The two flags from the Danish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War

Nine Danish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, captured by the fascists, were incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp in the province of Burgos. This is the story of their release and later lives

In Denmark, little is known

In 1938 the Danish Communist Party (Danmarks Kommunistiske Parti) and The Association of Danish Volunteers in Spain (De Danske Spaniensfrivilliges Forening) are unaware that Danes are incarcerated in Spanish prisons and concentration camp — not to mention the San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. They know that some combatants had been captured, but they neither know the whereabouts of the men nor their fates. They do know, however, that prisoners are sometimes shot shortly after being taken captive.

An attributable factor to this lack of knowledge is probably the turmoil following the retreat from the Aragon front and the fall of Barcelona in December/January 1938/1939. Furthermore, not all volunteers who come to Spain in 1938 are registered upon arrival or in the battalions and companies to which they were assigned.

More recent studies on the exact number of Danes who fought in the International Brigades reveal the uncertainty which prevailed. The number varies depending on the sources. In a brochure The Association of Danish Volunteers puts the number at 550, but later studies arrive at the number of 454, which include six Icelanders [1), two Faroe Islanders and five women.

The letter from Carl Geiser

However, this lack of knowledge will soon change dramatically; Wednesday 12 October 1938, the editorial board of the Workers’ Paper (Arbejderbladet) receives a letter from Paris.

Carl Geiser in Spanien

Carl Geiser in Spain

The letter is from an American International Brigade combatant by the name of Carl Geiser. He writes:

Dear comrades
I am one of the 14 American volunteers who was exchanged for four Italian officers on 8 October. I was a prisoner in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp in the province of Burgos. The exchange list contains the names of the Danes who are incarcerated in the camp. I managed to escape the country. Concerning the Danes, they are all still in Franco’s prison. They are in great need of tobacco and clothing. It is terribly cold in the camp. Five to ten dollars would be a tremendous help. You can send the money by registered post to “Campo de Concentracio San Pedro de Cardenas, Burgos, Espagne”.

Enclosed with the letter is a list containing the names of nine Danes: Niels Kristian Madsen, Peder Christiansen, Alfred Pedersen, Edvard Kleis, Derry Madsen, Kurt Sørensen, Peter Blom, Asmus Dall og Otto Christensen.

Attempts to secure the release of the prisoners 

The very next day, The Danish Communist Party (Danmarks Kommunistiske Parti) addresses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Udenrigsministeriet). Providing the Ministry with information about the nine Danish prisoners in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp, the party representatives ask the Ministry to raise the request for release with the Spanish authorities.

International prisoners assembled in the courtyard of San Pedro de Cardeña, 22 September 1938

International prisoners assembled in the courtyard of San Pedro de Cardeña, 22 September 1938

In October 1938, the prisoners know nothing about the letter from Carl Geiser or the ongoing initiatives to secure their release. 1 April 1939 something is finally happening; actions are taken to release the Danes and the Swedes, but not the Norwegians!

The Danes and the Swedes are taken to a barrack for two days. They get some clothes and their names are checked. They are then taken by bus to San Sebastian and locked up in an old factory. A couple of days later they are transported to the border town of Irun, where Red Cross representative are waiting for them at the bridge over the river that borders France.

The prisoners describe their release

“We could actually see freedom”  Asmus Dall recalls, “we could see the road barrier and we could see a lot of people on the French side of the border. It was a great moment in one’s life. It’s the sort of thing you never forget.”

Otto Christensen recounts: “[…] standing just a few meters from the French border, a quarrel starts between the Franco officers and the representatives from the Red Cross. Apparently, the names didn’t add up. I told my comrades: — If they order us back into the busses, I will slip around the barrier and out on the bridge. They cannot shoot without hitting the French gendarmes. I’ll take my chances. They finally agreed, however, and we could trudge across the bridge like ragged derelicts”.

Asmus Dall continues: “At long last we could cross the bridge and as soon as we had got three meters away from these fascist pigs, we sang the Internationale so loud they could hear it on the French side […] We received a nice welcome. I was covered in wounds from the beatings — from top to bottom. Anyways, we got a bath, coffee and cigarettes and something to eat.”

The journey home

Their onward journey home is carried out by train to Dunkerque via Paris, then by vessel, the M/S A.P. Bernsdorf, to Esbjerg [2]. In the Wednesday edition, 26 April 1939, The Workers’ Paper notes that: “The eight [2] Spanish volunteers are returning home tonight at 9:42 pm”. The returned volunteers received a heart-touching welcome from the large number of people who had turned up.

Short biographies

 

Peter Nissen Blom. Indsat i Franco-koncentrationslejren San Pedro de Cardeña

Peter Nissen Blom

Peter Nissen Blom
Roofer, Peter Nissen Blom is born 12 November 1913 in Southern Jutland, son to Peter Christensen Blom and Ingeborg Blom (born Nissen). He has a younger sister, Ester Blom. At a very young age he moves to Copenhagen, where he gets a job and takes up residence in Nørrebro..

He is married to Mrs. Sørensen with whom he has two children. He divorces Mrs. Sørensen 30 December 1947. 22 Januar 1949 he is married to Anna Marie Blom (born Andersen) with whom he has one child.

Peter Blom leaves for Spain 6 February 1937. He arrives in Albacete 17 February and is enrolled in the Xl International Brigade, 3 Battalion ‘Ernst Thälmann’. One month later, 18 March, during the Battle of Guadalajara, several Scandinavians are taken captive by the Italian troops near Palencia and incarcerated in the Almenza concentration camp in northern Spain — including Peter Blom and Erik Jørgensen. Peter is subsequently transferred to San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. He is released 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark 30 April the same year.

Following his return to Denmark, Peter takes up residence in Ravnsborg Tværgade 6 in Nørrebro. 9 April 1940, Denmark is occupied by Nazi Germany and Peter Blom joins the Danish resistance. 

Just like the majority of the Danish volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, Peter Blom is arrested 7 November 1942 by the Danish Police during a roundup of the veteran combatants and incarcerated in Vestre Fængsel (‘Western Prison’; a Copenhagen prison used by the Gestapo during the occupation). Shortly thereafter, he is transferred to Horserød interment camp (Horserødlejren) from which he is released 12 June 1943.

Following his release, he joins the Danish resistance movement as a Zealand leadership courier. 

At the age of 55, Peter falls down a roof in Copenhagen Air Port, Kastrup and dies 27 August 1969. At his death, he lived in Ålandsgade 12, Amager [8]. Peter Nissen Blom is buried at Nathanaels kirkegård (Nathanael’s cemetery), Amager.

Otto Christensen
We know very little about worker, Otto Christensen, who is born 10 May 1914 in Aalborg [4]. 

In early 1938 Otto Christensen leaves for Spain, where he is enrolled in the XL International Brigade, 2 Battalion ‘Hans Beimler’, 2 Company ‘Martin-Andersen-Nexø’ (named after Danish author, Martin Andersen-Nexø). During the retreat from the Aragon Front, he is captured at Batea [3] and incarcerated in the Zaragoza Prison (Prisión provincial de Zaragoza). Nine prisoners  — including Otto Christensen, are later transferred to San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp.

Otto is released 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark 30 April the same year. Following his return, he takes up residence in Valdemargade 31 in Aalborg.

Asmus Hansen Dall

Asmus Hansen Dall

Asmus Hansen Dall
Hospital porter, Asmus Hansen Dall, is born 8 April 1913 in Copenhagen.

Asmus leaves for Spain October 1937. He is enrolled in the infantry division of the XI International Brigade, 3 Battalion ‘3Thälmann’. 13 October 1937 he is transferred to the 4 Battalion ‘Twelfth of February’ and then to the 2 Battalion ‘Hans Beimler’.

Asmus fights in the Battle of Teruel and the Aragon Offensive. During the Battle of the Aragon Front, he is taken captive near Caspe and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. He is released 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark 30 April the same year.

During the German occupation of Denmark, Asmus is in the Danish resistance movement. He is arrested 7 November 1942 by the Danish Police during a roundup of the veteran combatants of the Spanish Civil War and incarcerated in Vestre Fængsel and later transferred to Horserød interment camp. 29 August 1943 the policy of cooperation collapses and the Nazi occupying regime takes over Horserød concentration camp. 2 October 1943, Asmus Dall, and all the communists and veteran combatants who were unable to escape from the camp, are deported to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig (today: Gdansk) in Poland. The Nazis ascribe prisoner number 25 696 to Asmus.

He returns to Denmark in May 1945 and takes up residence in the Danish Medical Association’s dwellings on Østerbrogade 57-G. Asmus Hansen Dall dies 5 July 1999.

Peter Karl Kristian Kristiansen
Peter Karl Kristian Kristiansen is born 7 March 1916 in Ølsted, north-western Zealand. At age 20, he moves to Copenhagen and takes up residence in Nørrebro. He becomes a member of the Danish Communist Party’s branch ‘Lygten’ [4].

January 1938 Peter Karl leaves for Spain. He is assigned to the auto park as a chauffeur in the XI International Brigade, 2 Battalion ‘Hans Beimler’, 2 Company ‘Martin Andersen-Nexø’. During the retreat from the Aragon Front, he is taken captive and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. Peter Karl is released 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark four days later. 

He is arrested 7 November 1942 by the Danish Police during a roundup of the Spanish Civil War veteran combatants and incarcerated in Vestre Fængsel and later transferred to Horserød interment camp. He is released 17 April 1943.

After his release, Peter Karl finds work as a Carlsberg Breweries driver and takes up residence in Ørholmsgade 2 in Nørrebro. He gets in contact with the resistance movement in his district and is engaged in the resistance work once again.

Harry Edward Kleis
Worker, Harry Edward Kleis, is born 20 Januar 1910 in Copenhagen.

20 December 1937 he heads for Spain, where he is enrolled in the artillery battery of the XI International Brigade, 2 Battalion ‘Hans Beimler’, 2 Company ‘Martin Andersen-Nexø’. Harry is captured during the retreat from the Aragon Front and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. He returns to Denmark 26 April 1939.

Harry is arrested 7 November 1942 by the Danish Police during a roundup of the volunteers in the Spanish Civil War and incarcerated in Vestre Fængsel. He is later incarcerated in Horserød interment camp from which he is released 17 April 1943.

Following his release, Harry Edwards Kleis takes up residence in P. Knudsens Gade 102, Southern Harbour of Copenhagen (Københavns Sydhavn).

Derry Mandrup Madsen

Derry Mandrup Madsen

Derry Mandrup Madsen
Worker/roofer/seaman, Derry Mandrup Madsen, is born 26 April 1917 in Aalborg, son to Carl Mandrup Madsen and Julie Marie Madsen. 

He leaves for Spain in July 1937 and is enrolled in the XI International Brigade, 4 Battalion ‘Twelfth of February’. Derry is later transferred to 2 Battalion ‘Hans Beimler’, 2 Company ‘Martin Andersen-Nexø’. He fights in the Battles of Teruel and Belchite. During the retreat from the Aragon Front, he is taken captive and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. Derry is released 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark 30 April the same year.

7 November 1942 he is arrested by the Danish Police during a roundup of the veteran combatants and incarcerated in Vestre Fængsel and later transferred to Horserød interment camp. He is deported to Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig (today: Gdansk) in Poland, 2 October 1943. The Nazis ascribe prisoner number 25 722 to Derry.

After the Second World War, Derry Madsen takes up residence in Lundtoftegade 8, 1st floor to the left. He works as a roofer until 1953. From then until 1960, he sails the British waters as a stoker and coaster engineer. Henceforth, Derry works as a roofer until his death 8 March 1972 at the age of 54.

Niels Christian Madsen
In 1937 Niels Christian Madsen travels to Spain from Vancouver B. C. Canada, where he resides. Once in Spain, he is enrolled in the XV International Brigade, ‘Abraham Lincoln’ Battalion. He is later transferred to the Canadian ‘Mackenzie–Papineau’ (‘Mac-Pap’) Battalion. 

Niels is taken captive during the retreat from the Aragon Front and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. He returns to Canada 26 April 1939.

Jens Alfred Petersen
Farm worker, Jens Alfred Petersen, is born 16 May 1910 in Odense [7]. 

He leaves for Spain at the end of 1937 and is enrolled in the XL International Brigade, 3 Battalion ‘Ernst Thälmann’. During the retreat from the Aragon Front, Jens is captured at Batea and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. He is released from the camp 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark four days later.

Jens is arrested 7 November 1942 by the Danish Police during a roundup of the volunteers in the Spanish Civil war and incarcerated in Vestre Fængsel and later in  Horserød interment camp (Horserødlejren) from which he is released 10 July 1943.

Jens Alfred Petersen returns to his former address in Vindegade 6, Odense and in 1951 he moves to Linnésgade 39 in Copenhagen.

Mogens Kurt Sørensen
Stoker, Mogens Kurt Sørensen is born 5 November 1917 in Copenhagen. He takes up residence in Prinsessegade 34, Copenhagen. Mogens is unmarried. 

He heads for Spain in December 1937, where he is enrolled in the XI International Brigade, 2 Battalion ‘Hans Beimler’, 2 Company ‘Martin Andersen-Nexø, 35 Division.

During the retreat from the Aragon Front, Mogens is taken captive and incarcerated in San Pedro de Cardeña concentration camp. Mogens is released 26 April 1939 and returns to Denmark 30 April the same year.

Once in Denmark, he returns to his work as a stoker. He dies in the war time sinking of S/S Minsk in the North Sea 19 March 1940.


[1] The Icelanders are included because Iceland was a part of the Danish Kingdom until 1944.

[2] The Workers’ Paper writes “eight” because Niels Christian Madsen returned to Canada.

[3] Batea is a municipality in Catalonia.

[4] The branch is named after the street Lygten in the north-west district of Copenhagen.