[ An End to Intolerance (Volume 5 -- June 1997) ]


St. Louis:
The Other Ship


By Marguret Wenk and Kelly Grace
Cold Spring Harbor High School
New York, USA

It was springtime in 1939. Germany was infested with antisemitic feelings, and oppression was prevalent everywhere. On May 13th, 1937, Jews boarded a luxury liner called St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany to travel to Havana, Cuba. Most of these passengers had sold all of their belongings to buy passage and visas that would legally entitle them to disembark in Cuba. They were soon to find, as did so many others, that "a passport stamped 'J' was a passport to nowhere."

[ 'St. Louis' ]
The SS. St. Louis in Havana Port
(Herbert Karliner, courtesy of USHMM)

The passengers aboard the St. Louis were broken up into about 300 men, 500 women, and 150 children. Their compassionate captain, Gustav Schroeder, treated these people extremely well. The trip was a cruise, not a frantic escape. Everything seemed as if it had all fallen in place for the Jews, and their future looked bright. Then the ship tried to land.

When St. Louis reached Havana, Cuba, the Jews' visas and quotas were revoked. Cuban officials denied the Germans entry. The ship was ordered to leave harbor. Now the people did not feel as if they were on a cruise. They felt the panic of refugees without a place to go. As St. Louis set sail for Miami, the United States Coast Guard intercepted them and warned them to sail on. Captain Schroeder sailed St. Louis for two months, trying to find a port to land, but the ship and its passengers were refused entry by every haven in the Americas.

The international publicity of these events led to the ship being ordered back to Germany. Schroeder even considered scuttling the ship near England to save his passengers. Two days before the ship was to land, the passengers were accepted by Holland, France, Belgium, and England (each took a quarter of the passengers).

As much as one would wish it to be, there is not a happy ending to this tragedy. Just because the Jews were not in Germany, did not mean they were safe.

Four months later, the war began. Less than half of the passengers of St. Louis survived the Nazi death camps. In 1989, those who did survive, had a reunion to recall the trip.

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