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?

Tyske Flygtninge på flugt i sne og kulde

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.

De tyske flygtninge i DK Kløvermarken

Kløvermarken in Copenhagen. Now only one barrack is left.

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.

de tyske flygtninge i DK-2

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.

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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.

De Tyske fl. Erwin Stobb forsvundet Kbh 1945

Erwin Stobb last has been seen in Copenhagen 1945

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.

De tyske flygtninge i DK Afsked

A Danish minister waves goodbye to the last refugees February 15, 1949

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

Categories: fugitives, History, WWII

Tagged as: , , ,


    • Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. Growing up in post-war Denmark I resented learning German. Had lessons for five years. But my mother’s kind way of mentioning Karla helped me to know the difference between Nazis and ordinary people fleeing the Red Army

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Yes it could have been us. So fighting for righteous leaders in our countries is important. Many Germans believed in their Führer to the bitter end. I find it admirable that the Danish authorities did the thorough job in checking up on the Nazis among the refugees and that they hindered any of those to have jobs in educating the many children


  2. A sad but fascinating story, Maria. I was born in 1953, in a town which suffered a lot from German bombing. But they never made it onto land, so the only refugees I was aware of while I was growing up we’re Polish, Dutch and Belgian, who had been based here during the war and had no homes to return to. But it was very small scale compared with what you describe here.


    • Was it Liverpool? I am sure you also were affected by the post-war time. Everybody had relatives who had been in the war or had their home bombed. Only when I researched for this post, I understood how awful the situation was for our country. They were so many in comparison with our population. But I am glad we did manage to help. It really was a huge job. They even had Latin and other advanced subjects in their Grammar Schools. Compare that with what young people learn at school today

      Liked by 1 person

      • No, it was Dover, which was very much in the front line for the German bombing raids. Parts of the town were wrecked, and a large rebuilding project was taking place while I grew up. The human cost was comparatively small though, as far as post-war problems were concerned – nothing on the scale you describe.


      • I must have forgotten something as I thought you came from the North of England and the moved to the South. Thank you for telling me this. You have things to write about too on this subject if you would

        Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t worry, I wouldn’t expect you to remember that! I’ve been collecting pictures for a post or two – some very early ones from my childhood, plus some of Dover after the war. The problem is finding anything which I won’t be breaching copyright if I use it!


  3. It is so moving to learn these stories. Yesterday I watched a DVD by an American Jewish artist. He did a painting of a non-Jewish pediatrician who led 195 children to their deaths in the camps. He couldn’t bear to see them march alone so he told them to dress in their best clothes and bring their favorite toy because they were going on a hike.


    • Let him and the children never be forgotten. Imagine to chose death with the children. The German people paid a price for their blind belief in their Führer. So when the war ended so many had to flee


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