Thursday, February 22, 2024

The M.S. St. Louis, Abandoned by the World

 By Sherri Stewart

In May 1939, 937 passengers, most of whom were Jewish, boarded the MS St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany, to begin their new lives in a safer place. For many Jews, Kristallnacht, the night when Nazis destroyed businesses, synagogues, and homes was a clear signal to leave. At the time, the Nazis were eager for German Jews to leave the country. Since it wasn’t safe in other parts of Europe, many sought to move to different continents. The people aboard the St. Louis had made the difficult decision to start new lives thousands of miles away. The ship's destination was Cuba, but most the passengers intended to stay in Cuba only until they could obtain visas for the United States. Therefore, the passengers had purchased and held Cuban visas.

Captain Schröder went to great lengths to assure that all the passengers were treated with dignity. The crew provided childcare while the passengers ate dinner. There were dances and concerts and swimming lessons at the pool, and on the Sabbath, religious services were held in the dining room—the bust of Hitler covered with a tablecloth. Many thought the trip was a “vacation cruise to freedom.”

After two weeks of traveling across the Atlantic, the St. Louis arrived in Havana, but a shocking discovery awaited the passengers. They discovered that they were not allowed to disembark because Cuba’s government had canceled all but twenty-eight of their visas and refused to let the ship land. What’s worse was the fact that before they’d even left Germany, Cuba had already revoked their visas, but hadn’t informed anyone on the ship.

A week passed as they sat on the ship in the harbor, and the passengers became increasingly desperate. They formed a committee and begged Cuban President Federico Laredo Bru and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt for sanctuary. Five days later, thirty passengers were permitted to enter Cuba, leaving 907 passengers on the ship. When it became clear that Cuba was indifferent to their pleas, the ship sailed toward the United States. Captain Schröder circled off the coast of Florida, hoping for permission to drop anchor in Miami, but the president refused to admit the refugees, as did Canada’s prime minister. Schröder even considered running the ship aground to allow the refugees to escape, but the Coast Guard shadowed the ship and prevented it.

After the St. Louis was turned away from the US, the ship made its way back to Europe, although Schröder refused to return to Germany. After a great deal of negotiating between the captain and neighboring countries, England, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands agreed to take the rest of the passengers, so the MS St. Louis returned to Hamburg, Germany, empty. Of the 907, who were refused admittance to Cuba, Canada, and the US, 254 died in concentrations camps.

In 2012, the United States Department of State formally apologized to the survivors of the ship, and in 2018, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau did the same. “We were not wanted,” St. Louis survivor, Susan Schleger, told a Miami Herald reporter in 1989. “We were abandoned by the world.” Erin Blakemore, ”A Ship of Jewish Refugees was Refused US Landing 1939. This was Their Fate.”, 2019.

Selah Award finalist Sherri Stewart loves a clean novel, sprinkled with romance and a strong message that challenges her faith. She spends her working hours with books—either editing others’ manuscripts or writing her own. Her passions are traveling to the settings of her books and sampling the food. She traveled to Paris for this book, and she works daily on her French and German although she doesn’t need to since everyone speaks English. A widow, Sherri lives in Orlando with her lazy dog, Lily. She shares recipes, tidbits of the book’s locations, and other authors' books in her newsletter.
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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I'm sorry to learn of such a tragic event. I'm glad to learn of Captain Shroder's attempts to help his passengers and give them some comforts at the beginning of their journey.