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A boat carrying 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution is turned away from Havana, Cuba, on this day in 1939. Only 28 immigrants are admitted into the country. After appeals to the Unites States and Canada for entry are denied, the rest are forced to sail back to Europe, where they’re distributed among several countries including Great Britain and France.

On May 13, the S.S. St. Louis sailed from Hamburg, Germany to Havana, Cuba. Most of the passengers—many of them children—were German Jews escaping increasing persecution under the Third Reich. Six months earlier, 91 people were killed and Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed in what became known as the Kristallnacht pogrom. It was becoming increasing clear the Nazis were accelerating their efforts to exterminate Jews by arresting them and placing them in concentration camps. World War II and the formal implementation of The Final Solution were just months from beginning. 

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The refugees had applied for U.S. visas, and planned to stay in Cuba until they could enter the United States legally. Even before they set sail, their impending arrival was greeted with hostility in Cuba. On May 8, there was a massive anti-Semitic demonstration in Havana. Right-wing newspapers claimed that the incoming immigrants were Communists.

The St. Louis arrived in Havana on May 27. Roughly 28 people onboard had valid visas or travel documents and were allowed to disembark. The Cuban government refused to admit the nearly 900 others. For seven days, the ship’s captain attempted to negotiate with Cuban officials, but they refused to comply.

Author / Source – History.com Editors. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of Global Diaspora News (www.GlobalDiasporaNews.com).