Customs officials coming aboard

The liner reached Havana on May 27 1939. Early in the morning Customs and quarantine officials came aboard and the process of issuing a landing permit for each passenger began. It had already proceeded some way when the blow fell - a telegraphed message from the Cuban President ordering that no one should be allowed to land.

View of the waterfront at Havana from the boat

For six days, during which the ship remained in full view of the Cuban capital, urgent efforts were made to obtain a reversal of this decision.

Family members shouting to relatives on the boat

Initially, hopes concentrated on the United States and the St. Louis sailed along the Florida  coastline shadowed by an American coastguard to ensure that no-one tried to swim ashore.

On board the liner, as the prospect of a return to Germany became more and more likely, despair seized many of the refugees, some of whom had been released from concentration camps and had undertaken never to set foot in the Reich again.

A close watch had to kept for possible suicide attempts. One unfortunate had tried in Havana. He had been taken ashore - but his wife had had to remain on board. A solution had to be found....