Danish ophthalmologists in the second World War.
Mogens Norn, Professor Em, Ophthalmology, Copenhagen tells.
Today, there are ethnic problems and meaningless terror and wars around in the world.
We ought to remember Word War II with its meaningless terror and “ethnic cleansing”, deportations, concentration camps (KZ) and death in gas chambers.
I can never forget April 9, 1940, when the German aircrafts all the day thundered from South to Norway, and Danish soldiers were killed in meaningless battle against the German occupation troops in spite of secret information, and understanding between the Danish Government and Nazi Germany (Viggo Clemmesen (1,4).
The first years of the occupation were relatively calm. As a school boy I studied the beautiful coloured nazi-propaganda-material free of charge, send to all of us from the Danish-German Society (Dansk Tysk forening).
From 1943 I was medical student at the University of Copenhagen. The ophthalmic professor Gerhard Rønne (1878-1947) advised a young ophthalmologist to go to Germany to collect sufficient number of patients for his MD thesis. At the end of the war the MD ophthalmologist was accused for cooperation with the Germans (traitor). He lost his membership of the Danish Medical Society. He received it again the next year because he really had not worked for the Nazi-Germany.
The leader (Führer) of the Danish Nazi Party (DNSAP) was a general practitioner Fritz Clausen (1893-1947) in Sønderjylland, later a doctor in the German Waffen SS. (1).
As the war continued, the nazi crimes become more evident and the Danish resistance increased.
Persecution of the Danish Jews.
In September 1943 the German police confiscated the archives in the Danish Mosaic religious community. The Jews were also warned by the persecutions in other countries from 1941.
The night between October 1 and 2 the German police and the Danish Schalburg SS- unit arrested all Jews to be transported to the steamer Wartheland with capacity for 5000 prisoners. Some poor Jews had escaped persecution in Germany, now persecuted again in Denmark.
In reality “only” 481 Jews were captured, and deported to the ghetto in Theresienstadt
Many escaped. In Copenhagen some hid in the Ørsted Park near the Municipal Hospital, some in the woods.
The escaped Jews were helped to escape to freedom in Sweden with illegal fishing vessels from more than 25 different secret places, most in Øresund (3). Money for the dangerous transport was given by the Danish Medical Society (Fenger), and the ophthalmologist Steffen Lund (1906-91) coordinated the organisation (2).
Steffen Vordran Lund was educated in Copenhagen. He had a busy ophthalmology practice in Havnegade in Copenhagen 1939-86, where later the Danish National Bank was erected.
The Havnegade - Clinic was the very first ophthalmic Clinic in the Danish University and also private clinic for the first professor in ophthalmology: Edmund Hansen Grut. Later for Jannik Bjerrum (who discovered the arcuate scotoma and glaucoma-pathogenesis), at last for Otto C. Gertz, who was Steffen Lunds father in law
Steffen Lund was also visitator (medical officer in charge of the distribution of patients among hospitals) at the Municipal Hospital (KH) from 1938 and it was in this position he could help the Jews and the “illegal” work against the German occupation force. From October 1943 he organised a commando central in the library in KH, later in other localities. All medical practitioners and nurses cooperated, the “hole country was one block” (5).
In the Municipal Hospital the saboteurs were hidden in the cellar for dead bodies, the ambulance transported them to the hospital with special secret signs (KHBBH). Jews were hidden in nurses’ beds in Bispebjerg Hospital (BBH) or in the very long underground walking gallery, arranging a show funeral ceremony to escape successively to 25 taxies going to fisher boats in Gjorslev in Køge Bugt to escape to Sweden (2).
In Theresienstadt 140.000 European Jews were concentrated in the ghetto. 88 000 were later transferred to other concentration camps and killed and 33 000 died of hunger or sickness.- 758 Norwegians and 116 Danish Jews died in the German KZ camps. - All together 6 mill. of the worlds 16 mill. Jews were killed by Adolf Hitlers regime.
Steffen Lund not only helped the Jews, but he contacted the secret German police in the headquarter in Copenhagen to release a Danish doctor, and he obstructed a permanent German police guard and a German department in the Municipal Hospital. He worked in the prisons where sick resistance people were treated very badly or not at all (open tuberculosis etc). He negotiated with the German general - artz (head of medicine) and with dr. Hoffmann, who did not work seriously for the sick Danish prisoners. Steffen Lund claimed, that the “Nazis only think in the entirety, the Nordic focus is individual”. He was obviously not afraid of the Germans…
In June 1944 Steffen Lund was arrested by Gestapo (German secret police) for “illegal” work. He never did illegal work, after his opinion, but only planned a “sanitary group” for battles in the streets when (if?) the English or other allied troops and the Danish Brigade in Sweden would come to liberate Denmark (5,6).
He was sent to prison in the Frøslev Camp near the German Border in Sønderjylland. At the morning appeal, you have every morning a risk for deportation to one of the German KZ camps and death in a gas chamber.
Steffen Lund worked in the Frøslev Camp as a doctor for the other prisoners (6).
Gustav Østerberg (1899-1974) is a well known artist. His drawings, often caricatures of medical persons, can still be admired. His visual plate for children from 1934 was used and new figures relieved some old fashioned motives in new editorials. His MD thesis in 1935 concerning the number of rods and cones in the retina was internationally well known. He introduced as the first in Denmark contact lenses and he had a busy ophthalmic practice in Østergade, the main street in Copenhagen.
Østerberg was in his illegal work forced to shoot an armed German soldier. Østerberg survived, because he shot first, but he never forgot this catastrophe, the soldier was a very young man.
Østerberg printed illegal mewsletters in his ophthalmic clinic. This was very important, because the German propaganda and censorship yielded false information to the Danish people. Østerberg was knocked down in this clinic by a false patient, an anti-saboteur. Østerberg escaped to Sweden with help from his friend Viggo Clemmesen.
In Sweden, Østerberg became a member of the Danish Brigade. He continued his drawings, now German soldiers, anti-saboteurs, coffins and death was his motives. Some were printed in England and war-aero plans threw them down in Denmark as a very effective antipropaganda and a greeting from the free world (1).
Viggo Clemmesen (1910-2001) . His medical thesis from 1944 concerning paracentral visual acuity, is still an actual topic (cf. AMD). He had an additional job in the sanity department in Statens civile Luftværn ( State Air Protection of Civilians).
In November 1944 Gestapo occupied this Danish government office. Clemmesen was at that time the responsible leader of the office (Dienst Älteste). The secret military project for closing Sønderjylland (South Jutland bordering to Germany) with allied troops in case of invasion in Jutland was kept in an envelope. Gestapo ignored the paper, so they were not send to prison.
Nine days before the British bombardment of Copenhagen, Clemmesen had contacted the fire chief in Frederiksberg for better cooperation with the fire corps in Copenhagen. The ensuing mistaken bombardment of the French Catholic School at Frederiksberg become a catastrophe, without necessary help.
At the 238. meeting in the Danish Ophthalmologic Society in April 25. 1942 Clemmesen lectured about the actual war mustard gas.
Poul Martin Møller (1922-97) later professor in ophthalmology in Odense, Denmark, was an active member of the resistance - group Holger Danske (HD). He was injured in December 1944 when he tried to clean another member’s department for illegal material. Møller escaped to Sweden. After the war he never mentioned his contributions for freedom.
Lis Mellemgaard, born Wognsen ( 1924- ) studied medicine at the University of Copenhagen from 1943, later ophthalmology. She became a member of the political party Dansk Samling (Danish Unification, inspired by the religious clergyman Grundtvig). In the war, she distributed illegal papers and books, spionaged for HD ( the Holger Danske group), hiding illegal weapons, discovered hidden Danish traitors, organised German weapons from German military uniforms at restaurants. Lis was guard at the sabotage actions against General Motors, the Free Harbour and the police head quarter in Copenhagen. The actions where done as safe as possible: no civilians were killed (cf. terror today, where a large number civilians are killed!)
Lis was armed with a pistol. A few days before the liberation in 1945 seven of Lis’ HD group were captured and executed by German soldiers in Ryvangen. Lis was not at the group meeting, when they were captured, because she was ill (pharyngitis).
Just after the liberation Lis was sent to Korsør where she together with the British troops discovered Danish traitors, collaborationists . She “invaded” a German military station at Storebælt (1).
After the war Lis became a competent ophthalmologist, besides she lectured and wrote books concerning resistance people and especially their children. And the psychological post war traumas (7). Lis has also taken a bachelor degree in Near East Archaeology.
Danish doctors from other specialities were of course also important and very active in the liberation force (Mogens Fog, professor in neurology, member of Frihedsrådet (Liberty Council) from 1943), Ole Chiewitz, Jørgen Kieler, Engelbreth Holm etc. etc.).
(As of today, October 4, 2007, Lis M. is very much alive, recovering from a minor ailment. We look forward to an interview with her soon....see next issue of TBE)
I must confess, that I first of all studied medicine in WW II, as many of my friends. We did not have contact with the secret resistance force.
Professor Rønne started a lecture in ophthalmology with the words: “I have important news!” The students believed, it was concerning the German occupation, perhaps imprisoning of all students but the topic was a new mathematic hypothesis, made by Rønne.
Rønne was a statistic authority, and he concluded, that it was not necessary to go to air raid shelter, the victims were so few at that time.
Nevertheless, Rønne was badly wounded in his own home situated at the corner of Søgade and Gothersgade.- Snipers on the roofs shot at the Danish Brigade, coming from Sweden to liberate Denmark. Rønne was at that moment watching the battle from his own window. - There were relative few victims at the liberation, thanks to the well planned liberation force.
In the beginning of the war, the university - studies remained effective. After the student strike, the University was closed, we studied privately, coached by tutors. We had work besides the studies, necessary to get a non-student identification- paper. I was a library substitute twice a week at a municipal library.
At the liberty days, the Danish prisoners in the German KZ were transported home by the Swedish Bernadotte white busses. Among the many “human skeletons” was my best under-school friend Richard Heiselberg. His mother could not recognize the skeleton. “Where is my son?” She cried. - He had done nothing heroic, he believed, “only” printing illegal papers. Richard later became inspector in African History at the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen, but he had severe KZ syndrome in the rest of his short life.
So we, the 80+, will never forget WW II. We want peace and freedom all over the world. We should learn from the past.
All are in Danish.
- Norn, M: Tre danske øjenlæger under besættelsen. Oftalmolog 2005; 25 (nr.4). 18-20.
- Norn,M: Steffen Lund og jødeforfølgelsen. Oftalmolog 2007;27 (nr.2). 23-25.
- Nellemann, P: Redningsaktionen af danske jøder under anden verdenskrig. Oftalmolog 2007; 27 (nr.2) 27-29.
- Clemmesen,V: Hykleri om invasion. Jyllands Posten May 1. 1995 p.9.
- Lund, S: In Svendstorp, Å (ed); Den hvide brigade. Carl Aller, Copenhagen 1946. 175-202.
- Digmann, PM. In Mågård J (ed) Fanger i Frøslevlejren 1944-45. Hernov, Copenhagen 1988.
- Mellemgaard, Lis: Pige i modstandskampen. Museum Tusculanums Forlag, University of Copenhagen, 1998 pp 108.
go to page 1 for more articles, also on this subject. -
PICTURE: Heinrich Himmler, Rechsführer SS, is seen inspecting a KZ on the small picture to the left on the first page