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Jewish refugees from Breslau pose on the deck of the St. Louis.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 66826

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    Jewish refugees from Breslau pose on the deck of the St. Louis.
    Jewish refugees from Breslau pose on the deck of the St. Louis.

From left to right are a friend from Breslau, Kurt Marcus, Ernst Meyer, Ilse Marcus, Elfriede Meyer and Berthold Meyer.


    Jewish refugees from Breslau pose on the deck of the St. Louis.

    From left to right are a friend from Breslau, Kurt Marcus, Ernst Meyer, Ilse Marcus, Elfriede Meyer and Berthold Meyer.
    May 1939
    En Route To Cuba
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Ilse Marcus
    Event History
    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.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Ilse Marcus

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Ilse Marcus (originally Meyer) is the daughter of Berthold and Elfriede Meyer. She was born on June 23, 1914 in Breslau, Germany, and her younger brother Ernst was born in 1918. Berthold Meyer owned a prosperous clothing store, and after Ilse married economist Kurt Marcus in 1935, the young couple lived with Ilse's parents in an apartment above the store. On the night of Kristallnacht, gangs broke the window of the family store, and looters carried away the merchandise. The following morning, storm troopers entered the apartment and arrested Berthold, Ernst and Kurt. They were released three weeks later after promising to emigrate from Germany. The family hoped to go to the United States, but as they had very high visa application numbers, they decided to book tickets on the St. Louis for Havana where they could wait until they received permission to enter the United States. Kurt's brother had already gone to Havana, and they planned to meet him there. When the ship arrived in Havana on May 27, 1939, the Cuban government prohibited the passengers from disembarking. Kurt's brother approached the ship on a small boat to wave and shout out greetings. After the ship was forced to return to Europe, the Marcus and Meyer families disembarked in Belgium and spent the next year as refugees in Brussels. However, after Germany invaded Belgium in May 1940, the Belgians arrested Berthold, Ernst and Kurt as enemy aliens and deported them to the St. Cyprien camp in southern France. They later were transferred to the Gurs concentration camp where they were interned as Jews. The women were able to correspond with them through mid-1942. Still in Belgium, Ilse and her mother were ordered to don a yellow star. Instead, they entrusted their belongings to former neighbors and went into hiding in two different safe houses run by members of the Belgian resistance. Ilse carried false papers and worked in a laundry during the day. However, in early January 1944 Ilse and Elfriede's former neighbors informed authorities of their Jewish identities and whereabouts. Ilse was arrested at the laundry and taken to a police station where she met her mother. From there the two women were brought to Malines and deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 23 on January 15, 1944. Ilse's mother was killed immediately upon arrival. Ilse was tattooed and then assigned to forced labor. Ilse first worked in a field carrying heavy stones and then was sent to work in a munitions plant where she and several other women engaged in sabotage. One year later, on January 27, 1945, Ilse was liberated by the Soviet Union. She boarded an evacuation train to the Netherlands and then made her way back to Belgium to await any surviving family members. No one returned. Ilse's father perished in Majdanek, and her brother and husband died in Auschwitz. After the war, Ilse decided to immigrate to the United States to be near Kurt's brother, her only surviving relative. She never remarried.
    Record last modified:
    2005-03-30 00:00:00
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