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Education in the German Refugee Camps in Denmark 1945-49

In the last months of World War II nearly 250.000 civilian Germans came to Denmark from the eastern territories of the Reich in particular East-Prussia, the Danzig-area and Pomerania. The refugees were mostly women and children fleeing the Red Army in the early months of 1945.

After the allied liberation of Denmark almost all German soldiers left the country, however the unwanted German refugees were to stay in the country for the next couple of years. This allied decision was unpopular, but inevitable, and from then on the Danish authorities had to take care of the former enemy.

Along with housing and feeding education also became an important task for the Danish authorities. Education became one of the tools in changing the totalitarian and anti-democratic mindset of the German school children and make them part of the future democratic Europe. German schools with German teachers became part of the refugee camps and the children were taught German, maths, biology etc., however teaching Danish was never allowed, as the Germans were expected to leave Denmark as soon as possible. The education of the Germans refugees was based on democratic principles, and this prompted in some respects a paradox as the Germans were taught about democracy, interned behind barbed wire.

This subject has so far only been of minor interest in Danish history writing, however it is of interest in itself, just as it has several contemporary parallels.    

This lecture asks the following questions: How did the Danish authorities deal with this historical mission? What were the notions and the strategies of the authorities? How was it possible to teach 60-70.000 German school children? Did the authorities succeed in making new democratic citizens? Does this history have anything to offer today?