ESCAPE—A Book about an Overlooked Danish Refugee History

Thomas G. Svaneborg and Brian Traantoft Rasmussen (Gads Forlag)

In the autumn of 1944, Hitler’s troops were pushed back from the Eastern Front, and Stalin’s forces began their advance towards Berlin. Chaos reigned everywhere, and soon millions of people from the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine fled westward. During the war, their homelands were forcibly incorporated into the Nazi empire, and now they feared retaliation from the Russians.

After more than nine months of fleeing through winter cold, bombing raids, hunger and human degradation, over 24,000 of them ended up in the Danish refugee system. Collectively, they were referred to as allied displaced persons (DP) or “non-German refugees.” They became a particularly unique group in the international refugee system as they, unlike the German refugees, were protected from forced repatriation by international agreements. But when the war ended, they were still on the run. For where is home when one’s homeland suddenly becomes a Soviet republic?

In 1948, Denmark joined the United Nations International Refugee Organization (IRO), which in the following four years entered a labor migration collaboration with countries such as USA, Australia, Argentina and Canada in the hope of giving these DPs a new home. Approximately 4,500-5,000 of these allied refugees, primarily Poles and refugees from the Baltics, who had not already voluntarily returned home, accepted the overseas offers.

The Danish authorities closed the last refugee camp in Denmark in 1953. At that time, there were about 1,100 allied refugees left in the country. Some were too old, sick or affected by PTSD to leave or move on, others had married well, received an education and been assimilated into the Danish society.

Based on both local, national and international archival material as well as a wide range of interviews, we will write the first comprehensive account of the allied refugees who were either permanently or temporarily trapped in Denmark, an unheard diverse group that challenged both the local, national and international community and immigration system, and the entire idea of hospitality.

The book FLUGT [ESCAPE], to be published by Gads Forlag in the spring of 2025, will contribute new important knowledge about the allied refugees in Denmark, about IRO and about human destinies on the run across time and space.