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MS St. Louis: Wikis


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SS St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels, Hamburg Harbour, June 1939
MS St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels, Havana, June 1939
Career (Germany)
Name: St. Louis
Owner: Hamburg-America Line
Port of registry: Weimar Republic Hamburg (1928-33)
Germany Hamburg (1933-46)
Germany Hamburg (1946-49)
Germany Hamburg (1949-52)
Builder: Bremer-Vulkan Shipyards in Bremen, Germany
Laid down: June 16, 1925
Launched: May 6, 1928
Maiden voyage: June 15, 1929
Fate: Scrapped in Hamburg, Germany, 1952
General characteristics
Tonnage: 16,732 gross register tons (GRT)
Length: 574 ft (175 m)
Beam: 72 ft (22 m)
Propulsion: M.A.N. diesels, twin triple-blade propellers
Speed: 16 knots (30 km/h/18 mph)
Capacity: 973 passengers (270 cabin, 287 tourist, 416 third)

The MS St. Louis was a German ocean liner most notable for a single voyage in 1939, in which her captain tried to find homes for more than 900 German Jewish refugees after they were denied entry to Cuba. The event was the subject of a 1974 book, followed by a 1976 motion picture Voyage of the Damned with the same title.



Built by the Bremer Vulkan shipyards in Bremen for the Hamburg America Line, the St. Louis was a diesel-powered ship, and properly referred to with the prefix "MS" or "MV". She is often known as the "SS St. Louis".

The St. Louis regularly sailed the trans-Atlantic route from Hamburg to Halifax, Nova Scotia and New York and made cruises to the West Indies. St. Louis was built for both transatlantic liner service and for leisure cruises.

Voyage of the Damned

St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Cuba in May 1939, carrying seven non-Jewish and 930 Jewish refugees (mainly German) seeking asylum from Nazi persecution.[1][2] On the ship’s arrival in Cuba, the Cuban government under Federico Laredo Brú refused the passengers entry either as tourists (laws related to tourist visas had recently been changed) or under political asylum. During negotiations the government requested an additional $500 visa fee per passenger, money which most of the refugees did not have. This prompted a near-mutiny. Two passengers attempted suicide, and dozens more threatened to do the same. However, 29 of the refugees managed to disembark at Havana.[3]

Boarding at Hamburg Harbor

Some histories recount that on June 4, 1939, Captain Schroder believed he was being prevented from trying to land St. Louis on the Florida shore. Material from that time was conflicting. Legally the refugees could not be entered on tourist visas, as they had no return addresses, and the U.S. had enacted immigration quotas in 1924. Telephone records show discussion of the situation by Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, members of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's cabinet, who tried to persuade Cuba to accept the refugees. Their actions, together with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, were not successful.[4] The Coast Guard was not ordered to turn away the refugees, but the US did not make provision for their entry.[5] Efforts to persuade the Canadian government to accept the St. Louis also failed.[6]

Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis while the ship was docked in the port of Havana.

Captain Gustav Schröder,[7] the commander of the ship, was a non-Jewish German and an anti-Nazi who went to great lengths to ensure dignified treatment for his passengers. He arranged for Jewish religious services and commanded his crew to treat the refugee passengers as they would any other customers of the cruise line. As the situation of the vessel deteriorated, he personally negotiated and schemed to find them a safe haven (for instance, at one point he formulated plans to wreck the ship on the British coast to force the passengers to be taken as refugees). He refused to return the ship to Germany until all the passengers had been given entry to some other country.

US officials worked with England and European nations to find refuge for the travelers in Europe.[8] The ship returned to Europe docking at Antwerp, Belgium. The United Kingdom agreed to take 288 of the passengers who disembarked and traveled to the UK by other steamers. After much negotiation by Schröder, the remaining 619 passengers were allowed to disembark at Antwerp; 224 were accepted by France, 214 by Belgium, and 181 by the Netherlands. They appeared to be safe from Hitler’s persecution. The following year, after the German invasions of Belgium and France in May 1940, the Jews were at renewed risk.[9][10] Without its passengers, the ship returned to Hamburg and survived the war.

St. Louis Captain Gustav Schröder negotiates landing permits for the passengers with Belgian officials in the Port of Antwerp.

By using the survival rates for Jews in various countries, Thomas and Morgan-Witts, authors of Voyage of the Damned, estimated that about 180 of the St. Louis refugees in France, plus 152 of those in Belgium and 60 of those in the Netherlands, survived the Holocaust. Of the original 936 refugees, they estimated a total of roughly 709 survived and 227 were slain.[11][12]

Later research by Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gave a more precise, higher total of 254 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 Sobibór; 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."[13]


Later career

The ship became a German naval accommodation ship from 1940 to 1944. It was heavily damaged by the Allied bombings at Kiel on August 30, 1944, but was repaired and used as a hotel ship in Hamburg by 1946. The ship was eventually scrapped in 1952.

See also

  • The Évian Conference, convened at the initiative of U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938, to discuss the problem of Jewish refugees.
  • The Struma, a Romanian vessel chartered to carry Jewish refugees that was torpedoed and sunk by a Soviet submarine on February 5, 1942.
  • The Mefkure, a schooner vessel which was torpedoed and sunk by a Soviet submarine while carrying Jewish refugees in August 5, 1944.
  • The Patria, on November 25, 1940, was accidentally sunk by a Haganah bomb in Haifa harbor.
  • Komagata Maru was another vessel carrying immigrants denied entry to North America.

Popular culture


  1. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2006-10-06). "United States Holocaust Memorial Museum completes ten-year search to uncover the fates of St. Louis passengers". Press release. Retrieved 2007-07-17.  
  2. ^ Rosen, p. 563.
  3. ^ Rosen, p. 103.
  4. ^ Robert Rosen, "Carter Library Speech" on "The S.S. St. Louis", Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, accessed 10 Aug 2009
  5. ^ "The St. Louis", US Coast Guard's official FAQ, accessed 10 Aug 2009
  6. ^ "Clergy apologize for turning away the St. Louis", CBC website, Retrieved 2008-05-08.
  7. ^ "Gustav Schröder", Yad-Vashem, accessed 10 Aug 2009
  8. ^ Robert Rosen, "Carter Library Speech" on "The S.S. St. Louis", Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, accessed 10 Aug 2009
  9. ^ Rosen, pp. 103, 567.
  10. ^ "The Tragedy of the S.S. St. Louis". Retrieved 2007-07-17.  
  11. ^ Rosen, pp. 447, 567 citing Morgan-Witts and Thomas (1994) pp.8, 238
  12. ^ Rosen, Robert. "Saving the Jews" Carter Center (Atlanta, Georgia) (2006-07-17). Retrieved on 2007-07-17.
  13. ^ Miller and Ogilvie, pp. 174–175.


  • Miller, Scott; Sarah A. Ogilvie (2006). Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 9780299219802. OCLC 64592065.  
  • Rosen, Robert (2006). Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 9781560257783. OCLC 64664326.  

Further reading

  • Levinson, Jay. Jewish Community of Cuba: Golden Years, 1906-1958, Nashville, TN: Westview Publishing, 2005. (See Chapter 10)
  • Ogilvie, Sarah; Scott Miller. Refuge Denied: The St. Louis Passengers and the Holocaust, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.
  • Rosen, Robert. Saving the Jews: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Holocaust, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006.

External links



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