More on Kim Malthe-Brun and his Friends
Two weeks ago I wrote a little about the young Danish Freedom Fighter Kim Malthe-Brun. The book that inspired me wasn’t easy to translate as it consisted of letters and diaries from the last three years of his life. I keep material in a basket that I use for blogging, and soon after the post was released, I found an article on “War Papers” about him where the author described his life and actions better than on internet searches. The journalist is Adam Holm with my translation:
Twenty-two Years Old and Sentenced to Death
From the start of the German Occupation, until the Government’s cooperative policy with the German occupiers broke down in August 1943, no Danish freedom fighters were executed. On the first day of the Government’s closing down, the Germans shot the first resistance man. From that point, 102 persons got the death sentence and got executed.
Among the many sad stories from the Occupation belong the one about Kim Malthe-Brun (1923-1945) and three men from his group, Jorgen Winther (1917-1945) and Peter Wessel Fyhn (1920-1945). Early in the morning of April 6, 1945, they were taken from Westen Prison in Copenhagen to the Ryvangen execution location. They got the severest punishment by the Court Martial for their extended illegal activities. Their main contribution consisted of transportations across Oresund, the passage between Denmark and neutral Sweden. From the Danish side of the coast, they helped Jews and saboteurs to escape. They also smuggled out messages for the Allied Intelligence Service. From Sweden, they took back people on a mission to Denmark as well as weapon and other equipment for the use of the armed underground fight. Compared to bombings and liquidations of informers, it could sound less dangerous to sail microfilm, confidential documents and weapon. The German occupying power knew that the contact to the free world was the lifeline to the Danish resistance both materially and morally.
For the Germans, it was urgent to stop this activity.
In the German military language, they named resistance as terrorists bandits or gangsters. TheGestapo accused them of attacking German soldiers from behind and for not wearing uniforms. The resistance fighters hid among the population in their civilian clothes. In the Germans’ eyes, they were utter scumbags.
If you look at the four men who together ended their lives by the German bullets, you won’t find criminal lifestyles. Reventlow was a count and educated lawyer, Winther was a head clerk in a significant firm and had fought as a volunteer in the Finnish- Soviet war 1939-1940 on the Finnish side. Fyhn had worked in Maersk and studied classical music at the time for his arrest. Malthe-Brun was a sailor but had archived an upper secondary leaving examination in one year in 1943.
After a lot of arrests on people on illegal sea transportations, they took Fyhn and a few days after Malthe-Brun and Winther got caught by the Gestapo. Reventlow’s turn came in March 1945, all of them betrayed by informers. Malthe-Brun, the youngest of them is best known today as his mother published his letters to his girlfriend and family a few years after the war.
Kim Malthe-Brun was born in 1923 in Canada, but after the parents’ divorce, he returned to Denmark with his mother in 1932. His childhood in his new home country where he first had to learn the language, was marked by not very successful school education. Kim was gifted but lacked motivation.
He read lots of books but avoided his homework. Nature and the sea attracted him, and as soon as he left school, he wanted to become a sailor. In 1941, he worked on a ship that sailed between Denmark, Poland and Germany. At that time, he was confronted with the brutality of war and got convinced that everybody had to make up his mind. In a letter in May 1941, he wrote about his impressions on Poland in ruins. “It’s too bad that the Germans won here; I get mad at all German and every German person seeing how they treat their prisoners of war. I could strangulate each and every one of them.”In his letters, he is angry about the little resistance that met the Germans in Denmark. The seed for his willingness to resist was born at that time.
That was the words Kim used to describe his situation from September 1944 now full time in the illegal resistance movement. He wrote about the changes in his and his friends’ inner lives. He and his co-workers in the underground movement had their nerves on their outsides and showed their feelings directly.
“What matters is to live here and now in this very movement risking everything.” The intensity of this way of living fascinated him, but at the same time, he worried about the outcome.
Interrogation and Farewell Letters
After his arrest, they kept Kim at the Western Prison in Copenhagen. The questionings didn’t scare him. In a letter written on toilet paper smuggled out, he described how the Gestapo people threatened him with severe punishment, but he said inner strength and conviction would overcome that.
“If you are afraid to die, you are not old enough to take part in the fight for freedom, at least not mature enough.”
On February 5, Kim and Jørgen Winther, Fyhn and Reventlow were sent to a concentration camp close to the German border but already in March 1945, Kim and Winther were taken back to Copenhagen Western Prison after new profs of his illegal works had surfaced. A new round of brutal interrogations started, and now and then Kim had lost his consciousness when taken back to his cell. The German military court had many cases of death sentences at that time, and on April 4, 1945, the four friends in the group got the death penalty by shooting.
In his farewell letters to his mother and girlfriend, Kim wanted to comfort them in their sorrow. He meant that people would forget him, but the idea of freedom would live. He dreamt that people would live in peace with each other and nature after the war.
Link to Mindelunden in Hellerup, Copenhagen where the freedom fighters were executed and later buried.