SPECIAL EDITION RABBI’S REFLECTIONS
GUEST WRITER CAROLE BROWN
YOM HASHOAH (HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY)
April 21, 2020
Passover Week 2020, there were two Cruise ships waiting off the coast of Miami, FL to get permission for those passengers that had covid-19, the coronavirus, to come ashore to be hospitalized. They were allowed in.
However, there was another ship that lingered off the coast of Miami, FL needing refuge – it was turned away June 3, 1939. No one aboard was sick with anything let alone any kind of virus like the covid-19! It has been 81 years since the S.S. St. Louis ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees, including children, from Europe made it to the shores of the United States.
Rabbi Trail: Located in New York Harbor is the Statue of Liberty. It was given by the French in 1884 to commemorate the 100th birthday of the United States (seems they were a few years late). The United States was going through a financial crisis and didn’t have the money to mount the statue, so they were seeking fundraising ideas. (Perhaps they had yet realized they could just print money, like that same government does today.) One of those fundraisers involved asking poet Emma Lazarus to write a poem about the meaning of the statue. She wrote a sonnet titled “New Colossus.” The last 4 1/2 lines reads…
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This was not the experience of the 937 Jews who had fled the terror of Nazi Germany. They were turned away by both Cuba and the United States. They had no option other than to return to Germany. Most of the passengers were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. Let’s examine their story and pray the slogan “Never Again!”
On April 15, 1939 a notice was sent out to all interested parties traveling to CUBA. The message read in part, “subject to sufficient demand, our merchant ship S.S. “St. Louis” will sail from Hamburg on a special voyage to Havana on the 13th of May 1939. Bookings for this journey can only be offered to those whose papers are entirely in order.”
The circular the Jews received required all passengers to pay a deposit for the “return journey”, despite the fact that the voyage was intended as a one-way trip out of Germany!
When they arrived off the coast of Havana, the Cuban government declared the visas invalid and refused entry to the passengers.
The St. Louis wandered between Cuba and the U.S. for five days, appealing to governments in North, Central and South America for mercy. As the ship lingered off the Florida coast, a Coast Guard gunboat prevented passengers from jumping overboard and swimming ashore. America also sent military planes and the shore patrol to make sure they kept moving.
Seeking refuge in America was a desperate move by the St. Louis. After waiting twelve days in the port of Havana and off the Miami coast the final rejection came from Canada’s immigration director, Fredrick Blair – a Baptist elder – the answer was a resounding, “NO”! He believed admitting Jewish refugees could destroy Canada.
On board, despair and panic seized passengers as the St. Louis turned back to Hamburg, Germany. Four weeks to the day after the St. Louis had set sail from Hamburg the Belgian King and Prime Minister agreed that 200 passengers could land in Belgium. Within a further three days on June 13th the British, French and Dutch governments each agreed to grant temporary asylum for the rest of the refugees until homes in other countries could be found.
Following the German invasion of Europe that began August 1, 1939, many of the former St. Louis passengers found themselves once again under Nazi rule and did not survive the Holocaust. Most of those granted refuge in Great Britain did survive.
5,600,000 European Jews died in the Holocaust. Among them, over 1.5 million Jewish children were exterminated.
THREE DAYS OF RECONCILIATION
Christians and Jews met in Florida in June of 2001 to heal the wounds caused by this extremely painful event in U.S. History.
The meeting called the ALL AMERICAS CONVOCATION and was organized by Tom Hess, Director of the Jerusalem House of Prayer for All Nations, Jerusalem, Israel. It was held June 2 through June 7, 2001 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The schedule included June 6, D-Day, and June 7, which was Jerusalem Day in Israel that year. There were 40 Jewish survivors of the St. Louis Ship present as honored guests so we, as Americans, could repent to them for the sin of rejecting them from the U.S.A. and forcing them back into Hitler’s Holocaust. There are 50 Nations in the Americas and 50 States in the U.S.A. All of us bear this shame.
Interestingly, the election in the year 2000 focused on South FL, exactly in the three counties where the ship was turned away! The reason this Convocation was called was the belief that God highlighted the need to deal with the sin of rejecting the St. Louis. The United States had never acknowledged the error.
Convocation leader, Tom Hess, convened the event when he realized the three FL counties at the center of the previous year’s election-ballot controversy – Palm Beach, Broward and Dade – made up the very coastline along which the St. Louis had waited, hoping for entry.
Christian leaders, government representatives from FL, the U.S. Federal government and governments of other nations in the Americas were invited to lead in repentance and in blessing the survivors. We also prayed for all the nations in the Americas and much more.
Some 500 Christians came to the All Americas Convocation that June to honor and ask forgiveness of Jewish survivors of the St. Louis. This writer, Carole Brown, was a member of the welcoming committee. I also watched over the survivors memorabilia while they attended an assortment of meetings.
On the Day of Repentance to our Jewish brethren we went to the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach and down to an inlet near to where Coast Guard ship embarked to shoo the St. Louis away. The day was very overcast, birds were no where to be seen. A wreath was laid on the waters of Florida’s eastern coast and many survivors threw fresh roses from their rooms into the water in memory of lost loved ones to help close a shameful chapter of American history.
The wreath and flowers remained stationary and at first wouldn’t flow out to sea the way they were supposed to, until shofars blasted the atmosphere. Then, at the blast of the shofars, the waters of the jetty began to churn.
The water splashed up on the rocks and the wreath and the fresh flowers began to bob up and down in place and then suddenly they began to move out to sea as originally planned. The clouds began to open and beautiful white birds seemed to come out of nowhere as the sun began to shine.
One of the survivors said the ceremonies were an “unbelievable” experience. “It was overwhelming. I had so much love shown to me,” she said. “I felt their hearts. I felt God’s presence so strongly.”
The three-day event included a visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Miami and an evening ceremony during which several leaders publicly expressed their regret for what had happened. Gov. Jeb Bush and Mayor Jim Naugle of Fort Lauderdale sent formal statements of repentance.
Rabbi Trail: None of this will amount to anything unless we learn from history. The greatness of the United States is its diversity. This is truly a country blessed by God. I believe that these blessings are connected to a culture and tradition of religious freedom, in particular kindness toward the chosen people. In 1939 there was no nation of Israel for those Jews on the St. Louis. Today, thanks be to God, there is. End RT.