New museum tells refugee stories despite Denmark’s difficult history

Image: FLUGT Museum
Image: FLUGT Museum

Situated just 95km from the German border, the FLUGT Refugee Museum of Denmark – opening to the public in July – will certainly draw crowds. The museum is intended to represent not just the history of German refugees in the Second World War, but also will tell stories about modern refugees. Danish Queen Margrethe II inaugurated the museum alongside German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, giving the site a notably diplomatic opening.

The museum is based in Oksbøl, the site of one of the largest refugee camps for Germans in Denmark. Oksbøl Refugee Camp was a temporary home for over 30,000 of the people evacuated from Germany in 1945 as the Red Army rolled in. The community living there acted as a town, with shops, police, and even a theatre – all behind barbed wire and strict separation from the local Danish population. In 1949, the final refugees were sent away and the camp closed. The area was used as a military camp for a few decades but fell out of use in the 1980s.

Oksbøl Refugee Camp in 1945. Image: Leif Guldmann via Wikimedia (Public Domain)

Now, under the helm of Claus Kjeld Jensen from the Vardemuseerne, the site is open again. Architect firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) have constructed the modern museum by renovating the previous hospital building from the camp. The structure couldn’t be any more different than its predecessor: large glass panels, sleek wooden beams, and carefully designed curves tell the visitor that this is a decidedly forward-looking museum.

“FLUGT is not about you or me. It’s about the next generation. Children are the decision-makers and caretakers of the future. I hope that FLUGT will help them to make the right choices”, says Erik Bär, founder of Dutch design company Tinker Imagineers, who designed the project.

Difficult history

Whilst the museum may tell vital stories about the plight of refugees, the fanfare around it could turn sour. In 2005, Der Spiegel published an article that reveal a dark part of Danish history: many German refugees – particularly children – perished in Denmark due to lack of care. Why the Danish doctors refused to provide treatment is still a difficult topic for Denmark today, but likely arose from negative attitudes towards the Germans following the occupation. It’s a valuable but contentious topic, and there’s a lot for the museum to explore.

Video (in Danish, with German and Danish subtitles):

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