Explosive Danish Documentary
By Andrew Osborn
The Observer - UK
Stirring tales of wartime resistance have been common currency in Denmark for 50 years, but an explosive new documentary has illuminated a darker side to the period and is outraging a generation.
Only a German does not pull any punches, claiming that the Danish authorities were responsible for the deaths of 7,000 German children under the age of five between 1945 and 1949 and describing how Danish doctors denied food and medical aid to a quarter of a million German refugees seeking sanctuary in Denmark.
Produced by the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, the programme has provoked a storm of controversy. The producer has been called a traitor and a propagandist, surviving members of the Danish resistance movement have called it a lie and an affront to the past, and many elderly people claim it tells a story best forgotten. After living under Nazi occupation from April 1940 until May 1945, Danes were anxious not to be labelled as collaborators when the smoke finally cleared. In fact they were so eager to show their anti-Nazi credentials, it is argued, that they treated Germans who sought refuge there from the advancing Soviets like animals.
Mostly women, children and the elderly, the refugees were put in internment camps, forbidden from fraternising with Danes and refused both medical care and sufficient food. As a result, some 13,500 refugees died in 1945 alone - 7,000 children.
Dr Kirsten Lylloff, an amateur historian who became curious about the number of graves of German babies and children near her home, says they all died of 'perfectly curable' diseases.
Soeren Lindbjerg, producer of the documentary, said the children were treated abominably. 'They died from malnutrition and ordinary diseases such as measles and scarlet fever,' he told The Observer . 'These were contagious diseases, but they were kept in overcrowded camps with scarce food and they died like flies. They were in Danish care behind barbed wire and totally dependent on Denmark. This part of our history has been whitewashed.'
Refugees from other countries were separated and provided with more food and basic medical care, adds Lindbjerg.
But not everyone agrees. Former resistance fighter Leif Larsen, founder of Denmark's Documentation Centre against Historical Falsification, claims the Germans had only themselves to blame. 'This thing that has been called a dark chapter in Danish history wasn't dark at all. The fact of the matter is that the Germans themselves rejected the help of Danish doctors.
'A lot of people have called me a traitor and said I am smearing our country's reputation and should not have told this story, but nobody has been able to reject my documents. There's a feeling that what the Germans did to us was far worse, so we shouldn't tell the story.'
Helge Kvam, of the Danish Red Cross, said his organisation couldn't help because of Danish hostility towards Germans. 'The atmosphere at the time was very anti-German. Girls who had slept with German soldiers had their heads shaven and were driven around and spat at. We would have been considered collaborators if we had helped.'
Lindbjerg said: 'The heroic efforts of Danish resistance fighters and the rescue of Jews are all we hear about, and they're true. At school this chapter of history is never talked about. But every country has to face its past.'
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