Friday, July 4, 2008

Review: Resistance Fighter

An appropriate review for Independence Day!

Resistance Fighter by Jorgen Kieler is a commanding, first-hand account of the Danish Resistance movement during World War Two. After Germany invaded Denmark in April 1940 and a collaborationist government took control of the country, resistance fighters organized an underground opposition to occupation and collaboration.

Kieler, a medical student when the Nazis invaded, began his involvement by operating an underground press in Copenhagen with two of his sisters, his brother, and others. As the war intensified, they expanded their efforts – first by ferrying Jews and other refugees to neutral Sweden, then through increasing acts of sabotage against Danish factories producing Nazi war materials.

Keiler’s straightforward account of this unfamiliar part of the war is as interesting as it is inspiring. The efforts of Keiler’s group and others resulted in over 90% of Denmark’s Jews escaping to Sweden and the hampering of German war efforts. While Keiler is thorough in his identification of the key players in the resistance movement, the book does not become bogged down in exhaustive detail about the inner workings of the various resistance factions.

Eventually, the Nazis cracked down on the Danish resistance fighters, leading to the arrests of Keiler, his brother, two of his sisters, and their father. He and his brother spent six months as slave laborers in a concentration camp in Porta Westphalica. The camp was not one of the infamous death camps used for the mass execution of the Jews, but housed political prisoners, captured soldiers, and common criminals all being worked to death building bomb-proof underground factories for the Nazis. Keiler’s unadorned description of life in the camp is heart wrenching.

After surviving the war, Keiler became a doctor and spent years studying the effects of starvation and the stress-related disorder he labeled “Concentration Camp Syndrome.” He also testified at several war criminal trials and researched archival materials for this and an earlier history book. His intimate chronicle is tribute to those involved in Denmark’s struggle against the Nazis. But it is much more than that. By focusing on a lesser-known aspect of World War Two, Resistance Fighter also provides a fresh perspective on the harsh facts of German occupation and concentration camps, and the related ethical and political issues of collaboration, resistance, liberty, and citizenship.

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