Those Gentle Danes
When the Nazis began to impose their will on Denmark, the Danes showed one of of their own.
If there is any truth in reports from Stockholm, the Danes have won a major political and moral victory. The Germans must have suffered a tremendous loss of face in all occupied countries, for they acceded to Danish demands only after their threats to starve and bomb Copenhagen had failed completely to impress the strikers. Fantastic as this failure may seem to a world accustomed to Nazi ruthlessness, it is not entirety inexplicable if one reviews German actions in Denmark during the past ten months.
On August 29 of last year, when the Danes refused to make further concessions to the German will--to surrender Danish saboteurs to the mercy of German courts or to deliver Danish Jews to German executioners--the Nazis proclaimed a state of siege. They disarmed the Danish army after several days' fighting, dismissed the government, and made the king a virtual prisoner.
At that time everyone expected the Germans would carry out their threat to proclaim Denmark a "protectorate" and let the Gestapo rule it. But they did not. Instead they did their utmost to persuade the Danes to resume the administration of their own affairs. They went to the prisoner-King and asked him to appoint a new Cabinet, even one of his choosing. The King said that was impossible. In the first place, he was a prisoner; his hands were tied. In the second place, since he was a constitutional sovereign, he could not appoint a new government without accepting the resignation of the old--and by preventing the old government from functioning, the Germans had automatically deprived it of the power to resign.
All right, the Germans said, we shall see. They assembled, by force, the, members of the old Cabinet and told them either to resign or to resume their functions. The ministers unanimously refused to do either. This, they said, is a meeting of Cabinet ministers, certainly, but it is not a Cabinet meeting because it has not been summoned in the proper way. The Prime Minister added that he was unable to summon a Cabinet meeting be-cause the Germans prevented him from functioning by their extraordinary measures of August 29.
The Germans went to Parliament. Look here, they said, this is ridiculous. We want to play ball with you, and what does your government do but start a sitdown strike. Get an-other government, and we will be friends. The representatives of Parliament's five parties declared--unanimously--that Parliament still had full confidence in the old government. It was certainly not their fault that the Germans prevented it from functioning.
Exasperated, the Germans went back to the King. But he was a constitutional monarch, and he could do nothing against the advice of Parliament. The truth was that the Danish politicians were none too eager to assume further responsibility for what was happening in the country. They had actually felt a sense of relief when Danish autonomy was kicked overboard.
The Germans gave up. The Danes were given a good dose of the Gestapo. However, in comparison with the treatment accorded other German-occupied countries, they were handled gently: fewer shootings, fewer mass arrests, no interdiction of political parties or unions, no seizure of newspapers. The state and local administrations were allowed to function.
The Danish answer to even these half-hearted concessions was a wave of sabotage unequaled in any other occupied country. Two hundred acts of sabotage were reported in the last four months of 1943, ranging from wrecking of troop trains to destruction of well-guarded war plants--an average of fifteen to twenty cases a day in a country of less than four million inhabitants.
The Nazis answered in kind. If the Danes bombed factories, the Germans bombed crowded movie houses. If the Danes killed traitors, the Germans answered with the murder of well-known Danish patriots. To do the dirty work, they formed a special gang of a few thousand ruffians, the Shalburgkorps, named after a Danish Nazi who had fallen as a volunteer in Russia. This corps is advertised as a legion of Danish volunteers to fight bolshevism. Actually, it was commandeered from the German minority in North Slesvig, traditional Dane haters. After some toughening up at the eastern front, the corps was sent to Denmark on a "furlough."
Such is the background for the events which began on June 22 with the demolition by saboteurs of Denmark's largest machine-gun plant. The situation developed into a gen-eral strike when the Germans established martial law, made wholesale arrests of union leaders, and shot eight hostages. Unrest spread. Hundreds of people were killed. When the Germans shut off water and supplies and threatened to, bomb Copenhagen, the Danes dared them to go ahead. The Nazis balked, as they had done the previous summer, apparently more jittery than their captives.
After August 29, 1943, the Danes interpreted the Germans' vacillation as a sign of weakness--which it probably was--and acted accordingly. They will hardly interpret German hesitancy differently this time.