MS St. Louis: Ship of Fate

Temporary exhibit, Small Craft Gallery

The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic (MMA), in cooperation with the Atlantic Jewish Council (AJC) and the Canadian Maritime Heritage Foundation (CMHF), created a travelling exhibit, St. Louis: Ship of Fate, a moving and thought-provoking glimpse into a dark moment in Canadian history, when a helping hand was denied. In the spring of 1939, just before World War II, a frequent and popular visitor to Halifax made an infamous voyage. On May 13, 1939, over 900 German Jews fled the rising violence of Nazi Germany aboard MS St. Louis. St. Louis: Ship of Fate provides first-hand testimonials, gripping photography and interactive features, creating a broader awareness for a tragic story of war and national policy.

MMA, M2007.38.1, album, p.2

MMA, M2007.38.1, album, p.2

 

Today, visitors can see the travelling exhibit adaptation, that is also available for other museums and public venues to request as a travelling exhibit https://maritimemuseum.novascotia.ca/st-louis

In the spring of 1939, just before World War II, a frequent and popular visitor to Halifax made an infamous voyage. On May 13, 1939, over 900 German Jews fled the rising violence of Nazi Germany aboard MS St. Louis. St. Louis: Ship of Fate provides first-hand testimonials, gripping photography and interactive features, creating a broader awareness for a tragic story of war and national policy.

The Hamburg-America liner St. Louis sailed from Germany to Havana with over 900 German Jews fleeing Nazi persecution. Turned away first by Havana, Cuba, then by Miami and New York in the United States and then Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the refugees returned to Europe where many perished in the Holocaust. Discover the fate of this ship and its passengers in this human rights tragedy.

Adolf Hitler’s racist ideas blamed Jews for all of Germany’s problems. Persecution began from the moment the Nazis took power in 1933, and about half of Germany’s Jews had fled the country before war broke out in September 1939.

Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” on November 9, 1938, signaled a new phase of violent anti-Semitism. Synagogues and Jewish businesses were ransacked and burned. Hundreds of Jews were murdered and thousands were rounded up and interned, only to be released weeks later on condition that they leave the country. It was clear after Kristallnacht that the Nazi nightmare would not end anytime soon leading many families to seek passage aboard St. Louis out of Germany.

Immigration slowed to a trickle during the Great Depression. By the late 1930s, immigration to Canada was one tenth of the average a decade earlier. The economic crisis deepened isolationist feeling in both the United States and Canada.

A number of officials in Ottawa were deeply hostile to Jewish immigration. They argued that while Jewish immigrants preferred cities, Canada needed settlers in rural areas.

St.  Louis’ final voyage was a five-day cruise between New York and Halifax in August 1939, just days before World War II erupted. The plight of the St. Louis passengers made headlines around the world.