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MS St. Louis.

The ship sailed transatlantic routes, from Hamburg to New York, but during the Great Depression turned to cruising to make revenue. The ship is most notable for a single voyage in 1939, which was dramatised in the 1976 motion picture Voyage of the Damned.

The German propaganda ministry and the Nazi party conceived of a propaganda exercise which would demonstrate that Germany was not alone in its territorial, exclusionary hostility towards Jews as a permanent minority within the political economy of their state. The German propagandists wanted to demonstrate that the "civilized" world agreed with their assertion that Jews constituted a continuing "hidden-hand" of influence on national and economic affairs. They wanted to demonstrate that no other Western country or people would receive Jews as refugees. Firstly it would appear that the Nazis were allowing the Jewish refugees a new life in Havana

The Nazis were aware of rising western antisemitism and correctly surmised that these Jews, traveling on tourist visas (not immigrant visas, which none of the potential host countries would likely have issued to them), would not be able to visit Cuba as tourists when in fact they were political/social refugees; who, for whatever reason, had been forcibly removed from Germany, their home country. Furthermore, having been refused entry into Cuba and other Atlantic nations, the plight of the refugees would force the world to admit that there was, as the Nazis characterized it, a "Jewish problem" that Germany, for all to see, was trying to resolve "humanely."

With not one of the countries of the Northern Atlantic basin allowing the Jewish passengers entry, those countries would be in no position in the future to morally object when Germany dealt with its problem Jewish population. The St. Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean in May 1939 carrying one non-Jewish and 936 (mainly German) Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II. However, on the ship's arrival in Cuba, the passengers were refused either tourist entry (which in theory was valid for their tourist visas) or political asylum (which was not the stated purpose for which the tourist visas had been issued) by the Cuban government under Federico Laredo Brú. This prompted a near mutiny. Two people attempted suicide and dozens more threatened to do the same. However, 29 of the refugees were able to disembark at Havana.

On 4 June 1939, the St. Louis was also refused permission to unload on orders of President Roosevelt as the ship waited in the Caribbean Sea between Florida and Cuba. Initially, Roosevelt showed limited willingness to take in some of those on board despite the Immigration Act of 1924, but vehement opposition came from Roosevelt's Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and from Southern Democrats-some of whom went so far as to threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred.

The St. Louis then tried to enter Canada but was denied as well.

The ship sailed for Europe, first stopping in the United Kingdom, where 288 of the passengers disembarked and were thus spared from the Holocaust. The remaining 619 passengers disembarked at Antwerp; 224 were accepted into France, 214 into Belgium and 181 into the Netherlands, safe from Hitler's persecution until the German invasions of these countries.[5][6]

The ship without the passengers eventually sailed back to Hamburg, Germany. By using the survival rates for Jews in these countries, Thomas and Morgan-Witts estimated that 180 of the St. Louis refugees in France, along with 152 of those in Belgium and 60 of those in Holland survived the Holocaust, giving a total of 709 estimated survivors and 227 killed of the original 936 Jewish refugees.

Later, more detailed research by Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has given a slightly higher total of deaths:

Of the 620 St. Louis passengers who returned to continental Europe, we determined that eighty-seven were able to emigrate before Germany invaded Western Europe on May 10, 1940. Two hundred and fifty-four passengers in Belgium, France and the Netherlands after that date died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sóbibor; the rest died in internment camps, in hiding or attempting to evade the Nazis. Three hundred sixty-five of the 620 passengers who returned to continental Europe survived the war.

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11y ago
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15y ago

The whole saga of the St Louis suggested that most of the world was anti-Jewish ... It enabled Goebbels to say: "You see, other countries also have a Jewish problem".

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12y ago

Because we didn't want anything to do with the jews.

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Q: Why did the US refused to let the St. Louis dock in the US and allow its passengers to emigrate?
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In May 1939, a passenger ship called the St. Louiscarrying almost a thousand refugees left Germany. Many passengers were Jews. They had arranged for temporary Cuban tourist visas so they could wait outside Germany for U.S. visas. When the ship reached Havana, the Cuban government refused to allow most of the refugees to land due to a change in visa regulations. They then sailed up the Florida coast. The State Department would not allow any refugees on land without a special legislation by Congress or an executive order from the president, but Roosevelt never replied to a telegram passengers sent to him. They returned to Europe and most of the passengers were caught by Nazis and put in concentration camps.


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