Through various means during World War II, some Jewish people found ways of going into hiding to avoid the Nazis’ death sentence, and there were also those who were able to escape from their grip. Some were completely on their own whereas others received varying amounts of assistance from people they knew or strangers.
About 10,000 children were able to find refuge in Great Britain through the Kindertransport, which is a German word meaning “transportation of children.” During the transports, which were held from December of 1938 to September of 1939, children left their parents to eventually live in foster homes.
Fresh Meadows resident Ellen Alexander, who was born in Berlin in 1929, went on the Kindertransport with her older sister Ursula. As a 10-year-old, she considered it a big adventure. She and her sister stayed with a couple previously unknown to the family throughout the duration of the war.
Another way that some of the Jews tried to escape the horrors going on in their home countries was by obtaining passage on ships to go to other countries. Known as “ships to nowhere,” they faced many problems, including poor conditions and overcrowding. Many of the ships were denied entry into various ports of call and many lives were lost on these ships.
Esther Katz, now a resident of Hillcrest, was only three and a half when she and her mother boarded the Navemar en route to the United States. Although the boat was built with just a two dozen passenger cabins, it instead held over 1,200 during the voyage. Katz said that her mother was sick the entire time and that, as a child, she was preoccupied with making friends. When they got off the Navemar, they were met by Katz’s father and settled in New York City.
“This was one of the last boats that left Germany,” Katz said. “It was luck, a miracle.”
Flushing resident Ann Klampka also left on a ship with her parents and sister, finally ending up in the Dominican Republic. Once there, Klampka and her family settled in the beachfront town of Sosua, where they were given a parcel of land and a house that was closer to being a wooden shack. Klampka said that she and her sister viewed their new surroundings as a paradise.
JaneKeibel was 15 years old when she boarded the St. Louis with her parents and sister on May 13, 1939. They represented four of 930 passengers. When they arrived in Cuba, they were not allowed off the ship because the president said the cost was $500 per person, not the $250 each they had paid to immigration officers. Eventually leaving after 10 days, the ship made its way to Miami, where it was also refused entry.
“Nobody wanted us. My sister always compares it with the garbage barge that was going all over the harbor,” Keibel said. “That’s what we were basically. We traveled the ocean with no place to go.”
In the end, the passengers of the St. Louis ended up in Holland, Belgium, England and France. Keibel and her family went to France, staying in a hostel.
Queens College graduate Peter Suedfeld, who now lives in Canada, was born in Budapest in 1935. After his mother had been taken to Auschwitz and his father to a slave labor camp, his grandparents and aunt feared things would only get worse. Through a woman who they previously worked with, they were able to smuggle Suedfeld into an International Red Cross Orphanage.
“They sliced off the star from my coat and off we went,” he said.
Suedfeld was in the orphanage from April of 1944 until about February or March of 1945. His name was changed and he was taught what to do in a Catholic church, being careful the entire time not to reveal that he was Jewish. He said he did not understand why he had to be there or why Jews were being persecuted. Although the orphanage was moved several times because of bombings, Suedfeld’s aunt was still able to find him after the war had ended.
Polish-born Eddie Weinstein was eventually sent to Treblinka. However, after an 18-day stay he was able to escape on a train that was leaving with clothing from those who had died. Some stolen bricks of gold bought him food and a hiding place for the next year and a half. During that time, Weinstein, his father and two other people hid in a fish hatchery levee.
After leaving Gurs Concentration Camp in France through aid organizations, Hanne Liebmann found refuge in the village of Le Chambon, which she described as being “Heaven on Earth.” There, she said the Jews were accepted, a bad word was never spoken about them, and, when the roundups started, they were hidden by farmers without any question.
These are just a few examples of how the will to survive drove Jews to find extraordinary measures to stay alive.
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.