Sometimes as an amateur writer and an amateur blogger you need to take a break and write about something more personal. I think it gives one pause to reflect on who you are and how one comes to be. It has been over six years since my father passed away. So the history of my family begins with my father and is the best place to start as that goes back a long way in time. Family history is always a good place to start and hopefully this will shed some light who I am.
My father was born Johannes Kristian Hoffmann on February 27, 1917 on a farm in Vinding, Denmark. You cannot call Vinding a town as there is none. It had a smith and a church (Vinding Kirke). Follow the link, it has not changed one bit. I go there on every trip to Denmark as the church cemetery has quite a few Hoffmann’s buried there. My father was the eldest of 8 brothers. At the time of his birth the world was in the midst of its first great war, World War I. My father told me often that those soldiers who came back from the war were mentally never the same. It is kind of amazing to me now that I knew anyone who could comment at all on the first world war at a personal level, and on top of that he’s my dad. Life for the first 23 years would be pretty routine for my father. After 8th grade he stopped going to school and went to work full-time on the farm. When he turned 18 he joined the Danish military (For whatever reason they were sent to Hamburg, Germany). Eventually in the end he was to take over the family farm as the eldest son. Life was following a plan. The same plan his father (Henrik) and grandfather (Jens Christian) had followed.
On April 9, 1940 that would all change, when Nazi Germany crossed the Danish border and occupied Denmark. It is a day etched in every Danes mind who would live trough the ensuing years. It was one of the most frightening times in human history. There were Dane’s who would join the supposed winning team and there were those who would not accept what was not right. My father could not accept. A local group was formed in the Vinding community to become part of the resistance and go underground. There were not many in Denmark who would do this.
I can’t name them all the members of the resistance group but I did meet some of them and was told tales of others. From my father’s family there was he and the next 4 oldest of the 8 brothers – Christian, Peder, Filip, and Carl Einer. From the neighboring Kockholm farm there was Gerhard, Hakan, and Torben. The leader of the group was the Pastor from Vinding Kirke, Pastor Bitch-Larsen. These groups were small pods in the Danish landscape. Most Danes early on were not in the resistance. Towards the end many would join up but in a way they were looked down upon as they did not take up the challenge when freedom looked non-existent against the Nazi power
I cannot tell you when the group was formed, but it was early on in the war. Over the course of a few years they would do a lot of missions well into the early morning hours. where the only light was moonlight Their role was essentially to listen to the BBC radio broadcasts and wait to get signals about air drops. The drops were ammunition, explosives, etc.,..they would collect at night and hide at various locations including some farms. They would then pass on to other groups who would take the ammunition’s and set explosives on train tracks. At the time in Denmark, Germany was sending ammunition’s up through Denmark and Sweden to Finland, where the Fin’s were fighting the Soviet Union. So in an effort to slow down the German ammunition’s traffic Danish resistance groups would set explosives on the tracks in an effort to stop and destroy shipments.
For all this activity there was a price to pay. War is never free no matter whose side you are on. Sometimes those train’s that were blown up carried Danish passengers. In one instance my father’s cousin was on one of those trains. She was killed. She was a beautiful woman in her early twenties, who knows what life would have held for her. Until my father’s death he had in is desk a photo of his cousin with a lock of her hair. No matter how romantic the war, there is always a painful cost to the human heart.
The toll of collecting supplies from the British at night and working the fields during the day was an exhausting one. Some days while in the fields my father would be so tired he would just lay down on the freshly plowed dirt and fall asleep. Even though my fathers boyhood farm was isolated you had to keep the appearance of a working farm, as you had a tight circle of friends you could trust and could not take chances with others who may be easily swayed by the Nazi’s.
One thing I am commonly asked about my father by many Jewish friends is did they help the Jews flee Denmark? Anyone in Denmark who was opposed the “occupation” helped the Danish Jews get out of Denmark and over to Sweden. My father’s family would hide the Jews in the hay loft in the barn. It struck me as interesting that the hay loft where my brother and I played as kids and had so much fun was a hiding place to help protect people from one of the worst atrocities to ever befall mankind. I do not have much to add here, no heroic stories, no stories of people who hid, of children laughing or crying, dramatic chases, all I can say in Denmark is protecting the Danish Jews from falling into the abyss know as the Holocaust was just something you did. Because it was right.
Towards the end off the war there was an incident that would shape the lives of those who participated. It came to light that during one of the night drops that the Gestapo had intelligence on what was happening and when it was happening. The mission took place on April 13, 1945. The British had dropped 6 tons of explosives in a field to collect. To do such a mission would require the whole group and transport to move such a large load. There had to be locations store and hide the explosives. Unfortunately this would not end as planned
As some members of the group met in a farms courtyard one of the members came flying into the courtyard chased by the Germans. It was my father, Johannes Hoffmann. The group would quickly disband and run to the nearby woods for cover. During the run my father was left alone and ran across a German officer what ensued will be one of the great mysteries of his life, he escaped. How he escaped went with him to the grave. I never learned of the instance until after he had passed, When the ones we have loved passed then the regrets begin to weigh on our souls as we discover what we did not know about those we loved.
During the time they were disbanded one group with Christian, Aage , Hakan, Gerhard, Simon Ramskov and Carl Einer were with the truck and the explosives. Gerhard, Aage, Hakan and Christian ran to get weapons to combat the Germans. But while they were gone the truck would be discovered and checked by the Germans. Carl Einer would be taken into captivity while Simon escaped. As Agge, Hakan, Aage and Gerhard fled they went to the cemetery at Vinding Kirke. First Christian and Aage would be captured and later Hakan. Gerhard was able to escape. They would be held by the Germans for some time.
It would be my uncle Carl Einer who would suffer the worst fate. He was the first captured and was the youngest of the group. He was taken to the nearby farming town of Aulum. One can only guess it was a dark small farmhouse he was taken to wherever the Gestapo had headquarters, but in the end they had plans for him. They tied up his hands and feet and then hung him on a pole. Then two German soldiers took turns beating the living hell of him. They wanted the names of his collaborators. He never gave up those names, but years later I would hear he was never the same after that incident. Having met him many times I think I understand his personality better. He has long since passed and I will never get to ask him about what happened in Aulum, but I gather if I had he would not have answered.
The other 3 men who were captured would later the following day be re-united with Carl-Einer in Aulum, but he did not look too good after what he had been through. They were all sent to Aarhus, the second largest city in Denmark. Christian would be bound to a chair and beaten. He was stronger than Carl Einer mentally and did not give up any names either. They beat him severely. They asked him again and again for name. He looked u, his face smeared in blood and said, “Go to hell”, then received one more mighty blow and slipped into unconsciousness. The four were put into a jail cell. There were 19 men housed in a prison cell designed for 3. While in the jail cell they were all sentenced to death by firing squad.
After they disbanded, those that escaped all had to hide. My father was on the run, he found a farmer who took him in and hid him for the next 4 weeks. There were a lot of Danes who helped the resistance movement during this time. When I was in Denmark in 1972 my father took me to a retirement home where I met the man who helped hide my father. I wish I could have understood more than. I would have thanked him.
This was a very stressful time for all in the Hoffmann family. Several sons were in hiding and 3 more Hoffmann’s were being prepared to stand in front of a German firing squad in Aarhus. Though I am sure my grandfather and grandmother knew a lot of what was going on I am sure they were sheltered from most of what was going on to avoid becoming to involved in the resistance. In the end fate would smile kindly on my relatives as on May 5th , 1945 the Germans’s surrendered to the allies and Denmark was once again free. My uncle’s were spared the firing squad and would return home. Christian would take over the farm and my father would start another journey that took him to Canada and then the United States. But that is another story.
Good Night and Good Luck,
Hans Henrik Hoffmann, Danish Son, February 1, 2011