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German Refugees

Boys behind the fence in the refugee camp in Risskov Hostel in Aarhus in 1946. Photo: Hammerschmidt Photo / Aarhus billeder,


After the end of the Second World War there were around 260,000 refugees in Denmark. Most of these were German refugees. They were interned behind barbed wire in refugee camps across the country, until it was possible to send them back to their homeland.

In the last months of the Second World War, refugees started to come to Denmark from ”the third Reich”. A large part of the refugees were fleeing the Allied  bombing of German cities. Others came as part of a very large refugee group that the Red Army pushed ahead of them, when it came in from the east and looting and rape became widespread.

The first refugees arrived in January 1945 and, on the 4th of February, Adolf Hitler ordered that “… those people who temporarily have to return from the Empire’s eastern territories shall be accommodated in the Empire and in Denmark.”


The vast majority of the refugees were women and children and a few old men, who had fled from Prussia, a province now located in north-eastern Poland and western Russia. Approximately 100,000 of the refugees were children under 18 years and 10,000 of them arrived without any family.

Most refugees arrived in Copenhagen by boat. It is estimated that some 20,000 refugees were killed on ships that sank after being bombed from the air and from submarines. In Denmark, the refugees were received by the German army and were placed in hotels, barracks and schools.

The German refugees were received until the German capitulation on the 5th of May 1945 but, after that, German ships with refugees were sent away and refugees on board the ships which were in the harbour were denied access.
After the capitulation, there turned out to be 238,010 German refugees and 23,000 non-German refugees from countries such as Hungary and Latvia.


The German refugees were regarded with mixed feelings. Readers’ letters about how the refugees should be treated appeared regularly in the newspapers. The messages included everything from treating them as human beings in distress to sending them to concentration camps.

After the war, the Danish authorities wanted to send the German refugees back to Germany as soon as possible but the situation in Germany was so chaotic that this was impossible. Furthermore, the majority of the refugees came from areas that, after the war, were in Polish or Russian controlled territory and from which Germans were expelled. In November 1946, the authorities started sending German refugees back to Germany. The last refugees left Denmark in February 1949.

After the capitulation, the many thousands of German refugees were interned in barrack camps including those at Amager, in Oksbøl in the western part of Jutland, in Aalborg, in Århus, and in Jonstrup near Værløse. Some of the camps were very big. The camp in Oksbøl, with 36,000 refugees, became Denmark’s sixth largest city and similar in size to contemporary Svendborg.

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