What is really sad is here was an opportunity to save close to 1,000 lives from Hitler’s persecution and murder.
There were many jews in Europe that began to see the handwriting on the wall and sought refuge in countries outside of Europe.
Some families and individuals were successful in obtaining visas and passports to enter safe havens in foreign borders.
Not so for the 930 Jewish passengers of the SS St. Louis.
The persecution and isolation of the Jews became obvious. After Kristallnacht in 1938 most Jews knew it was time to start planning departure.
In 1939 the SS St.Louis would depart Hamburg, Germany with 930 excited but apprehensive passengers.
Excited to escape certain death in Germany and apprehensive as to what to expect in strange land. Many Jews had a hard time leaving behind well established lives and successful businesses.
One can only imagine (except for survivors) the excitement as the ship traveled to Havana, Cuba and then to dock at the port.
As the sea tossed passenger looked overboard and longed to get their feet on solid ground nothing was happening.
Denied….. Yes, the Cuban government would not allow those on board seeking refuge entry.
Gustav Schroder, the SS St.Louis captain would disembark to try and negotiate the souls of 930 anxious passengers.
The Cuban government would prove to be unreasonable with the demand of additional compensation from those seeking refuge.
The result would be only 29 would be able to meet the requirements to enter Cuba and the rest were forced back out to sea.
The Captain would set sail toward Miami, Florida.
Surely the United States (Land of the Free) would receive with open arms a race of people being threatened with genocide.
Not the case…….
As the SS St.Louis sailed toward Miami the unthinkable happened. The U.S. denied access and tried to persuade Cuba to reconsider.
Letters were sent to President Franklin D. Roosevelt pleading to intervene to no avail.
As the St.Louis ventured closer to the Miami shores the Coast Guard was commissioned to prevent any refugees entry and even fired a warning shot.
Herbert Karliner, a St. Louis survivor, was 12 when he was on this ship and recalled:
” For the fist time I saw the coast of Florida and I was so impressed by the beauty of the beaches, the palm trees…..”
So close to safety yet too far for reality.
Canada and Mexico were also given the opportunity to be heroes but refused to do so.
So what do you think this rejection by other countries outside of Europe did for the ideology of the Hitler regime?
Yes, now Hitler felt free to do to the Jews as he pleased as he witnessed the fate of the St.Louis. Hitler felt like nobody wanted the Jews.
As the St.Louis made headwinds back to Europe Captain Schroder was sent word that Belgium, France, Holland and England would accept the disheartened passengers.
After 40 days and nights adrift in the Atlantic the SS St.Louis was able to dock in Antwerp, Belgium. Still within Hitler’s grasp.
See the voyage below:
Captain Schroder was determined not to return the Jewish passengers back to Germany and he was persistent which saved lives.
It is very fitting that Captain Gustav Schroeder is honorably recognized as one of The Righteous Among the Nations in the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Isreal.
Over 600 of the 930 Jewish passengers managed to survive the holocaust while roughly 250 people perished.
The story of the SS St.Louis is just another demonstration of strenous effort being displayed by some to save as many Jewish lives as possible
While others turned their backs and were willfully deaf to the cry of the destitute.
We must at all times Be Our Brothers Keeper.