Denmark's Rescue of Jews From Nazis Driven by Cash — Not Just Heroism

Fishermen Squeezed Four Months' Salary Out of Refugees

Embellished Tale? A Jewish family lands in Sweden after escaping from Denmark as Nazis prepared crackdown in 1943.
courtesy of museum of danish resistance
Embellished Tale? A Jewish family lands in Sweden after escaping from Denmark as Nazis prepared crackdown in 1943.

By Klaus Rothstein

Published October 09, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

We do not need romanticized stories about the Occupation, even though they are the most satisfying. Jews and non-Jews alike really do wish to maintain the edifying story of a nation that stood together to protect the persecuted minority. Without any nuances.

In an age where every asylum seeker’s motivation is subject to detailed examination, it is also relevant to ask what it is that drives those who help the refugees on their way.

And it should not be taboo to examine the less-than-chivalrous motive that prompted the Danes to help the Jews. There’s no shame in money.

In his new book, “Compatriots, the Escape of the Danish Jews in October 1943,”, Bo Lidegaard, writes that there were “sarcastic remarks made about the earnings of the fisherman” even at the time. Some people believed that the Jews had paid exorbitant prices — whatever that may be when your life is at stake.

And the laws of supply and demand also apply here. As the crisis peaked and the number of families to be shipped across The Sound increased, so, too, did the price. Lidegaard estimates that the average price for one refugee was 1,000 kroner, which corresponded to a third or a quarter of the annual wage for a skilled worker (nearly half the refugees belonged to this social class).

The fishermen ran considerable risks, and of course they had to earn enough to provide for their families in case the Germans caught them. And there is nothing to indicate that the Jews expected a free ride across The Sound.

“They were more afraid of falling into the hands of tricksters who would take their money without delivering the boat trip,” Lidegaard writes.

In exactly the same way, refugees today are afraid of falling into the clutches of cynical and corrupt scoundrels who abandon their human contraband in a locked container. There will always be greedy vultures waiting to exploit the desperate situation of refugees. And not all refugees have access to asylum in a peaceful neighboring country with the formidable qualities of Sweden.

I have often heard the objection about asylum seekers today that they cannot be “genuine refugees” if they have been brought here by people smugglers. That is pure nonsense. The Danish Jews paid the smugglers, but that by no means diminished the authenticity of their need for protection. It is absolutely essential to remember this if we wish to use past experiences to understand the present.

Klaus Rothstein is a Danish journalist. This article originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.