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The Voyage Of The Damned

This is the tragic true story of the luxury ocean liner, St. Louis, which left Hamburg, Germany, on May 13, 1939. Onboard were almost a thousand Jews who had been told they would be accepted as refugees in Cuba. Some were wealthy, some were poor, and some had already been in concentration camps and were only released on the condition that they left Germany.

This is a story of political agendas, espionage, betrayal, dashed hopes, Nazi terror and callous indifference. The Nazis allowed the St. Louis to leave Germany and then stirred up anti-Semitism in Cuba as part of their propaganda that “no country wants Jews” so that no country could complain about their ‘solution.’ The United States unwittingly helped this progranda by refusing to allow the St. Louis Jews to land in America. President Roosevelt felt it might cost him the election if he admitted them.

The Nazi’s plan almost backfired. Their spy network in Cuba had important secret documents stolen from the US that they were planning to transmit back to Germany by their agent on the St. Louis. But, of course, if the St. Lewis was not allowed to dock in Cuba, they could not get their documents onboard for the return trip!

Captain Gustav Schroeder was an honourable man placed in a difficult situation. He did his best to meet the needs of his Jewish passengers and took measures to encourage them when every country seemed to reject them, and a return to Germany looked like the only option. He had to balance this against Nazi spies and agitators on his ship while keeping in mind the life-threatening danger he and his crew would be in when they return to Germany if it was reported sympathized with the Jews.

The Jews had their hope raised and dashed multiple times. Families were separated. Despair was a constant companion, leading some to attempt suicide. It was the voyage of the damned. Some survived, some did not.

This is a well-researched and written book. It was a dark time in history as nation after nation turned their back on these helpless refugees for one ‘reason’ or another. Yet, has our world changed as politics and hidden agendas rob people of hope and destroy their lives even today?

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