What did Denmark do during the First World War?

The "big defeat" makes it possible

All authorities are in question

By no means just the territorial layout, everything is slipping in Germany. Any previous authorities are in question. From November 5th, the Kiel sailors' uprising brings the state to collapse and the weapons to silence. Workers 'and soldiers' councils are formed up and down the country, following the Soviet model. The Kaiser abdicated on November 9, 1918. The social democrat Philipp Scheidemann proclaims the German republic. How it will continue in the longer term remains to be seen. The danger of a communist revolution has not been averted for months. A “Council of People's Representatives” made up exclusively of Social Democrats exercised power until, after the elections for the constituent national assembly in Weimar in February 1919, a cabinet with bourgeois members emerged.

Reichstag speech paves the way for the plebiscite

October 23, 1918 is the day on which the application of the right of self-determination to the course of the German-Danish border is demanded for the first time: On the one hand in the Berlin Reichstag by the member H.P. Hanssen, who represents the Danish part of the population in North Schleswig in the German parliament. On the other hand by a - for the time being non-public - decision of the Danish Reichstag. The Danish side wants to take advantage of the fact that the situation is shaking everywhere. Hanssen in particular recalls that a referendum in the northern parts of Schleswig had actually already been promised in the peace treaty after the German-Danish war in 1864.

Relenting of the Reich government

Just one day after the parliamentary debate, German Foreign State Secretary Wilhelm Solf affirmed that he wanted to tackle a solution to the North Schleswig question in the spirit of Wilson. Solf renews the promise by letter to H. P. Hansen on November 14th. In the meantime, the chief diplomat is serving the new social democratic interim head of government Friedrich Ebert.

Bilateral solution without a chance

The exact procedure only emerges gradually. There are efforts in the German government apparatus to keep the future of the northern border out of the emerging international peace negotiations. One would rather come to an agreement in direct negotiations between Berlin and Copenhagen. After all, neutral Denmark was not an enemy of the war from 1914 to 1918. In Berlin, a bilateral solution is expected to be advantageous because the North Schleswig issue would then not be confused with the antagonists' desire for revenge. In contrast, Germany could have had a say in the modalities of a referendum. At the same time, Berlin would have liked to use a settlement with Denmark vis-à-vis other powers as a sign of its peacefulness.

The Danish Foreign Minister Erik Scavenius also has sympathy for swift bilateral action. He, in turn, believes that this will prevent an all too nationalistically whipped up popular mood - and then have less pressure to push the border so far south that Denmark will have a very strong German minority, which is feared as a source of unrest.

The scenario fails because of the USA and Great Britain. You attribute the sole war guilt to Germany. Its goal is to isolate it completely. Both of the great western powers are therefore warning Denmark against a direct line to Berlin. You would see it as an unfriendly act. Does Denmark want to expose itself to the suspicion of being rewarded by Germany for its neutrality in the war with concessions on the border question? They even threaten trade policy consequences.

Danish motion to the peace conference

So there will be a solution on a big stage. Although Denmark did not take part in the war, Scavenius applied to the victorious powers on November 28: The future of the German-Danish border should become part of the European peace negotiations. Before that, on November 17th, the Nordschleswigsche Voters' Association, founded by Hanssen, put pressure on a referendum in North Schleswig at a meeting with 3,000 participants with an Apenrader resolution. So the topic came into the hands of the victorious powers at the beginning of 1919. In Paris, the French, British, Americans, Italians and Japanese will cast the die where the north of Schleswig-Holstein will end from now on.

The war brought Denmark good business, but also shortages

Peter Gram, JydskeVestkysten

For the Danish people as a whole, the First World War was a time of contrast. The kingdom behaved strictly neutrally, while around 30,000 Danish-minded North Schleswig-Holstein with German citizenship had to fight in German uniforms. In the memorial park in Aarhus, a large monument commemorates the 4,140 of them who fell.

Foreign Minister Erik Scavenius was the main architect of an agile policy designed to induce Denmark, Great Britain and France, among others, to accept Danish neutrality. For example, the Danish government under the social-liberal Prime Minister Carl Theodor Zahle had the navy laid mines in inland waters to prevent British warships from reaching the Baltic Sea. But the mines were only launched when British consent had been obtained clandestinely.

Despite the neutrality, the war had major consequences for Denmark. Widespread unemployment, a shortage of goods and sharply rising prices, especially for fuel and heating fuel, made life difficult for ordinary people. For others, the war was profitable. Denmark could export to all warring parties, and food was sold to the German army on a large scale. So-called goulash barons created enormous fortunes from it, also by speculating with stocks. Many of these nouveau riche were of exceptionally simple origins. They displayed their newfound money in a way that made the old elites turn up their noses.

The Danish state also did a profitable business during the war. He sold the West Indies in the Caribbean to the United States in 2017. He made $ 25 million for this. This happened after a referendum in Denmark, while the residents of the islands had not been asked.