At 04:15 on 9 April 1940 (Danish standard time), German forces crossed the border into neutral Denmark, in violation of a German–Danish treaty of non-aggression signed the previous year. After two hours the Danish government surrendered, believing that resistance was useless and hoping to work out an advantageous agreement with Germany. As a result of the cooperative attitude of the Danish authorities, German officials claimed that they would “respect Danish sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as neutrality.” The German authorities were inclined towards lenient terms with Denmark for several reasons which allowed Denmark a favorable relationship with Germany. The government remained intact and the parliament continued to function more or less as it had before, maintaining control over domestic policy. Danish public opinion generally backed the new government, particularly after the fall of France in June 1940.
Prior to, during and after the war Denmark enforced a restrictive refugee policy and handed Jewish refugees that managed to get over the border over to German authorities.
Newspaper articles and news reports “which might jeopardize German-Danish relations” were outlawed. Following the German assault on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, German authorities demanded that Danish communists be arrested. The Danish government complied and directed the police to arrest 339 communists using secret registers. Of these, 246, including the three communist members of the Danish parliament, were imprisoned in the Horserød camp, in violation of the Danish constitution. On 22 August 1941, the Danish parliament passed the Communist Law, outlawing the communist party and communist activities, in another violation of the Danish constitution. In 1943, about half of the imprisoned communists were transferred to Stutthof concentration camp, where 22 of them died. On November 25, 1941, Denmark joined the Anti-Comintern Pact.
On 29 June 1941 Frikorps Danmark (Free Corps Denmark) was founded as a corps of Danish volunteers to fight against the Soviet Union. Frikorps Danmark was set up at the initiative of the SS and National Socialist Workers’ Party of Denmark (DNSAP) who approached Lieutenant-Colonel C.P. Kryssing of the Danish army shortly after the invasion of the USSR had begun. According to Danish law, it was not illegal to join a foreign army, but active recruiting on Danish soil was illegal. German authorities disregarded this law and began recruiting efforts and ultimately 12,000 Danish citizens volunteered for German army duty of which 6,000 (maybe up to 8.000) were approved for service. After the war it was retroactively made illegal to have served in the German army and many of the returning soldiers given long prison sentences.
Industrial production and trade was, partly due to geopolitical reality and economic necessity, redirected towards Germany. Many government officials saw expanded trade with Germany as vital to maintaining social order in Denmark. It was feared increased unemployment and poverty could lead to civil unrest which would result in a crackdown by the German authorities. The Danish government and King Christian X repeatedly discouraged sabotage and encouraged informing on the resistance movement, an activity some were sentenced to death for, after the war. The structure of the Danish unemployment system meant that unemployment benefits could be denied if jobs were available in Germany and this practice was widely followed resulting in an average of some 20.000 Danes working in German factories through the 5 years of the war (about 100.000).
In return for these concessions, the Danish cabinet rejected German demands for legislation discriminating against Denmark’s Jewish minority. Demands to introduce the death penalty were likewise rebuffed and so were German demands to allow German military courts jurisdiction over Danish citizens and demands for the transfer of Danish army units to German military use.
German guards at Vestre Fængsel, a Danish prison taken over by the Germans during their occupation in World War II. (National Museum of Denmark).
Free Corps Denmark