Danish libraries withstood German occupation during the war
Danish libraries withstood German occupation during the war
Germans tried to control, not destroy, them; librarians emerged to new position o f leadership from ordeal
By JENS NYHOLM, Librarian,
AN EVENING'S scanning of BogensVerden (the Danish counterpart of the LIBRARY JOURNAL) has brought to light some interesting events in the Danish library world during the German occupation.
At first, the Germans thought they could turn Denmark into a "model protectorate." This illusion soon proved a disillusion, and as the resistance of the population strengthened under the brilliant leadership of the underground, a wave of sabotage and counter?sabotage inundated the country, while bombings of strategic points were carried out from time to time by the British. In spite of the bombings (some of which aimed at targets very close to the Royal Library) and the sabotage, the physical damage to the libraries was negligible: a few loosened stones and some hundred crashed windows, but not a single book destroyed.
As Denmark became isolated from the rest of Europe and the blackouts dampened habitual conviviality, the Danes came in increasing numbers, causing wear and tear on the book stock which could be replenished only with difficulty. Shortened opening schedules owing to heating and lighting retrictions, frequent occupation of library facilities by the Germans, and a complete standstill of building activities, militated against good library service. Research libraries were severely handicapped by the lack of foreign publications and the removal of thousands of valuable research publications to places of safety.
Since the war, the many lacunæ have to a large extent been filled through resources made available in Sweden, England, and the United States. In this country, some $30,000 were collected by Danes and Americans of Danish descent for the purchase of essential foreign materials, and additional support was given by A.L.A. and the Ameican Book Center for War Devastated libraries. A most unexpected supplemental source was a library of some 20,000 volumes and a collection of 8,000 brand-new phonograph records left by, the retreating Germans.
THE NAZIS INTERFERE-LEADER ESCAPES
Although the Germans did not attempt to destroy the Danish libraries, they did try to control them. As early as July 1940 and August 1941, the Parliament, under duress of the Nazis, was forced to pass laws prohibiting the publishing of "anti-Geiman" and "pro?communistic" books (whatever these terms might mean). Through clever maneuvering, the administration succeeded in delaying the enforcement of these laws until November 1942.
Much against his will, Thomas Døssing, Director of Danish Public Libraries, then had to prepare an administrative circular, based on these laws, which was postponed until December 8. The next day Døssing was arrested, accused of participation in the editing of the leading Danish underground paper, Frit Danmark (an accusation which, to his credit, proved factually correct).
Twice he was imprisoned at the demand of the Germans, and when finally released, he was removed from office.
Shortly afterwards he succeeded in escaping to Sweden from where he proceeded to Moscow by detour of England, the Mediterranean, and Teheran. In Moscow, at the request of the Danish Freedom Council, he was accepted as Fighting Denmark's representative to Russia. Through his effective combination of sympathetic understanding and firmness, Døssing in his new post contributed greatly to improving Denmark's difficult international position during the German occupation. After the war, this extraordinary, unofficial appointment was sanctioned by the Danish government, and Døssing has now officially been appointed Danish Minister to Russia ? an unusual achievement for a librarian.
SOME LIBRARIANS ARRESTED
Døssing's adventurous, courageous, and contructive action inspired other members of the library profession to join the resistance movement. A number formed a special underground "library group" that assumed the responsibility for distributing regularly the illegal paper, Frit Danmark, to every library in the country. Undergruond work is dangerous, and more than a dozen librarians were imprisoned for active opposition to the Germans.
Of the entire library profession, only two bona fide librarians (one from the scientific libraries and one from the public libraries) are known to have been collaborators with the Germans. As if by an action of fate, two young librarians, Christian B. Kinch and Erik Schøtler Nielsen, were taken to Germany where they died in concentration camps thus eradicating, as it were, the shadow of shame the two collaborators had cast on the profession.
As the Nazis' persecution of the Jews spread over Denmark and, as a result, the
resistance against the Germans grew intensity, several librarians whose position had become precarious made their way to Sweden, among them the well?known director of the Public Library of Frederiksberg, G. Krogh?Jensen. Another, Ida Bachmann managed at the beginning of the war to get to the United States where she distinguished herself by her able direction of O.W.I's effective broadcasting to Denmark.
The Danish public libraries are known for having developed an effectively integrated system through which the smallest parish library is linked with the great scientific libraries by means of a chain of efficient central, libraries. In spite of the difficulties of the war years, the library system of Denmark was still further perfected during this period through the co?ordination of the country's two largest research libraries, the Royal Library and the University of Copenhagen library, under one central administrator, the "Rigsbibliotekar."
Svend Dahl, previously chief librarian of the university library, was appointed to the new, important post which also entails certain functions in connection with the systematic co?operation among all the research libraries maintained by the state. Dahl himself has pointed out that this organizational pattern has no counterpart in either England or the United States, but that a similar pattern has been developed in France through the appointment of a "directeur des bibliotheques" in charge of all the scholarly libraries of France. Known in this country perhaps mostly for his bibliographical and editorial achievements, Svend Dahl is endowed with an administrative talent of the first order and is certain to be heard from when international library co-operation again becomes active. We hope to see him at Atlantic City next year!
Under Svend Dahl's personal guidance, the Royal Library has been assembling a unique collection of Danish underground material comprising? approximately 200 of the 250 underground papers published during the war and about 200 "illegally" published books and pamphlets. The Germans learned about this collection and confiscated a large portion, but most of the confiscated titles were later replaced with other copies and put in small packages cleverly hidden throughout the library in the most unexpected places.
NEW EXCHANGE ESTABLISHED
Another development worth mentioning is the establishment of a central depository for duplicates and excess materials from all the state libraries in Copenhagen. This center was developed without any knowledge of the New England Deposit Library in Boston. The Royal Library has also devoted considerable effort toward the organization of exchanges on a new and more effective basis. As a result, Danish exchange activities are no longer concentrated in the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences but have been transferred to a new Institute for International Exchange, officially entitled Institut danois des echanges internationaux de publications scientifiques et littéraires, directed by K. Schmidt?Phiseldeck of the Royal Library.
Curiously enough, the war contributed to solidifying the position of the Royal Library, the significance of which has increased in inverse ratio to the destruction of libraries throughout Europe. As if to mark this new era of enhanced prestige, the library recently acquired a Book of Hours written ca. 1490, a magnificently illuminated manuscript, once the property of Henry IV of France purchased by the library for 48,000 Kroner (approximately $10,000) 40,000 of which was a gift.
LIBRARIES AID AUTHORS
As to the public libraries, note should be made of an interesting development aimed at offering financial support to authors whose books are lent by these libraries. Various proposals, discussed during the years of occupation, finally resulted in the passage of a law, in April 1948: the Government sets aside an amount equaling 5% of the annual state appropriation in support of public libraries. This fund will be made available to Danish authors in proportion to the number of books with which they are represented in the public libraries. It is expected that approximately 150,000 Kroner (about $30,000) will through this method be added to the fund annually. In a country as small as Denmark, where writing can only in exceptional cases become lucrative, this support seems both justified and indeed essential if the country is to maintain the high cultural level for which it is known.
All in all, it must be said that Danish libraries fared miraculously well during the war. They have come out of four years of strains and stresses chastened and matured. Doubtless, Danish libraries can look forward to sound and sustained progress the research libraries under the statesmanlike leadership of Svend Dahl; the public hbraries under the intelligent guidance of Døssing's successor, Robert.L. Hansen, who through twenty years of experience as Inspector of Public Libraries .has become deeply steeped in the cultural?democratic tradition of Danish librarianship.
JENS NYHOLM, born in Denmark, came to this country in 1927. He was educated at the University of Copenhagen (Philosophy) and continued his studies at Columbia University (B.S. in LS.) and George Washington University (M.A. in American Literature). He has held positions in Danish public libraries, where he was chiefly concerned with adult education; in the Library of Congress, where as a cataloger he specialized in bibliographical methods; and in the libraries of the University of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley, where, first as head cataloger and then as assistant librarian he concentrated on administrative problems. Since September 1944, he has been librarian of Northwestern University. He is a frequent contributor to professional and literary journals in this country and abroad.
NOTED DANISH LIBRARIAN AND DIPLOMAT DIES
WORD has been received from abroad that Thomas Døssing, Danish Minister to Russia and former state director of Danish public libraries, died recently in a Moscow hospital. With his passing at the age of sixty-four, a rich and unusual life has come to an untimely close. Døssing, who was born in the country and never lost contact with the primordial things, became at an early age one of the pillars of the Danish public libraries. As director of the State Library Commission he placed public libraries on a sound legal basis with state grants.
Libraries were efficiently organized and administered in accordance with modern library techniques, chiefly as developed in this country.
When the German invasion engulfed Denmark, he did not become an appeaser. He made his way to Moscow where he was accepted as Fighting Denmark's representative in Russia. Through determined efforts he made for himself in Russia a place similar to that assumed in Washington by Henrik de Kaufmann, Danish Minister to the United States, transgressing the edicts of their government under duress; both men became true spokesmen of their country and thereby fighters in the great army of the Allied nations. The appropriateness of this courageous but at the time seemingly inappropriate action was officially recognized when after Denmark's liberation Døssing was legally appointed Danish Minister to Russia.
A man of high ideals and uncompromising resolve, Døssing has done honor to his profession. As an old student. of his, I bow in proud respect to his memory.
Librarian, Northwestern University