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Jewish Flight from Nazi Germany
"Voyage of the Damned"

On May 13, 1939, the Hamburg-America luxury liner, S.S. St. Louis departed Germany with 937 Jews aboard who were seeking refuge from Nazism, of whom 930 held Cuban landing certificates, and 734 had quota numbers that would have permitted them to enter the United States within three years. En route to Cuba, the landing certificates were revoked. When the ship docked at Havana, only 22 were allowed to debark. On June 2, the Cuban government ordered the St. Louis to leave Cuban waters. The United States spurned requests for asylum, even though U.S. Jews offered full financial guarantees for the refugees. On June 12 and 13, Great Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands agreed to accept them. Of those who found refuge on the continent, nearly all fell under German rule within a  year, and most of them perished in the Holocaust. Britain accepted 287 refugees, who were interned as "enemy aliens," but they survived the war. The Nazi regime scored a huge propaganda victory by demonstrating that no other country would willingly shelter Germany's Jews.

Below: A July 20, 1939, envelope from Roman Klemperer, one of the fortunate few who landed at Havana, to Samuel Neumann, interned at Kitchener Camp where Jews who fled Germany were held by Great Britain, contained two letters. Klemperer complained, "I have not received any support from the Joint [the American Joint Distribution Committee of New York, which had commissioned the voyage], hence I have to struggle with financial difficulties." His mother wrote, "I  had to cry continuously, realizing that my dear ones had to endure so much unpleasantness... Sorry to state that everything is closed here and nobody gets in."




Courtesy of The Florence and Laurence Spungen Family Foundation. Ex-Ken Lawrence exhibit.


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