Denmark, 1943

When we heard the news that we were to be arrested
We had no doubt exactly what our fate would be
We had hours to get out, only hours to be tested
For five thousand people to cross the Baltic Sea

We had to go at night in the cover of the darkness
There’s no way I could exaggerate the threat
We tried not to make a sound, wore nothing that would mark us
But no one knew how far across we’d get, and

I thank God for the fishermen who gave us a ride
And took us over to the other side

To find so many boats ready for the journey
To find so many prepared to risk it all
Not everyone could read the stars, not every boat was worthy
Not everyone prepared to heed the call, but


Some risked everything for free, accepting nothing but a handshake
Some charged enough to live on for a year
But such details don’t matter when so much is at stake
When all that matters is a boat that you might steer

We lived out the war in Sweden while so many others didn’t
And most people now would easily agree
To say we deserved asylum would simply be redundant
In the boat lift of 1943



“Denmark, 1943” (not to be confused with the Fred Small song with the same name, about the same subject, which I don’t remember hearing until after I wrote this one) appears on the CD and Bandcamp album, The Other Side (2015) and on Live in Rostrevor (2016).

The boat lift of almost all of the Jews of Denmark to Sweden in October, 1943 was an impressive act of solidarity on the part of the Danish people. I was in the little town of Hellebaek, near the part of Denmark where lots of Jews left from, since it’s the closest Denmark gets to Sweden, just on the other side of the Baltic Sea, which at that point is only a couple miles wide. I was looking out at the water, thinking about the boat load of around a thousand people who had just sank to their deaths on the bottom of the Mediterranean, and I wrote this song as a bit of an allegory.

The news media and politicians are constantly up in arms about the “human smugglers,” those who are helping refugees get out of war zones like Syria and Afghanistan, to relative safety somewhere else. They make money at this oftentimes. So did many of the Danish fishermen in 1943. But they are rightly remembered as heroes, unlike those helping similar refugees today.