“ACROSS THE WATERS”— Germany and Denmark

“Across the Waters” (“Fuglene over sundet”)

Germany and Denmark

Amos Lassen

1943 was a difficult time to be a Danish jazz musician playing in a style inspired by Django Reinhardt’s Hot Club of France but being Jewish was even more dangerous for Arne Itkin and his family. Denmark was an exception to the norm in occupied Europe, because of the high survival rate for Danish Jews and the extensive defiance among everyday Danes. Unfortunately, the October 6th tragedy in the seaside village of Gilleleje was the exception to the exception. Director Nicolo Donato takes us to the incident in “Across the Waters”.

At first, Itkin refused to believe there was any danger of French-style round-ups, because of the high degree of autonomy the protectorate government negotiated. He was wrong. As a result, his family was not as prepared as it should have been to find passage to Sweden (where his well-to-do in-laws were already safely established). For a while, Itkin kept carrying his guitar, believing it would help serve their needs in Sweden, but it would not survive the close calls on the road to Gillejele.

Most of the Calvinistic Gilleleje villagers believe it is their Christian duty to aid all Jewish refugees, especially Niels Børge Lund Ferdinansen, the unofficial leader of the skippers and Donato’s grandfather. Unfortunately, “his brother-in-law Kaj is an exploitative war-profiteer—and that’s when he is at his best.”

What happened is probably the ugliest incident in Danish history as a way of portraying the best of the Danish resistance. Both Jews and ostensibly Christian villagers alike make bad decisions and act disgracefully out of fear or panic. Yet, it is true that the overwhelming majority of the village refused to participate in injustice. As Arne and Miriam Itkin, David Dencik and Danica Curcic hardly have time to catch their breath during the first part of the film.

There have been many well-meaning, competently executed survivor stories previously dramatized on the big screen before, but in this case, music makes a difference. We first meet Arne Itkin at a bar in Copenhagen and Denmark has collaborated with the Germans and thus escaped the worst hardships until now. Arne is a jazz musician, husband and father. When his wife Miriam tells him that the Germans are after the Danish Jews, he thinks this is merely rumor. However. it’s not long before the Itkin family has to flee in the dark and darkness of the night.

While more than 7000 Jews were displaced from Denmark to Sweden, Danish seamen earned a lot of money to help them cross the strait. Thus the film shows a slightly darker and more dirty side of the relief work. Donato was inspired by his grandfather’s stories and his sense of reality makes all the events even more touching.

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