In May 1939 the MS St. Louis traveled from Hamburg Germany to Havana Cuba.
Nearly all of the ship’s 937 passengers were Jewish – most of them German citizens trying to escape the Nazi regime.
Cuba – which was a virtual U.S. colony at the time – refused to accept most of the refugees.
Right-wing newspapers and politicians stoked fear and paranoia about the asylum-seekers – claiming they were communist infiltrators.
After Cuba turned them away the ship’s passengers contacted U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt – requesting asylum.
He declined to respond.
The State Department and the White House decided to reject them – acting on strict immigration quotas and pervasive xenophobic sentiment.
The refugees were forced to return to wartorn Europe – where hundreds died.