Denmark today Danish officials who try to protect the affairs of the country as mayors, or in the different departments and so on. They are left with no choice. The other day the German general in command moved his headquarters to Jutland, and he said, "Now I must have a number of Danish officials with me." They said: "We cannot do that. We don't see that that is necessary. We will stay in Copenhagen." He said, "Well, if you don't go it is a strike, and a strike means the death penalty." It is my feeling that nearly everybody in Denmark today who is an official tries to save what he can for the people of Denmark. But in their hearts the whole Danish nation is looking forward and wants to make its contribution to the victory of the United Nations.

I know a man who was talking to an Englishman who left Denmark-managed to leave after the invasion. He said to him: "Well, let us hope it will not be too long before your soldiers come and help us to liberate the country. Be sure of one thing. Tell your friends not to come with one gun; but to bring an extra gun each, because we want to be in the fight. We want to do our share." (Applause.)

Denmark today is what I have tried to give you a brief picture of. Denmark tomorrow, I think, is going to be a country where you will find the political views of the people very much the same as they have been for the last twenty or thirty years. We are a decidedly democratic people. We will remain so. We will remain so, no matter how long the Nazi domination lasts. Europe may be a place where there will be a great deal of civil strife and a great deal of killing once the actual international warfare stops, but that will not be the case in Denmark, because we are all united. We are happy and proud that there are no Quislings in my country.

As I said before, we shall have to start from scratch. We ardently hope that even if our country is devastated to a great extent, even if financially we are "broke", our people will be able to build up again their agriculture and their industry. The people have the knowledge, and in the course of a couple of years it should be possible to replenish our herds, to provide feed for our cattle and to start again the whole machine that made it possible for us to provide Europe with the goods that now are so badly needed.

The economic future of Denmark, taking a more long-range point of view, it is impossible to say anything about, because we do not know at all what the world is going to be like. The small country of Denmark depends even more than larger countries on free trade. Our whole standard of living was based on an exchange of goods. If we are to buy goods that we have not got--we have no minerals, we have no coal--we have factories, but not enough to produce all the manufactured goods that we need-we must be able to sell, and what we have to sell is mainly our agricultural products. We have fine machinery and ships, and our shipping is a source of income, of foreign exchange. You will therefore find that Denmark will want, as soon as the emergency period is over, a world where the boundaries are not so high that goods cannot cross them. We look forward to a world where customs duties are low, where there are as few restrictions on trade as possible. We look forward to a world where we can compete on an even chance.

We know, however, that in the emergency period before us, it would be completely impossible to revert to the good old days of free trade, and the people of Den mark are prepared to co-operate in any international scheme that is being worked out by the United Nations. Already, before the war, we used to give up certain sovereign rights. Every agreement, commercial or otherwise, every treaty in a way, you may say, is a restriction of sovereign rights. We had arbitration treaties with any country that was willing to make an arbitration treaty with us. We were ready to go beyond that and to make reciprocal trade arrangements, to bind our tariffs and so on, if we could get partners to do it with us, and now, after this war, I am convinced that the Danes are ready to go very much further. We are willing to accept anything that would be found acceptable by the United Nations. There is one condition that I think every Dane would like to make, and that is that the people whom he is dealing with shall be decent people. That is why we have not been able to deal with the gangsters who are overrunning our country at present. Our thoughts all go out to the nations who are fighting Hitlerism. We are longing for the day when we can be united with them, and anything, as I said before, that can be worked out as an international scheme to build up a better world we will give a blank cheque for. We want to be in on the building of a better world, and, together with others, we will undertake any limitations and make any sacrifices.

Thank you. (Loud and prolonged applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Kauffmann, your story of Denmark and of your valiant countrymen has proved intensely interesting and informative. On behalf of this Club I wish to offer you our very sincere thanks. (Applause.)

The meeting will close with the singing of the National Anthem.

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Denmark Under the Nazi Heel

A description of Denmark, pointing out the differences and similarities with Canada. A brief history of Denmark. What Denmark was like before invasion by the Germans. The speaker's decision, at the time of invasion, that he could no longer accept orders from Copenhagen as orders of a free government; support in the United States for that decision. Changes in Denmark since the invasion. How the German war machine works in a country like Denmark. Working for the hour of liberation. The increase in sabotage. The deportation of the Danish Jews and Hitler's justification for it. Assisted escapes of persecuted nationals. The Danish nation looking forward and wanting to make its contribution to the victory of the United Nations. Denmark tomorrow.