On May 13, 1939, a ship carrying 937 Jewish refugees departed from Germany and was bound for Cuba before ultimately reaching the U.S. The refugees on board thought they were finally safe from the oppressive rise of the Nazi regime back home. What they didn’t know was that The Great Depression pressured the Cuban government to resent their pending arrival due to the scarcity of jobs.
When the St. Louis arrived, only 28 of the refugees were admitted. The rest were forced to wait and hope for the best.
After weeks of failed negotiations between the U.S. and Cuban government, the St. Louis was ordered to leave Cuban waters. The ship departed and slowly sailed past Miami as refugees cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt pleading for permission to accept them. The ship was so close that the refugees could’ve swam to safety.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the State Department eventually responded to a passenger with a telegram saying they needed to go home and follow protocol.
“[Each passenger] must await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States.”
The State Department officially apologized for turning away those refugees in 2012.
Four European governments agreed to accept the refugees on the St. Louis, but only 278 of the remaining 908 refugees survived the holocaust during World War II. The U.S. and several countries tightened their immigration policies throughout the beginning of the war due to the fear of smuggled spies and saboteurs disguised as refugees. Nazi propaganda exploited the refugee crisis to justify their mission.
It wasn’t until 1944 that the U.S. officially acknowledged the consequences of the strict immigration screening process on Jewish refugees. In response to the mass murder taking place during the holocaust, President Roosevelt signed the War Refugee Board executive action, but it was too little, too late.
On Friday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan urged his followers on Twitter with a Holocaust Memorial Day hashtag to never forget the horrifying tragedy. Vice President Mike Pence also called for the nation to remember the holocaust for the sake of the future.
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) January 27, 2017
This #HolocaustRemembrance Day, we join the Jewish people to remember the victims & honor the survivors of the past for sake of the future.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) January 27, 2017
The White House issued a statement saying that President Trump urges the nation to remember the power of love and tolerance.
“In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”
Hours later, Trump signed an executive order closing the border to refugees around the world. Families seeking refuge from slaughter in Syria are blocked from finding a new home in the U.S. Immigration from seven Muslim nations around the world is officially suspended.
Before Pence was the Vice President, he tweeted a much different view of a Muslim refugee ban.
Calls to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. are offensive and unconstitutional.
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) December 8, 2015
The refugee ban is a reaction out of fear of radical Islamic terrorism. The AP reports that Trump said radical Muslims are not welcome in the U.S.
“I’m establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America. We don’t want ’em here,” Trump said.
“We want to ensure that we are not admitting into our country the very threats our soldiers are fighting overseas. We only want to admit those into our country who will support our country and love deeply our people.”
Refugees already on their way to the U.S. are now trapped at airports. Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is now unable to attend the Academy Awards to see if his film, The Salesman, wins an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. Google has ordered all employees overseas to return to the U.S. immediately. A total of 134 million people are now temporarily banned from coming to the U.S.
There was no way to predict what was going to happen to nearly half of the refugees aboard the St. Louis in 1939. World War II instilled a fear around the world that refugees are dangerous. In response to that fear, the U.S. closed its doors to refugees by imposing a long vetting process. Islamic terrorism is starting to do the same.
When top Republicans call for the U.S. to never forget the holocaust, ironically they’ve forgotten the effects of strict refugee immigration policies. Closing the door on refugees led to terrible, unintended consequences in the past — saying it’s a shame that Trump and top Republicans fail to realize that would be an understatement.
[Featured Image by Pool/Getty Images]