Monday, March 27, 2023

Part 7—Sunday June 4, 1939

(this letter continued from last week)

Friday morning the boats were forbidden to come near the St. Louis, and I therefore could not see Benno anymore from the near. But when the ship left, we saw him in the distance in a light blue suit standing on the pier. By calling and waving we could make ourselves noticeable, and he also immediately gave a sign, that despite the distance, he had recognized us. About 10:30 the gentleman from the Jewish Committee and representatives from the “Joint” were again on board. We had to assemble in the large dining room. The gentleman directed words that were taken to heart by the passengers, to be reasonable and quiet and be hopeful that at the end everything will be resolved. Also the Cuban commissar was present, expressed his regrets. What good does all that do, the St. Louis with 928 passengers has to leave the harbor and will be forced, since for the time being no other country has declared its readiness to accept us, to drive out into the open ocean. My Dears, in the real meaning of the word we were “stateless.” Accompanied by about a dozen police boats and the boat of the committees we left the harbor. On the pier along the streets in the harbor, everywhere people and again people. Dejected were the passengers who had their children or their parents in Havana or wives who were expected by their husbands. In this hour, I was very happy that you Dears were not present. It was an unusual feeling.

Within 48 hours a decision should be made. But today Monday noon, 3:30 nothing definite is known. Yesterday we drove along the coast of Florida, saw Miami etc. This beauty is not describable. What good is it for us, that we are allowed to admire the coast of Florida from a distance? We want to go into the USA and I hold tightly to that without interruption. My hope is strengthened, the less the possibility for Cuba becomes. I know it is somewhat … thought, but a feeling always brings me again to that, that North America will still take us in. What are already 1,000 additional people for America, when they are pushed around on the world’s oceans and are in extreme despair? America can prove if it has any concern left for us Jews. Telegrams were sent to Roosevelt, the Mayor of St. Louis, as well as any possible …stations. In the meantime we are being expelled from Havana. The notification, which arrived yesterday evening (Monday), that the Cuban government permitted the landing on the Isles of Pines, not far from Havana, has until today (Tuesday) morning, not yet been confirmed. I therefore have that much more hope for the USA. My Dear, dear good wife, can you image what that means for us? Landing in North America, I cannot even think it through. In the meantime we travel still in the Atlantic Ocean. The ship turns, the ship stands, the ship goes with half or full power, but mostly nothing is known to us to where. Today noon on the other hand it was announced that we will continue to go along the American coast with direction New York. What a feeling. But the captain wants to reach a point which is equidistant with New York, Haiti and Cuba. They said already once this week that another country has declared its readiness to take us in. It is said to be Haiti. Since I sometimes interrupt my reports, it can happen that I will write something twice, which, please excuse.

It is now Tuesday, the 6th of June, 2:30. On the ship there is a great silence, and everybody is sleeping. I am alone in the Writing Room, and have a conversation with you my Dears. Otherwise everything is normal on the ship. Now the menu cards have been markedly altered, but it does not affect me. Mainly, as heretofore, fish. This evening I afforded myself the rest of my sausage inventory. My table companions could not at all understand that one can exist with that food. Nevertheless I have certainly gained weight, but I feel fresh and healthy.

Today noon I also received your telegram for which I much thank you. I can see from it that you also are of hopeful mind and do not let your head hang. Hopefully Paul and Walter did not incur any expenses, and did not undertake any extra action, which most likely will have no value. We hear here that another ship of HAPAG which was destined for Cuba was turned back to Antwerp. If that is the case, how much these people are to be pitied.

Well, my Dear, how are you? How are you, dear Bertha? I hope that you are again in good condition. Benno I have told that I have not received any mail from him, but he replied that he has written quite regularly. Dear Rosa and Karl, how are you? Also regarding you, I have written to Walter. But now for all, including you dear Frieda and Jonas, Cuba has fallen into the water. I already thought everything through so beautifully, but it will not be, and one does not know for what it is good. Keep up the hope, the dear, God turns everything to the good. What do Bessy and Leo write? Tomorrow I will be already four weeks away from you, and still swimming on the big water. Can you imagine that? I have thought that I would be able to work for everybody outside, but I am myself condemned to do nothing. “Everything for the good.”

Should it then not be possible that you, dear Frieda and Jonas, with your children already in England, to also get there? In any case do not undertake anything that you have not completely thought through. How far are you, dear Hanna and Wilhelm, as well as dear Paula and David? I hope then, that your affairs are 100% in order. I am awaiting the next letter with the big family reports. Where will I be able to receive it? With the help of God, I hope that our destination will be fixed soon. Every morning we say T’hillim, and we hope that we will be listened to. I can’t help myself, but my inner feeling tells me, that everything will turn out for the best. The passengers, with whom I am in contact, admire my great optimism. Well, we will see, when, when? In the meantime the trip has continued. Further calls for help have been sent out. Yesterday a cable came from New York from a Mr. Sandler, he asked the captain to anchor the ship at an island by New York, but the means were not stated. The captain cannot act without the permission of HAPAG, and it was cabled back accordingly. Further a cable was sent to the Mayor of New York, Governor Lehman and others. We are moving toward the goal, but will we reach it? At the moment we are at the American coast, guessing about 50 sea-miles away, at the level of the Bermuda Island. It is Wednesday afternoon 4:00, by you already 10:00, and my thoughts are in your midst without fail. Today I am already away from you for 4 weeks, who would have thought then, that after four weeks we still would be on the ship. I will close for today, and will continue my descriptions tomorrow.

(this letter to be continued next week)

By Norbert Strauss
Translated from the German original

Norbert Strauss is a Teaneck resident and has been a volunteer at Englewood Hospital for the past 30 years. He was General Traffic Manager and Group VP at Philipp Brothers Inc., retiring in 1985. Prior to Englewood Hospital he was also a volunteer at the American Committee for Shaare Zedek Hospital for over 30 years, serving as treasurer and director. He frequently speaks to groups to relay his family’s escape from Nazi Germany in 1941. He has eight grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren.


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