Courage & Defi­ance: Sto­ries of Spies, Sabo­teurs, and Sur­vivors in World War II Denmark

Deb­o­rah Hopkinson

  • Review
By – July 12, 2016

Den­mark was tak­en by sur­prise when Ger­many invad­ed the Scan­di­na­vian coun­try to its north on Tues­day, April 9, 1940. To the Danes’ sur­prise, their gov­ern­ment sur­ren­dered qui­et­ly, and ordered the pop­u­la­tion to go about their dai­ly lives as if noth­ing had changed. But many could not tol­er­ate the inva­sion. Out­ward defi­ance was fatal. In this dense­ly researched book, Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son tells sto­ries and anec­dotes of the indi­vid­u­als and groups that orga­nized against the Nazi occupiers.

Thir­ty six chap­ters are divid­ed into five parts — Occu­pa­tion & the Sparks of Defi­ance, Crack­downs & Flight, Action & Arrest, Deport­ed & Impris­oned, and Lib­er­a­tion. The book details the fear and con­tra­dic­tions of wartime Den­mark. While there were numer­ous Dan­ish col­lab­o­ra­tors — pho­tos in the book show a Dan­ish Nazi par­ty cer­e­mo­ny — some were actu­al­ly spies bent on sab­o­tag­ing the Ger­mans occu­py­ing the country.

The book tells of Danes who foiled Ger­mans’ pow­er and prop­er­ty. Espe­cial­ly mem­o­rable is the qui­et defi­ance of Neils Skov who, in the mid­dle of the night, punc­tured gas tanks of Ger­man vehi­cles with a sin­gle screw­driv­er and then lit the flam­ma­ble liq­uid ablaze with a sin­gle match. The anec­dote helps the read­er feel the sat­is­fac­tion Skov expe­ri­enced watch­ing the explo­sion as he qui­et­ly walked down the dark street and shines a light on the role of civ­il disobedience.

The book tells of many hero­ic, often vio­lent acts and nar­row escapes by Danes. Hop­kin­son explains how the resis­tance func­tioned with many mirac­u­lous acts, like one pair’s effort to fly to Eng­land to con­nect with the Allies. But there were also numer­ous mis­un­der­stand­ings and fail­ures by the resis­tance, as most were ama­teurs with lit­tle train­ing, only moti­vat­ed by con­vic­tion that they had to stop the Nazis. Graph­ic scenes describe how Danes helped Jews escape cap­ture from Ger­mans by spir­it­ing the per­se­cut­ed group to Swe­den. But most inter­est­ing­ly of all, most of the book does not focus on Jews but rather right­eous Gen­tiles. Images of his­tor­i­cal pho­tographs help tell the com­pli­cat­ed and dense sto­ry with numer­ous names, events, places and dates. The book gives a sense of the con­fu­sion and iso­la­tion of the time as well as the order­ly, obe­di­ent and most­ly homoge­nous Dan­ish cul­ture. Many more details are pro­vid­ed in the book includ­ing an epi­logue as well as sec­tions about the Dan­ish lan­guage, a list of peo­ple in the book, a select­ed chronol­o­gy, a map, bib­li­og­ra­phy, source notes, pho­to cred­its and index.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for ages 9 – 14.

Discussion Questions