A Huge Rescue Action We Don’t Talk About
In the early spring of 1945, The Red Army was quickly approaching Berlin from the East. That created 10-12 million German refugees seeking towards the West. Imagine that you have to leave your dead child in the snow beside the road and continue or get apart from each other on the way to an unknown destination?
The world’s most significant rescue took place from harbors in East Prussia to West Germany, and many got saved via the more peaceful Denmark. The chief of the German Marine initiated the relief.
Not all were so lucky to survive in Denmark. On their way over the sea, many went down together with wounded German soldiers on torpedoed ships. 13.000 drowned at Gustloff van Steuben and Goya and in total 33.000 died in shipwrecks.
The Red Army and The British didn’t seem to know that the vessels had fugitives and wounded soldiers on board.
We were yearning to get rid of our Nazi occupiers but had to accept all the fugitives. The first lot came while we were still occupied and the Germans had to take care of them. Schools were emptied from Danish children who then had to find their teachers in many strange locations while the German children got most of the schools. The occupiers confiscated schools, hotels, and factories for their people and at that time the fugitives could go out and buy stuff in our shops for money stolen in our National Bank. They thought that the money was given to them by their Fürer.
The last refugees were sent back in 1949.
While we received thousands of sick and hungry Germans fleeing the Red Army, our resistance fighters were executed or sent to CZ camps in Germany to die.
After the liberation 5 May 1945, we had to cope with the fugitives, about 238.000 in total. Our population was approximately 5 million. The Allied forces in Germany wanted us to take care of them as people in Germany were suffering from hunger and lack of housing possibilities. The first time after the liberation in May 1945 was chaotic for the refugees as they had to wait to get Danish superintendents to take responsibility as the German military was heading home very quickly.
Lately, we have been criticised by a historical researcher that we treated them derogatory. I have read some books on the subject that paint a broader picture of the enormous effort done at a time where the Germans had exploited everything we had. No other country wanted to receive the displaced people.
Those who got the administrative job to house and help the fugitives were well educated and spoke German fluently. From the books I have read I have understood that they tried their best to help people to survive. In Copenhagen, a vast field was filled with wooden houses bought in Sweden, and Kløvermarken became a considerable village with 18.000 new inhabitants. My mother was a secretary for a Baptist pastor who was engaged in helping. He had influence and was able to let Karla; a young woman become a babysitter for his children. She and my mother became friends, and Karla learned Danish and kept in contact with my mother until her death. Her husband was a prisoner in The Soviet Union but “survived” and returned to West Germany ten years after the war.
At Kløvermarken they had an office where they worked tirelessly on finding missing family members who had come apart from each other. One person, Klittegaard, created an archive that registered all the dead Germans so that relatives still today can visit their graves and read about the locations during their stay in Denmark.
Photos from Aalborg
All of Denmark had to create such new “barrack towns,” and after the liberation, they had to enclose them with a fence. The authorities were strict on fraternization and very afraid of epidemic diseases. In spite of the effort to fence them in, thousands of children were born in the camps.
Letters from displaced Germans in these camps show that they, of course, hated to be locked up like that but they appreciated to get food and schooling, healthcare, etc. The staff, doctors, nurses teachers were picked from their group. A thorough job was done to check for still being Nazis. Only people who would take a stand against Nazism were allowed to work in the schools.
Old people and small children died of exhaustion, infections, malnutrition, and some modern historians criticized the way we treated the Germans. We have to remember that we had not yet got the penicillin and intravenous treatment. To judge that time with the possibilities of our time is very wrong. The German war graveyards make a deep impression when you visit them and read the dates and names of many small children on the crosses.
Unfortunately, some children disappeared from Copenhagen, and some were maybe sent to France to be adopted. We will never know about the fate of seven-year-old Erwin Stobb. His mother and sister were still searching for him in 1985. He had been at a clinic for sick children in East Prussia when his doctor fled with him and 18 other small patients. In Copenhagen, she was asked to other tasks and had to let others take over.
They came back to another part of Germany than they came from as East Prussia got divided between Poland and The Soviet Union. When they arrived back at last to East or West Germany, they were not welcome as there was a scarcity of food and housing all over post-war Germany.
Some had written letters to the Danish authorities who helped them and thanked for maintaining them at a time when it was not fashionable to be a German.
The books used for this post are Danish.
De tyske flygtninge i Danmark 1945-1949 by H. Havrehed 1987
Drivtømmer by Arne Gammelgaard,
Om de tyske flygtninge i Danmark 1945-49 by Svend Bach