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The Danish people saved almost 8000 Jewish people during World War II.


Denmark is said to be the happiest country in the world and 2nd most peaceful country.  What makes people peaceful and happy?  

THE Kingdom of Denmark is the oldest existing kingdom in the world and has the oldest flag. Today the country has a monarchy [“royal” rulers who earn the right to rule because of the family they were born into] and a parliament that is democratically elected. 

     This story will look at:  1.) Life in Denmark today.   2.) The Danish Resistance Movement [people who worked against Germany’s control of Denmark] during World War II.   3.) How Denmark went from being a land of warring Vikings to being the second most peaceful land on earth.  



IN  THINGS that people say are most important in life, Denmark is #1 in the world. Some of these things are: education, health care, human rights, honest government and prosperity [living comfortably]. Most Danes [Danish people] believe they live very good lives. They believe that equality [people being treated equally] is the most important part of their society. Danes are very patient, tolerant [willing to accept people who are different from them], cooperative [willing to work well with others], unified [not divided], and neat [keeping their homes and cities clean].  

     1) Family.  The people of Denmark have very close families and love family times together. The hours they work at their jobs give them plenty of time to be with family.

     2) Tolerance.  In all its history, Denmark has been a very generous [giving] nation and never a racist nation.  [racist: people who believe that some races, or groups, of people are not as good as others.] It is a country that has always welcomed immigrants [people coming from other countries], and has fed and cared for them.

     3) Work conditions.  Denmark is the #1 country in the world for workers’ rights and has the highest minimum wage. [The lowest amount of money that can be paid to a worker. In the U.S., minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. In Denmark it is almost $20 an hour.]  Each year, everyone who works is given 6 weeks of vacation with pay.

     4) Public services.  Education, health care, welfare programs and some public transportation are free. But Denmark has one of the highest tax rates in the world to pay for these things. [Almost 70% of what people earn is given back to the government.]  The people of Denmark do not complain about the taxes because they feel it is more important to live with all the free services they have. The free services, they say, help them live without worries.  

     Danes are said to be very “easy” [not getting upset quickly] and calm people. Maybe the reason for this is because the government cares for all their needs and so they do not fear being hungry, helpless, or homeless. They do not fear being cared for in old age.  

     Q. What is good and not so good about having a government care for all your needs?

Hans Hillewaert

Photo courtesy Hans Hillewaert

5) Environment.  Denmark rates very high when it comes to taking care of the environment. Today it is one of the most successful producers of wind energy. It has the largest wind turbines [see photo] in the world.

     Denmark also has very few cars compared to other countries.  Many people ride bicycles to work, to the store, or to visit friends—even in the winter! They also use public transportation.

Q. So far we have seen that Denmark is a country that cares about life. They care about people, about their homes and cities, and they care about the environment. How does caring for others create happiness? If you give to others, won’t you have less?  

§  Here’s a fun video about bicycles in Denmark.  §

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For almost 70 years, Denmark has not been involved in any war. Here’s a good example of how this shapes the thinking of a country. A Danish woman living in America received an e-mail from one of her friends in Denmark. In the letter the friend said, “Do you know what my granddaughter told me today?  She said, ‘I’m so lucky I live in Denmark because we don’t have war.”  It was like saying, “We don’t have banana trees in Denmark.”  To the girl, the climate, or the nature of the country, cannot “grow” war, just like banana trees cannot grow in a cold place.

     Still, one of the bravest stories in history is the story of the Danish Resistance Movement during World War II. In 1939 Denmark signed an agreement of non-aggression with Germany [that is, agreeing not to fight against Germany]. They hoped to stay out of the war. But Germany broke the agreement in 1940 and brought soldiers into the country. As a very small nation, Denmark could not fight the Germans. It was a sad, difficult time for the people of Denmark. They did not want to help Germany in the war, but they could not fight such a strong army.

     Q. Is it possible for a country to live safely today without an army?  

     The fact that Denmark surrendered [let Germany rule them] does not mean the Danish people did not have courage or a willingness to help people in danger. At the start of World War II, about 8000 Jews lived in Denmark. Most lived in the capital, Copenhagen. When the Germans first invaded, the Germans allowed the Jews to live they way they always lived. There were two reasons for this. Germany wanted to use Denmark as an example of how much “better” a country would be if Germany controlled it. But also, Germany needed food and other things for their army. Denmark gave the Germans these things in return for letting them live “freely” under German rule. Denmark had control of things like schools, businesses and the police. Also, the King of Denmark and the citizens supported their Jewish neighbors.

     But in 1943 things changed. The Germans began to make more and more unfair rules. They planned to arrest [to take] the Jews and send them to camps where they would be killed. The Danish people began to resist [not obey but work against] the Germans in secret actions. They successfully started to help the Jews escape thanks to one German officer named Georg Duckwitz. He lived a long time in Denmark and loved the people. He wanted to help them. And so, he sent a warning to Jewish leaders of the plan to arrest the Jews.

     Q. Was it right for the German soldier to work against the plans of his country by helping to save the Jews?

Danish Refugees on Fishing boats

Photos in this section: public domain

public domain

     From this one warning, almost every Jew in Denmark was warned of the arrest plan and given a place to hide until a way was found to get them to Sweden where they would be safe. Some Jews left immediately when they heard the warning. But most of the Jews, over 7000, went into hiding in people’s homes, in churches, in hospitals, in barns, and in the forest. Very quickly, a small group of Danish citizens began to take the Jews to villages on the coast of Denmark where fishermen agreed to take them to Sweden. In less than one month, over 7o00 Jews and 700 of their non-Jewish relatives were taken to safety in Sweden.  

     A little less than 500 Jews were caught and sent to a ghetto [a very, very poor part of a city] in Czechoslovakia. They were held there until they could be sent to prison camps. The Danish Red Cross fought for the right of the prisoners to receive letters and packages, and for the prison camp to be inspected. Only 1% [one percent] of the prisoners died. At the end of the war, thousands of Jewish refugees in Sweden returned to Denmark and found their homes safe, and their gardens and animals cared for. The Danish people had not allowed the German soldiers to destroy or steal from the houses of their Jewish neighbors.

     Following World War II, Denmark ended its 200 year long practice of neutrality [not fighting in wars]. It was one of the first countries to help start the United Nations and NATO.  Because they were helped by other countries during the war, Denmark became a strong supporter of international peace-keeping.

Here is an old film showing scenes from Denmark during the war.

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“Guests from afar,” Nikolai Roerich.

VIKINGS, the early ancestors [relatives] of the Danes, were skilled sailors, soldiers and explorers.  They were also writers! Thanks to that, much can be learned about their history. But much is still not known. For example, what really brought their way of life to an end? 

     Some people say that the word “viking” is an old word that means “a journey overseas”.  But others say that it means a “pirate raid” [taking the lands and things of other people]. The Vikings were raiders, warriors [men who started wars] and traders. They became very rich from trading.  There were other raiders and traders before the Vikings, but the Vikings were the most feared. This is because they were master boat builders. Their large ships took them farther than other armies could travel over land. Their ships could sail across the ocean and also sail in very shallow [not deep] water. This let them sail to places other people could not get to. The Viking attacks were much bigger and happened more often than the attacks of other armies. The Vikings went as far as North America and Canada, to North Africa, Russia and the Middle East. This was amazing because most sailors did not dare travel beyond where they could see land. The Vikings, however, were not afraid to go many days at sea without seeing land. When the Vikings returned home, they brought with them people, things and ideas from the countries they went to. In this way, they played an important role in connecting different people, cultures and nations. 

     By the end of the 11th century, Vikings began to travel less. Some say this is because, at that time, the Vikings began to practice Christianity. The influence of Christianity brought changes to their way of life—including the end of slavery [taking people by force and forcing them to work for others]. Slave trade [buying and selling people] was a large Viking business, but Christianity brought it to an end. The end of slavery brought one of the greatest changes to Viking society. Without slaves, the Vikings lost their wealth and strength.   

     Still, from the early 900s up until the 1850s, the kingdom of Denmark took part in endless wars to get new lands. But for over 400 years, they did not win one war! Maybe after 900 years of fighting, and 400 years of losing, they had enough. Perhaps, too, their system of education, which became very strong and available to everyone, changed how people thought about life, peace and war.


 ©InterestEng. July 2013 - April 2022 §  The stories in the magazine portion of the site are written by English language learners. Stories are corrected by a native English speaker.  § Photos are staff photos or used with permission.  §  To contact us:  go.gently.on@gmail.com