The Danish “People’s Strike” (1944)

Today EuroSavant extends its definition of the “European non-English-language” press a slight bit to include a radio station, or at least that radio station’s website. I’m speaking in particular here of the Danish public radio station “P1,” which broadcasts news and public affairs.

(“P2” broadcasts mainly classical music and literature/arts-related programs, while “P3” is the public radio station devoted to pop music. At the same time, there exist a number of private radio stations broadcasting in the country – quite legally – which unlike the public stations can broadcast commercials, and which tend to concentrate on pop music.)

In particular, P1 broadcast a few weeks ago a series of commemorative programs to recount the Danish “people’s strike” against the Nazi occupation that occurred just over sixty years ago, at the end of June/beginning of July of 1944. There remain a series of webpages devoted to this subject just off of the main P1 homepage (this is the Folkestrejken homepage), and their high quotient of audio-visual content make them worth a look to anyone interested in this bit of World War II history, even if s/he doesn’t know the language.

Naturally, most of the countries occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War have one or more incidents of resistance to celebrate, to at least counter-act any impression one could gain that they were content to just let the Germans rule over them. In the Netherlands, for instance, we have the February Strike of 1941, a city-wide strike in Amsterdam in protest of German harassment of the city’s Jews. This is duly celebrated every year, and the event even tends to obscure the Germans’ overall success during their occupation of Holland, statistically-speaking, in hunting down and exterminating those Jews unlucky enough to find themselves trapped in that country in May, 1940.


The Danes were much more successful in protecting their Jews, being aided by geography in that the haven of neutral Sweden was just a short boat-ride away, across the Øresund between Copenhagen and the Swedish coast. But the Folkestrejk was something else again: it was when “the Danes said ‘stop’,” as the caption reads at the top of that P1 homepage, when they had finally had enough of the German reprisals and general oppression that had begun in earnest in 1943. (You may remember that the the Folkestrejk also gets a mention, as Denmark’s defining historical event even, in the cultural portrait of Denmark covered by EuroSavant from the Danish newspaper Politiken’s “Europa XL” series.)

The P1 site mainly has an introductory page, and then individual sub-webpages devoted to each of the five days of the strike (which took place mainly in Copenhagen). There are numerous links to photos (wherever you see a link that includes Se billeder) and even film-clips from back then, that you can enjoy if you use Windows Media Player version 9 – look for the links that read Se filmklip, of course. The narrative tells about the increasing tension from 1943, the Frihedsråd (Freedom Council) formed in England to provide political leadership that was not collaborationist, and about the progress of the strike and general disturbances that started from Friday, 30 June. (Although in places the narrative implies that they really started the day before that, but then doesn’t describe what happened on that Thursday.)


When the strike got really going (especially on the Friday and Saturday, it seems) there was not just a strike but barricades in the streets, riots, shooting at German soldiers and those German soldiers indiscriminately shooting back. Sunday, though, was spent mainly standing in line; the Germans had blockaded the city, so that food supplies could not get through and people had to stand in long lines at those few stores that still had food to sell. Monday was the big test: would the Copenhageners go back to work? The radioed-in instructions from the Frihedsråd was to keep the strike going, while top Danish city officials had struck a deal with the Germans to let food supplies back in if everyone would go back to work. So they mostly did, and the disturbances were mostly over – apart from the spontaneous memorials that arose where Danes were known to have been killed (100 died), as well as two minutes of silence observed city-wide at high noon on a following day. (The presentation doesn’t make clear which day that was.)

Me, I find the photo-series especially interesting for a glimpse of what Copenhagen looked like back then. One thing that is readily noticeable is that everyone had a bicycle – clearly, the Germans had not confiscated these like they had done elsewhere, most notably in the Netherlands!

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