A boat carrying 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution was turned back from Havana, Cuba, on May 27, 1939. Only 28 immigrants were admitted to the country. Once the calls to the United States and Canada are refused, the others are forced to return to Europe, where they are distributed in several countries, including Great Britain and France.
READ MORE: Jewish refugee ship denied American landing in 1939. It was their fate
On May 13, S.S. Saint Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany, to Havana, Cuba. Most of the passengers – many of them children – were German Jews escaping the growing persecution under the Third Reich. Six months earlier, 91 people had been killed and Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues had been destroyed in what became the Kristallnacht pogrom. It was becoming increasingly clear that the Nazis were accelerating their efforts to exterminate the Jews by arresting them and placing them in concentration camps. The Second World War and the official implementation of the final solution were only a few months after the start.
The refugees had applied for a US visa and planned to stay in Cuba until they could legally enter the United States. Even before setting sail, their imminent arrival was greeted with hostility in Cuba. On May 8, there was a massive anti-Semitic demonstration in Havana. Right-wing newspapers claimed that the incoming immigrants were communists.
the Saint Louis arrived in Havana on May 27. About 28 people on board had a valid visa or travel document and were allowed to disembark. The Cuban government has refused to admit the estimated 900 other people. For seven days, the captain of the ship attempted to negotiate with the Cuban authorities, but they refused to comply.
The ship sailed closer to Florida, hoping to land there, but was not allowed to dock. Some passengers attempted to wire President Franklin D. Roosevelt to seek refuge, but he never responded. A State Department telegram said that claimants must “wait their turn on the waiting list and qualify and obtain immigration visas before they can be admitted to the United States.”
As a last resort, the Saint Louis continued north to Canada, but was also released there. “No country could open wide enough to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of Jews who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn somewhere,” said Frederick Blair, Canada’s immigration director.
Faced with no other option, the ship returned to Europe. It docked in Antwerp, Belgium, on June 17. At that time, several Jewish organizations had obtained entry visas for refugees in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain. The majority who had traveled on the ship survived the Holocaust; 254 died later as the Nazis roamed the continent.