1.19 May 1945: Liberation or Occupation?

Małgorzata Dąbrowska and Anne Sørensen
Edited by Christian Pletzing

World War II involved almost all of the countries in the Baltic Sea Region. Europe was the main field of battle and many countries in the Baltic Region were battlegrounds. The first countries in the Baltic Region involved were Poland and Germany, but in time all of the countries were drawn into the war with the exception of Sweden, which remained neutral. In 1944 the Third Reich began to fall as allied forces were winning battle after battle and all signs were pointing to German defeat. On 30 April 1945, Hitler committed suicide during the Battle for Berlin. On 7th of May in Reims, unconditional surrender was signed and the next day German forces surrendered in Berlin. Victory in Europe Day was established on 8th of May, but the Soviet Union and regions under its influence established Victory Day on 9th of May, according to Moscow Time. The differences between the World War II allies had become apparent even before the choice of the day of German surrender.

Western Europe experienced Nazi occupation, while Eastern Europe faced two occupations – the Nazi and the Soviet. According to Winston Churchill’s famous speech in March 1946, Europe after World War II was divided into two parts by an Iron Curtain. Although for Western Europe, May 1945 might seem like liberation, for countries subjugated by the Soviet Union, it is not the only available interpretation. Celebrations in individual countries were shaped by which side of the Iron Curtain they were on. In countries dependent on the USSR, the date of 9th of May was celebrated, while in the others it was usually 8th of May. The day of Victory Day celebrations marked a form of enslavement for some countries.

Five of the Baltic Region countries were situated in Eastern Bloc, under Soviet supremacy. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by Soviet Russia in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact from 1940 until German attack in 1941. After defeating the Nazi occupation, these three countries remained a part of the Soviet Union (although in Soviet narrative, the Baltic states voluntarily joined the Soviet Union). Poland and the German Democratic Republic (GDR – East Germany) stayed under the Soviet protection as satellite republics. Sweden and Finland did not stay under Soviet rule, and officially stayed neutral in the new division of Europe, and West Germany, Norway and Denmark joined Western world and became members of NATO. With the exception of the Scandinavian countries, liberation in 1945 was controversial.

Iron Curtain

The countries of the winning coalition were not a solid team. After victory over Germany, conflicts on the new division of Europe began and these conflicts soon became impossible to overcome. The Allies and Soviet Russia both began a show of strength and diplomatic eloquence, striving to maintain a fragile alliance. It was Winston Churchill who first used the term ‘iron curtain’ in relation to the postwar situation in Europe. His speech from Westminster College in Fulton (5th of March, 1946) became the symbolic beginning of the Cold War and the division of Europe into two hostile sides.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow. Athens alone - Greece with its immortal glories - is free to decide its future at an election under British, American and French observation. The Russian-dominated Polish Government has been encouraged to make enormous and wrongful inroads upon Germany, and mass expulsions of millions of Germans on a scale grievous and undreamed-of are now taking place. The Communist parties, which were very small in all these Eastern States of Europe, have been raised to pre-eminence and power far beyond their numbers and are seeking everywhere to obtain totalitarian control. Police governments are prevailing in nearly every case, and so far, except in Czechoslovakia, there is no true democracy. […] Whatever conclusions may be drawn from these facts - and facts they are - this is certainly not the Liberated Europe we fought to build up. Nor is it one which contains the essentials of permanent peace.
- International Churchill Society homepage, retrievable from https://winstonchurchill.org/resources/speeches/1946-1963-elder-statesman/the-sinews-of-peace/


After 1945, Poland belonged to the Soviet sphere of influence and, just like in the rest of the Eastern bloc, it celebrated the Victory Day on 9th of May. Throughout the country, state celebrations were organised, combined with military parades and official speeches. Until 1950, it was also a public holiday. After the collapse of the Iron Curtain in 1989/1990, the state celebrations of this holiday were abandoned, but some of the towns (mainly located in the vicinity of military units) continued the tradition of celebrating this day. On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, on the proposal of the President of the Institute of National Remembrance - Łukasz Kamiński: 24th of April, 2015. The lower house of parliament of the Republic of Poland adopted the law that the National Day of Victory is to be celebrated on 8th of May, simultaneously abolishing the National Day of Victory and Freedom celebrated on 9th of May.

National Day of Victory and Freedom by decree of 8th of May, 1945:

Art 1. To commemorate the times of the victory of the Polish Nation and its Great Allies over the Germanic invader, democracy over Nazism and fascism, freedom and justice over slavery and rape - 9th of May as the day of ending hostilities will be the National Festival of Victory and Freedom.

National Day of Victory celebrated on 8th of May, 24th of April, 2015

Art. 1. In order to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany, 8th of May is declared the National Day of Victory.
Art. 2. The National Victory Day is a public holiday.
Art. 3. The National Day of Victory and Freedom, established on 9th of May, shall be abolished.

Justification for changing the names of the streets commemorating 9th of May from the pages of the Institute of National Remembrance

9th of May was celebrated as Victory Day in the Soviet Union and in the countries it enslaved. Celebrating it (also in today's Russia) is in principle connected with supporting the Stalinist historical narrative, based on propaganda falsifications, according to which the Red Army carried freedom and independence for all European nations. In Poland, under Stalin's rule imposed by communists, on 9th of May, the National Holiday of Victory and Freedom was proclaimed. Sustaining such interpretations from the totalitarian period of enslavement is incompatible with respect for the victims of communism and for the tradition of Polish struggles for freedom and independence in the 20th century. After regaining independence, Poland ceased to celebrate this day, joining in commemoration of the anniversary of Germany's surrender on 8th of May, 1945. It is an opportunity to remember Poland's contribution to defeating the German Reich in World War II.
- From the webpage of Instytut Pamięci Narodowej, retrievable from https://ipn.gov.pl/pl/upamietnianie/dekomunizacja/zmiany-nazw-ulic/nazwy-ulic/nazwy-do-zmiany/36808,ul-9-Maja-1945-r.html

Baltic States

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were occupied by Soviet Russia from 1940, on the basis of an agreement between the USSR and the Third Reich, a secret annex to the protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Tallinn museum of occupation.png

After Germany's attack on Russia, the Baltic States were occupied by Germany. When the USSR joined the Allies, soldiers of the Red Army freed these countries from the German occupation. Despite having no legal grounds to stay, the Soviet army did not leave the territory until 1990 and illegally occupied the Baltic states in accordance with the aforementioned protocol. The international situation of the Baltic states remained unresolved. Some countries did not recognise the incorporation of the Baltic States into the USSR, while others accepted this hostile takeover.

Statement by the Acting Secretary of State of the United States of America, The Honourable Summer Welles, 23rd of July, 1940.

In June 1940, when Soviet Union started occupation of three Baltic states, US Secretary of State issued a statement refusing to recognise their annexation as Soviet Republics.
- By Collaborative - US National Archives (from John Hiden, Vahur Made, David J. Smith. The Baltic question during the Cold War. Routledge, 2008. P. 209), Public Domain.

Appeal and Lord Nicholas Bethell – A Place to Stand by Anna Ferens. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFSpEFnuG3s movie: Baltic

On 23rd of August 1979, the 40th anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, which was the basis for the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States from 1940, 45 citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania sent a public letter to the United Nations, Soviet Union, East and West Germany, and signatories of the Atlantic Charter. The main goal of the appeal was a public disclosure of the pact and its secret protocols and restoration of the independence of the Baltic states. The appeal had to wait and got only one answer from the European Parliament. A decision was made on 13th of January 1983 in support of its demands.

An article about Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt apologizing to Swedish neighbours, “Sweden 'indebted' to the Baltic states: Reinfeldt”, 16th of August 2011.

Sweden owes its Baltic neighbours a ‘debt of honour’ for turning a blind eye to post-war Soviet occupation, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told his Baltic counterparts on Monday. During a ceremony in Stockholm attended by the prime ministers of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, Reinfeldt spoke of “a dark moment” in his country's history. “Sweden was among the first countries to recognise the Soviet occupation of the Baltic countries” in 1944, he said at a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the three countries' independence. In 1945, Stockholm extradited to the Soviet Union around 170 soldiers from the Baltic countries who had fled the Red Army and found refuge in Sweden. “The extradition of the Balts is a dark moment in Swedish foreign policy,” Reinfeldt said. He said that Sweden had long ignored its Baltic neighbours and urged for post-independence relations to continue strengthening. “For decades, Sweden did not acknowledge Baltic suffering," the conservative prime minister said. "I hold in my hand a Swedish school book used during the 1980s. It makes no mention at all of the destiny of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after the World War II. Not one word," Reinfeldt said. "In fact, it is hard to find any reference to the fact that there had ever been any Baltic countries. This was the reality when I went to school," the 46-year-old leader said. "Sweden has a debt of honour to the people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We owe it to ourselves - and we owe it to the Baltic peoples - to remember the past, but also to build a common future," he added. Latvia's Valdis Dombrovskis, Lithuania's Andrius Kubilius and Estonia's Andrus Ansip thanked Sweden for the assistance it has given their states since independence. Reinfeldt's speech drew mixed reactions among Balts in the crowd. "It's easy for him to say that today because his party was not in power at the time," Lehte Slunge, who fled Estonia with her parents in 1944, told AFP. Jaan Seim, the head of the Estonian school in Stockholm, argued that "realpolitik was what was guiding the Swedish authorities at the time." "It was a small country that wanted to be neutral and had a huge neighbour to the east that posed a huge threat." "I was more disappointed by the fact that, in the 1970s and 1980s, Baltic nations simply no longer existed in the Swedish psyche. For them it was the Soviet Union and nothing more," said Seim, a Swedish-born Estonian. Monday's ceremony was held at a Stockholm square where dozens of meetings known as the "Monday meetings" were held in 1990 and 1991 to support the Baltics' efforts to regain independence. The three states organised a human chain in 1989 in which two million people joined hands, linking the Baltic capitals, against Soviet rule. The landmark protest started a sequence that eventually led to the three nations' independence by 1991.
- From the home page of The Local, can be retrieved from: https://www.thelocal.se/20110816/35570


After the Iron Curtain fell and the Eastern Bloc countries regained their independence, some of them decided to rewrite their own history. The historical narrative has become independent from Russia and has often focused on the issues which had been previously omitted, i.e. unfavourable for Russia. Sometimes these changes have also brought changes in politics, culture and historical education. Russian officials sometimes accuse the United States and other Western countries of playing down the Soviet Union's massive contribution to the Allied victory, and President Vladimir Putin has often focused heavily on the Soviet role in his 9th of May speeches.

Parts of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty article about celebrating Victory Day in Russia with West European leaders absent, “Putin Hits Out At U.S. In Red Square Parade Speech”, Last Updated: 9th of May, 2018

„[...] Putin also hit out at what he asserted were attempts to "rewrite and distort history" and deny "the feat of the people who saved Europe and the world from slavery, extermination, and the horrors of the Holocaust." He added: "We will always be proud that the Soviet people did not blink or bend before the cruel enemy, when some states preferred the shame of capitulation." "It's a sign of Russia's defiance, that the Western attempts to kind of ignore Russia will not work, that Russia is strong and it has powerful friends," he said.[...] The decision by many Western leaders not to attend has been presented in Russian state media as an attempt to detract from Russia's role in the victory and "undermine Russian greatness," said Felgenhauer. […] Jill Dougherty, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center and CNN's former Moscow bureau chief, said social media and TV reports indicate that many ordinary Russians feel insulted by the absence of Western leaders from the commemoration. They feel it's a victory that primarily Russians won with their deaths and are angered that it is not being marked by other Allied nations, she said. "There's a feeling of insult and anger," she said. "Unfortunately that plays very much into the feeling that's going on in Moscow right now, which is exactly about that -- insult by the West, a feeling that the West has become the enemy once again."
World War II is extremely important to Russians, she said, and provokes strong emotions in them. More than 26 million people in the former Soviet Union died during World War II, known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. The bodies of as many as 4 million Russian soldiers have never been recovered, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Groups of volunteers equipped with metal detectors scour the forests of what was the Eastern Front for human remains, particularly around St. Petersburg, where some of the bloodiest battles of the 20th century took place. Seven decades later, the earth is still littered with remnants of Russia's wartime past, the bones of those who fell sometimes covered by just a thin layer of soil. […] Ukraine is also holding Victory Day commemorations on Saturday, led by President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev. Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, and Sevastopol in Crimea, were planning to stage their own military parades. Other European nations and the United States marked the 70th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe on Friday. […]”
- from the RadioFreeEurope web page, retrievable from: https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-marks-end-of-world-war-ii-with-military-parade-on-red-square/29216745.html

An official interview with President of Russia Vladimir Putin about Victory Day, 9th of May, 2015

Anchor of the Vesti v Subbotu programme on Rossiya television channel Sergei Brilev: Mr President, did you see everyone you hoped to see at the parade today?
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Do you mean the guests, or everyone in general who came to the parade?
Sergei Brilev: Let’s start with the guests. At one point, we were expecting the Americans and Europeans to come after all, but in the end they did not. Did this disappoint you?
Vladimir Putin: No. It makes me happy that around the world people are celebrating the Day of Victory over Nazism. I think that no matter where people are celebrating, if this is a genuine holiday for them, this is already a good thing. There were veterans from the United States and Britain present today at the reception at the Kremlin. They came up and spoke very warm and friendly words. These were people who took part in the northern convoys, in the Normandy landing and in the fighting in Europe. We saw everyone we hoped to see here.
The main thing is for people to understand that the fight against Nazism was very important and that it was a very important milestone in human history. As for what we saw today, I want to say that we saw many happy faces, our fellow citizens’ faces, and this is the main thing. We see May 9 as our great holiday, perhaps the most important date of all in our country’s history.
Finally, you saw the event today, the public event that was given the name The Immortal Regiment. People carried portraits of their loved ones, their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers. People carried these portraits across Red Square. […]
- From the official home page of the President of Russia, retrievable from: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/interviews/49454


In the aftermath of the World War II the defeated Germany was divided into two countries: The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which became a democracy in the Western bloc, and the German Democratic Republic (GDR/DDR), which was integrated in the Warsaw Pact under Soviet dominance. Hence the two German narratives on May 1945 became very different during the Cold War until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Reunification in 1990. In the GDR the commemorations were consistent with the post war narratives in other Communist states in Europe, where the USSR was described as the liberator from oppressive and unjust regimes. In both countries a tradition from 1920 in the aftermath of World War I was transformed. In the Weimar era, Volkstrauertag (People’s Day of Mourning) was inaugurated as a way to remember and honour the fallen soldiers and their families, as well as speaking for solidarity, reconciliation and friendship between nations. The date was decided to be the first Sunday (later the second) during Lent. After the Nazi government took over in 1933, national holiday legislation created Heldengedenktag (Commemoration of Heroes) and changed the focus from remembrance of the dead to worship of heroes, including demonstrating “the power and will to defence of The Third Reich”. Flags were no longer to be flown at half-mast, Christian elements and symbols were removed, and the celebrations evolved into massive Nazi propaganda shows. From 1939, it took place on 16th of March. After World War II, Volkstrauertag was reintroduced in West Germany, but to make a clear distance to the Nazi traditions, the date was moved to the end of the liturgical year (the Sunday nearest to 16th of November) instead of in the beginning, and the scope was widened to people who died from violence of an oppressive regime, not just war victims. In the GDR “Gedenkstunden für die Opfer des Faschismus” (Memorial Ceremonies for the Victims of Fascism) took place. Nonetheless, in official celebrations there was no focus on German soldiers and civilians who died in war. Victims of fascism were defined as Jews and Socialists/Communists, and the dead heroes were from the Soviet military. Since the Reunification of Germany, the new capital Berlin has been the arena for the central memorial ceremonies of Volkstrauertag, who follow the former Western German traditions. The aim of the day is described as being a way of expressing grief, consideration and reflection and advocating peace and reconciliation. In West Germany, 8th of May 1945 was long regarded as a day of defeat, collapse and moral bankruptcy. It was not until the 1980s that the West German culture of remembrance began to change, so that 8th of May was also recognised as "Liberation Day". The much acclaimed speech by Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker on 8th of May 1985 made a major contribution to this process. To the present day, on the occasion of the commemoration of the World War II, discussions continue in Germany on how to distinguish between German perpetrators and German victims.

Das Totengedenken (the commemoration of the dead) is an official German text for use at Volkstrauertag, which has changed over time to include more victims. The text is read by the Bundespräsident in the Bundestag. This is the current version.

Today, we remember the victims of violence and war, children, women and men of all ethnic groups.
We remember the soldiers who died in the world wars, the people who lost their lives through the events of war or afterwards during imprisonment, as displaced persons or as refugees.
We remember those who were persecuted and killed because they belonged to another ethnic group or another race, or a minority, or because they were deemed unworthy to live due to an illness or disability.
We remember those who died because they resisted tyranny and those who met death because they stood by their convictions or faith.
We mourn the victims of today’s wars and civil wars, the victims of terrorism and political persecution, the soldiers of the German Armed Forces and other units who have lost their lives in missions abroad.
Today, we also remember those who have fallen victim to hate and violence against foreigners and the weak.
We mourn with all those who grieve for the dead, and we share their pain.
But our lifetimes are characterised as a time of hope of reconciliation among people and ethnic groups, and our responsibility is to peace among people both at home and across the globe.
- From the official home page of the Bundespräsident, retrievable from: http://www.bundespraesident.de/SharedDocs/Berichte/DE/Frank-Walter-Steinmeier/2017/11/171119-Volkstrauertag.html

Opposition to Volkstrauertag
Examples of Antifascist-agitation against Volkstrauertag. From “Volkstrauertag Abschaffen!”, pamphlet from Antifaschistische Aktion Gotha, 2014. The arguments links to current German discussions of who were victims and who were perpetrators (Opfer vs Täter) during the Nazi era.

Volkstrauertag demo 2012.png

Speech by President Richard von Weizsäcker during the Ceremony Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the End of War in Europe and of National-Socialist Tyranny on 8th of May 1985 at the Bundestag.

[...] Yet with every day something became clearer, and this must be stated on behalf of all of us today: the 8th of May was a day of liberation. It liberated all of us from the inhumanity and tyranny of the National-Socialist regime. Nobody will, because of that liberation, forget the grave suffering that only started for many people on 8th of May. But we must not regard the end of the war as the cause of flight, expulsion and deprivation of freedom. The cause goes back to the start of the tyranny that brought about war. We must not separate 8th of May 1945 from 30th of January 1933. There is truly no reason for us today to participate in victory celebrations. But there is every reason for us to perceive 8th of May 1945 as the end of an aberration in German history, an end bearing seeds of hope for a better future.
- From the official home page of the Bunderpräsident, retrievable from: www.bundespraesident.de/SharedDocs/Downloads/DE/Reden/2015/02/150202-RvW-Rede-8-Mai-1985-englisch.pdf?__blob=publicationFile


Denmark was occupied by Germany on 9th of April, 1940. During the first three years of occupation, the Danish government cooperated with the Nazi occupying power (protectorate government). After uprisings in August 1943 the government resigned, and an increasing resistance movement emerged, carrying out sabotage and anti-Nazi propaganda. On the night of 4th of May, 1945, German troops in Holland, North-Western Germany and Denmark surrendered to British troops, and from 5th of May at 8 a.m., Denmark was officially liberated. There was one exception: the island Bornholm, situated in the Baltic Sea, was occupied by Soviet forces who didn’t leave until 5th of April, 1946. The geostrategic position of the island combined with emerging tensions between the Allied forces made it difficult to reach a solution in 1945. Shortly after the war, Denmark was acknowledged as an allied partner and entered the UN and later NATO. In Denmark, liberation is celebrated on 5th of May with speeches, processions and wreath laying ceremonies at memorials, especially honouring the resistance fighters who lost their lives during the occupation. The night of 4th of May is by some people marked by putting candles in the windows to mark the removal of the blackout curtains, which were compulsory during the war. Since 1945 there have been many discussions on Denmark’s role during World War II, involving politicians, historians and the general public, and it has become one of the most controversial issues in Danish history. The pivotal points have been whether or not it was the right decision to cooperate with the Nazi occupiers; and the importance and extent of the resistance movement is also a topic of controversy.

Memorial park Ryvangen
In Ryvangen, north of Copenhagen, a memorial park was established in the summer of 1945 to commemorate fallen resistance fighters. During the occupation, German forces seized this military area and its barracks, and part of the drill ground was turned into an execution and burial site for Danish members of the resistance. Every year, there is a commemoration of the liberation on 4th and 5th of May, of the end of the collaboration with the Nazi occupation power on 29th of August, of the rescue of the Danish Jews in 1943 on 30th of September, and Christmas Eve is marked with speeches, songs and candle lights and flowers on the graves. The executions of the captured resistance fighters were performed by shooting with rifles at the men, who were tied to wooden poles. Today this place is one of the monuments in Ryvangen, accompanied by a plaque with a verse by the Danish author and pastor Kaj Munk (1898-1944), who himself was killed by the Gestapo. In English translation the inscription is: “Boys you boys who died - you lit for Denmark - in the darkest gloom - a shining rosy dawn”.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Speech 29th of August, 2003
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of the collaborative government, the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen from the liberal party Venstre gave a speech which caused intense discussions, because he criticised the Danish politicians for moral betrayal during World War II. He used this argument to defend an activist foreign policy and the Danish military participation in the Iraq War, which had started on 20th of March, 2003.

Ladies and gentlemen,
29th of August, 1943 is a date we should remember - and be proud of. That day, Denmark's honour was saved. At last, the Danish government stopped collaborating with the German occupying power and resigned. After just over three years of cooperation with the Germans, finally there were clear cut lines. It wasn't a day too early. […]
It was neither the government, the Folketing (the Danish parliament) nor the established Danish society who ended cooperation with the Germans. On the contrary, from the beginning of the occupation of Denmark on 9th of April, 1940, the official Denmark dutifully obeyed the Germans, collaborating at all levels and urging the population to do the same.[…]
Not only did Denmark's political leadership decide to follow a passive adjustment policy in relation to the Germans. The government consciously and openly chose an active policy towards the occupying power in the hope that some of the sovereignty would be respected. New historical research reveals that there was even a very active adaptation policy. Many were convinced of a German victory. Both politicians, officials and organizations began to prepare Denmark's place in the new, Nazi-dominated Europe. Centrally placed officials worked on plans to transform the Danish economy in accordance with Nazi planned economy patterns.
The main argument for the cooperation policy was that all Danish opposition to the German supremacy was useless. By cooperating with the occupying power, Denmark and the Danish population were spared from most of the horrors of war. And succeeded. The Danes avoided huge damages. Agriculture and industry made a profit of the war. So from such cold calculations, some might call the cooperation policy necessary, wise and appropriate. But this is a very dangerous way of thinking. If everyone had thought like the Danish cooperating politicians, Hitler would most likely have won the war, and Europe would have become Nazi. But fortunately, the British and later the Americans and the Russians did not think like the Danish elite. They fought a fight for life and death against the Nazis, thereby securing our freedom.
In the end, it was people's growing dissatisfaction with the cooperation policy and the efforts of courageous resistance fighters which forced the government to abandon cooperation with the Germans. We should be happy and proud of that. We owe a big thank you to the resistance fighters who, through sabotage against the Germans and cooperation with the Allies, defied the cooperating politicians and ultimately secured Denmark a place on the right side in the fight against the Nazis.
Of course, one must be careful not to pass judgments over the past on today's premises. Today, we know that the Nazis lost the war after the United States and the Soviet Union became involved in 1941 - and therefore the active Danish adaptation policy appears to be wrong and unjustifiable. If it had continued to the end of the war, Denmark would have appeared as a German vassal state and partner. In the light of history, it would have been a disaster. […]
Even judged on the premises of that time, Danish politics seems naive, and it is highly reprehensible that the political elite in Denmark pursued this policy of not only neutrality but also active adaptation policy.
In the struggle between democracy and dictatorship one cannot stay neutral. You have to decide in favour of democracy and against dictatorship. It is at this point that the active adaptation policy constituted a political and moral failure.
Too often in the course of history, we Danes have just sailed under a flag of convenience and let others fight for our freedom and peace.
The lessons of 29th of August, 1943 is that if one means something serious about our values, about freedom, democracy and human rights, then we must also make an active contribution in defending them. Even against difficult odds. Even when unpopular and dangerous decisions have to be made.
Let us honour the efforts of our countrymen in the resistance movement and in the defence of freedom and democracy.
Thank you
- From the web page Danmarkshistorien, danmarkshistorien.dk, Aarhus University. Translation: Anne Sørensen. Retrievable from https://danmarkshistorien.dk/leksikon-og-kilder/vis/materiale/anders-fogh-rasmussen-v-om-samarbejdspolitikken-29-august-2003/

Hans Kirchhoff: “Fogh demonises history”, 16th of October, 2003
In his feature article from the Danish newspaper Information, Danish historian Hans Kirchhoff comments the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s speech.

Fogh demonises history
[…] When we talk about cooperation policy, it is important to remember that all occupied countries in Hitler's Europe collaborated with the occupying power […]. :And if we focus on the responsible statesmen, no one could just let go of the reins and throw them away. That would mean the collapse of all vital societal functions and lead to chaos, famine and death. It is also important to compare the differences between the years 1940-41 and 1942-43. In the early years of the war, where the Wehrmacht seemed invincible, one had to expect a generation-long occupation like the one people in South Jutland had lived under from 1864 to 1920 [after the Second Schleswig War in 1864, this area was German until the Peace of Versailles in 1920]. It was during these years that active collaboration was sought, primarily aiming at surviving politically and nationally by adjusting economically. But always with the politicians as the foot-dragging party against the technocrats and bureaucrats in the ministries. :It is this policy which today is called naive, but which in 1940/41 seemed like a realistic assessment of Denmark's future as a province in a Nazi empire. Only the most hardened anglophiles could have confidence in England eventually winning the war. Finally, it is important to maintain that resistance was not an alternative to collaboration during the first years of occupation. Resistance has to be based on the belief that the illegal struggle is useful. And such beliefs did not exist in the years when "the German victories struck the world with astonishment and admiration" [a famous quote from the Danish foreign minister Erik Scavenius, July 1940]. Too often we forget that we must go all the way until 1943 before the European resistance movements broke through, namely at the time after the Battle of Stalingrad, when it became clear that Germany could not win. Only then were the mentality and the men and the weapons in place, and only then were parts of public opinion prepared to accept the sacrifices that a resistance struggle would require.
The Prime Minister calls the cooperation policy immoral and speaks of failure. This was also the case with the illegal press: The cooperation policy was selfish and materialistic, opposition was solidary and idealistic. […] But is it less moral to want to protect democratic institutions against a nazification like the one we see in Norway - or to want to defend the economy against plundering and destruction - or to want to protect the population against hunger deportations - actually I don’t see that. […] We also must note that the collaboration line was supported by the entire business community, by the workers 'and employers' organizations, by the church and the press. […]
Now all this must not develop into a false idealization of the cooperation policy, because it had its price that Denmark came through the world war as the least devastated of all countries, a price that still influences us today. Therefore, I can fully endorse the praise of the resistance movement for having defied state egoism and shown solidarity with the anti-Nazi struggle. It just can’t come through by demonizing the collaboration line. It is too easy and too cheap and it is unhistoric.
- From the web page Danmarkshistorien, danmarkshistorien.dk, translated by Anne Sørensen. Retrievable from https://danmarkshistorien.dk/leksikon-og-kilder/vis/materiale/kronik-i-information-fogh-daemoniserer-historien-2003/

Questions for reflection and discussion

  1. Are there any World War II memorials or monuments close to you? When were they erected? How are events, people, etc. presented and depicted? Why?
  2. Is there a public holiday to commemorate end of World War II in your region? When and how do you celebrate?
  3. Was there a change in the way of celebrating 9th of May after 1989? What was the cause? How and why did it change?