Posts Tagged ‘MS St. Louis’

MS St. Louis 1939

In 1939 a German ocean liner by the name MS St. Louis departed Hamburg with Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany and the escalating violence toward Jews. It first arrived in Havana, Cuba and discovered that the Cuban government had canceled all landing permits.

Seeking port in the nearby United States they were also refused entrance, notified that they would not be admitted because they lacked proper immigration paperwork. In the aftermath of the great depression and American isolationism the public sentiment was decidedly anti-immigrant and in many cases anti-Semitic. Even though Roosevelt could have issued an executive order to admit them he bowed to public sentiment and refused.

The ship eventually returned to Britain and Europe and different countries admitted portions of the passengers. Eventually 254 of the passengers aboard the MS St. Louis were killed in the Holocaust.

Now, in retrospect, with full knowledge of the Nazi killing machine, most Americans are ashamed of our national decision at such a time of urgency and desperation. We responded in a callous, unfeeling way. Those decisions sent many people to their deaths.

Today desperate people are also arriving at our gates. They are men, women and children. They do not travel by ship on water but rather on land by foot. They come from places where their lives are at stake, threatened by not only poverty but by drug cartels and gangs. Their voyage from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador is long and dangerous. Parents are attempting to deliver their children from the jaws of death.

What awaits them at this moment in history is not the welcome of the Statue of Liberty. What awaits them at ports of entry where it is legal to apply for asylum are closed borders, troops, razor wire, tear gas and parents being separated from children. Our government could expedite the processing of these strangers, sojourners, and migrants but no … every attempt to block their entry is being employed at this very moment. We could add processing personnel and border staff to make this happen for a fraction of what it cost to deploy over 5000 military troops, but no.

In 1939 the American government refused entrance to a ship of desperate Jews fleeing the killing fields of Adolf Hitler. This decision has become one of our stories of shame. In 2018 the American government is now refusing entrance to people just as desperate and years from now we will look back with the same shame. For when they came to our door we turned them away, no room for fragile families fleeing for their lives.