This riveting nonfiction account of a little known piece of World War II history tells how a group of teenage boys catalyzed the Danish resistance after the Germans occupied their country in 1940.
When the Nazis marched into Denmark in April 1940 there was little opposition, and most Danes quickly settled into a life governed by Germans. However, a group of teenage schoolboys, inspired by the stand that Norway had taken in the same circumstances, decided not to take it lying down; so Knud Pedersen, his brother and friends formed, initially the RAF club in Odense, and then, later, the Churchill Club in Aalborg. Without any training and with little planning, they committed acts of sabotage, which though mostly minor – stealing guns, sabotaging cars – were a thorn in the side to the ruling Germans. Eventually the boys were caught and jailed for several years in Denmark, but their acts and subsequent trial and imprisonment, became the catalyst for more significant and organized resistance. Released before the war ended, many of them joined the ‘professional’ resistance and continued the covert war against the occupiers.
Hoose (Claudette Colvin, Twice Toward Justice, 2009) came across this story while in Denmark and pursued it several years later with Knud Pedersen himself. Most of the book is in Knud’s own words – either from interviews he had with Hoose or from his book published after the war – and these recollections are remarkably evocative and articulate. Much as he did with Claudette Colvin, Hoose surrounds his subject’s words with the necessary context to help the reader grasp the full historical significance. It is a thrilling story of schoolboy bravado which reads like a Boys Own adventure, and it is really only the Epilogue that reveals the toll that imprisonment took on most of these pioneer resistors, as Knud’s own account underplays the traumas.
The book is filled with lots of decent-sized relevant black and white photographs (not great resolution in the ARC, but I assume will be better in the published book) as well as Knud Pedersen’s sketches, which bring a personal note to the illustrations. The Selected Bibliography and Notes are thorough and, though not Steve Sheinkin-exhaustive, are substantive enough for a research project.
This is a gripping, well-told story that will appeal to teen fans of both narrative nonfiction and adventure fiction, and would pair well with Margi Preus’s Shadow on the Mountain (Abrams, 2012), a fictionalized tale of youthful Norwegian resistance.
Reviewed from an ARC.
A couple of notes:
It seems that wartime Denmark is suddenly hot! Sandi Toksvig’s novel Hitler’s Canary, originally published in 2007 by Roaring Brook has just been re-issued by Square Fish, and Deborah Hopkinson’s nonfiction Courage & Defiance: Stories of Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors in World War II Denmark (Scholastic) is due out in August. The latter looks like it will cover some of the same territory as The Boys Who Challenged Hitler, along with the timely mass covert evacuation of Danish Jews to Sweden (which readers may be familiar with from Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars)
The ARC I’ve got is called The Churchill Club: Knud Pedersen and the Boys Who Challenged Hitler and this has changed into The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club for publication. It makes a lot of sense to do that – we are now so far away from World War II in Europe that I suspect that, sadly, Churchill has far less recognition that Hitler.