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A Glass Half Full or Half Empty? The Post-war Treatment of the German Minority in Denmark

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Collective Identities and Post-War Violence in Europe, 1944–48

Part of the book series: World Histories of Crime, Culture and Violence ((WHCCV))

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Abstract

Following the German surrender in May 1945, many German minorities faced an existential crisis. Throughout Europe, the aggressive policies of the National Socialist government fell back upon local German-speakers. Most devastating were the consequences in East-Central European countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, whose remaining German populations were summarily deported. The experience of the small German minority of approximately 30,000 North Schleswigers offers an interesting comparative study. Their home country of Denmark had been under German occupation for much of the war. The local Germans had cooperated extensively with the occupying forces. The built-up resentment in the majority population surfaced dramatically at the end of the war.

The most encompassing consequences resulted from the judicial crackdown. Around 3500 Germans were arrested. Nearly 3000 were ultimately sentenced, predominantly for serving in German military and paramilitary units. By the time the legal process had run its course, however, the mood of the country had begun to change. Unlike in many other parts of Europe, the German minority was able to recover. Its historical experience offers valuable insights into the significance of democratic structures during times of crisis and violence.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The literature on the expulsion of German populations at the end of World War II is too encompassing to be presented in detail here. For a brief English-language introduction to the German experience and its broader context, see Alfred M. De Zayas, Nemesis at Potsdam, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977; Norman M. Naimark, Fires of Hatred: Ethnic Cleansing in Twentieth-Century Europe, Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2001.

  2. 2.

    For a newer binational introduction to Schleswig history, see Henrik Becker-Christensen and Ulrich Lange (eds.), Geschichte Schleswigs vom frühen Mittelalter bis 1920, Aabenraa: Institut for Grænseregionsforskning, 1998.

  3. 3.

    For a history of collective identities in Schleswig, see Peter Thaler, Of Mind and Matter: The Duality of National Identity in the German-Danish Borderlands, West Lafayette (IN): Purdue University Press, 2009.

  4. 4.

    For a recent analysis of the war of 1864 in its historical context, see Rasmus Glenthøj, 1864: Sønner af de Slagne, Copenhagen: Gads forlag, 2014.

  5. 5.

    For the division of Schleswig, see Troels Fink, Da Sønderjylland blev delt, 3 vols., Aabenraa: Institut for Grænseregionsforskning, 1979.

  6. 6.

    For the composition of the German minority in Denmark, see also Jürgen Zeh, Die deutsche Sprachgemeinschaft in Nordschleswig: Ein soziales Gebilde im Wandel, Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke Verlag, 1982.

  7. 7.

    For the interwar minority, see Henrik Becker-Christensen, Det tyske mindretal i Nordslesvig 1920–1932, 2 vols., Aabenraa: Institut for Grænseregionsforskning, 1990.

  8. 8.

    For an analysis of the German minority’s role during the German occupation of Denmark, see Johan Peter Noack, Det tyske mindretal i Nordslesvig under besættelsen, Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1975.

  9. 9.

    Due to the international legal implications of deploying foreign citizens in the regular armed forces, the German leadership widely used the nominally volunteer Waffen-SS for this purpose. For a closer look at the function and composition of the Waffen-SS, see Bernd Wegner, Hitlers politische Soldaten, Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1982.

  10. 10.

    Johan Peter Noack, Det tyske mindretal … p. 124. For the role of German minorities in the Waffen-SS, see also Robert Herzog, Die Volksdeutschen in der Waffen-SS, Tübingen: Institut für Besatzungsfragen, 1955.

  11. 11.

    For the Haderslev Circle, see Arthur Lessow, “Der Haderslebener Kreis und seine Bedeutung für den Neubeginn der deutschen Arbeit in Nordschleswig 1945”, Schriften der Heimatkundlichen Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Nordschleswig, Vol. 70, 1995, pp. 108–135.

  12. 12.

    For an introduction to Denmark’s response to the occupation, see Hans Kirchhoff, Samarbejde og modstand: En politisk historie, Odense: Odense Universitetsforlag, 2001; Claus Bundgård Christensen, Joachim Lund, Niels Wium Olesen and Jakob Sørensen, Danmark besat: Krig og hverdag 1940–45, Copenhagen: Informations Forlag, 2020. For a broader look at Denmark’s international position between 1933 and 1945, see also Bo Lidegaard, Kampen om Danmark: 1933–1945, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2018.

  13. 13.

    For an in-depth investigation of the events of August 1943, see Hans Kirchhoff, Augustoprøret 1943, 3 vols., Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1979.

  14. 14.

    Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret efter besættelsen, Copenhagen: Djøf Forlag, 1984, p. 162.

  15. 15.

    Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung–Retsopgør: Politische Säuberung nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg in Nordschleswig, Neumünster: Wachholtz Verlag, 1998, p. 155.

  16. 16.

    For the history of the Fårhus camp, see Henrik Skov Kristensen, Straffelejren: Fårhus, landssvigerne og retsopgøret, Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk Forlag Arnold Busck, 2011.

  17. 17.

    C. J. Bech, Morten Kamphøvener and Kai Edvard Larsen (eds.), Befrielsesdage i Sønderjylland, Sønderborg: Dypo Bogforlag, 1946, pp. 198f.

  18. 18.

    C. J. Bech …, Befrielsesdage …, p. 199.

  19. 19.

    Henrik Skov Kristensen, Straffelejren …, p. 26. Other regions of the country, especially the capital of Copenhagen, experienced unauthorised liquidations of ethnic Danes accused of collaboration.

  20. 20.

    Ernst Siegfried Hansen, Disteln am Wege, Bielefeld: Deutscher Heimat-Verlag, 1957, p. 98.

  21. 21.

    Ernst Siegfried Hansen, Disteln …, p. 99.

  22. 22.

    Ernst Siegfried Hansen, Disteln …, pp. 248–251. This 18-month sentence was imposed by the court of appeals, whereas the lower court had considered five months sufficient.

  23. 23.

    Jürgen Zeh, Die deutsche Sprachgemeinschaft …, p. 124.

  24. 24.

    Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung …, p. 135.

  25. 25.

    As indicated above, the use of existing statutes was also considered insufficient due to the absence of a formal state of war between Denmark and Germany.

  26. 26.

    Rigsdagstidende 1945, Rigsdagens Aabning, XII.

  27. 27.

    See Lov Nr. 259 af 1. Juni 1945 om Tillæg til Borgerlig Straffelov angaaende Forræderi og anden landsskadelig Virksomhed, and Lov Nr. 260 af 1. Juni 1945 om Tillæg til Lov om Rettens Pleje vedrørende Behandling af Sager angaaende Forræderi og anden landsskadelig Virksomhed m. v.

  28. 28.

    See Lov Nr. 259 af 1. Juni 1945 om Tillæg til Borgerlig Straffelov angaaende Forræderi og anden landsskadelig Virksomhed, § 3.

  29. 29.

    See Lov Nr. 356 af 29. Juni 1946 om Ændringer i og Tilføjelser til Lov Nr. 259 af 1. Juni 1945 om Tillæg til Borgerlig Straffelov angaaende Forræderi og anden landsskadelig Virksomhed.

  30. 30.

    For these halftime pardons, see Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, pp. 452–459.

  31. 31.

    See Lov nr. 132 af 30. 3. 1946 om Konfiskation af tysk og japansk Ejendom.

  32. 32.

    See Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung …, p. 347.

  33. 33.

    See Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, p. 133.

  34. 34.

    See paragraph 1 of the Lov Nr. 259 af 1. Juni 1945 om Tillæg til Borgerlig Straffelov angaaende Forræderi og anden landsskadelig Virksomhed, and Lov Nr. 260 af 1. Juni 1945 om Tillæg til Lov om Rettens Pleje vedrørende Behandling af Sager angaaende Forræderi og anden landsskadelig Virksomhed m. v.

  35. 35.

    For the following, see Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, pp. 737–744.

  36. 36.

    Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, p. 413.

  37. 37.

    Rigsdagstidende 1945, Column 118.

  38. 38.

    See Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, p. 424.

  39. 39.

    See Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung …, p. 487.

  40. 40.

    Ernst Siegfried Hansen, Disteln …, p. 268. For an in-depth analysis of the legal measures in individual districts, see Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung

  41. 41.

    See Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung …, p. 489.

  42. 42.

    For statistical material on the social composition of the different groups sentenced for collaboration, see Karl O. Christiansen, Landssvigerkriminaliteten i sociologisk belysning, Copenhagen: Gads forlag, 1955; Karl O. Christiansen, Mandlige landssvigere i Danmark under besættelsen, Copenhagen: Gads forlag, 1950.

  43. 43.

    Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, p. 431.

  44. 44.

    The principal Danish minority organisation in Germany was called The Schleswig Association (Den Slesvigske Forening/DSF) from 1920 to 1946 and the South Schleswig Association (Sydslesvigsk Forening/SSF) from that year on. In 1948, a separate electoral wing was founded. It received the designation South Schleswig Electoral Association (Sydslesvigsk Vælgerforening) and is widely known by the German acronym SSW.

  45. 45.

    For a listing of relevant quantitative data from 1947 onwards, see Jørgen Kühl (ed.), En europæisk model? Nationale mindretal i det dansk-tyske grænseland 1945–2000, Aabenraa: Institut for Grænseregionsforskning, 2002, p. 212.

  46. 46.

    Jürgen Zeh, Die deutsche Sprachgemeinschaft …, p. 136.

  47. 47.

    For the Bonn-Copenhagen declarations, see Jørgen Kühl and Marc Weller (eds.), Minority Policy in Action: The Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations in a European Context, 1955–2005, Flensburg and Aabenraa: Institut for Grænseregionsforskning – Syddansk Universitet, 2005.

  48. 48.

    For the text of the declarations and the surrounding agreements, see Flensburger Arbeitskreis für Stadt- und Regionalforschung (ed.), Quellen zur Geschichte Schleswig-Holsteins, vol. 4, Schleswig-Holstein als Land der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Kiel: Verlag Schmidt & Klaunig, 1985, pp. 194–199.

  49. 49.

    Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, p. 412.

  50. 50.

    Sabine Lorek, Rechtsabrechnung …, p. 184.

  51. 51.

    Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, p. 162.

  52. 52.

    This comparison between Norway and Denmark can, of course, only refer to the overall retribution against real or alleged collaborators and not to the treatment of German minorities, since Norway did not have such a minority. For a comparison, see Ditlev Tamm, Retsopgøret …, pp. 703–706, as well as John T. Lauridsen, “Opgør og udrensning: Danske nazister efter befrielsen 1945”, Den jyske historiker, Vol. 71, 1995, pp. 83f.

  53. 53.

    For a recent look at the governmental role in the post-war transformation of the Czech borderlands, see David W. Gerlach, The Economy of Ethnic Cleansing: The Transformation of the German-Czech Borderlands after World War II, Cambridge (Eng.): Cambridge University Press, 2017.

  54. 54.

    See, for example, Henrik Skov Kristensen, Straffelejren …, p. 587.

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Thaler, P. (2022). A Glass Half Full or Half Empty? The Post-war Treatment of the German Minority in Denmark. In: Konrád, O., Barth, B., Mrňka, J. (eds) Collective Identities and Post-War Violence in Europe, 1944–48. World Histories of Crime, Culture and Violence. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-78386-0_10

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