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Post Thoughts on the Danish Character: Hygge and Cliques
Created by John Eipper on 02/06/21 3:48 AM

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Thoughts on the Danish Character: Hygge and Cliques (Leo Goldberger, USA, 02/06/21 3:48 am)

My take on Denmark goes back many years to my childhood and adolescence there, so I am no expert on its present "national character"--though I have gone back to visit with my many friends many times over the years.

The fact that Denmark has in recent years been regularly listed as one of the "happiest" countries was not what I'd expect, nor did the accompanying Danish concept of hygge--meaning simply "cozy" or the German gemütlich --seem to capture the essence of the Danish culture. I'd of course be most curious to know what our fellow Danish WAISers have to contribute on this subject, but based on my own experience, my sense of Denmark was that of a very proud country, with its Viking history, its flag and sense of togetherness as a unique nation looming large.

With the advent of the major and for many, a tragic loss of parts of Schleswig-Holstein--and with the important preachings of the dominant Lutheran who preached the positive aspects of smallness and togetherness--the cooperative farm movement plus the significant "folk high school" educational schools, open to all at no cost and no exams, social democracy took a leading force in the many, rather fractured political parties that prevailed.

What stands out for me is the major success Denmark achieved in promoting an equitable social "welfare state," in which everyone is basically cared for. It goes without saying that taxes are therefore quite high, which is a constant complaint of many today--and which has some attempting to circumvent the loss of income by seeking residence elsewhere for at least the required number of months.

Unlike the characterization of President Eisenhower in his time, the "welfare state" did not weaken the ambition of Danes to achieve as much as they could by simply relying on "welfare." That was an incredibly false expectation at the time, and yet it was often repeated by folks who failed to distinguish socialism from what passed as "communism"--in fact it was neither.

Now for a closer look at Danish culture. My own sense is that despite the common feeling of an enlarged national family, there was a tendency among us to to have relatively small cliques of extremely close friends, with whom one spent much time, had glorious dinners on weekends, with festive candle light and a generous alcohol consumption plus a continuous creative back-and-forth repartee exchanges among us. It was a clever and speedy word-play that did require some skill--which unfortunately not everyone had.

In years later, when I discussed the issue of the relative high suicide rate in Denmark, my psychiatric colleagues pointed to this issue as one that was a frequent cause of depression by Danes who were not part of any such cliques and thus felt quite isolated and lonely. It is obviously a truism that Danes tend to be quite friendly to outsiders--however, unlike for most Americans, this is simply quite a superficial impression.

To actually enter the inner circle of the long-standing clique and possibly gain an invitation to the person's home--rather than lunch at a restaurant--is (or was in my time) quite rare. A situation that even affected those of us who had returned to our beloved country. For example, over the years I learned that even the most Danish of Danes--such as Victor Borge and Lauritz Melchior (who had left Denmark at some point and became phenomenally successful in the USA and then wished to return to a potential retirement home in Denmark) felt less than welcome back. Why? It seems that once you have left your clique "back home," it was as if it had been a betrayal. In the case of Borge, he decided after a couple of years to give up his dream of returning to his beloved home base--as did Melchior, who retired instead in a baronial castle in Germany as I recall. (After all, he was the great Wagnerian singer!)

JE comments:  Leo, these "national character" discussions are among my favorites.  Let's say they give me a sense of hygge.  I explored further, and hygge is pronounced hoo-gah, which is not what a non-Dane would have guessed.  Hygge involves things like candles at home and "nesting" in front of a movie.  It's the perfect lifestyle for Covid times--but alas, if you don't have a community/clique to cozy up with, you're going to feel agonizingly alone.

There's a recent Danish TV series on the Second Schleswig War, 1864. It's reportedly the most expensive Danish production ever.  Has anyone in WAISworld seen it?  I plan to.

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  • Danish Volunteers Fighting for Germany (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/07/21 3:29 AM)
    Very nice post of Leo Goldberger, 6 February.  However, I would like to remember a page of Denmark that has essentially been "canceled."

    The Danish during WWII let the Germans enter without firing a shot, but later they supplied excellent troops to the Waffen SS.

    The Danish Nazionalsocialist party wanted the SS-Frewillingen-Verbans Denmark in 1941.

    Its first operative commander was Frederick Von Schalburg, a Dane but born in 1906 at Poltava in Ukraine from a German-Baltic family. He died on 2 June 1942 on the Eastern Front during the first battle in which his formation was involved. In the beginning, the Danish were attached to the 3 SS Waffen Panzerdivision "Totenkopf," but in 1943 they became part of the 11 SS Panzergrenadier "Nordland" which also included also the regiment Nederland and the Norge.

    There were about 6000 Danish volunteers. At that time the population of Denmark was 3,825,000. They fought bravely in Croatia, Leningrad, Courland, Danzig, etc.  The final 1500 fought in the defense of Berlin.

    The capital of the Third Reich was heroically defended by a few units of the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, reinforced by the old men of the Volksstrum and the young fellows of the Hitler-Jugend, plus the foreign volunteers in the Waffen SS--Scandinavian, Dutch, Baltic, and the French of the famous 33 SS Waffen "Charlemagne" division. About 100-150 Spaniards volunteered to remain when the División Azul was withdrawn by Franco. These combatants were in the SS Einsatzgruppe Ezquerra, taking their name from their commander Miguel Ezquerra. As far as I know among the troops of the RSI (Italy) in Germany, very appreciated were the 2000 fog producers in defense of Peenemunde. None of them were officially in Berlin, but most probably there were some integrated with the 1st Flak as many Italians volunteered into the Flak units.

    Very few of these combatants survived the war, as even if they surrendered the Allies would generally shoot them, a clear violation of the International Conventions.

    Oh, by the way, the scanty ethnic minority of Germans in Denmark was heavily discriminated against after the war.  They were jailed and their properties confiscated. It was only 10 years later, in 1955, that following a Danish-German treaty the respective minorities were protected.

    JE comments:  It's really hard to understand the mindset of non-Germans who "volunteered" for the SS.  Still, there were fewer Danish volunteers (6000) than Dutch (20,000), Belgians (18,000), and French (20,000).  Some 1300 volunteers came from Switzerland.  I cannot fathom why they would leave their safe mountain refuge for...the Eastern Front?  The bulk of them presumably came from among the tiny Swiss fascist movement.

    Eugenio, what do you mean by the Italian "fog producers"?  Anti-aircraft personnel?

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    • Danish Resistance to the Nazi Invasion, 1940 (Holger Terp, Denmark 02/08/21 3:18 AM)
      Eugenio Battaglia (February 7th) wrote that the Danish during WWII let the Germans occupy their country without firing a shot.

      This is not true, as Danish soldiers died on April 9, 1940. In the four hours the invasion lasted, 16 Danish soldiers died. The German losses are not known.


      Danes who died or were wounded in battle on April 9, 1940:



      JE comments:  The Wikipedia account (third link) claims that German Admiral Canaris warned the Danes of the imminent invasion some five days earlier, but the Danish authorities did nothing in order not to "provoke" the Germans.  The Danish resistance on April 9th was anecdotal and scattered.  In brutal practical terms, they may have made the right choice:  the Danes probably experienced the most "benign" occupation of any of the European nations under the German yoke.

      Holger, nice to hear from you!  When time permits, please give us an update on the Danish Peace Academy.

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    • German Occupation and Danish Collaborators (Leo Goldberger, USA 02/08/21 3:59 AM)
      As always, Eugenio Battaglia's addendum (February 7th) is right on target! It is amazing the breadth of his world-wide knowledge and his calm wisdom--even in the most controversial political domains. A difficult--but most worthy--example for us all.

      Returning to the topic of Denmark, I had deliberately omitted the war-time subject--a period in my own life in Denmark I have elsewhere written about extensively over the years, touching on the subject of Schalburg and his Waffen SS Corps, etc.

      My only comment on the subject is on Schalburg.  Though born in Russia, his father was a Dane who had married into a Tsarist peer family and had left Denmark for her. In 1919, when young Schalburg was just 13, they, along with most "White Russians," moved.  In Schalburg's case it was to the father's home-base in Copenhagen, where Schalburg eventually served in the King's Royal Guards and became quite close to the royal family as well. The fact that his name, after his death on the East Front, became the generic term for the Danish collaborator's military support of the German Nazis has remained a historical stigma. And, yes, there were Danish Nazis, and even an insignificant small political party. In fact, as Danes tended to be a very law-abiding and "freedom of speech" country, there was no consequences to that--though the blatant "anti-Semitic" type journalism was prohibited, as was the case with the Danish National Socialist Party's abhorrent weekly magazine--which the courts outlawed in the 1940s under the nose of the German occupiers. Actually, the few Danish Nazis--perhaps only some 5000-6000--were not held in high esteem by the German powers that be. Unlike their superficial tolerance of the Danish Nazi leader--a Heidelberg-trained Danish physician named Fritz Clausen (from the Schlesvig-Holstein part of Southern Jutland), who wanted to become the Danish Vidkun Quisling--Hitler had no use for either.

      All of this is to say, the details of the occupation in both Denmark and Norway are quite complex.  Dr. Werner Best was in full charge of Denmark and so was Josef Terboven of Norway (a country that many Denmark admired because, unlike Denmark, they had actually declared war on Germany--which we in Denmark did not, as our King did not think we had a chance with only some 13 airplanes).

      All the above is the "dark side" of the occupation years of my beloved country. I call the second chapter "When the Light Pierced the Darkness," namely the wonderful support we Danish Jews received by helping us flee across the Sound to Sweden during the eventual round-up effort by the Nazis in the early days of October 1943. But that's another story...

      JE comments:  Leo Goldberger has written several compelling WAIS posts on the Danish experience in WWII.  See this 2015 essay, below.  It is revealing that the Danish Nazi party received a paltry 2% of the vote in 1943--during the height of the occupation.


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    • Making Fog with the "Nebbiogeni" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/09/21 3:49 AM)
      Our esteemed moderator asked me about the Italian "fog producers" of WWII.

      Fog producers or Battaglioni Nebbiogeni were used to generate fog against attacking aircraft and also at sea.

      The Battaglioni Nebbiogeni were highly appreciated by the Germans.  In the summer of 1942 the Oberkommando der Wehrmact recruited them to protect their secret installations for rocket construction, the future V1 and V2, on Peenemunde, the small island in the Baltic Sea.

      When on 8 September 1943 the PM general Badoglio and the king (no capital letter please) signed the unconditional surrender, the Nebbiogeni decided not to recognize it and then became part of the Repubblica Sociale Italiana Army.

      In the final days of the war, the fog was no longer of use and they fought as infantry, some against the British and some against the Soviets. The last RSI flag in Germany was lowered on 3 May 1945. There were other small formations of the RSI in Germany.

      About the Italians in the antiaircraft German Flak:

      After the Hitler-Mussolini accord of 30 July 1944, 500,000 Italian military personnel taken prisoner by the Germans immediately after the September surrender were set free, but about 50,000/70,000 (no exact figure available) rejected the pact and remained in the prison camps.

      The freed soldiers became free workers in the German industries.  The luckiest were in agriculture, while many thousands volunteered for the German Army.  These mostly joined the Flak and the RSI, but the German Authorities preferred to keep them as free workers or in the Flak inside Germany.

      As you can expect in the new Italian lay-democratic-antifascist republic, Mussolini's accord with Hitler of 30 July 1944 has been canceled by the books and all the prisoners of September 1943 are considered part of the resistance (sic).

      When at sea I had a seaman who was lucky enough to be freed on 30 July 1944 and went to work in a German factory and to "help" a beautiful young blonde war widow. When finally the war ended he tried to remain, but his Italian wife after some months through the Italian/Allied Authorities got the police to return him to Italy.

      JE comments:  This gives new meaning to the expression "fog of war."  I presume that regardless of their methods, the Nebbiogeni created massive volumes of pollution.  Their counterparts in the air threw out aluminum-foil "chaff" or "Düppel" to confuse the anti-aircraft radar.  A truism:  the detritus of war lasts far longer than war itself.

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