Hans & Hans


We are both of us, the staff at Mayday Press in Cape Town, very proud of our heritage. During the war in Denmark (9th of April 1940 to 4th of May 1945) a very few people actually participated in the resistance against the German occupation. When you read the history books written after the war, it sometimes looks like the whole Danish population were a part of the resistance. Not so.
The last desperate days of the occupation a lot of people suddenly became 'active' and in the days after the 4th of May many bragged about their part in resistance, but only a few did risk their life during the 'the five dark years'. A history lesson we did not learn in school was, that more Danes volunteered to fight for the Nazis on the Eastern Front than there were people participating in the illegal resistance movement. People risking their lives for Denmark during the occupation.

But here you can read a short story about two real heroes, Hans and Hans.

Hans Brahe Salling was Jørn's mothers big brother - Jørn's uncle. He was born in Copenhagen April 17th 1917. He became a seaman and worked among other on the ship 'United States' crossing the Atlantic Ocean 18 times. He also sailed around the world with a ship named 'Panama'. He did his military service in the navy in 1935. When Denmark was occupied in 1940 and nobody really wanted to fight, he joined the resistance in Norway. He was caught by Gestapo and sentenced to six years in prison and transferred to Germany. In 1943 he was released on medical grounds, he had got a very serious TB in the horrible conditions the prison offered. After a short stay in a Copenhagen hospital, he joined the resistance in his native country. First in the illegal group called 'BOPA', but he soon moved over to 'Holger Danske', the most famous resistance organization in the country. He participated in many sabotage actions on factories in and around Copenhagen. He got seriously wounded once but managed to get away and sought help in his childhood home before going underground. The last of his resistance work was in the Holger Danske group called Skindergade-gruppen.

Hans Brahe Salling, 18 years old in the navy. 1935 © Mayday Press

He was arrested by HIPO, the infamous Danish police corps working for the nazis, in Copenhagen the 24th of February 1945, together with a friend in the square Nytorv. They had both just given in their weapons for maintenance in a clock shop where the owner was part of the group. They were recognized by a woman they had met a few weeks before. Actually they had visited her in an apartment where she lived with her husband, Johannes Bitsch Christensen. They had ransacked the flat looking for proof that her husband was working as an informer for the nazis. They found lots of evidence, he was a very nasty guy, and waited for him to come home for three hours - they had a job to do, execute him on the spot.

Mr. Bitsch never came home and the group members, they were five of them in her flat, unfortunately, let the woman live when they left.

Two days later, Johannes Bitsch Christensen met his sudden death in a Copenhagen street, assassinated by another group within Holger Danske, 'frøken Langes' group.

On February the 24th Mrs. Bitsch went to the court house regarding her husbands will. The court is situated just around the corner from the clock shop. Coming out from court she saw and recognized Hans Brahe. She called HIPO from a nearby phone booth. HIPO arrived quickly and picked up Hans and his friend, Svend Borup Jensen. The rule when arrested was to keep your secrets for 48 hours, giving your comrades time to go underground and get new names and new identity cards. Hans Brahe was tortured for hours on end, he had his nails ripped off, he was kicked and beaten to pulp. A witness to his treatment in the hands of the Germans was Ms. Lilly Gram Jensen, who was arrested in another connection (she had been hiding weapons for the resistance).
After many hours of torture, eventually he gave up names etc. as agreed within the movement. But one of the members were not warned about Hans's arrest and the HIPO corps succeeded to arrest that comrade, Georg Stougaard. Later five other members who came to look for Georg in the clock shop because he did not show up to a meeting in a restaurant that day, the 26th of February, were arrested as well.

Nurse Lilly Gram Jensen later, when Hans had recovered from the torture, witnessed that Hans had had a very powerful and wonderful voice. He was singing in the prison yard to keep up the spirit of the men and women waiting for their verdicts. She got courage to hold out from his soothing voice.

Seven from 'Skindergade-gruppen' were sentenced to death and executed the same day, March 17, 1945, only a few weeks before the war ended. Their bodies were dumped in an area near the execution poles. After the liberation Hans Brahe's body was retrieved, he and the others were still dressed in their own clothes. Some letters were found on their bodies which they had not been allowed to send to their families. Many of the resistance fighters used the words from a hymn, 'Altid frejdig når du går'. The words used are in our humble translation 'Fight for all you love - die if necessary'. Hans also wrote those words to his mother and three sisters in the letter found in his clothes. He continued, "I am completely at peace and feel fine, I have in spite of all, peace in my heart". He ends the letter with a short "Live well all of you".

On 18th of March the German officer in charge of Denmark, Dr. Werner Best, send a short note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen. Our translation: " Attached I send You extracts of 8 sentences given by the German Police Special Court of March 17 1945, in which 7 accused were sentenced to Death and one 10 years imprisonment. The Death sentences have been executed. The sentences will be made public 22 March 1945.
Mit vorzüglichster Hochachtung
Werner Best".

In the picture below his surviving comrades are carrying his coffin out of Gentofte Kirke, a church near his childhood home. The date for his funeral was 26th of May 1945. His grave is a national monument in that sense that it has to be there forever and the maintenance of the grave is paid for by the state. Hans lies with his parents next to him. Many of the killed members of the resistance are buried in Mindelunden, the biggest monument for the resistance movement and very close to the place where the men caught by the nazis were shot.

On the 25th of March 1945 all Danish daily newspapers were forced to write a story by the German army. The headline "7 terrorister dømt til Døden" (7 terrorists sentenced to Death). The length and page were specified by the German censors. "2 collums on page 3"

Hans Brahe's dedication and sacrifice has been a big inspiration in Jørn's life since early childhood.

There's a big PS to tell. A story which we did not know about until a few years back when we visited the last surviving member of Skindergade-gruppen, Mrs. Lis Mellemgaard. She told us that Hans's girlfriend, a nurse named Karen Johansen, was pregnant at the time of his death. Nobody in our family knew of her pregnancy. Unfortunately she left Denmark a few weeks after the war ended. Immigrated to USA by ship. She arrived in New York and hopefully gave birth later that year. Which means we have a family member in the States who we don't know. We have tried to trace Hans's girlfriend and maybe we found her ( a woman with her name, a common one though), but if it was her, she died just a couple of years before we found out about her pregnancy. And we cannot find any next of kin. So it's both sad and not sad, the end to this story of Hans Brahe.


Hans Brahe Salling. April 17, 1917 to March 17, 1945. R.I.P.


Left overs of the three poles in Ryvangen - the place used to execute the freedom fighters in Copenhagen during the war. ©

Hans Christian Andersen, Helle's grand-father on her fathers side, was born in Frederiksberg, Copenhagen, October 25th, 1906. Son of a postman. He worked in the Ministry of Finance when the war came to Denmark. He joined the resistance, Holger Danske, and became a very important person for the movement. He was financing illegal activities with money 'stolen' from the ministry. Money used for the people who had to go underground and who could not get salaries from normal jobs.

At the time during the war unmarried freedom fighters got 250 kroner a month, married members got 500 kroner from the 'foundation' managed by Hans Christian Andersen. In the office he had a hidden robe to use to get out of the window, should the Germans come for him. At home he slept with a pistol under his pillow to use for self defense or, eventually, to kill himself. Fortunately it never came to that. So even if he worked 'in the office' his role to the survival of the young men in the resistance was very important.

Hans Christian Andersen played a big part in the rescue of jews from Denmark in October 1943. Again we did not get the real story in school, we did hear about the Danish fishermen sailing the jews across Øresund to Sweden, but many of them demanded huge sums of kroners to do it. Our teachers did not tell that side of the story. Hans Christian financed a lot of the families who could not afford the exorbitant fees demanded on the spot. More than 7000 jews were shipped to Sweden, many of them paid for by the 'foundation' which Hans Christian managed. He was an important man those 10 days during the biggest rescue mission in WW II of jews. Jews who got away from a certain death in the nazis extermination camps.

After the war he got a big job in the newly founded United Nations as a token for his role during the war. He became Director of Bureau of Finance in UN and worked as such for nine years in New York. In his job he once met the wife of the deceased President Roosevelt to a dinner party. Mrs. Roosevelt was so delighted to meet the world famous Danish author H.C. Andersen. She actually told him "Mr. Andersen, I have read all your fairy-tales". If he ever corrected her, Helle's grandfather, we don't know. But it's a good story. We sometimes hope they have met these two men with the same name. But we don't know…

Hans Christian Andersen in his UN office in New York. He died from cancer in 1980. R.I.P.

Our window May 4th, 2015