Saturday, 28 March 2020

The German Ultimatum to Denmark, 9 April 1940

Copenhagen on the eve of war

Then, at 4am on 9 April the German ambassador in Denmark Cecil von Renthe-Fink phoned the Danish foreign minister Peter Munch and demanded an immediate meeting. Twenty minutes later von Renthe-Fink was being shown into Munch's house. He handed to the worried Munch a note that had been sent to the German embassy by radio a couple of hours earlier and was signed by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The note read:
"The Government of the Reich is in possession of documents that prove that Britain and France intend to occupy certain districts of the Scandinavian States within the next few days. The Scandinavian States have not only offered no resistance to these activities but have allowed measures to be taken without taking any appropriate counter measures. But even if the Danish Government would adopt counter measures, the Government of the Reich is well aware that he Danish forces are not adequate to furnish resistance in the event of a Franco-British invasion.
"In this decisive phase the German Government cannot passively sit back and watch how the Western Powers would turn the Scandinavian States into a theatre of war against Germany. The German Government is not willing to put up with this situation. The German Government has therefore given orders to begin certain operations which will lead to the occupation of certain points of strategic importance on Danish territory.
"The German Government hereby undertakes the protection of Denmark for the duration of the war. The Government of the Reich is, moreover, determined from now on to defend Denmark with all adequate measures against French and British attacks.
"The protection by the German forces is the only conceivable security for the Scandinavian States for the defence of their territories, so that these territories may not become theatres of war and the arena of the most terrible operations in the present war.
"The Government of the Reich expect the Danish Government and the Danish people to understand the German procedure and expect them not to offer any resistance. Any resistance that might be made will be broken and must be broken by all means, and such resistance would therefore only lead to needless bloodshed.
"In view of the traditional good relationships between Germany and Denmark the German Government assure the Danish Government that Germany does not intend by these measures to destroy Denmark's territorial integrity and independence either at the present moment or in the future".
The reason for the rather convoluted statement was that Hitler was desperately worried about the impact the German invasion might have on neutral countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and especially the USA. He needed to have not only a pretext for the invasion but a reason for acting that would not breach the non-aggression pact signed only 10 months earlier. By claiming to be coming to the defence of Denmark Hitler could march his troops in to occupy the kingdom without declaring war and, in strictly pedantic terms at least, without breaching the non-aggression pact. For these obviously hollow claims to have even a mask of truth about them it was important that the Danes not fight back - hence the emphasis on avoiding bloodshed.
The meeting between von Renthe-Fink and Munch ended at 4.35am. Munch had already phoned his king and prime minister to alert them to the meeting and he at once phoned both to tell them what the note read. Stauning at once called General Prior, also already alerted, to tell him that a German invasion was imminent. It was 4.45am. The Germans were already on the march.
The German invasion of Denmark had begun.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Meeting Salvador Dali

A bit of background: when my mother met Salvador Dali she was working from home for a children's comic. She wrote scripts for stories about teddy bears and bunny rabbits, and made a very good living at it too. I was aged two when this incident happened.

Salvador Dali was then a famous, notorious, fashionable Spanish artist. He enjoyed great international success and had the reputation of being eccentric if not completely crazy.

Articles by famous columnists who had met him - reminiscences by old acquaintances - all appeared in the magazines and newspapers, saying how weird he was and how crazily he behaved. Dali himself encouraged all this by posing for photographs with bulging, staring eyes, twirling moustaches and outlandish clothes.

Well for the record we met him round about 1963 and he was one of the sanest people I ever encountered.

We were on holiday in Spain at Rosas on the Costa Brava. I believe Rosas is now a built up, huge holiday resort. When we were there it was still a small fishing village, as were most of the surrounding villages. We were there because a friend of ours, the writer Hank Jansen (Steve Francis) who wrote what were for those days rather daring Westerns, was living out there with his Spanish wife and child (later two children).

Incidentally although Steve made a good living from writing stories about the western United States, he had never been there. Travel was much less usual in those days. My husband who had been to the States told Steve that he absolutely must go there as he was making background mistakes in his writing. But Steve would not hear of it. He said none of his readers had ever been Out West, so they would not know whether he was making mistakes or not. How times have changed. A writer could not get away with that now.

We were staying in a rented flat next to the flat where Steve and his family lived. Steve missed the company of English people and prevailed upon anyone and everyone he could to join him in Spain for their holidays. I think his Spanish wife, an extremely intelligent, nice person and far too good for Steve, found all these summer throngs of foreigners something of a trial - but life is imperfect.

Unknown to us until we got there, a few miles along the coast at a place called Cadaques was living Salvador Dali. This was his family home. He was related to quite a few of the local people. They of course had known him since childhood. A fishing friend of Steve’s, a local builder, was some sort of cousin to Dali - second cousin twice removed - or whatever.

When this cousin learned from Steve that this latest English visitor in the flat next door was a director of an English publishing house and his wife was a scriptwriter, the cousin knew at once that Dali would be interested. He was quite a humble relative of the great man who had made good and he thought he could earn some merit points by making an introduction.

We were very surprised when Steve told us that Salvador Dali had invited us to his home in Cadaques to have tea and or a drink one afternoon. I felt slightly embarrassed. I had five year old and two year old children with me and I would not leave them to be minded by strangers in a foreign country. I suggested that Dali must have meant the invitation for my husband, not the whole family. I would not be the least offended if we had to stay behind. But the invitation came back that we were all invited and on the due day off we went.

Cadaques was then a small village and I remember lots of swans on a sheltered inlet from the sea. This was the first time I had ever seen swans on seawater.

Up on the cliffs overlooking the sea was Dali’s home. He had made it by having several tiny fisherman’s cottages knocked into one dwelling. It was painted completely white and sprawled along the clifftop in a series of small rooms. Dali very proudly showed me and the two children round the ‘garden’ which was a series of ins and outs of little courtyards and sitting areas, all completely paved and also white painted. He showed us where he had had small pieces of mirror embedded into the walls here and there to reflect the glinting of the sun as it moved across the sky.

This was clearly his real home where he relaxed and worked. His apartment in (was it in Madrid or Barcelona? I can’t remember.) was clearly where he put on all the crazy acting to get himself into the magazines.

We had gone on the visit with Steve Francis and the cousin who had arranged the meeting. Dali met us at the door looking quiet and businesslike and in normal correct clothes for a well-heeled Spaniard on a hot day in his own home - a quiet shirt, well cut trousers and lightweight shoes. There was not the slightest sign of craziness.

His wife did not join us. The cousin had told us that she would not put in an appearance. She never put in an appearance. No one ever saw her. Sometimes they wondered if she existed.

My recollection, although it is all a long while ago, is that Dali did not speak English well and that Steve was translating much of the time. The cousin sat not saying a word, but swelling with pride at being in the good books of his famous relative.

Dali had welcomed us all into one of the rooms of the cottage. He gave us refreshments and was friendly with the children, who as always on these occasions were quiet and well behaved [That means me - ed.].

Of course Dali had not the slightest interest in us, although he went through the usual conversational pleasantries. He wanted to talk to my husband about getting an interview in one of the women’s magazines of the publishing house of which my husband was a director. There were several weekly and monthly magazines with circulations of millions in the group. The women’s magazines had women editors and a woman director on the board. These women knew their jobs inside out and were fearsome dragons. The men directors were terrified of them. My husband noted down the details of what sort of interview Dali would like and when and where he could be available. When we got back to England he crept humbly into the presence of the great ladies and told them all about it. What happened I never followed up. I was too busy scriptwriting and looking after my family to have time for anything else. Those years of my life went by in a blur of work. I can hardly remember the passing of the days. Only those writing to their full capacity to weekly production can understand the pressure

One thing sticks in my memory about the visit to Dali. Some of his pictures were painted on truly huge canvases and on our little walk round with the children he showed me how he did it.

In one of the rooms was a long slot in the floor. It was about a foot wide and ten - fifteen feet long. I can’t really remember, but it was long. Sticking a few feet up through the slot was the top of a huge unpainted canvas. At the side was a wheel and pulley. The slot went way down into the floor - at least into the room below and probably into the room below that. (Remember the cottages were built on the steep side of a cliff.). Dali showed me that he could wind the canvas up and down so that he could reach any part of it and work comfortably in close up. If he wanted to paint anything at the foot of the canvas he would wind it right up and then stand or sit to work. If he wanted to paint at the top he would wind it right down. This room had a high enough ceiling so that he could wind the whole canvas up into the room when necessary to get a general view. He was obviously pleased with his practical gimmick.

So the visit came to an end and we went back to Rosas.I think everyone was satisfied. We were happy at unexpectedly meeting a great man and Steve and the cousin were glowing with the virtue of a good deed done to all.

But of the crazy man I still read reminiscences about there was no sign. Dali was a sane, courteous business man, living in a modestly sized home in the area where he had grown up and his family still lived.