Immortalised in the brutal and brilliant Danish film Flame and Citron (2009), Holger Danske was initially made up of a small group of military veterans who had volunteered in the war against the Soviet Union in Finland.
A loose and almost leaderless collection of professional soldiers, they were aggrieved with how easily Denmark had acquiesced to occupation. The group was responsible for shooting a large number of collaborators and moles in building what became the largest of the Danish resistance groups.
Holger Danske were expert assassins and saboteurs that operated independently of the ‘mainstream’ underground of resistance groups.
Unlike the youthful exuberance of the Churchill Boys who inspired many, the brutal actions of Holger Danske did not always meet with public approval – particularly early into the occupation of Denmark, where many feared it would encourage the Nazis to brutalise the Danish population.
By the end of the war there was an estimated 300 individuals loosely affiliated with the group, prepared to carry out acts of resistance and murder. The Gestapo made infiltrating and destroying Holger Danske a priority, which in turn accounted for the group’s brutal dealings with collaborators and spies. Between 1943-1944 the group carried out a succession of attacks and assassinations to encourage fellow Danes to resist Nazi occupation.
The actions of Holger Danske and in particular Jørgen Haagen Schmith and Bent Faurschou Hviid – the two men portrayed in Flame and Citron – came in for some revisionist scrutiny after the film, for what some felt was an excessive use of violence. The leadership was finally rounded up and shot by the Nazis in 1944. Faurschou Hviid (portrayed as Citron in the film) elected to die by a cyanide capsule he stored at home, rather than be tortured before death. Schmith died when German soldiers set fire to his house.
In 1951, Faurschou Hviid and Schmith were presented posthumously with the American Medal of Freedom for their actions.