During much of World War II, Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany. The occupation began with Operation Weserübung on 9 April 1940, and lasted until German forces withdrew at the end of World War II following their surrender to the Allies on 5 May 1945. Operation Weserübung was the code name for Germany’s assault on Denmark and Norway during World War II and the opening operation of the Norwegian Campaign. The name comes from the German for Operation Weser-Exercise (Unternehmen Weserübung), the Weser being a German river. Contrary to the situation in other countries under German occupation, most Danish institutions continued to function relatively normally until 1943. Both the Danish government and king Christian X remained in the country in an uneasy relationship between a democratic and a totalitarian system until the Danish government stepped down in a protest of the German demands to institute the death penalty for sabotage.
Just over 3.000 Danes died as a direct result of the occupation, A further 4.000 Danish volonteers died fighting in the German army on the Eastern Front while 1.072 merchant sailors died in Allied service.. Overall this represents a very low mortality rate (approximately 0.08% of population) when compared to other occupied countries and most belligerent countries. The Free Corps Denmark was a Danish volunteer free corps created by the Danish Nazi Party, DNSAP in cooperation with Germany, to fight the Soviet Union during World War II. On June 29, 1941, days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the DNSAP’s newspaper Fædrelandet proclaimed the creation of the corps. Its formation was subsequently sanctioned by the democraticly elected Danish government which authorized officers of the Danish Army to join the unit. The corps was disbanded in 1943.
The Danish Commander-in-Chief William Prior tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent Danish soldiers and officers enlisting in the Waffen-SS. During the course of the war, approximately 6000 Danes joined the corps, including 77 officers of the Royal Danish Army. Commander William Prior died age 69 on 09-03-1946.
An effective resistance movement developed by the end of the war, and most Danish Jews were rescued in 1943 when German authorities ordered their internment as part of the Holocaust.
The Jewish community of Denmark constitutes a small minority within Danish society. The community’s population peaked prior to the Holocaust at which time the Danish resistance movement, with the assistance of many ordinary Danish citizens, took part in a collective effort to evacuate about 8.000 Jews and their families from Denmark by sea to nearby neutral Sweden , an act which ensured the safety of almost all the Danish Jews. In 2003, in a speech for the 60th anniversary of the end of the 1940–43 collaborationist government, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Denmark’s cooperation with Nazis was “morally unjustifiable”, which was the first public condemnation of the World War II era Danish leadership by a Danish leader.