The Voyage of the Damned
One of the worst tragedys of all time

SS St. Louis

Jewish refugees aboard the SS St. Louis while the ship was docked in the port of Havana.

SS St. Louis was a German ocean liner built by the Bremer Vulkan shipyards in Bremen, Germany, being completed in 1929 for the Hamburg America Line.

The ship sailed transatlantic routes, from Hamburg to New York, but during the Great Depression turned to cruising to make revenue. The ship is most famous for a single voyage in 1939 immortalized by the motion picture Voyage of the Damned.


The Voyage of the Damned

The St. Louis sailed out of Hamburg into the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 1939 carrying 930 Jewish refugees, mostly wealthy, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution just before World War II.

After seeking asylum in Cuba and being refused, the ship headed to Florida, where, on 4 June 1939, it was also refused permission to unload on orders of President Roosevelt. It then tried to enter Canada but was refused once more. The ship sailed back to Germany, whereupon various European nations each agreed to admit a small number of its passengers, the vast majority of whom ended up perishing in the Holocaust as most of the host countries came under Nazi occupation at some point during World War II, which started only a few weeks after the ship's return to Hamburg.


The ship's voyage caused great controversy in the United States: Initially President Roosevelt those on board, but vehemen opposition came from Roosevelt's Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and from Southern Democrats - some of whom went so far as to threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred. On 4 June 1939 Roosevelt issued an order to deny entry to the ship, which was waiting in the Caribbean Sea between Florida and Cuba. The passengers negotiations with the Cuban government, but those broke down at the last minute. Forced to return to Europe, many of its passengers died in Nazi concentration camps.


Later life

The ship became a German naval accommodation ship from 1940 to 1944. It was heavily damaged by the Allied bombings at Kiel August 30, 1944, but was repaired and used as a hotel ship in Hamburg by 1946. The ship was eventually scrapped in 1952.



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