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.
Fritz (now Fred) Buff is the son of Julius and Emma Buff. He was born on July 26, 1921 in Krumbach, Germany, a small Bavarian town where his family had lived for several generations. There, his parents ran an upholstery supply business. Fritz has one sister, Anni (now Anne), two years younger. At the age of ten, Fritz left home to attend a secondary school in Ulm, where he also went to Hebrew school and belonged to a Jewish club and sports organization. He graduated in 1936 and returned to Krumbach where he worked briefly in a local bank, the town's only surviving Jewish business. After six months Fritz left for Munich to study mechanics at a Jewish vocational school. In the summer of 1938 the student body was forced to participate in the dismantling of the city's main synagogue. On the day before Kristallnacht, Fritz and a group of his classmates fled the city by bicycle to evade the annual Beer Hall Putsch commemoration. They spent the day playing soccer, during which Fritz injured his leg and had to be removed by ambulance to the Jewish hospital in town. When the pogrom began that evening, a group of Nazi stormtroopers searched the hospital and began seizing Jewish men. Though Fritz's injury was not serious, the doctor told the stormtroopers that Fritz needed to stay in the hospital for a full month and therefore he was left alone. Fritz's father, a diabetic, was arrested that same evening and sent to Dachau. Though he was released four weeks later, he never fully recovered his health. In the wake of Kristallnacht, the Jewish vocational school was closed, and Fritz returned to Krumbach, where his family focused their efforts on emigration. Relatives in the United States arranged for Fritz to receive a Cuban visa with the understanding that his parents and sister would follow shortly. Fritz sailed on the SS St. Louis. On board he spent most of his time in the company of Fritz Hilb, a friend from Ulm, and Georg and Werner Lenneberg from Cologne. When the ship was forced to return to Europe, the four were granted asylum in Belgium. Four several months they shared an apartment in Brussels. Meanwhile, Fritz' parents and sister managed to reach the United States by way of Italy in late 1939. A few months later, Fritz secured papers and set sail for America. He arrived in New York on January 13, 1940, seven months after the St. Louis returned to Europe. In 1945 he married Lotte Neuberger, another German-Jewish refugee, originally from Ichenhausen.