Kontakt / contact     Hauptseite / page
            principale / pagina principal / home     zurück / retour / indietro / atrás / back

Yehuda Bauer: My Brother's Keeper

A History of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee 1929-1939

[Holocaust preparations in Europe and resistance without solution of the situation]

The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia 1974

Transcription with subtitles by Michael Palomino (2007)



Chapter 6. The Beginning of the End
[J. Further happenings in Europe 1938-1939]

[6.29. Steamer St. Louis with 930 Jewish refugees comes back to Europe]

[May-June 1939: St. Louis affair: Two "Christian" Catholic Cuban rivals fight for money from the Jewish organizations to admit 907 Jewish refugees - return of the ship St. Louis to Europe]

Into this crisis-ridden atmosphere there burst the St. Louis affair. The story has been told elsewhere

(End note 145: Morse, op. cit. [Morse, Arthur D.: While Six Million Died; New York 1968], pp. 270 ff.)

and a bare outline will suffice here. The St. Louis, a German ship of the Hamburg America Line, sailing under a very considerate and liberal captain, Gustav Schroeder, left Germany on May 13, 1939, with 930 Jewish emigrants. They were all going to Havana with legal Cuban visas issued by (p.278)

the person responsible for immigration in the Cuban government - except for 22 persons who had decided not to rely solely on the visas and had had them verified in Cuba at additional cost to themselves. By the time the ship reached Cuba, the ordinary visas had been declared invalid. Later, the JDC committee dealing with the affair came to the conclusion that the government of President Bru of Cuba had never intended to permit the refugees to land. The person who had issued the visas, a Colonel Benites, supported the faction of the Cuban chief of staff, Fulgencio Batista, a rival of President Bru's. Bru apparently thought that to refuse permission for the landing would be a good way to fight Batista, who, through Benites, had hoped to collect large bribes from the refugees. It may be that Bru was willing to accept the refugees if JDC paid very large sums not only to the government treasury but also to his private pocket - both factions were asking for about $ 450,000 in addition to the official ransom money of $ 500,000 to the government. JDC was prepared to pay up to $ 500,000 to the Cubans, but since there were no additional handouts of any size. Bru refused to let the refugees land. Apparently the State Department was of no great help either, because it informed the lawyer representing JDC in Cuba, Lawrence Berenson, that the Cubans were merely bluffing and that JDC should not offer them too much.

(End note 146: CON-3, 6/27/39, Hyman to Baerwald)

The St. Louis affair put JDC on the horns of a very real dilemma. JDC was painfully aware that if it paid a huge ransom for the 907 Jews with Benites visas (one had committed suicide), who headed back to Europe on the St. Louis on June 6, other Latin American governments would probably learn the lesson and exact equal if not larger sums. The total JDC income was to rise to $ 8.1 mio. in 1939, but ransom monies of $ 1 mio. for 900 refugees would exhaust the JDC treasury in no time. This of course was quite apart from the fact that JDC had never agreed to pay ransom to unscrupulous operators for innocent human beings.

What moved JDC to go against its own better judgment was the tremendous pressure from its contributors, who saw, perhaps (p.279)

rightly, that this was a test case and a symbol and that every effort had to be made to save the passengers. Members of the JDC staff and leading laymen worked literally around the clock to try to find places of refuge for the ship, which was slowly making its way back across the Atlantic to Germany. In the end Troper in Paris contacted Max Gottschalk in Brussels and Mrs. van Tijn in Holland who intervened with their respective governments; in France, Jules Braunschvig went to the French Foreign Ministry to persuade them to accept some of the refugees. All this occurred on June 10.

In the meantime, Paul Baerwald was active in London, where the British government also agreed to accept some of the refugees.

Finally the St. Louis passengers were landed: 181 in Holland, 288 in Britain, 214 in Belgium, and 224 in France.

(End note 147: Agar, op. cit., p. 85, footnote 4)

In all these countries JDC undertook to support the St. Louis refugees. In 1939, $ 500,000 was appropriated for this purpose. JDC was to carry this obligation for a long time, until those who were not deported to Nazi death camps finally found permanent havens. (p.280)

[St. Louis affair: The boats Flandre and Orduna also return to Europe]

During and after the St. Louis affair, illegal immigration into Latin America continued. Besides the St. Louis, two small boats arrived at Havana: the S.S. Flandre, a French boat with 96 refugees, and the S.S. Orduna, a British boat with about 40 people. Like the St. Louis passengers, they were refused permission to land. They too returned to Europe and were accepted by the four countries that had received others. (p.289)