An Explanation from Denmark: The Kingdom of Denmark During WWII

Dear Bradley J. Birzer

We’re some regular Danish readers of The Imaginative Conservative. To our grave disappointment we came across an article released on October 9, 2011 about King Haakon VII of Norway in which you in the following statement accuse H.M. King Christian X of readily accepting Nazi occupation: ”His [i.e. King Haakon VII] brother, King of Denmark, did just the opposite, accepting Nazi rule, while the Swedish king did much in his power to help Hitler project his evil throughout northern Europe.”

Let me explain the political situation in Denmark in 1940. In 1901 the Danish political system went from a constitutional monarchy and a constitutional system – where the king appointed his own government from the elected Rigsdag (the parliament), and played an active role in politics – to a system of liberal parliamentarian democracy where all power being centered in the lower house (the Folketing) and neither the king – although the monarch retained his formal importance – nor the upper house (the Landsting) could act out their constitutional powers anymore.

Although it certainly had its flaws, the former system of government was an attempt to combine the separation of power with the three types of government; Monarchy, Aristocracy (as seen in the upper house) and Democracy (as seen in the universal suffrage lower house). The government, appointed by the king, would then cooperate with the two houses of parliament in order to legislate and govern the kingdom. This bears – with the addition of Montesquieu’s separation of power – some resemblance to the classical British idea of Parliament: Sovereign, House of Lords, and House of Commons.

As mentioned, at the time of World War II liberal parliamentarism had completely prevailed against the conservative forces in the kingdom. The last time a monarch was to take active part in politics was in a crisis after World War I. Thus the king, though being the very symbol of the nation, in reality only played a ceremonial, consultative and symbolic role in the government of the country, which meant all the power being centered in the lower house majority, through which the left-wing government ruled the country in the years before the Second World War. Thus you cannot judge the king for the errors of the government.

The successive Radical Liberal and Social Democratic governments after World War I had pursued an increasingly pacifist foreign policy. This was especially true when it came to Germany. This resulted in the complete neglecting of the Danish Royal Armed Forces which – as recent research shows – had dissuaded the Germans from invading Denmark during the First World War. Thus the military was neither equipped nor prepared for hostilities at the outbreak of World War II. In this way – against the good will of the king – the Royal Armed Forces were in no shape to properly defend the kingdom.

When the Germans finally invaded in 1940, Denmark was unable to properly defend itself. Eventually, though not without German casualties, the Danish government ordered the armed forces to stand down. This initiated the time of the so-called “collaborative coalition government”. The surrender of Denmark was inevitable, but the policy of extended cooperation with the Nazis – to whom Denmark basically became a puppet state – was very much against the will of the king.

During the first two years of the occupation, in spite of his age and the precarious situation, he nonetheless took a daily ride on his horse, “Jubilee,” through Copenhagen, unaccompanied by a groom, let alone by a guard. He did this to demonstrate that he had not abandoned his sovereign rights in the face of the occupation.

When occupants talked about the Danish Jews (luckily this never happened) being ordered to wear the Yellow Badge (Judenstern), the king suggested that all his subjects should be ordered to wear it. This is evident from one of his journal entries: “When you look at the inhumane treatment of Jews, not only in Germany but occupied countries as well, you start worrying that such a demand might also be put on us, but we must clearly refuse such, this due to their protection under the Danish constitution. I stated that I could not meet such a demand towards Danish citizens. If such a demand is made, we would best meet it by all wearing the Star of David.”

On October 1, 1943, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler ordered the arrest and deportation of the Danish Jews. Despite great personal risk, the Danish Resistance Movement, with the assistance of many ordinary Danish citizens, managed to evacuate 7,220 of Denmark’s 7,800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, by sea to nearby neutral Sweden. King Christian X personally helped finance this evacuation. The Danish Jews would’ve been doomed if King Gustaf of Sweden had not been persuaded to publicly declare Sweden’s willingness to provide asylum, and on October 2 Swedish radio broadcast that Sweden was ready to receive the Jewish refugees

The king also triggered a diplomatic crisis between the Danish and German governments. In 1942, Adolf Hitler sent the king a long telegram congratulating him on his seventy-second birthday. The king’s reply was a mere, Spreche Meinen besten Dank aus. Chr. Rex (English: Giving my best thanks, King Christian). This insult, known as the Telegram Crisis, greatly outraged Hitler and he immediately recalled his ambassador from Copenhagen and expelled the Danish ambassador from Germany. German pressure then resulted in the dismissal of the government led by Vilhelm Buhl and its replacement with a new cabinet, which the Germans expected would be more cooperative.

In the end, in 1943, the Germans officially dissolved the Danish government and instituted martial law. Thus ending the time of the collaborative government, and, more or less, sparking the time of official Danish resistance. In September 1943, a variety of resistance groups came together in the Danish Freedom Council, which coordinated resistance activities. King Christian X became the national symbol of resistance against the Nazi occupants of the kingdom.

With King Christian X’s role as a rallying symbol for Danish national sentiment and unity during the German Occupation, the conservative king has become one of the most popular Danish monarchs in history.
It would be proper and very appreciated with an apology for the injustice done to King Christian X aswell as the insult of the Kingdom´s honor.

Best regards and good wishes,
Alexander Rensbro,
Copenhagen Young Conservatives

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