August 29th in German History: German Reich Dissolves the Danish Government

The headquarters of a Danish SS unit.

The first years of the Second World War saw Germany quickly overrun most of Western and Eastern Europe. These nations were placed under harsh occupations which saw freedoms restricted and reprisals carried out against any who resisted. However, not all conquered nations were so harshly treated, at least initially. Denmark, which surrendered within six hours, was at first allowed to maintain a great degree of autonomy, and its people were treated with no leniency. That changed on August 2th, 1943, when the German Reich dissolved the Danish government.

Initially, Germany intended the occupation of Denmark look as though it was both oeaceful and done with the consent of the Danish people. To that end, the Danish parlaiment remained active, elections were still held, and King Christian of Denmark remained in power. Denmark even isgned the Anti-Comintern Pact. However, by 1942 the Danish population grew more restless under occupation and began violently resisting the Germans. In the Fall of 1942 Germany declared Denmark “enemy territory” and after the battles of Stalingrad and El-Alamein attacks and acts of sabotage become even more frequent. A general election in March of 1943 overwhelmingly returned members of democratic parties that supported cooperation. However, that summer a series of strikes and riots broke out which led to German issuing a series of demands to the Danish government. These included the introduction of censorship, the establishment of German military courts, the outlawing of strikes, and the introduction of the death penalty for sabotage. The Germans also demanded that the city of Odense pay 1 million kroner and deliver hostages as compensation for the death of a German soldier during riots. The Danish government refused to comply and so on August 29th, 1943, the Germans dissolved the government and instituted martial law. The Danish Cabinet tendered its resignation, although the king never accepted it and so it remained de jure in existence. The Germans took full control of the bureaucracy and economy and set about implementing the same policies that had been put in place in other occupied countries. They tried to seize the Danish Navy, but only succeeded in taking control of 14 the larger ships; of the others, 32 were scuttled by their captains, 4 escaped to Sweden, and 2 remained at safe harbor in Greenland. The Germans also attempted to round up the Jewish population, but most escaped to Sweden. Denmark would remain under strict opposition until it was liberated in 1945.

The institution of martial law in Denmark and the accompanying dissolution of the Danish government is yet more proof that submission does not guarantee security. The Danish government chose to capitulate almost instantly to the Germans in hopes of preserving a modicum of independence and preventing the destruction of their country. While its decision made short-term sense, if every occupied nation had followed that logic the war would have been far easier for the Germans. The sacrifice on the part of the people of Yugoslavia, Poland, France, and the parts of the USSR that fell to the Germans drained resources and manpower. Denmark preserved its people and its property at the cost of freeing up German men and German weapons that would be used in the war effort.

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