Christian X of Denmark
is the most popular Danish king of modern times, whose popularity is only shadowed by Shakespearian Hamlet
. He reigned on Denmark from 1912 to 1947.
Christian X has been described as authoritarian because he was focussed on monarchy, in spite of the growing importance of democracy. Though this aspect was putting him in an uncomfortable light, he did become a popular symbol of resistance to the German occupation of Denmark.
In order to put everything into context, it needs to be noted that the Danish had a very strong sense of community and cooperation. This was coming from a long history and, already in the early XIX century, King Frederick VI
gave land to farmers – freeing them from feudalism – and made education compulsory for everybody up the age of fourteen: all farmers would go to Sunday classes for the rest of their lives!
The Nazi occupation
So, when Germany invaded the country, Christian X managed the situation in a very responsible and illuminated way. First of all, he surrendered immediately. That wasn’t cowardice but realism: he avoided his small army to be slaughtered. Then he didn’t escape in exile like other European monarchs did. He stayed and started an extenuating action on the occupying army, often managing to obtain large concessions: for example, the Danish Parliament continued to operate. The Germans understood very quickly that the King had the full support from his people and that the fact that they surrendered didn’t mean that they would always obey without creating problems. The Danish people started a passive resistance and Christian X was its symbol: every Sunday he would get out of his palace, just himself on his horse, with the whole town on both sides of the path. A silent demonstration of determination and compactness. The episode of the flag is another example. When the Germans put the Nazi flag on the Parliament, Christian summoned the German general:
“Remove your flag from our Parliament!”.
The general refused; Christian then said that a Danish soldier will remove it.
“And we’ll kill him!”, replied the general.
“I have my doubts because it will be me.” Christian sentenced and the flag was removed.
There’s no doubt that the Germans did feel that it wasn’t convenient for them to be harsh with the Danish people: they even tried to organise a Danish Nazi party for the general elections, but they gathered a handful of votes.
When the Nazis made their occupation harsher, putting in place a puppet government, a resistance based on sabotage and strikes started immediately: the majority of the Danish navy went to Sweden, the other boats were sunk so that they cannot be seized by the Nazis.
There is also a legend that Christian donned the Star of David
in solidarity with the Danish Jews. In reality, this is not true: Danish Jews were not forced to wear the Star of David; this legend might be coming from a British report in 1942 that claimed that he threatened to don the Star if it was imposed on the Danish Jews. Actually, about this point, the king’s personal diary says:
“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.“
When, in 1943, Christian realised that the Germans would deport the Jews, he organised their mass escape, all in one night, funding this operation with offers coming from churches throughout the country. They went hidden in a fleet of Swedish fishing boats. Out 8,387 Jews that were in Denmark, 7,906 were saved; 481 were captured, most coming as refugees from other countries and, therefore, unknown to the Danish. But the king didn’t give up the idea that those would be killed and started an endless negotiation with the Nazis. Inspections were organised in the concentration camps where the Danish Jews were kept, forcing the Nazis to lower the restrictions. The Danish Red Cross was regularly providing food and garments to the prisoners.
On April 2nd 1945, a group of vehicles from Sweden and Denmark – 23 buses, 6 trucks, a mobile kitchen and 3 cars – went for the Neuengamme concentration camp; on April 12th, they also reached Theresienstadt. In total, they took 423 Jews alive back to Denmark.
At the end of the war, out of 8,387 Jews present in Denmark, 58 were killed and 8,329 saved. And the little Denmark never stopped being a thorn in the flank of the Nazi empire.
Certainly, difficult moments – especially during wars – have the ability to take out the best of some people, not necessarily special individuals: common citizens become heroes.
But, frankly, how does this compare with today’s politicians?