May 13th will be the 75th anniversary of the Voyage of the St. Louis, when over 900 Jewish refugees were given the chance to leave Nazi Germany. This was Hitler’s next test to see how America would react after the Nurnberg Laws on 1935 and Kristallnacht in 1938.
When Hitler took power in January 1933 he started on the path to reduce the civil rights of the Jews, since they had full German citizenship since 1871. America couldn’t complain about this reduction because of the way we were treating our Blacks and Jews at the time. Since 1896 segregation and discrimination was the law of the land in America, with second-class citizenship for Jews, Asians, and Catholics; and terror being used against African-Americans thanks to “KKK thuggery”. It was common at the time for our minorities to have little civil rights when it came to where they wanted to live, vacation, go to school, or work. Remember we even had separate bathrooms, parks, and luncheon counters for Blacks, and my parents had a hard time finding a hotel that didn’t restrict Jews for their honeymoon in 1947.
So on May 13, 1939 Hitler permitted the Jews to seek a country who wanted Jews. When they reached the ports, Cuba refused to grant the Jews entry, as did America and then Canada. The refugees returned to Antwerp, where England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands took them in; only 365 of the 900 Jewish refugees survived the war. Now Hitler knew how America would react to accepting millions of Jewish refugees.
Can you imagine how different the world would be if America took in the St. Louis refugees and denounced Hitler’s actions before the war? Can you imagine what the world would have been like if we would have actually ended discrimination and segregation after our Civil War instead of in 1964 (when we finally passed our Civil Rights Laws)? That is the lesson I learned from the Holocaust. You must condemn inequality and discrimination at home, or you will be helpless to judge people abroad.
Photos: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum