Letter to the Editor
The Westchester Jewish Chronicle
January 5, 2007
In the January issue of the “Chronicle”, Ms. Rhea Tauber wrote a column titled “Memories of Cuba as a Haven for Jews.” Unfortunately her memory is a bit clouded and her facts are incorrect. The German ship, “St. Louis” was one of three ships that brought passengers, including Jews, to Cuba at that time. Cuba, because of the influence of local Nazis, put onerous restrictions on Jewish immigration. Already 6000 Jews immigrants were living in Cuba, most without legal documentation. Also a house-to-house check was being made for all German refugees and there was great fear from the Joint Distribution Committee in the United States that a pogrom was being planned if more Jews were granted asylum. When a $500 cash bond was put up for each passenger, amounting to $500,000, the Cubans refused. There were definitive conflicts between Batista and Manuel Benitez, who was receiving bribes for each illegal alien allowed into Cuba. Strongman Colonel Fulgencio Bastista wanted his “cut” or would end the practice. Two other ships had already just arrived, the British ship “Orduna” and the French ship, “Flanders.” Within a twenty-four hour period more than 1200 refugees had arrived from three European ports. The Cubans had just passed a law limiting to 1500 the number of immigrants that could be yearly allowed to land. Eventually, after a collapse in negotiations, the ship left port and while off Florida, on June 4, the figurehead President Bru relented and said that they could land for $650 per head. The Joint Committee refused to pay the extra dollars. They thought there would be more ships and the price would continue to escalate. The “St. Louis,” amidst all of the negotiation with Cuban and the American officials, who were trying to get around our strict immigration laws, turned seaward to Germany. The JDC was besieged with criticism from the American Jewish community and its friends, but felt they were being blackmailed by the Cubans. Ms. Tauber stated that the passengers were “returned to Germany and certain death for all abroad.” She also stated that that “…Jews trying to escape the Holocaust, came into Havana harbor.” Of the 936 Jews on board who had left Hamburg, 29 disembarked in Havana, 907 sailed back to Europe; 288 disembarked in England and lived through the Holocaust. The remaining 619 went to France, Belgium and Holland. The 392 of 619 who had disembarked at Antwerp, survived the war. The remaining 227 were murdered by the Nazis. The US Holocaust Museum estimates more than two-thirds of the passengers survived the war. Also, in June of 1939, it certainly was not yet the Holocaust. War had not been declared, over 75% of the Jews living in Germany, at the time of Hitler's ascendancy to power, had either left Germany or had been forced out. German policy was “Judenrein” not extermination. Up until Kristalnacht under 1000 Jews had been killed in Germany from 1933 until late 1938. Even up until the war, which started on September 3, 1939, relatively a small percentage of the remaining Jews from the 1930 population of 500,000 had been killed. The Holocaust really emerged from a number of distinct occurrences. The first was the invasion and conquering of Poland, and the fact that millions of Jews in Poland came under the direct control of the Nazis. The second would be the invasion and conquering of the Baltic States and the siege of the Soviet Union, where millions of other Jews came under Nazi control, and third would be the Wannsee Conference, in a Berlin suburb, on January 12, 1942 where the “Final Solution” was articulated and planned. By that time, no power on earth could have saved the vast majority of 6 million or so Jews that were eventually killed. In June of 1939, few in Europe really believed there would be war, no less World War. Few Jews, outside of Germany, thought their lives were eminently at risk, and the Low Countries and France were not invaded until the spring of 1940. Most Jews believed that Germany only was interested in ridding itself of Jews. But, it is true, that many Jews wished fervently to get out of Europe. These are incontrovertible facts reported in numerous histories of that era. Refer to Conrad Black and Robert Rosen's recent histories of FDR.
Richard J. Garfunkel