As one of the so-called “hidden children” of World War II, I’ve long admired those who fought against the Nazis–certainly the soldiers of the Allied armies, even those of the Red Army, and most of all, the citizens of occupied countries who resisted the Germans.
A few years back, when I was researching my first memoir, PRAGUE: MY LONG JOURNEY HOME, I visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Walking through the permanent exhibit, I spotted a map of Europe, one that indicated the number of Jews from each country who had been murdered in the Holocaust. The numbers were overwhelming–in the millions from Poland, 263,000 from my own native country of Czechoslovakia. Then I spotted something strange: the number associated with the nation of Denmark–77. Immediately, I cornered a nearby docent and pointed out the error. He laughed and said: “That’s no error. The Danes saved nearly all their Jews.” Soon, my reading revealed that, when the Nazis required Danish Jews to wear the Star of David, the King and most of the populace wore the star as well. Even more importantly, Danish Resistance smuggled more than 7,200 Jews out of the country on board fishing boats to Sweden and freedom–all in 30 days. The 77 who perished in the camps were among the few who refused to believe that the Germans would bring them harm.
These heroic acts made the Danes heroes in my mind. Yet, it was not until I read David Lampe’s HITLER’S SAVAGE CANARY: A HISTORY OF THE DANISH RESISTANCE IN WORLD WAR II that I learned just what incredible heroes they were! During the war, they published 26 million copies of illegal newspapers that not only informed the populace of the true status of the war, but that contained codes used to conduct acts of sabotage. They disrupted German communications and transportation. The Resistance set up guides for British aircraft aircraft and assisted the RAF in targeting Gestapo-occupied buildings. They ran regular boat services between Denmark, Sweden, and England, and they made it impossible for German ships to move in and out of harbors. Danish laborers dumped sugar into concrete they used to build German gun placements along the coast–the structures eventually crumbled. The book’s cover contains a photo of a Resistance member pointing a gun at a Wehrmacht soldier, who has raised both his hands in surrender–in the middle of Copenhagen and in broad daylight! I can’t imagine such an act of bravery and audacity having taken place in my home city of Prague.
The book chronicles this amazing resistance movement, one that surpassed those in any other occupied country. My only disappointment was the number of typographical errors and grammatical mistakes. The publisher failed to provide proper editing, which is a shame. But, nevertheless, the stories are terrific, and the book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Second World War.
And as a child of World War II, I must say: “Thank you so much, Denmark!”