Werner Best, 1903-1989
Werner Best was a German politician, diplomat and SS-Obergruppenführer. During the occupation, he was the Third Reich’s Plenipotentiary (Reichsbevollmächtigter) in Denmark 1942-45. It characterises the work of the Third Reich, that he was highly ideological-based and in the long term prepared to go all the way, but also that he had the endowment and the political beating to act pragmatically and opportunistic if he believed it could serve the higher ideological objective of this.
From his earliest youth, Werner Best was a right radical German nationalist with distinctly anti-Semitic and anti-democratic views. At the age of 20 he was a resistance activist and saboteur in the French-occupied Ruhr area. In 1930 he became a member of the German National Socialist Party, NSDAP, at the end of 1931 by the organization SS.
Best studied Jura and filed in 1927 his legal doctorate. In 1929 he became a court assessor, but his promising legal trajectory was interrupted in 1931, when it became known that he was the author of the so-called Boxheimer documents, which was a detailed plan for NSDAP’s power takeover plans, which included the liquidation of political opponents. After Hitler’s takeover of power in 1933, the road in the judiciary was again opened to Best. He became chief of police in Hesse, and in 1935 he was given a leading position in the Gestapo, the National Socialist political police. Alongside the administrative work, he wrote theses on German police law and the ideology of German world view.
Rigsbefuldmægtiget in Denmark
After the German occupation of France in May-June 1940, Best became a central actor in the occupation administration in Paris. In June 1942 he was employed at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It was by virtue of that employment that in November 1942 he came to Denmark as Plenipotentiary (Reichsbevollmächtigter) of Germany and replaces Cecil v. Renthe-Fink.
The appointment of best to this post was conceived by Hitler as a tightening of the course towards Denmark as a result of the so-called Telegram crisis. But in fact, from November 1942 until the summer of 1943, it led to a significant relaxation in the Danish-German relationship, not least by virtue of the role Best played. Unlike the orders he was sent to Denmark, he appeared to be instrumental in the formation of a Danish government without ministers from the Danish National Socialist Party DNSAP after the Telegram crisis. This courtesy to the established political system in Denmark, as well as the trustful cooperation he and the State and Foreign Minister Erik Scavenius quickly established, smoothed many of the contradictions in the Danish-German negotiating relations. Best and Scavenius managed to make the common interest in quiet conditions in Denmark the central objective of both parties. Best’s motive was to maximize Danish food exports to Germany, as well as to avoid unrest and sabotage. The motive of Scavenius was to maintain Danish sovereignty and, incidentally, that the country had to “make it through”.
Bests policy can also be seen as part of a power struggle between the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which he represented, and the German Wehrmacht’s leaders in Denmark. Where the Wehrmacht tended to be very inflexible and firm in putting the military interests above all others, Best sought to solve the problems through the political bargaining path, and this necessarily implies responsiveness to Danish interests.
Best’s accommodating line also appeared when he accepted that Denmark could hold elections to the Folketing and the Landstinget in March 1943. He would like the Danish Government’s mandate to be confirmed by choice and only had the shrugs to face the prospect that the Danish National Socialist party DNSAP would be humiliated in the elections. They had to “cope with themselves ” as he dry formulated it. Best had not become less embodied National Socialist than he had previously been. However, he considered that the first and most important interest of National Socialism and the Third Reich was to win the war and, as regards Denmark, this interest was best served by the current government continuing and securing food exports and the public peace in the country, including the security of the German military.
Best (right) with Erik Scavenius, Danish PM 1942-43.
Unrest in August 1943
However, bests policy was squeezed by the unrest of the summer of 1943. The increased sabotage and extensive street riot, which in some places has been the subject of civilian Danes ‘ attacks on German personnel, at the end of August it was too much for Hitler. He called Best home for a reprimand and demanded tranquility in Denmark. Hitler supplied the national plenipotentiary with an ultimatum to submit to the Danish Government on his return to Copenhagen. The ultimatum required, among other things, that the government should impose a state of emergency with the death penalty for sabotage, a ban on strikes and grouping in the streets. In particular, the question of the death penalty was inadmissible for the political system, which therefore rejected the ultimatum 28. August 1943 and ceased to function. The result was that the German military power 29. August introduced military emergency, which weakened Best and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Denmark.
After August 1943
However, the role of bests was not played out. He agreed to meet the departmental director as a representative of the Danish State, thus helping to support the position of the departmental chiefs in the last time of the war. He also played a central and quite ambiguous role in relation to the German action against the “Danish Jews” in October 1943. He was thus both the man who received Hitler’s approval for the action, and he also helped to enable the Jews to flee to Sweden by leaking, through his staff Georg Duckwitz, information about the impending action to Danish decision-makers. It is assumed by historians that Best with this double game sought to magnify his position with Hitler, while seeking to strengthen his position with the Danish negotiating party.
Best wanted to fight the resistance with police investigation and war courts. Hitler, on the other hand, wanted to see action and instead demanded the so-called ‘ counterterror ‘ introduced, after which sabogists were to be combated with German bomb explosions of buildings that were of particular value to the Danes. Like in the form of entertainment, culture and media institutions such as print houses and amusement parks that did not benefit the German war economy. Attacks against German soldiers or the killing of the resistance informers were to be reciprocated with the murder of known Danes, the so-called clearing murders. Hitler’s intention was to strike so hard that the actions had a deterrent effect and thus to promote a perception of the population that the price of the resistance was too high.
As it was an order from Hitler, there was no other way but to do it, but as with the Jewish action, Best also played an ambiguous and moderating role here. First, it was seldom clear that the occupying power or its Danish minions were behind the actions; The attacks simply did not stand up to the fact that the deterrent effect was weakening. Secondly, there was never talk of the factor-10 that Hitler had wanted. So, for example, 10 clearing murders for each informer liquidated. Most often it was in the ratio of 1:1. The intent of Best in this weakening of Hitler’s intentions was to continue to promote relatively calm and stable occupation conditions in Denmark, considering that such conditions made it easier to keep the land occupied and that exports to Germany was in order.
After liberation: imprisonment and pardon
Best was internated after the liberation and later convicted of war crimes, first to death, but later at the Supreme Court in 1950 set at 12 years imprisonment. He only served a total of six years, he was pardoned and expelled in 1951. In the Federal Republic (West Germany), he gained a successful career as a privately practiced lawyer, where he gave legal assistance to a number of former SS colleagues, among other things.
Source: Danmarks Historien (Århus Universitet)
Best participating in the commemoration for fallen members of the Schalburg Corps, Copenhagen 17 October 1943.
From Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt.
In his efforts as the RSHA emissary in France, Best’s unit drew up radical plans for a total reorganization of Western Europe based on racial principles: he sought to unite Netherlands, Flanders and French territory north of the Loire river into the Reich, turn Wallonia and Brittany into German protectorates, merge Northern Ireland with the Irish Free State, create a decentralized British federation and break Spain into independent entities of Galicia, Basque Country and Catalonia.
Best kept his position in Denmark until the end of the war in May 1945, even after the German military commander, Hermann von Hanneken—who had been encouraged by Hitler to rule Denmark with an iron hand—had assumed direct control over its administration on 29 August 1943.
Administration by the Permanent Secretaries
To avoid deportation of Danes to German concentration camps, the permanent secretary of the ministry of foreign affairs, Nils Svenningsen, in January 1944 proposed establishment of an internment camp within Denmark. Best accepted this proposal, but on condition that the camp be built close to the German border. Frøslev Prison Camp was opened in August 1944.
In compliance with the Danish cabinet’s decision on 9 April 1940 to accept cooperation with German authorities, the Danish police did cooperate with German occupation forces. This arrangement remained in effect even after the Danish government resigned on 29 August 1943. On 12 May 1944, Best demanded that the Danish police should assume responsibility for protection of 57 enterprises the Germans deemed at risk of sabotage by the Danish resistance movement, which was growing in strength. Should the Danish civil administration not do so, total Danish police strength would be reduced to 3,000 men. Nils Svenningsen, who functioned as “de facto” head of the Danish civil administration in the absence of a Danish government, was inclined to accept this demand, but the organizations of the Danish police opposed it.
Following rejection of the German request, a state of emergency was declared in Denmark on 29 August 1943. Then on 19 September 1944, the German army began arresting members of the Danish police forces; 1,984 policemen out of 10,000 were arrested and deported to German concentration and prisoner-of-war camps, most of them to Buchenwald.
In deliberations on 3 May 1945 about preparation for the impending German defeat, Best fought to avoid implementation of a scorched earth policy in Denmark. Best also possibly sabotaged the rounding up of the Jewish population in Denmark in order to avoid agitating the general Danish population. In the Rescue of the Danish Jews, the primary escape route was to cross Øresund to Sweden by boat. At the most critical time, all German patrol boats of the area were ordered into harbor for three weeks for new paint jobs. Best may have tipped off his Jewish tailor about this development—but Danish authorities credit Best’s right-hand man, Georg Duckwitz—which contributed to the escape of a number of Jews. During his trial before Danish courts, Best insisted that the Jews were able to escape because he provided the dates to Duckwitz.
After the war, Best testified as a witness at the Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals, during which he attempted to present the Gestapo as a harmless state organization that was subordinated to state leaders and was nearly undifferentiated from Germany’s criminal police. Historian Giles McDonough characterized Best’s testimony as a “revisionist interpretation of the Gestapo.” For instance, Best claimed that the Gestapo primarily instituted investigations in response to reports from the general public and that only serious cases of treason warranted “enhanced interrogations” under strict guidelines, during which no confession were ever extorted from the accused.
In 1948, Best was sentenced to death by a Danish court, but his sentence was reduced to 12 years on appeal. Best was released in 1951 as part of a Danish amnesty program for “Nazi war criminals”. In 1958 Best was fined 70,000 marks by a Berlin de-Nazification court for his actions as an SS officer during the war. In March 1969, Best was held in detention and in February 1972 he was charged again, when further war crimes allegations arose, but he was released in August 1972 on grounds that he was medically unfit to stand trial. After that, Best was part of a network that helped former “Nazis” and spent his time “campaigning for a general amnesty”. He died in Mülheim, North Rhine-Westphalia, on 23 June 1989.
Rydhave is a villa located on Strandvejen in Charlottenlund. The villa is used today as a home for U.S. ambassador to Denmark.
(Foto: Dines Bogø).
The villa was built in 1885 by Teglværk owner Emil Edvard Schackenburg (1818-94) and his wife Karoline. The house was designed by Jens Vilhelm Petersen (1851-1931). The house was sold to Carl Drost (1852-1926) in 1914. Christian G. Hansen (1863-1941) owned the house from 1918 to 1941. The villa was taken over in 1942 by Germany’s Danish attorney general in Denmark, Dr. Werner Best. After the war, the villa was taken over by the Danish state. From 1946, Rydhave served as a residence for the US ambassador to Denmark.
Rommel visited Best at Rydhave 9. december 1943.
Denmark in WWII
Read about WWII here