Anti-Semitism ocean liner by assisting with fleeing from Nazi

Anti-Semitism and discrimination towards the Jews was very
active in Nazi Germany before and during World War II under the leadership of
Adolf Hitler (Dolma, 2018).
Many intolerant events led to the emigration of over 100 000 Jews from
1938-1939, resulting in a refugee crisis (Museum, 2018). Although it was said escape from
Germany was extremely difficult for a number of reasons; from immigration
policies and quotas, to simply countries closing their gates and ignoring the
crisis, this difficulty increased even more as the war began on September 1,
1939 (Unknown, 2018).  In efforts to relieve families from this
war-torn country they called home, the SS St. Louis was brought into place to
find a safe destination for these refugees of Jewish families that were
persecuted and unwanted anywhere else (Museum, 2018). Captain Gustav Schröder attempted to
save the 937 Jewish refugees aboard the German ocean liner by assisting with
fleeing from Nazi Germany and overcoming being denied entry into more than one
country, ultimately changing Canada and its immigration policies forever.

In January of 1933, when Adolf Hitler was assigned chancellor,
the head of the German government, life as Jewish families knew it suddenly
came to a halt. In fact, the citizens initial thought of them “finally finding
a savior for their nation” (Museum, 2018) couldn’t have been
more wrong. Because of the control of the Nazi’s, more than 90,000 German and
Austrian Jews fled to neighboring countries which included France, Belgium, the
Netherlands, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland, before the war even
started (Museum, 2018). More specifically,
the events that occurred in 1938 triggered the rise in fleeing citizens and
emigration, visa application demands also at their peak. What led up to the
sudden flood of refugees were a number of problems; there was a rather large
influx of personal assaults on Jews during the spring and summer, safety in
their own homes was no longer felt, especially on November 9-10, during the nationwide
Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”), and the seizure of all
Jewish-owned property (Museum, 2018). The Kristallnacht was
a two day long uproar led by Nazi troops that demolished 7,000 Jewish homes and
businesses in Germany, arresting 30,000 people in Germany and killed 91 German
Jews (Unknown, 2018). This act of violence was what many survivors believed was
the ultimate start of the mass murder of over 6 million Jews, otherwise known
as the Holocaust (Unknown, 2018).

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 After Kristallnacht,
it became clear that anti-Semitism in Germany was not going to disappear, it
was only going to get worse from there (Unknown, 2018). Although having your life controlled
by religious persecution was not how any Jewish citizen of Germany wanted to
live, leaving Germany during that time period was not a common or affordable
option as money wasn’t readily available to most. However, tens of thousands of
German Jews didn’t have any other choice as escape became a matter of life and
death, and began searching for ways to flee Germany (Unknown, 2018). During this period, many countries had
immigration quotas put in place which made leaving Germany, as a Jewish
citizen, nearly impossible (Unknown, 2018). After the war began on September 1,
1939, escape became even more difficult. Nazi Germany technically permitted
emigration from the Reich until November 1941, but there were only few
countries willing to accept Jewish refugees and wartime conditions caused a
delay for those trying to escape (Museum, 2018).

At the end of 1939, only about 202,000 Jews remained in
Germany and 57,000 in Austria. Most of these remaining Jewish people were
elderly people (Museum, 2018). The reason for the
vast majority of the population left in the war-torn country being older in age
is because many of the people that fled the country were young and able to be
brought into a new country and put to good use with jobs that needed filling with
much more life left to live. These elderly people might not have been in the
best conditions to leave their homes or felt it wasn’t necessary because they
would only be taking up space that could be utilized by a young, hard-worker
which the countries with open arms would much rather have. By October 1941,
when Jewish emigration was officially forbidden, the number of Jews in Germany
had declined to 163,000 (Museum, 2018). The vast majority
of those Jews still in Germany were murdered in Nazi camps and ghettos during
the Holocaust (Museum, 2018). However, 900
refugees that had a chance at getting out of Nazi Germany boarded the SS St.
Louis in hopes to never look back at this terrible chapter in their life.

The SS St. Louis departed Hamburg, Germany, on 13 May 1939
with high hopes and aspirations of families being able to start fresh and
refuge in a country free of Nazi persecution (Unknown, 2018). 
Just six months after the “Night of Broken Glass”, this particular steam
ship, which was part of the Hamburg-American Line, waited for its next trip to
depart from Hamburg Germany to Cuba (Unknown, 2018). The eight decked ship had
accommodations for four hundred first-class passengers at $800 Reichsmarks
each, and five hundred tourist-class passengers at $600 Reichsmarks each. In
addition there was a $230 fee which would cover the cost if anything were to
happen, such as a return trip (Unknown, 2018). Money was scarce in these days, but
families scraped together all they had left, whether it was enough for only one
member, or outside relatives sent money (Unknown, 2018). All of the passengers aboard the ship
were under the impression that their tourist visas, which they had purchased
from the Hamburg-American Line, would allow them to find refuge in Cuba until
their American Visas were granted (Unknown, 2018). The plan was to reunite all members of
families once they were settled and safe, but the situation took a turn when
all of their visas became invalid because of a new law passed just days before
their ship set sail en route to Cuba that stated “all non-Cuban citizens must
receive a written approval of the Cuban secretary of State and Labor and in
addition make a payment of 500 peso bonds” (Unknown, 2018). Very few could actually afford this,
so when the St. Louis arrived in Havana on May 27, only 22 Jewish refugees were
allowed entry (Place, 2018).
Another passenger attempted to commit suicide by jumping ship, having to be
taken into a hospital nearby. Another six passengers obtained last-minute visas
with arrangements made by the Cuban ambassador to the United States (Torres, 2014). Many officials were
aware of this situation such as the U.S. State department, the American
consulate in Havana as well as many Jewish organizations, yet no action was
taken to provide sanctuary for the more than 900 refugees still stranded
onboard (Unknown, 2018). Captain Gustav Schröder wasn’t giving
up on these people whose lives depended on him finding a country to accept
them. He formed a committee with multiple passengers to try and come up with
every possibility out there (Unknown, 2018).

After approximately two weeks of negotiating with Cuban
authorities, the SS St. Louis was ordered from President Federico Laredo Bru to
leave Cuban territory once and for all (Unknown, 2018). With that, the ship sailed towards
Miami, Florida on June 2, 1939 as Schröder and his passenger committee agreed
this was the best decision for their people. When the ship had reached close
enough to the shore on June 5th, Schröder cabled President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt asking the U.S. government to find refuge for the passengers
who were unwanted anywhere else. The president never responded to this cry for
help as it had already been decided that the United States was going to observe
the 1924 Immigration Act which says it will “strictly limit the number of
immigrants the U.S. would allow” (Unknown, 2018). Many of the refugees had already
applied for visas in U.S. consulates in Europe (Torres, 2014). However, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
government insisted that they had to wait until the visas were granted before
being allowed into the country (Torres, 2014). Due to the rise of Nazi Germany, the
yearly quota of 27,370 for German-Austrian immigrants had already been filled.
The State department sent the passengers a telegram informing them that in
order to be permitted access into America they would have to “wait their
turn” on a lengthy waiting list to obtain immigration visas (Unknown, 2018). Time was very
valuable, so waiting in line was not an option. The ship proceeded on its
voyage on June 7, 1939, however, on this same day, a group of prominent
Canadians led by historian and Professor George Wrong telegraphed a petition to
the Prime Minister, William Lyon MacKenzie King. The petitioners suggested that
King immediately offer a safe sanctuary in Canada to the 907 homeless exiles on
board the Hamburg American ship St. Louis (YARHI, 2017). In addition to
this, Frederick Blair, the director of the Government of Canada’s Immigration
Branch, argued that they did not qualify under current immigration laws. Laws
of which he in fact created himself (YARHI, 2017). “No country,”
according to Blair, “could open its doors wide enough to take in the hundreds
of thousands of Jewish people who want to leave Europe: the line must be drawn
somewhere” (YARHI, 2017).  The Minister of Justice, Ernest Lapointe, had
an opinion that wasn’t quite far off from Frederick’s, stating he was
“emphatically opposed” to admitting the refugees into his country (YARHI, 2017). With that, although
the ship was just days away from the Halifax Harbour, they were forced to continue
with their travels as they were once again refused (Carlson, 2011). Canada was their last string of hope,
their last chance, and it was all thrown away in a matter of minutes.

After captain Gustav had gave all he had to offer and still
came up unsuccessful, they turned back to Europe. They eventually came across
multiple European countries willing to assist and relieve some of the strain, Great
Britain agreed to accept 287 passengers, France 224, Belgium 214, and the
Netherlands 181 (Unknown, 2018). Unfortunately, as
the Nazi’s began to expand across Western Europe in 1940, many of the
passengers were again faced with the fears they were trying to escape. It is
estimated that about 250 of the St. Louis passengers lost their lives during
Nazi rule after they sought refuge in Western Europe after being turned away
numerous times (Unknown, 2018).

Canada’s refusal of the desperate passengers onboard the SS
St. Louis shows the less tolerant time of our country, a darker period in our
history (HUNTER, 2016). Canada is always
quick to say how diverse we are in more ways than one, but we haven’t always
been this accepting with arms wide open.  It wasn’t until recently that we began to
embrace the many differences that exist and celebrate our wonderful diversity (HUNTER, 2016). For example, in
Quebec, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Catholic priests would lecture
on how Jews killed Jesus Christ, as well as many restaurants, clubs and
organizations would not allow Jews to be members (HUNTER, 2016).  Not opening doors to Jews was a standard
Canadian practice back then. In fact it was the usual way we treated immigrants,
not only the Jewish people, but anyone who seemed different from ourselves. We
did not want Italians after World War II, but tradesmen was an occupation we
dearly needed, and many of which were able to fill those shoes. We also still
refused to see Chinese Canadians as having the skills that will benefit the
Canadian economy in the long run (HUNTER, 2016).