The Voyage of the St. Louis
One effort to get out of Germany was made by
German Jews who were able to secure passage to
Cuba on the S.S. St. Louis. On May 13, 1939, a
total of 937 Jews departed Hamburg on this luxury
liner. All had visas, permits that assured them
the right to land. But when they arrived, Cuba
refused them entry.When they then attempted to
reach the shores of the United States, the ship
was forced out of U.S. territorial waters by the
Coast Guard, on orders of the U.S. government.
Jane Keibel was a child on that voyage.
Jane Keibel Remembers
the S.S. St. Louis Voyage
We had our visas to America for quite a while,
because my father had two brothers who lived
here. But my immigration number was very
high. And after Kristallnacht, my father decided
he could not wait in Europe for that number to
come up. So he had to explore different ways of
getting out of Germany.
One of them was Shanghai, China, and he
was not looking forward to that, so he opted for
Cuba. And he bought visas for my family, my sister,
myself, and my parents. And if I remember
correctly, they were $1,500 apiece.
And after he got the visas, the entry visas to
Cuba, he purchased places on the ship. And the
ship that had room was the St. Louis. And that
left on May 13, 1939.My father spent all his
money on this, we went first class. And my sister
and I shared our cabin with a distant relative, a
lady who was supposed to chaperone us.
We boarded the ship on May 13, 1939. It was
a German ship and it sailed out of Hamburg in
the afternoon. It took about 10 days to reach
Havana. And when we got to Havana, we weren’t
supposed to land at the port, but we had to stay
out in international waters. And the excuse was
that the Cuban authorities had to come and
inspect passports and visas.
And they came on board, and they inspected,
and they left, and we still couldn’t land.We were
told after a couple of days that the reason we
couldn’t land was the Cuban government wanted
more money. And the passengers on the ship, of
course, had no money—all we were allowed to
take out of Germany was 10 dollars.
So Jewish organizations got involved and
tried to raise money, mostly out of America.
But whatever money they raised was not
enough for Cuba.
And from the ship we appealed to Mr.
Roosevelt, who was the American President then,
and the children sent a telegram to Mrs.
Roosevelt, but nothing became available. They
did not want to let us in.
The orders were from the shipping company
234 Resistance and Rescue
William Shulman, Voices and Visions: A Collection of Primary Sources (Woodbridge, CT: Blackbirch Press, 1998), 28–29. Reprinted by permission.
1. Why did Jane Keibel’s family decide to leave Germany?
2. What obstacles did they face once they made the decision?
3. Why might some Jews have chosen to stay in Germany?
4. The St. Louis was not the only ship carrying refugees to be turned away from the United States in
the late 1930s.What do such incidents suggest about America’s “universe of obligation”?
to come back to Europe, to Germany. So we
went up the coast, we saw Miami, and we went
up as far as New York, and nothing happened,
so we sailed to Europe…Just before we reached
the English Channel, four countries said they
would take a quarter of the passengers. And we
On June 6, 1939, the St. Louis returned to Europe. Only last-minute decisions by Great Britain,
Holland, France, and Belgium prevented the refugees from returning to certain incarceration in Nazi
concentration camps. Still, many of those who remained on the continent ended up in the camps.
Braun, Gerda geb Oster (10)(21)(14)(25/6) w % °1913.08.17 (10)(21)(14)(25/6) W: -Elberfeld (14)(25/6); W: Wuppertal (21) verschollen (10)(21) KZ Stutthof (10)(21)(25/6) V: Oster, Leopold; M: Oster, Else geb. Friedländer (14) % Berlin (permanent residence) (10)(25/6); W: Alsenstr. 032 (Elternhaus 1917); W: Bahnstr. 007 (Elternhaus 1913) (14) % % % Riga (Ghetto) / Lettland: 1942.01.19, von Berlin aus (25/6); von Riga dann später offensichtlich nach Stutthof (KZ) (21)