July 17, 1942
“Get up and get dressed,” the guard said as he set their clothes out next to the jail cells holding the 10 Churchill Club members.
Knud Pedersen (16 years old) looked out at the clothes that were brought to them. They were their nice clothes.
“Looks like we will receive our sentences today,” Jens Pedersen (17 years old) said to his younger brother from the cell next door. Knud nodded and began to dress. They had been held in this jail in Aalborg, Denmark, for 10 weeks now. They had already gone through the trial, which had taken some time to arrange, since the Germans wanted to bring the Churchill Club to justice in Germany for the arson and stealing that had taken place with Denmark under Nazi “protection.” But the authorities of Denmark had been allowed to try the boys.
Knud smiled to himself as he remembered answering an important question the judge asked during the trial. He had been asked what they were planning to do with all the Nazi weapons they had stolen while unattended. Their defense attorney had told them to say they were just fascinated with the weapons but weren’t going to use them. Knud and all the boys in the club knew that was a lie. So he told the truth, and it was clearly heard by the German representative in the courtroom. He planned to use them to support the English troops when they come to liberate Denmark.
Knud was sentenced to three years in jail for 23 counts of stealing, arson, and destruction of German property. He had in fact stolen a machine gun while the soldier was washing a window in another room. He had helped to set fire to blueprints for an expansion of the strategic Aalborg airport. And most recently, he set fire to a train car full of airplane wings bound for a plant where they would be used to complete German war planes. Knud and his friends had done those acts and were only sorry they weren’t out there now, continuing to make life harder for the occupying Nazi’s. Knud wished that the officials running the country had more guts to stand up to Germany, but they had long since let their country down by letting the Germans in with open arms.
Jens also got three years for 8 counts of stealing and arson. They had the longest jail terms among the teenage boys, though some of the others had done similar amounts of stealing and burning. Knud and Jens had led the others in Aalborg for more than a year on these resistance missions. The train car mission was actually made possible by three 20-something-year-old men, Knud Hornbo, Kaj and Alf Houlberg. They worked at a plant that made mortar grenades, and took six grenades and gave them to Jens and Knud. This act got the older men 5 years.
After the sentencing, all 11 prisoners were able to visit with their family and friends in one room. It was a large turnout since the news of their deeds was spreading quickly, and everyone knew they would probably be locked up for a while. Alf’s younger brother Tage gave Alf a magazine with a 14″ hacksaw blade tucked inside. In a letter a week before, Tage had told his brother to expect something when they next met, so Alf had created a hole in his outer coat. After finding the blade, Alf concealed the blade in the secret pocket before it could be discovered by the guards.
When they got back to the jail, Alf and Jens , who were sharing a cell, started immediately to cut a bar on their window. Knud Pedersen heard the noise at once, as did everyone else nearby. Alf had been careful not to start until the guard had walked away. But it was noisy work and it would take a long time.
What could they do?
All the boys sang songs – all the songs they knew – and used spoons and metal cake pans for accompaniment. They kept it up for hours each day for about two months so Jens and Alf could keep sawing. The team work didn’t stop there. They would talk during their half hour recreation times and devise a way to create a dummy bar, so the jailers wouldn’t notice the cut bar once it was removed. They hoped that Alf and Jens could get out during the night and continue to sabotage the Germans, then return before dawn so they wouldn’t be noticed missing.
Unfortunately, Jens would never get to try it out.
It was September when the bar was finally cut free and the dummy bar properly rigged. Before an escape could be attempted, the teenage boys were shipped to the Nyborg State prison. Now hundreds of miles away, the boys would have to wait out their sentence.
Luckily, Kaj, Alf and Knud H., were stuck in the one cell with the dummy bar. They were able to get out 19 nights in a row to destroy or wreck German military cars and perform other acts of sabotage; further frustrating the Nazi’s and inspiring the Danish people.
The Churchill club was started by two teenage brothers, who were ashamed of how the Danish government had let the Germans walk in and take their country over without a fight. Knud and Jens Pedersen found other teenagers that felt similarly. Together they not only frustrated the German war machine, they inspired a people who would later help more than 7,000 Jews escape certain death. Their teamwork, even if not personally beneficial at times, helped achieve greater results than they could alone.
Who is your team? What can you do to help the team reach a higher goal?
I recently heard Aaron Walker of View from the Top say, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” So pay attention to who you choose to make part of your team. Do they inspire you? Do they lift the team? In the example of the Churchill club, they inspired each other, and looked out for each other. In the end, they inspired a nation.
P.S. To read a more complete story of the Churchill club, check out, “The Boys who Challenged Hitler” by Phillip Hoose. I’m not connected with this book in any way except for reading it for research for this post.