The SS St. Louis

Question

A few days ago I got into an argument with my World History professor over whether or not the United States knew about the German treatment of Jews during WWII. He said that the United States knew nothing until they got into the war. I mentioned the 1939 voyage of the St. Louis. He had never heard of it, and pretty much dismissed me as an obnoxious art student who had no business trifling in >academics. Perhaps this was because I referred to him as a "fathead". I couldn't help it. He is a fathead. His name, by the way, is [name deleted] Just in case you ever want to send him any information. He gave me until the next class (which is Thursday) to produce some evidence on the existence of the St. Louis. I have searched the internet and found only bits and snatches of info but nothing too detailed. I was wondering if you could send anything useful my way; would be very appreciative.

Thank you very much,

Harry W. Mazal OBE answers:

Hello. I am one of the volunteers that answers questions for As one of the persons at the Project who responds to such questions, I will attempt to give you some information that you might find pertinent.

While we do not advocate personal confrontations with professors or staff of the various teaching institutions, let alone using derogatory statements about them, we do try to promote the truth in a rational and documented manner.

The question about who knew what and when regarding the Jewish Holocaust is the subject of very agitated polemic among historians.

I tend to take a rather different view than that of my colleagues from whom you might also receive information. In my very personal opinion, the Holocaust began long before the Second World War had begun.

Hitler's first strategy was obtain full power over the German people. To permit this on February 28, 1933, the German Government passed a law published in the Reichsgezetzblatt Nr. 17 (Legal Bulletin of the Reich No. 17) that read, in part:

Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124 and 153 of the Constitution are invalid until further notice. Restrictions on the freedom of the individual, the right to free speech, including freedom of the press and the right of assembly and the right to form groups, infringements on the secrecy of post, telegraph and telephone communications, house searches, confiscation and limitation in property ownership over and above the previously legally specified limitations are now permissible.

This law was the first step towards the Holocaust.

On November 14, 1935 the Nazi government published the "First Ordinance to the Reich Citizenship Law" in the 'Reichsgezetzblatt' Hitler's government was putting the whole world on notice that Jews were no longer to be considered as citizens of Germany. Specifically the new law stated:

Article 4.

1. A Jew cannot be a Reich citizen. He is not allowed the right to vote in political affairs; he cannot hold public office.

2. Jewish civil servants will retire as of December 31, 1935 [...]

[...]

Article 5.

1. Jew is he who is descended from at least three grandparents who are fully Jewish by race. [...]

I have only quoted a few lines from this decree. If you or your art professor wish to read more, you may find a more complete version of this document in:

Documents of Destruction: Germany and Jewry 1933-1945
Raul Hilberg (editor)
c. 1971, Quadrangle Books (Chicago)
SBN 8129-0192-4
LOC 77-152092

The 'Reichsgezetzblatt' was a public newspaper, it was therefore collected by the various foreign embassies in Germany at that time, including the American Embassy. Hitler was publicly affirming that he had disenfranchised the Jews and that henceforth they would be devoid of most - if not all - of their civil rights.

The world, including the United States, did nothing. No formal complaints by the American Government, no fiery speakers on Hyde Park Corner, no demonstrations in front of the German Embassies in Washington, Paris or London. Had these governments voiced a strong objection to these laws which violated the most basic tenets of civil rights, it is unlikely that Hitler would have pursued the issue to the point that six million Jews would have been brutally murdered.

Over the next five years, until November of 1938, the German Government evicted German Jews from their homes, forbade them from practicing law, medicine, or any other profession except among themselves, expelled young German Jewish children from schools, forced all Jews to identify themselves with a yellow star, made Jews the object of attack and vile publications, and, in brief, reduced normal, ordinary, decent people to a level in which subsistence was barely possible.

In 1938, using as an excuse the assassination of a minor German diplomat in Paris by a highly disturbed young Jew, the Nazis unleashed a violent attack on the German-Jewish population which included the destruction and ransacking of their homes and stores, the burning of their religious temples, and the beating, incarceration and death of countless German Jews who were caught in the organized maelstrom. On top of this violence, the Jewish community was forced to pay one billion German Marks as a 'fine' for 'provoking' what was later to be known as 'Kristalnacht.'

Did the British, French or American governments protest? Did they allow the German Jews, who were frantically trying to find refuge, to enter their countries? Did they threaten to send troops to Germany to force Germany to back down from their irrational anti-Semitic violence? The answer is no.

Therefore, long before the first Jew was lined up at a ditch to be shot by the Einsatzgruppen, and longer yet before the first Jew died in a gas chamber, The Western governments were well aware that Jews in Germany, and eventually throughout Europe, were at grave risk.

On May 13, 1939, 937 men, women and children were allowed to leave from Hamburg aboard the S. S. St. Louis. Although this was part of an attempt by Joseph Goebbels to 'cleanse' the image of the Nazis, the fact is that all of the people on the boat were Jews seeking exile from the horrors of Nazi Germany. I need not enter into a long description of this ill-fated voyage, but respectfully suggest that you and your professor read:

Voyage of the Damned
Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts
c. 1974, Stein and Day (New York)

which describes in great detail accompanied by documentation the voyage of the S. S. St. Louis.

Finally you and your professor might want to know just how much the British and the Americans knew regarding the Holocaust of the European Jews once the hostilities had erupted in 1939. This issue is amply covered in:

Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the=09 British and Americans Knew
Richard Breitman
c. 1998, Hill and Wang (New York)
ISBN 0-8090-3819-6

From the dust cover:

Integrating [this] new evidence with the new sources, Richard Breitman examines how Germany's leaders brought about the Holocaust -- and when. He assesses the British and American suppression of information about Nazi killings, and tensions between the two powers over how to respond. His absorbing work concludes with an examination of the consequences (including the failure to punish many known war criminals) of keeping this information secret for so many decades.

I hope that this information answers some of your questions.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

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