Denmark defies Nazi Martial Law

The German proclamation announcing Martial Law in Denmark as they became increasingly frustrated by lack of co-operation and growing open resistance.

The German proclamation announcing Martial Law in Denmark as they became increasingly frustrated by lack of co-operation and growing open resistance.

German troops on the streets of Denmark, 29th August 1943.

German troops on the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark, 29th August 1943.

The Danish people had attempted to maintain a policy of neutrality and non co-operation since the Nazis had occupied Denmark in April 1940. For a long time they had just managed to evade the worst of the German rule that was felt all around Europe. They were allowed to retain their elected government, even permitted to hold free elections in which the pro Nazi parties won a tiny percentage of the vote.

Yet as the war turned against the Germans and they sought to become increasingly authoritarian, the passive resistance of non cooperation was becoming increasingly open and active. There were strikes and street demonstrations during the summer of 1943.

On the night of 28th August German troopships arrived in Copenhagen. In the early hours of the 29th the German military authorities declared they were taking over the country:

The past events have shown that the Danish government is unable to maintain order in Denmark. Enemy agents have caused unrest directed against the German Wehrmacht. I proclaim therefore an …. Immediate emergency in Denmark.

With immediate effect I have ordered the following ….

Every strike is prohibited. Invitation to strike at the expense of the German Wehrmacht promotes the enemy and will be punished usually by death. Violation of the above rules will be punished by the German state courts.

Against any violence, the gathering of crowds etc. ruthless use will be made of weapons ….

However their actions were to some extent anticipated, the Danish Navy ordered the scuttling of their ships to prevent them falling into the hands of the Germans. It was not as dramatic the damage to the French Fleet at Toulon, but a symbolic demonstration of which side the Danes stood.

The passive resistance was to have important consequences. As the Germans attempted to enforce their laws they sought to round up the small Jewish population in Denmark. A lack of co-operation from the remaining Danish authorities and, significantly, from the general population meant that only a few hundred were detained out of a population of around 7,800. The remainder were spirited away across the water to neutral Sweden. The Jewish population of Denmark was to survive better than in any other country under Nazi domination.

Danish officers are detained by the Germans on 29 August 1943

Danish officers are detained by the Germans on 29 August 1943

The Danish ship Peder Skram, scuttled by the Danish Navy to prevent her falling into the hands of the Germans.

The Danish ship Peder Skram, scuttled by the Danish Navy to prevent her falling into the hands of the Germans.

Danish ships scuttled in Holmen harbour, Copenhagen.

Danish ships scuttled in Holmen harbour, Copenhagen.

For many more images of the scuttling of the Danish fleet see Danish Naval History.

For more images see Museum of Danish Resistance, many photographs have been posted on Flickr.

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