The Newbery honor and National Book Award winning author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose, has chronicled the fascinating true story of a group of Danish boys who jump-started the resistance to the Nazis in Denmark during World War II. Knud Pedersen, a pastor’s son, joined with his high school buddies to harass and subvert the Germans who were occupying Denmark. They stole guns, burned German vehicles, confused signage, posted graffiti,and cut phone lines, among other acts of sabotage and resistance. And they acted when almost no one else in Denmark was resisting the Germans at all. Pedersen says they did it because they were ashamed of Denmark’s easy capitulation to the Nazis and the collaboration that characterized the Danish response to the German occupation.
“I kept asking myself: How on earth could I lie on the beach sunning when my country had been violated? Why were we not as brave as Norway? Had Denmark no pride?”
Eventually, the boys, who after all were just boys with no military or resistance experience, were arrested and imprisoned. But they became an inspiration to the adults of Denmark who began their own resistance movement. Mr. Hoose credits Knud Pedersen and his Churchill Club with “setting the ball in motion” and making Denmark “a hotbed of resistance.”
I would have liked to have read more about the religion “ghosts” (hints about a religious or Christian influence that aren’t fleshed out) in this story. Pedersen’s father was a pastor, but we are never told what denomination or what that fact meant to Knud Pedersen. Pedersen tells how the boys decided that they would have to be willing to kill Germans in order to form an effective resistance cell, but he never says anything about how they reconciled the violence they were willing to commit with their Christian background or faith. In fact, it is hinted, but never stated, that perhaps Knud Pedersen and his brother, who was also involved in the Churchill Club, didn’t have much faith or Christianity to reconcile. However, perhaps they did, but the author doesn’t tell us about it. Pedersen is filled with hatred: for the Germans, for the Danish collaborators, and for his jailers. A struggle with what to do with such hatred in a Christian context is never mentioned.
Religion ghosts in the text:
“Holy Ghost Monastery . . . would host Edvard Pedersen’s Danish Folkschurch and provide living quarters for the Pedersen family.” Folkschurch?
Most of the boys of the Churchill Club attended Aalborg Cathedral School, presumably a Christian private school?
Knud Pedersen: “Each Sunday morning Jens and I practiced shooting the guns in the gigantic open loft at the top of the monastery during father’s church services. We would lie on our stomachs, waiting for the music to swell, and when it did we’d blast away, firing at targets positioned in the hay on the other side of the loft.” So the boys didn’t attend church services?
Pedersen on Christmas in prison: “I wanted to cry, but I had forgotten how. I finally discovered that by softly singing Christmas songs in my cell at night I could make the tears flow down my cheeks. I sang every song I knew and wept the whole next day.”
Knud Pedersen, describing the end of the war for him: “Father distributed hymnals. I ended the war at the monastery chapel just a few meters away from the room in which the Churchill Club was born–singing hymns with the men of my K Company group. I was eighteen.”
Knud’s brother, Jens, “struggled with depression.” “He died in a hospital after a very unhappy life.”
After the war, Knud Pedersen wrote a memoir about the Churchill Club. His father, “Edvard Pedersen, arranged to have a secretary type the finished manuscript, but—unbeknownst to Knud and his club mates–he had the typist cross out all the curse words just before publication. This angered the group when they finally saw the book.”
These ghosts/hints are interesting for what is not mentioned: no prayer, no consolation from remembered Scripture or Biblical truth, no Christ or Christian commitment. Judging from a quick skim of his blog, Mr. Hoose himself seems to have Buddhist sympathies, so it’s understandable that he would not be as interested in the Christian underpinnings or lack thereof of the Churchill Club and its members. But I was. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pedersen died in December of last year, 2014, I can’t ask him whether he rejected or found strength in the faith of his parents or what exactly that faith was.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is a book about teen heroes, young men who decided that if the adults wouldn’t do anything for the honor of Denmark and the confusion of her enemy, the German invaders, they would. As such it’s an interesting and exciting portrait of youthful zeal and even foolhardiness which can sometimes trump an adult over-abundance of caution and planning. I just would have liked to know more about the boys’ foundational thinking, about what motivated them and sustained them, or didn’t sustain them, through prison and life after the war.