Oral History

Gerda Blachmann Wilchfort describes the mood of passengers on the "St. Louis" after they were denied entry into Cuba

Gerda and her parents obtained visas to sail to Cuba on the "St. Louis" in May 1939. When the ship arrived in Havana harbor, most of the refugees were denied entry and the ship had to return to Europe. Gerda and her parents disembarked in Belgium. In May 1940, Germany attacked Belgium. Gerda and her mother escaped to Switzerland. After the war, they were told that Gerda's father had died during deportation.


Well, as you can imagine there was a terrible mood. Everybody was very depressed. A few people committed...tried to commit suicide as I think uh the one man...he, I think he cut his wrists and they, he was the only one who landed because they had to take him to the hospital to...to tend to him. I don't know whether he stayed or not. I think he did. He must have been the only one who stayed. But you know, humans are always hopeful. You know, we always cling to the hope something is going to happen. They're not going to let us rot on the ocean. I mean, something had to happen to us. Of course, the fear was that we would go back to Germany. That was the big thing you know. So we...the food got worse and worse and the water was...water supply, I mean we had water but we had to be careful, and of course the parties were over. No more parties, no more, no more fun. We were just sitting and waiting what's going to happen, you know, and uh here again the committee tried everything and sent telegrams all over the world trying to get us in but it was.... Everyday they had like newsletters printed and put out on board to tell us what's happening and everyday there was another country we were supposedly going to go, but we never...and nothing came about until finally at the...we were already...well, first we came to, to the coast of Miami and we thought we could, you know...I heard later that the captain had agreed that we make some kind of a forced landing or something but we didn't know anything about it. We just saw the uh Coast Guard boats surround us near Miami to make sure that we wouldn't even come close to the border, to the...to shore, so that was out. So we saw the lights of Miami. We saw the lights of America and that was it. So we slowly sailed back to Europe. And of course behind the...you know, there was a lot of negotiations going on with the United, the United Jewish Appeal and there was a Mr. Tupper in Paris and he finally got it together that we will be divided between Belgium and Holland and France and England.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
View Archival Details

This content is available in the following languages

Thank you for supporting our work

We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.