Denmark Apologises to 22 Children Taken from Their Families in Social Experiment

Many of the children never saw their families again. Only six are still alive to hear the Danish government's apology.
December 9, 2020, 11:20am
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Danish Prime Minister Mette FrederiksenPhoto by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Denmark’s Prime Minister has apologised to the 22 people who were uprooted from Greenland in the 1950s as children as part of a failed social experiment.

The children left their families behind in 1951, at a time when Greenland was still a colony of Denmark. The idea was to give them a “better life” and potentially return them to their homeland as part of a new Danish-speaking elite.

But the children struggled in foster care, and only 16 ever returned. When they did, they were put in an orphanage. Many never saw their families again, while only six are alive today.

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An official report into the experiment was jointly published by authorities in Denmark and Greenland on Tuesday. In a statement, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen apologised to the children, saying she was
“deeply touched by the human tragedy [the report] contains”.

"The consideration for the children was set aside. So they lost the ties to their families and lineage, their life history, to Greenland, and thus to their own people,” she said.

"We cannot change what has happened, but we can take responsibility and apologise to those we should have taken care of but failed."

Helene Thiesen is one of only six of the 22 children involved in the experiment who are still alive. Now 75, she was just seven years old when she left Greenland and her family behind. 

"I am relieved that the apology has finally been delivered,” she told Danish news agency Ritzau. “It is really, really important. It means everything.” 

Greenland was a Danish colony up until 1953, and since then it has gradually gained more autonomy. It is now self-governing in all respects, foreign policy and defence aside.

Kim Kielsen, chair of the government in Greenland, known as the Naalakkersuisut, said: "Today we stand as equal parties, who together look back in history and feel and see the consequences of the political decisions of the time.

"We have and will always learn from our common history, both the good and the sad sides of history".