Refugee Ship Leaves Havana, Destination Indefinite; Bru Reported Seeing Berenson
Menu JTA Search

Refugee Ship Leaves Havana, Destination Indefinite; Bru Reported Seeing Berenson

Download PDF for this date

The Hamburg-American Liner St. Louis left havana with its cargo of 917 Jewish refugees at 11:10 a.m. today under an order of President Federico Laredo Bru to weigh anchor or be towed out of the harbor by a gunboat.

More than a score of police and marine boats accompanied the “floating refugee camp” out of Cuba’s territorial waters as thousands of Cubans and Jews gathered on the shore to watch what many termed “a funeral of the living.” Some groups of Cubans shouted: “Expel the Jews from the country!” Others replied: “Down with a Government which supports Fascism!”

Newspapers reported that President Bru was meeting Lawrence Berenson, representative of the National Coordinating Committee for Refugees in New York, immediately after the ship’s departure to discuss the question. Mr. Berenson had quoted the President yesterday as stating that he merely wished the St. Louis to leave the three-mile limit in order to calm public sentiment and then he would consider a solution of the problem.

The Cuban customs director said the ship had clearance papers for Hamburg, its point of departure. The ship line’s agent, Luis Clasing, declared: “It may go elsewhere–nothing is definite.” (Reports from Hamburg said the line had orde ed the vessel to return in case it could not land its passengers immediately.)

The refugees got no sleep all night as floodlights lit up the ship to prevent passengers from jumping overboard. Most of the refugees lined the railings to greet friends and relatives who circled the ship in launches, but they saw hope vanish as the hours slipped by.

The Cuban Government remained adamant in its decision to bar the refugees despite a flood of last minute appeals form the United States and elsewhere. Among those who sent pleas for clemency were the Red Cross, the Archbishop of Havana, George Cardinal Mundelein, Archbishop of Chicago, and John L. Lewis, chairman of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. Cardinal Mundelein spoke by telephone with President Bru and personally appealed to him to permit the refugees to land, the J.T.A. was informed by Mr. Berenson and Miss Cecilia Razovsky.

Protests pointing out that the passengers had received visas from Cuban consuls in Europe also proved ineffective. The State Department was understood to have suspended at least 12 consuls in Central Europe pending investigation as to why they had not consulted the department before issuing visas to refugees.

Influential newspapers supported President Bru in barring the refugees and also reported that all police throughout the island would be employed in a hunt for refugees who arrived here since last Nov. 1, who would be subject to deportation under a bill drafted by Pedro Mendieta, chairman of the Immigration Committee of the House of Representatives.

Fears of possible mass suicide attempts– two had tried to take their lives while the ship was still in the harbor– were prevalent as the vessel upped anchor. Captain Gustav Schroder of the St. Louis had advised the authorities he would not be responsible for the passengers’ safety if they were not permitted to land.

Aboard the St. Louis were the wife and two children of Max Loewe, Hamburg lawyer whom they were forced to leave behind in the Calixto Garcia hospital, where he was brought after he slashed his wrists and leaped into the sea last Tuesday. Some of the more desolate outcasts were forced below decks for fear they might jump overboard to drown or make a desperate effort to reach the shore. The others were under control of a committee appointed among them to insure order, and there were no incidents as the vessel cleared the harbor.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund