The St. Louis was a German luxury liner carrying more than 930 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to Cuba in May 1939. When the ship set sail from Hamburg on May 13, 1939, all of its refugee passengers bore legitimate landing certificates for Cuba. However, during the two-week period that the ship was en route to Havana, the landing certificates granted by the Cuban director general of immigration in lieu of regular visas, were invalidated by the pro-fascist Cuban government. When the St. Louis reached Havana on May 27 all but 28 of the Jewish refugees were denied entry. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) dispatched Lawrence Berenson to Cuba to negotiate with local officials but Cuban president Federico Laredo Bru insisted that the ship leave Havana harbor. The refugees were likewise refused entry into the United States. Thus on June 6 the ship was forced to return to Europe. While en route to Antwerp several European countries were cajoled into taking in the refugees (287 to Great Britain; 214 to Belgium; 224 to France; 181 to the Netherlands). Only those who were accepted by Great Britain found relative safety. The others were soon to be subject once again to Nazi rule with the German invasion of western Europe in the spring of 1940. A fortunate few succeeded in emigrating before this became impossible. In the end, many of the St. Louis passengers who found temporary refuge in Belgium, France and the Netherlands died at the hands of the Nazis, but the majority survived the war.
Julius Hermanns was a Jewish textile merchant in Moenchengladbach, Germany. He was arrested in September 1939, deported to Dachau and then transferred to Buchenwald. In mid-April 1939, having agreed to emigrate immediately, he was released. His brother-in-law in New York arranged the purchase of a Cuban landing certificate for him, and Julius booked passage on the St. Louis. He was unable to pay, however, for additional tickets for his wife, Grete, and teenage daughter, Hilde, so they remained in Germany. When the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, Julius was given refuge in France, where he hoped his wife and daughter could join him. When France declared war on Germany, Julius was arrested as an enemy alien and later evacuated to the south of France. He was sent to Saint Cyprien, an internment camp near the Spanish border, where he was detained with some 50 other St. Louis passengers. After transfers to the Gurs and Les Milles internment camps, Julius was sent with 235 other prisoners to the Drancy transit camp in Paris on August 11, 1942. Three days later, he was deported to his death in Auschwitz. His wife, daughter, and other relatives were deported to the Riga ghetto on December 11, 1941, where they were probably killed.