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1939 German Cruiseship St. Louis Journey to Cuba

The voyage of the St. Louis, a German ocean liner, dramatically highlights the difficulties faced by many people trying to escape Nazi terror.

In May 1939, 937 passengers, most Jewish refugees, left Hamburg, Germany, en route to Cuba.

All passengers held landing certificates permitting them entry to Cuba, but when the St. Louis reached the port of Havana, the President of Cuba refused to honor the documents.

German cruiseship with refugee jews in Cuba

A view of the ST LOUIS surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana.

The story of the St. Louis is often recounted and lamented as a missed opportunity to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.

Filled with more than 900 mostly Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, the ship left Hamburg in May 1939 bound for Cuba. The Cuban government would only take in a handful of passengers and the ship moved to South Florida, but the St. Louis was not allowed to dock by U.S. Coast Guard ships.

Eventually the ship had to return to Antwerp, Belgium, where 254 passengers — many of those who ended up in France and Belgium — died at the hands of the Nazis.

Text and photos courtesy of CruiseLineHistory.com. This site offers the complete story of the journey the St. Louis to Cuba in 1939 including information about the reunion and 70th anniversary of the voyage.

More information available at TheStLouisProject.com

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