BBC Publishes Two Major Features on the Survivors of the St. Louis

May 22, 2014

The BBC published two major features on survivors of the S.S. St. Louis, the ship carrying German Jewish refugees that was turned away from Cuba and the U.S. in 1939. The print and audio features highlight JDC’s role in aiding the refugees to find safe haven. The 75th anniversary of the beginning of the voyage was on May 15, 2014.

A number of refugees aboard the S.S. St Louis.

Havana, Cuba, May 1939

When the 907 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany were denied permission to land in Havana, Cuba in May 1939 despite having accredited landing documents, JDC became involved in negotiations with the Cuban government. These discussions unfortunately failed, as did efforts by JDC to find a haven for the desperate refugees elsewhere in the Americas. After 12 days of waiting in the harbor, the St. Louis sadly headed back to Hamburg with all of its passengers.

While the St. Louis was on the high seas, JDC, in close cooperation with other groups, negotiated with the governments of Holland, Belgium, England, and France to accept the refugees until homes in other countries could be found. JDC posted a cash guarantee of $500,000, or $8 million in todays money, in order to make the arrangement feasible and to cover upkeep costs wherever necessary.

The audio recording incorporates footage from the 1939 JDC- produced film, Bound for Nowhere: The St. Louis Episode, ending poignantly with the line, goodbye St. Louis. Welcome to the beginning of a new and better life. This sentiment is bittersweet, as just over half of those who returned to Europe on this fateful ship were ultimately murdered in the Holocaust.

Learn more about the voyage of the St. Louis through documents and photographs in our special S.S. St. Louis topic guide.