St Louis Passenger’s Passport – Jewish Refugees Nobody Wanted

SS St Louis Passenger’s Passport – Jewish Refugees Nobody Wanted

On 13 May 1939, 937 Jews fled Germany aboard a luxury cruise liner, the SS St Louis. They hoped to reach Cuba and then travel to the US – but were turned away in Havana and forced to return to Europe, where the Nazis killed more than 250. By early 1939, the Nazis had closed most of Germany’s borders, and many countries had imposed quotas limiting the number of Jewish refugees they would allow in.

Cuba was seen as a temporary transit point to get to America and officials at the Cuban embassy in Berlin were offering visas for about $200 or $300 each – $3,000 to $5,000 at today’s prices.

Under orders from the ship’s captain, Gustav Schröder, the waiters and crew members treated the passengers politely, in stark contrast to the open hostility Jewish families had become accustomed to under the Nazis. The captain allowed traditional Friday night prayers to be held, during which he permitted the portrait of Adolf Hitler hanging in the main dining room to be taken down.

When the luxury liner reached the coast of Havana on 27 May, that sense of optimism to reach a safe harbor disappeared to be replaced by fear, then dread. It quickly became clear that the ship was not going to dock and that no-one was being allowed off. For the next seven days, Captain Schröder tried in vain to persuade the Cuban authorities to allow them in. The Cubans had already decided to revoke all but a handful of the visas – probably out of fear of being inundated with more refugees fleeing Europe. The captain then steered St Louis towards the Florida coast, but the US authorities also refused it the right to dock, despite direct appeals to President Franklin Roosevelt. By early June, Captain Schröder had no option but to turn the giant liner back towards Europe.

In the end, the ship’s passengers did not have to go back to Nazi Germany. Instead, Belgium, France, Holland, and the UK agreed to take the refugees. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) posted a cash guarantee of $500,000 – or $8 million in today’s money – as part of an agreement to cover any associated costs. On 17 June, the liner docked at the Belgian port of Antwerp, more than a month after it had set sail from Hamburg.

The JDC was able to find several countries that would take portions of the refugees: 181 could go to Holland, 224 to France, 228 to Great Britain, and 214 to Belgium. While those countries did open their arms to the refugees after the St. Louis passengers disembarked from June 16-20, all but Great Britain were overrun by the German army. Two-hundred-and-fifty-four (254) other passengers from St Louis were not so fortunate and were killed as the Nazis swept across Western Europe.

Today there are only twenty-eight (28) living survivors according to this source from Oct 2015

SS St Louis Passenger’s Passport – Jewish Refugees Nobody Wanted


…issued to Ernst Philippi who was an inmate of the Sachsenhausen Concentration camp in 1938; Prisoner number 9730. The whole family Philippi was aboard the SS St.Louis. Father Ernst, his wife Margarete and their two sons Hans-Wolfgang and Gert-Egon.  All family members arrived in the Netherlands, survived the Nazi occupation and emigrated later to the USA. (Source: USHMM)

Germany J 1939 E_Philippi St Louis CC-001 Germany J 1939 E_Philippi St Louis CC-002 Germany J 1939 E_Philippi St Louis CC-004

UNDOUBTEDLY this travel document is one of the most exciting and most rare items a collector can have in his collection. Most significant evidence of the “VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED.” This was at the same time the very first chance for the United States of America to actively rescue Jews, but the US authorities refused the right to dock the ship at the coast of Florida. This document is the most significant evidence of this event.

Holocaust survivor shares lessons from ‘voyage of the damned’ on MS St. Louis (November 2016)
Survivor Recalls Voyage of The Damned 78-Years Later (June 2017)
USHMM, St. Louis, Passenger List

 SS St Louis Passenger’s Passport – Jewish Refugees Nobody Wanted