Review: Jørgen Kieler, Resistance Fighter: A Personal History of the Danish Resistance Movement, 1940-1945.
Reviewed for LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.
This book opens a window to an important aspect of World War II that is little known in the United States – life and resistance by the Danes under the Nazi occupation. Kieler describes unflinchingly the moral and practical difficulties entailed in his decision to resist the Nazi occupation. Kieler’s career in the resistance while he was a medical student in Copenhagen began with publication of an underground newspaper, moved on to the evacuation of Danish Jews to Sweden when the Nazis moved to persecute them (Denmark is famous for alone among European nations saving nearly all of its Jews from the holocaust), and culminated as a leader of a bold group of saboteurs destroying industrial and transportation facilities being used by the Nazis for the war effort. Kieler was eventually captured, endured starvation and disease in a Nazi concentration camp, and narrowly avoided execution thanks to the collapse of Germany under the Allied advance in 1945. Kieler especially deserves credit for not romanticizing what remains a very compelling story.
Gripping as much of the book is, it is a bit problematic as an introductory history to the Danish resistance movement – at least for American readers. Mostly this is no fault of Kieler’s. He is clearly writing primarily for a Danish audience, and assumes that his readers will have a basic knowledge of political events leading up to and during the occupation. It seems that the relationship of the Danish government to the Nazis and the actions of resistance fighters like Kieler remain controversial issues in Danish society, but without a background knowledge of the events under discussion, I was unable to really grasp the import of the points Kieler was trying to make here. More broadly, I think Kieler’s book perhaps is a bit uneasily poised between memoir and history.
I enjoyed reading this book, and found much of it very moving. But to really get some understanding of the Danish resistance movement it would probably be better to start with a broader history.