Voyage of the St. Louis

voyage of the st louisThe MS St. Louis left Hamburg destined for Cuba on 13th May 1939. On board were 937 Jewish refugees seeking to emigrate from the increasingly hostile German Reich, under the care of Captain Gustav Schröder. A non-Jewish German, he was determined that his passengers be brought to safety. When the ship docked in Havana on 27th May, however, the Cuban government refused to accept those on board. Havana had changed its policies on immigration just before the ship had set sail, and would now only accept those who held a valid Cuban visa.
Only 22 refugees were able to settle in Cuba in this way. Captain Schröder decided to try and persuade the American government to let the passengers alight in their country. He ordered the ship sail to Florida; however, it is said that a warning shot was fired towards the ship before it even docked on Florida’s shores. Even with valid American visas, refugees would not be accepted as they did not have a return address. At the same time, a group of academics and clergy in Canada tried to persuade Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to allow the ship to dock in Halifax and to allow those on board into the country. Unfortunately, however, immigration officials and cabinet ministers opposed to Jewish immigration intervened, and the plea was rejected. Eventually, after some negotiations between America and European countries, the ship returned to Europe. It arrived in Antwerp, Belgium, on 17th June 1939. Britain took 288 of the passengers; 224 were taken in by France, 214 by Belgium and 181 by Holland. Sadly, however, this did not guarantee the refugees safety from the Nazis. It is estimated that approximately 227 of those who had sailed on the St. Louis were eventually murdered in the Holocaust, either killed in the extermination facilities at Auschwitz-Birkenau or Sobibór.

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Captain Schroeder

Joint Distribution Committee Archives


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