The United States Turned Away Hundreds Of Jewish Refugees For Fear Of A Few German Spies Slipping In
In May of 1939, the MS St. Louis set off from Germany with Captain Gustav Schroder at the helm and a belly full of Jewish refugees. After being denied entry to Cuba at Havana harbor, the St. Louis set route for Florida, in hopes that the land of the free would be more accommodating. It was not.
National Archives and Records Administration"I said we're at capacity! It's the fire code, nothing we can do!"
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had recently cracked down on immigration, restricting it to those with the financial means to support themselves. (At that point, the average German Jew's checkbook register read simply "Property of der Fuhrer.") As 1940 approached, and with it news that Nazi Germany was invading ... uh, everything, the American public began to regard Jewish refugees as potential threats to national security. FDR, who had previously canceled the expiration of up to 15,000 Germans' visas rather than, y'know, send them straight to Hell, caved to pressure from Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who rallied Southern Democrats and threatened to remove their support for the president if a certain boatful of refugees didn't disappear real sudden-like.
The St. Louis, denied entry at the port of Miami, turned back for Europe. About a third of its passengers ended up in Great Britain, while the rest were sprinkled throughout Western Europe, aka "the place where the Nazis were." By June of 1940, FDR had drunk deep of the Conspiracy Kool-Aid, stating: "Now, of course, the refugee has got to be checked because, unfortunately, among the refugees there are some spies, as has been found in other countries. And not all of them are voluntary spies -- it is rather a horrible story but in some of the other countries that refugees out of Germany have gone to, especially Jewish refugees, they found a number of definitely proven spies."
Keystone/Getty Images"So get out of our country, and don't look too closely at the base of the Statue of Liberty."