Module 5: Memory and the Holocaust

Canada and The MS St. Louis


The starboard of MS St. Louis with several smaller ships in the foreground.
MS St. Louis returning to Hamburg, Germany, June 1939. Photograph Number: 88358. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Herbert and Vera Karliner.

The MS St. Louis

The MS St. Louis was a luxury German cruise liner that ran along the trans-Atlantic route between Hamburg, Halifax and New York City. Infamously, the MS St. Louis departed the port of Hamburg on May 13, 1939, with more than 900 passengers bound for Cuba. The majority of the ship’s passengers were Jewish refugees fleeing the intensifying antisemitism and violence in Nazi Germany. The MS St. Louis docked in Havana on May 27 and, despite the refugees having obtained legitimate documentation to enter into the country, Cuban officials barred them on the basis of the recently instituted Decree No. 937. This decree was signed by the pro-fascist President Federico Laredo Brú, and nullified the existing landing certificates. Only a handful of passengers were permitted to land in Havana and sources vary as to the exact number that disembarked at the Cuban port. After the refusal of entry by the American and Canadian governments, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe in late June 1939.

A black and white photograph of a crowd of people standing on the deck of the St. Louis.
Passengers aboard the St. Louis. These refugees from Nazi Germany were forced to return to Europe after both Cuba and the US denied them refuge. May 13, 1939 – June 17, 1939, Atlantic Ocean. Photograph Number: 88245. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Dr. Liane Reif-Lehrer.

Liane Reif-Lehrer

Liane Reif, is standing at center, foreground. Her brother Fred is standing first from the right. Among the other passengers are Liesl Loeb, Herbert Karliner, Troper, Hans Fischer, Lisl Mandel, Henry Gallan, Judl Gunther and Oskar Blechner.

Listen to Liane Reif-Lehrer describe her memories of being on the MS St. Louis at the moment the picture above was taken.

Alive by chance: memoir of a St. Louis passenger

The Holocaust, Through Canadian Eyes

In this lecture, Dr. Hernan Tesler-Mabé discusses Canadian perspectives and experiences of the Holocaust. Beginning with an overview of Canada’s antisemitic immigration policy, Dr. Tesler-Mabé recounts the story of the MS St. Louis and the subsequent attempts made by the Canadian Jewish Congress to assist European Jewry. The lecture also covers the participation of Jewish Canadians in the war effort, specifically those who were involved in the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the spring of 1945.


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