Last week I discovered a site near my very own Copenhagen neighbourhood I had no idea existed: Mindelunden i Ryvangen, a memorial to Danish resistance fighters executed by the occupying Nazi forces during World War Two. When the Nazis marched into Denmark on April 9th, 1940, they were only opposed for two short hours: the much smaller country was outmatched and outgunned and decided to protect the lives of its citizens by surrendering.
The Nazis’ plans for Denmark was to set an example of a ‘friendly occupation’, to show the rest of Europe that a country’s government could collaborate with them for mutual benefit. To this end, the Danish government remained intact and King Christian X remained on the throne. But in 1943, the Nazis announced plans to bring the final solution to Denmark and ship Danish Jews to German concentration camps. The Danish government refused any further cooperation, and secretly evacuated its Jewish citizens to neutral Sweden.
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Denmark’s military bases and facilities were then seized by the Nazis, Mindelunden being one of them. The barracks were occupied by German soldiers, and the adjoining exercise grounds – the ryvangen or rye fields – were used to execute approximately 200 members of the Danish Resistance, who had covertly fought the occupation from the start.
|The memorial wall bears 151 names
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After the occupying forces left Denmark in 1945, 202 bodies were discovered. They were taken for identification, and the families could choose to have their loved ones buried at the site, or at a cemetery close to home. Those who were not buried at Mindelunden are commemorated with a plaque, and a memorial wall bears the names of the 151 Resistance fighters whose remains were never found. Thirty-one Danes who died in German prisons or concentration camps are also laid to rest here. Services are held every Christmas Eve and Liberation Day.
|The grave site
|Mother and her slain son
In the centre of the park, among the graves of the Resistance fighters buried here, is a sculpture of a mother with a slain son, and at the execution site itself stand three bronze posts duplicating those the men were tied to then shot to death. The accompanying plaque reads: