Touching departure scenes have taken place. Many seem light of heart, having left their homes. Others take it heavily … Painful impressions on land disappear quickly at sea and soon seem merely like dreams.’
Gustav Schroeder, Captain of the SS St Louis
Sailing so close that the passengers could see the lights of Miami, the St. Louis cabled President Roosevelt asking for refuge. The telegram was never answered. Just as Cuba and later Canada refused entry so did America and in the ship that had set out on 13 May 1939 carrying 937 Jews fleeing Nazi Germany was forced to turn back to Hamburg.
It stopped on the way, first in England where 288 of the passengers were accepted and the remaining passengers disembarked at Antwerp with France, Belgium and Holland taking a proportion each. It was a brief reprisal as with the invasions of these countries Nazi persecution was to catch up with them.
‘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, 1945. 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.’
Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie, United States Holocaust Memorial museum