Hitler's Savage Canary

Hitler's Savage Canary

A History of the Danish Resistance in World War II

Book - 2011
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Publisher: Barnsley, S. Yorkshire : Frontline Books ; New York : Skyhorse Pub., c2011
ISBN: 9781611450637
Branch Call Number: 940.53489 L196H 2011
Characteristics: xvi, 237 p. : ill., map. ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Riis-Jørgensen, Birger


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Vilka Dec 04, 2011

When the Nazis entered Denmark, the small country didn't have the military power to stand a chance fighting; to avoid useless bloodshed, Denmark was forced to accept status as a protectorate, allowed to keep their own government, but really under German control. Because of this, much of the world dismissed Denmark as 'Hitler's Canary'--you just sit in your cage singing whatever Hitler tells you to. But literally from Day One, tens of thousands of ordinary Danes--from snot-nosed high school kids to old pastors to policemen, journalists, shopkeepers and labourers--started a campaign of stubborn resistance to Nazi rule.
This book is a collection of some of the amazing true stories of Danish resistance--not just as organized Resistance groups, but ordinary citizens resisting, defying and generally making life difficult for Nazi authorities, at great risk to themselves.
Some chapters are collections of short vignettes--the mailman who, when delivering mail to German HQ, picked out and destroyed letters from informants; the blacksmith who kept his illegal explosives openly on a shelf in his shop *in a canister marked 'Explosives'*; the film director who, when sent to a concentration camp for making and showing illegal films, somehow got a camera smuggled into camp so he could film the inside; and the communist saboteur who, unable to get explosives from the Allies, waltzed into Nazi headquarters to place official requests for German explosives ‘for construction demolitions work’ and thereby kept his crew supplied completely legally (LOL!).
Other chapters cover larger plots and incidents—including the incredible story of how, over a 10-day period, the Danish people managed to smuggle almost every Jew in Denmark (7000 people!) out of the country before the Nazis could ‘disappear’ them; and the story of how, when the Nazis set an 8pm curfew, the people of Copenhagen all stopped work at noon (“so we can tend our vegetable gardens before curfew”...yeah...) and the city had a sudden epidemic of ‘sleepwalkers’ out past curfew, and when the angry Germans shot into the curfew-breaking crowds, some civilians started a game of ‘who can stand on the corner longest before ducking out of fire’ while others started bonfires in the streets (breaking blackout rules) and, during this chaos, some Resistance people decided this is the perfect cover to experiment with the minimum amount of explosive needed to blow up railway lines on the city tram system!
I spent a lot of this book wondering “Why isn’t there a MOVIE about this?!” Had several episodes of laughing out loud at how so many people managed to get away with so many incredible acts of defiance, and how several others managed to get out of trouble in sometimes frankly miraculous ways. And quite a few moments of “Denmark, I freakin’ LOVE you guys!!!”
The book was published in the late 50’s, so the writing assumes that readers already know something about WW2 as a matter of course (ie, you know what they’re talking about when they mention the Gestapo, SS, Luftwaffe, etc). There is also the 1950’s writing style, though I didn’t find that problematic since I took this book in small bites. The book doesn’t make Denmark’s story to be all sunshine, either: there are several mentions, and one full chapter, dealing with the Resistance’s Liquidation Corps, whose unpleasant job it was to kill traitors. Not all stories end in success, though some failures still make a good story (a few are even funny).
Overall, I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a good adventure or a little-known part of history. It's a great look at how ordinary people could make such a huge difference in such a terrible time, and get through with wit and dignity. If you don't know about this part of WW2, you definitely should.


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Aug 05, 2015

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