Two events relating to Nazi Germany occurred on April 9th. The first, the start of the invasion of Norway and Denmark, was another in the string of Axis victories that characterized the first years of the Second World War. The second, the hanging of anti-Nazi pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a final act of desperation in the last days of the Third Reich.
On April 9th of 1940, German forces initiated Operation Weserbung, the invasion of Denmark, and within four hours had ended all Danish resistance. On that same day, German ships entered Norwegian ports and German troops would soon occupy the entire country. The German invasion of Denmark violated a non-aggression pact signed a year earlier and was done on the orders of Hitler so as to secure the entrance to the Baltic Sea and safeguard the iron trade with Sweden. The Danish military was so weak and the government so fearful of German retribution that the Prime Minister ordered the armed forces to stop resisting two hours after the invasion began and never even declared war on Germany. Germany invaded Norway also to safeguard the Baltic and its stated goal was to protect Norwegian neutrality against British invasion of the nation. The invasion of Norway took longer than the invasion of Denmark due to the former nation’s greater distance from Germany, stronger military, and attempts by French and British forces to defeat the invasion. Allied troops landed in the town of Narvik in northern Norway and from there intended to drive Germany out of the country, but failed to advance and had to be evacuated in late May as Germany invaded France. After Germany occupied Norway, it secured agreements with Sweden and Finland to allow its troops to move through their territories. While the invasion of Norway and Denmark was a success for Germany, the invasion of Norway in particular did cost the Germans a great deal of their Navy and did force them to keep troops in the country to support the puppet government they established against the resistance which soon formed.
Five years later, as the Soviets closed in on Berlin from the East and the British and Americans advanced from the West, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was a theologian and pastor who had spoken out against the Nazi regime since the 1930s. At one point he even left Germany for London, but returned in 1935 to support the Confessor Church, a Lutheran movement to prevent Nazi takeover of Churches for propaganda purposes. Despite the failure of this movement, Bonhoeffer continued to criticize and attack the Nazi government and joined the German Resistance. He joined the Abwehr, a German intelligence organization, to escape conscription and there learned of the extent of Nazi atrocities. He tried to contact Britain on behalf of the Resistance but was ignored, and also engaged in efforts to smuggle Jews to Switzerland. However, he was imprisoned in 1943 and in 1944 was connected to the plot to assassinate Hitler. While in prison he counseled fellow inmates and acted as a pastor. On April 4th, 1945, the diaries of Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr who had been acting to sabotage Germany throughout the war, were discovered. As a result, Bonhoeffer, as one of the Abwehr conspirators, was sentenced to death in Flossenburg concentration camp on April 8th and was executed the next day. Two weeks later American forces would liberate that camp. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is just one example of a German who risked, and ultimately lost his life in the effort to weaken and destroy the Nazi regime. His actions saved the lives of many, most notably Jews smuggled out of Germany, and helped undermine the German government. He returned to Germany even though he could have easily stayed in London or after he returned could simply not have resisted the regime. Had he done either he most likely would have survived the war. Dietrich’s sacrifice shows that even in the most oppressive of nations, there are always those who, rather than stand by and secure their own safety at the cost of their principles, are willing to risk everything to do what is right.
One thought on “April 9th in German History: The German Invasion of Norway and Denmark”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an unknown hero to me until now. What a remarkable man – it affirms our confidence that there are good and brave people among us.