Svend Otto Nielsen
29.08.1908 - 27.04.1944
Bob Ramsing: "John" was a born leader, a man we could trust. He was thirty-five years old, blond, blue eyed, and of medium height. His eyes were remarkable. They were normally warm and kind but in an instant they could get very, very cold. When that happened we did not argue with him, but it took a great deal to ruffle him. He was a very calm man who usually gave his orders with a smile. He was built like a hunter, heavy-set but agile, with fast and sure movements. He was a crack pistol shot and several times saved our bacon by blacking out a German searchlight with a well-placed bullet. Even before he became our leader we had heard about his exploits, like the time he went into a German airfield to steal a secret bomb-sight from one of the planes. On the way in he had to shoot a sentry with his silent pistol, and he got away from the airfield only after a hair-raising game of hide-and-seek in the darkness. He liked to dress up as a policeman or a doctor and for a long time he drove around in a car, which de had stolen from the Germans, bearing Danish medical plates. It is difficult to make anybody understand the confidence "John" inspired in us. When he took command of the group we were all between eighteen and twenty-one years of age. We had never seen him before. We knew his cover-name but we knew nothing else about him. Yet we obeyed hid orders blindly - even when it meant killing somebody. We believed in him without knowing him. That was an important thing in the Danish Resistance, that incredible confidence between people.
After a sabotage mission on the night of December 6th and 7th, 1943, "John" and Jens Lillelund stayed with a woman named Mrs. Hedvig Delbo who resided at Faxegade 3 on Østrebro in Copenhagen. She had gained the group's trust and had on several occasions served as host to some of the members. However, it was later discovered that she was a very effective informant for the German secret police, the Gestapo. When "John" and Jens Lillelund were leaving her apartment on the morning of December 7th, 1943, she asked that they wait, using the excuse that she needed to pick up some milk for the morning coffee. They, at first, declined the offer but Mrs. Delbo insisted and rushed out the door before any further objections could be uttered. When they had waited around for a while and she did not return, they became suspicious and decided to leave the apartment immediately.
When they stepped out onto Faxegade, they noticed several suspicious parked vehicles. They immediately jumped on their bicycles and rode down Odensegade towards Østrebrogade and upon passing one of the parked cars, a black Opel Kapitan, it started and began following them. They quickly rode towards Trianglen and Jens Lillelund said to "John" that they should take a right onto Østrebrogade, go left on Trianglen and then take another left onto Østrebrogade. When they rounded Trianglen, the black Opel continued onto Blegdamsvej but only for a moment when it stopped, turned around and continued the pursuit.
There was no longer any doubt that it was the Gestapo who was following them and they continued north on Østrebrogade with the Opel on their heels. They quickly agreed that they were in a precarious situation and Lillelund therefore suggested that they turn 180 degrees, ride south, and pass the Opel. They turned the bikes around and flew by the car which hastily stopped, and then turned around to follow them. They pushed as hard as possible on the pedals but the car soon caught up to them. They now heard commands being yelled, followed by gunshots and Lillelund soon noticed "John" reaching for his right side and assumed that he was about to return fire, but soon realized that it was because he had been hit.
When they reached Rosenvængets Allè Lillelund turned left as "John" continued on Østrebrogade. When Lillelund again passed Faxegade, yet another Opel Kapitan was parked with its front towards him and as he rode by, it began following him. When Lillelund reached the end of Rosenvængets Allè, the roadway narrowed before it became Næstvedgade and this became his rescue since this narrowing of the street did not allow the car to pass. "John" had now pulled his pistol and returned fire as best possible from the bicycle. He was now being fired upon with a sub-machinegun and was quickly hit again and fell, badly wounded, to the ground.
Severely injured, "John" lay on Østrebrogade, appearing to be unconscious, but just as the first Gestapo man reached him "John" raised his pistol and shot him, killing the officer instantly and injuring another. The Gestapo officer again began shooting at "John" and he finally lost consciousness from pain and blood loss. The second Opel Kapitan that had pursued Lillelund now returned to "John" on Østrebrogade and one of the Gestapo officers got out, picked up "John's" pistol and began beating him in the head with it.
"John" was transported to Dagmarhus where it was confirmed that he had been hit seven times. His right thighbone was shattered and as a result part of his lower leg bone had slid up ten centimeters so it now rested on the outer part of the thighbone. Four of the bullets had hit him in the abdomen and two of them could be felt directly under the skin over the loin. A German doctor estimated that he had two hours left to live at best, and he was therefore immediately given over to Herr Falkenberg and Herr Neuhaus who were to be in charge of the interrogation.
They started right away by kicking his entire body and particularly the broken leg. When he continued refusing to talk, they twisted the lower leg bone so it moved the thighbone. "John" passed out several times but each time he was woken up by a bucket of cold water. At no time did "John" talk.
During the next months, "John" was tortured in ways that are hard to imagine. He was refused medical help the entire time up until his death, and during the first month he was not allowed to bathe or use a toilet. The window of his cell was not allowed to be opened so the smell was practically impossible to stand. He was lying on a mattress, soaked in blood, fecal matter, and urine, with his infected wounds. After about two months, the Gestapo allowed him to be seen by a medical student, Jørgen Kieler, who, like "John", was a member of Holger Danske. Kieler tried to clean the infected wounds with tomato soup since he was refused any type of sanitary aids. The Gestapo would only allow medical help if "John" would speak, but due to his refusal he never received any professional medical treatment of his injuries.
The Gestapo was successful, via the help of a prison informant, to gather evidence against "John" and he was sentenced to death on April 26th, 1944 by a German military court. "John" was executed in Ryvange on April 27th, 1944 and had to be carried to the pole. By gathering all his remaining strength he was able to stand upright as the shots sounded. "John" left behind his wife and a young daughter.
De sidste timer - Berlingske Forlag.
Faldne i Danmarks frihedskamp 1940 - 45.
Hemmelig Alliance (Bind 1.) - Jørgen Hæstrup.
The Giant-Killers - John Oram Thomas.
The Savage Canary - David Lampe.
Fortælling af Jørgen Kieler. (DR 2)
Photo; Svend Otto Nielsen disguised as a police officer, The Museum of Danish Resistance 1940-1945, Copenhagen.
Translation: Johan Windmuller.