By 1939, Germany
had become a very dangerous place for Jews.
In May of that year, 937 German Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis, bound
for Havana and a new life out of
the clutches of Adolf Hitler.
But when they arrived, the government of Cuba
denied them entry. Most of the
passengers were not even allowed to get off the boat. The Captain, Gustav Schroeder, tried in vain
to negotiate with Cuba,
but he was threatened with military action if he did not remove the vessel from
He turned to the coast of Florida. I am ashamed to report that the U.S.
Government offered no asylum. In his
memoirs Schroeder claimed that while the boat was so close to America
the passengers could see the lights of Miami,
the Coast Guard dispatched boats to shadow the St. Louis
and make sure no passengers jumped overboard and swam to shore. The Coast Guard denies it, but it makes no
difference. The St.
Louis was turned away.
Out of options, the St. Louis
returned to Europe.
Some of the passengers were granted entry to the Netherlands,
some to France
and Belgium. Shortly thereafter, the Nazis ran over Europe
and the passengers who had hoped to escape were deported back to Germany. Most perished in the Holocaust.
It’s an awful story, isn’t it? I was reminded of it when I saw a picture in
Newsweek of grim-faced Latino men in a detention facility, waiting to be
deported to Mexico. Their situation is not as dire as what the
German Jews were facing, but it’s bad enough.
No jobs. No food for their families. These are desperate people, who take enormous
risks to cross the border illegally and take the scuttiest scut jobs there
are. Clearly there is nothing for them
Recently the GOP introduced a bill that would make it a
felony to enter the U.S.
without a visa, or to help an illegal immigrant. Hilary Clinton characterized it as
criminalizing good-Samaritans, and in fact Jesus himself. The Republican leadership has since backed
way off the felony language, though not, apparently, because they recognize the
Our porous southern border is problematic in many ways. And I don’t know why Mexico
can’t put together a functional economy.
But I can’t blame people who do what they can to make a better life for
themselves and their children. I would
I have no solution to offer, but I remember the S.S. St.