What is befrielse?
Befrielse is the noun formed from the verb at befri, which means to set free from captivity, suppression, restraint or similar.
It can also have the more abstract meaning of easing a burden, sense of discomfort or difficulty. For example, befriende latter is laughter that helps you forget about your worries.
The -else suffix is common in nouns that have been formed from verbs: ledelse (“leadership”, from at lede), forberedelse (“preparation”, from at forberede), and meddelelse (“message”, from at meddele, to inform) to name a few examples.
Although it can be used in different contexts as set out above, the most common use of befrielse is to mean “liberation”.
Why do I need to know befrielse?
May 5th is Danmarks befrielse (the liberation of Denmark) or befrielsesdagen (Liberation Day) in Denmark, the anniversary of the day German occupation of the country during World War II ended. One part of Denmark, the Baltic Sea island Bornholm, remained occupied after this date, with Soviet troops taking over from the German army and remaining until April 1946.
For the rest of the country, however, the day brought celebrations following the surrender of the German army to Allied troops advancing through the Netherlands and northern Germany.
The main custom associated with befrielsen (the liberation) in Denmark, when Danes place candles in their windows, actually takes place on May 4th, rather than the 5th. This is because the German surrender was announced on the evening of the 4th but did not take effect until the following day. The May 4th, 1945 radio message transmitted to Denmark by the BBC announcing the surrender, befrielsesbudskabet (“the liberation announcement”) is an important moment in Danish 20th century history.
You might hear befrielse or related words in Danish news reports about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the latter country’s struggle to defend its freedom. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky referred directly to the Danish custom of commemorating Danmarks befrielse when he addressed parliament in March this year. Zelensky will give another speech to the Danish public by video link on the evening of May 4th, 77 years after befrielsesbudskabet was heard on the radio.
Min farmor sagde altid, at hun oplevede befrielsen som en stor lettelse, og mange gik ud på gaderne for at fejre den.
My grandmother always said the liberation felt like a huge relief, and many people went out on the streets to celebrate.
Efter jeg afleverede mit speciale gik jeg hjem og sov hele dagen. Det var en slags befrielse.
After I handed in my MA thesis I went home and slept all day. It felt like being set free.