The Battle for the Nazi Memorial

Around 7,000 Danes voluntarily enlisted to fight for Nazi Germany as members of the military unit ‘Frikorps Danmark’. After World War II ended, a group of veterans established a memorial grove by a scenic Danish riverside to honor their fallen comrades. Since then, the Danish people have tried their best to destroy it.

The Battle for the Nazi Memorial

Around 7,000 Danes voluntarily enlisted to fight for Nazi Germany as members of the military unit ‘Frikorps Danmark’. After World War II ended, a group of veterans established a memorial grove by a scenic Danish riverside to honor their fallen comrades. Since then, the Danish people have tried their best to destroy it.

  • Af Søren Kjær and Simon Reenberg
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The sound of clinking coffee cups and a stream of idle chatter fill the dining room of the Danish inn Ans Kro as the guests find their seats.

It is a Saturday afternoon, September 25, 1971. Three waiters in contemporary white shirts and black pants serve coffee and cake to the party of around 80 people.

Tord Marius Lorentsen, 19, enters the room and swiftly secures seats at a table for himself, two siblings, his brother-in-law and his father, Kristen Lorentsen.

The annual general meeting of a group with the name “The Society of the Memorial Fund of 1969” has begun.

Sitting at his family’s table, Marius watches the newly elected president of the society, Poul Sommer, stand up in front of the crowd and begin his speech.

The speech is long, Marius recalls today.

Nearing the end, the president asks the party to show him how high the snow fell last year. The crowd stands up and extends their right arms, hands straight, saluting the speaker.

A waiter just entering the room freezes as he sees the nearly eighty guests heil. Petrified, he watches the Nazi greeting, and Marius notices a look of horror on his face. A couple of seconds later, the waiter rushes out of the room.

No one had informed the staff of the reason for the gathering at the small Danish inn. This afternoon, the group celebrates the inauguration of a memorial grove at a nearby riverside for the Danes who died fighting for Hitler’s Third Reich during World War II.

Soon after, the people of Denmark begin a decades long fight to destroy the memorial grove. Over the following seven days, the site is attacked using regulations, red paint and explosives.

The Hitler salutes at Ans Kro make the innkeeper, Arne Nørgaard, furious, and the news about the Nazi memorial immediately hit national papers, radio and television. Soon after, journalists from other countries also report from the small town of Ans.

Although 26 years have passed since the end of World War II, and Denmark was liberated from the German occupation, the Danish people are not yet ready to allow the villains of the Nazi regime to mourn their fallen.

FRIKORPS DANMARK ‘Frikorps Danmark’ was a Danish military unit that fought under the command of the German military on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1943.

The military unit was created in June 1941 by the Danish National Socialist Workers Party (DNSAP). The Danish government allowed officers to serve in the unit without losing their rank in the Danish armed forces if they returned.

Approximately 7,000 Danes are believed to have enlisted in Frikorps Danmark to fight for Nazi Germany.

The vast majority of the soldiers served on the Eastern Front, where they fought in the first line against the Soviet Union.

About a third of the Danish volunteer soldiers were killed.

After World War II, approximately 3,300 of the returning soldiers were given prison sentences of 2-4 years for their service.

Source: Den Store Danske Encyklæpodi, Gyldendal.

Before the Nazi salutes at the general meeting of the memorial fund, this mild autumn Saturday begins peacefully by the bank of the idyllic river Gudenåen.

The memorial fund has scheduled the inauguration ceremony by the memorial stone for 3 p.m., and gradually around a hundred people show up at the small scenic slope near the Danish town of Ans.

Former Nazi soldiers, their loved ones and sympathizers chat while members of the organization Danish National Socialist Youth (DNSU) hand out pamphlets with printed lyrics and issues of the magazine The National Socialist.

A delegation from a veterans association of former Waffen-SS soldiers in Flensburg, Germany, also turns up to commemorate their fallen Danish brothers-in-arms.

Up until this day, Marius’ father, Kristen Lorentsen, had been the president of the society created specifically to establish and maintain the controversial memorial grove.

Working in their spare time, a small group of former SS soldiers and sympathizers have established the memorial on the small plot of land.

Trees and bushes were cleared, and a big, natural stone was selected from a nearby gravel pit and moved to center of the site to serve as a memorial stone for the fallen comrades.

Even though the Nazi gestures at the inn shocked the staff, the creation of the memorial site was expected.

A couple of months earlier, the newspaper Folkebladet from the nearby town of Randers exposed the plans of a monument celebrating the Danish Nazi soldiers.

The story was received with outrage among both politicians and the public who, in 1971, still had the horrors of the Nazi occupation clear in their memories.

In the newspapers, the then-planned memorial grove was called a “monument of shame”, and the Danes who volunteered to fight for the Nazi regime were labeled as traitors.

The local city council received complaints against the plans, and even Prime Minister Hilmar Baunsgaard got involved when a member of parliament demanded that the government thwart the construction of the memorial.

At the memorial grove, Marius’ father, Kristen Lorentsen, moves to the front of the crowd and welcomes the people attending the ceremony. He starts the proceedings with a speech to honor the fallen front fighters.

“This memorial grove will in the future be the place where relatives and friends can honor their fallen,” he says.

“Their symbolic grave will be found on this modest plot of land from this time forward,” Kristen Lorentsen proclaims to the crowd, according to a manuscript saved by his son.

After World War II ended, the surviving Danish Nazi soldiers were prosecuted for their involvement in the German war machine. Like approximately 3,300 other veterans, Kristen Lorentsen was sentenced to prison for his service.

The returning soldiers were received as traitors by the Danes, but the Nazi veterans did not agree with that sentiment.

Although most of the former Nazi warriors wanted to live a life in peace away from the public opinion and not draw attention to their pasts, the small group of veterans gathered at the river bank wanted the memorial grove to portray their fallen comrades as heroes rather than villains.

“We are talking about responsible people who wanted to fight the plague from Russia that threatened to destroy our culture,” Kristen Lorentsen says, explaining the motives of the Danish volunteer soldiers to the crowd.

Generally, the returning veterans insisted that they served the interests of Denmark, and they felt betrayed by their home country.

They believed that the Danish government had actually encouraged their service, partly because the government of Denmark in 1941 proclaimed that Danish soldiers could enlist in Frikorps Danmark and return to their former rank in the Danish armed forces after their service.

The president-to-be of the society, the infamous Danish Nazi Poul Sommer, takes the floor as the second speaker.

In his speech, he explains to the audience that the monument is not built solely to honor the fallen Danes on the Eastern Front.

Poul Sommer Born 1910. Danish officer. Flight Lieutenant in 1936.

Volunteered in the German Air Force, Luftwaffe, in June 1941.

Returned to Denmark in February 1944.

Member of the Nazi terror corps Schalburgkorpset.

Established the Nazi guard corps known as Sommerkorpset.

Was sentenced to 12 years in prison after the war.

Source: National Museum of Denmark (Nationalmuseet).

The purpose of the memorial grove is also to remind the people of Denmark about all the Danes who were denounced as traitors and convicted for their collaboration with the German occupation using retrospective legislation passed after the end of the war.

According to Poul Sommer, the memorial site will explain the philosophy of life behind these people’s actions during the war now and in the future.

“It will speak to the Danish people in the time to come, and it will be of importance to a nation heading for the abyss,” the next president of the society proclaims.

No more than three days pass after the inauguration before the authorities take up the fight against the new monument.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, September 28, the mayor of Kjellerup Kommune, the local authority, meets with representatives from the regional authority of Viborg Amtskommune and the police at the memorial stone.

The group inspects the site and decides that the battle against the grove is to be fought at the regional council, Viborg Amtsråd.

After one and a half months, the council informs the society of the memorial grove that they will not permit the use of the private road connecting the memorial site to the nearby main road as access to the memorial.

But the locals are not willing to wait for a verdict from the authorities.

The same night as the inspection of the memorial by the authorities, the locals take matters into their own hands.

Under the cover of darkness, they attack.

The memorial stone, which still has no inscription, is defaced with red paint, and the stone is sent tumbling down the slope using metal levers.

With a pair of pliers, they remove the plaque with greetings from “friends and relatives” from its metal pole.

Even the flowers and wreaths left by the front fighters to honor their fallen brothers-in-arms are destroyed.

The following Saturday, just a week after the inauguration, former freedom fighters of the Danish resistance against the German occupation take up where the locals left off.

Two broad-shouldered men block the entrance to the nearby inn Kongensbro Kro keeping the guests inside.

At the memorial grove, explosives experts from a former wartime resistance cell in the Danish region of Sealand place 15 sticks of the explosive aerolit on the center stone.

Soon after, a loud explosion informs the citizens of Ans that the memorial grove has been dealt its coup de grace.

The following Monday, the newspaper Ekstra Bladet publishes photographs and quotes from the assailants.

“We could easily have blown up the entire memorial park, but we wanted to leave something for the other resistance groups from the region who have stated that they will launch similar operations,” one of the perpetrators explains to the newspaper.

“We are against the use of violence, but we will not tolerate new Nazi projects. That is why the memorial park situated between the towns of Ans and Kjellerup must be leveled to the ground,” he says.

A memorial grove leveled to the ground is still a memorial grove though.

Despite the fact that another inauguration ends with a bombing in 1977, the former Danish Nazi fighters and sympathizers now have a place to mourn their dead comrades.

One of those veterans is Magnus Møller. He served in Frikorps Danmark on the Eastern Front from 1941 to 1943.

By the end of the 1980s, the memorial grove experiences a different kind of assault, this time from within.

A group of Danish neo-Nazis wants to use the memorial site as an instrument in their fight for a renaissance of Hitler’s ideology in Denmark.

By allegedly organizing a fake general meeting of the society behind the memorial grove, the neo-Nazis attempt to stage a coup of the board and with it the control over the accumulated funds and the title deed of the plot of land by the riverside.

“They were expecting the old guys would be clapping their hands with joy to finally see politics brought back to the society,” the society’s current spokesman, Frants Langhoff, says.

“But they were wrong. To the aging veterans, the whole thing was meant to be a friendship society for mourning. The war was over to them,” he explains.

The aftermath of the coup is documented by files from the society’s archives. Two different records exist of the general meeting of June 3, 1988, one for each wing of the society.

Files from the archive dated two years later document that the nonpolitical wing is still in charge of the society.

The fight against the dark political heritage of the grove does not end with the thwarted coup.

In 2002, neo-Nazi groups again try to exploit the memorial grove and use it to promote their political efforts.

After yet another act of vandalism against the memorial site, members of two radical right-wing groups, Dansk Front and the neo-Nazi party Danish National Socialist Movement (DNSB), help out with the restoration of the site.

Following the clean-up, both organizations recount the event with photographs on their websites.

The helping hands from the young neo-Nazis were unwanted by the society according to Frants Langhoff.

“We cannot put the memorial grove under lock and key and prevent people from going there. All we can do is to tell them that they are not welcome,” he explains.

“And they did end up removing the pictures, and that was it,” Frants Langhoff says.

Subsequently, several of the younger members of the society, including Frants Langhoff, initiated a revision of the statutes of the society, so that the very first paragraph, among other things, now states that “the society is unpolitical and cannot be involved with any political or racist activities.”

The radical political left takes the tormented monument as a hostage of their political project as well.

In 1992, 2002 and 2005, the regional police authority, Viborg Politi, receives reports of vandalism against the memorial grove. Anti-fascist organizations claim responsibility for the attacks.

In 2002, the unknown assailants ravage the memorial site. The memorial stone is overturned and defaced with a hammer and sickle painted in red paint - a communist symbol originating from the Russian Revolution.

Even though the acts of vandalism are likely attributable to a small group of people on the radical far left of the political spectrum, the attacks still indicate, to some extent, the general feelings of the public towards the site, according to Danish historian Dr. Claus Bryld, professor emeritus at Roskilde University.

Dr. Bryld has done research on collective remembrance, especially of World War II.

“I think the majority of the public does not care whether or not a memorial site like this exists, and I think they will condemn vandalism against it, but they will never visit it or participate in commemorations in the memorial grove,” Dr. Bryld says.

“In that way, one might say that the majority votes against the monument with their feet,” he explains.

The sun heats up the memorial grove this Sunday in early June 2015. Ten years has gone by since the last act of vandalism against the tormented Nazi monument, and today the memorial site is peaceful.

Twelve people stand in a semicircle with their heads bowed. No one speaks.

They mourn the veterans that have passed away over the past year.

Two minutes of silence goes by, and the annual general meeting of The Society of the Memorial Fund of 1969 begins.

It is a memorial association for the people who once were. It might as well be for the war in 1864, Napoleon or something else.
Frants Langhoff, Spokesperson of the society

The annual report is the first item on the agenda.

Spokesperson Frants Langhoff takes the floor and informs the board members that he has cut down some trees in the memorial grove with the help of two other people.

The treasurer recounts that the past year featured two expenses: 1,200 Danish Kroner (approximately 161 Euros) for road taxes and 34 Danish Kroner (approximately 4.5 Euros) for printer cartridges.

The troubled memorial site does not invoke much attention anymore.

“It is a memorial association for the people who once were. It might as well be for the war in 1864, Napoleon or something else,” Frants Langhoff says.

“But it will continue to exist. The plot of land has been bought, and money has been saved for road taxes,” he explains.

Danish historian Rasmus Hyllested of Roskilde University questions whether or not it would be desirable for the memorial grove to continue to exist once all the former Danish Nazi soldiers have passed away.

He has written a book, On the wrong side, on the Danes who collaborated with Nazi Germany during the war and subsequently sentenced in the trials following the liberation.

“The memorial grove should be allowed to exist, of course. And they certainly should be allowed to tell their own story, so everyone will get to know that some people actually believed something different,” Rasmus Hyllested says.

“But what if that belief is completely lunatic? It’s a paradox,” he explains.

Frants Langhoff thinks that it is fine that some people see the memorial grove and reflect on the history. And he believes the society still owes the loved ones of the veterans a place where they can mourn.

“They have no other place to go if they want to place flowers for their loved ones,” he says.

The general meeting of 2015 in the memorial grove draws to a close. The 12 participants finish their cups of coffee before walking to their cars.


Text and video: Simon Reenberg og Søren Kjær

Editor: Maya Nissen


The text features several historical photographs from the The Danish National Archives (Rigsarkivet) in Viborg. Specifically, Rigsarkivet Viborg, Viborg Amtskommune, Amtsarkitekt, Journalsager for Plankontoret (bygningsvæsenet), nr. 2007-3049, and Teknisk Afdeling at Rigspolitichefen.

All pictures credited ‘Nationalmuseet’ is from the collection of ‘Frihedsmuseet’.