In this challenging time, many parents and guardians are looking online for meaningful activities for their children that don’t require too much prep or too many materials. Throughout this time, the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust will post learning activities geared to a range of ages that guide children how to explore heritage, history, and learning through artifacts.

Note to parents/guardians: This activity refers to the Holocaust but does not go into detail about it. Please use your judgment to decide if this activity is right for your student.

On May 13, 1939 (81 years ago tomorrow), the ship MS St. Louis set sail from Hamburg, Germany on its way to Cuba with 900 Jewish refugees on board. It was one of the last passenger ships to leave Germany, and Jewish passengers were leaving behind the antisemitic policies and discrimination they had been facing since the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Most of the passengers on board had purchased landing permits for Cuba from a corrupt government official who sold them illegally for personal profit, and many had quota numbers which would eventually allow them to come to the United States after arriving in Cuba. The mood on board was happy and relieved.

Fourteen days later, the ship entered Cuban waters, and Cuban officials refused to come aboard to begin the immigration process. Because their landing permits were issued illegally, the people aboard did not know the Cuban government had already cancelled the permits issued recently. Only 22 Jewish passengers were allowed off of the ship, as the officials would only allow those who had been issued landing certificates before May 6 to leave the boat.

On June 2, the boat sailed towards Florida, hoping that the refugees would be allowed to enter the United States; on June 5, US immigration officials announced the refugees would not be allowed to enter, and the ship returned to Europe. Four countries – England, France, Holland, and Belgium – announced they would each take approximately one-fourth of the ship’s refugees. Unfortunately, France, Holland, and Belgium were all eventually invaded by the Nazis.

Cloth covered souvenir album for passengers of the St. Louis
Cloth covered souvenir album for passengers of the St. Louis. Picture of ship on cover, first picture is going up gangplank, taken by official photographer. Other photos in the album are snapshots. Album belonged to Susanne (Susi) Jacoby, who was a passenger on the St Louis with her parents, Regina Jacoby nee Karpel and Otto Jacoby, and her sister Kate. They ended up in France. Gift of Peter Schleger in memory of Susan Schleger.

Artifact exploration: St. Louis Photograph Album

1. Take a look at this artifact. Can you tell what this is?
2. Take a look at some of the photographs inside.

What do these photographs tell us about what life was like on the St. Louis on its voyage from Hamburg to Cuba? Do you think the mood was the same on the return journey? Why or why not?

Six-year-old Gerd Grunstein had a photograph album like this one. These were sold as souvenirs for passengers and contained some photos of the ship, which passengers supplemented with photos they took on board. Gerd and his father were two of the Jewish refugees on the St. Louis (his mother had passed away the year before).

Gerd and his father were able to sail to England after the St. Louis left them in Belgium. They remained in London for the rest of World War II in relative safety.

In Thursday’s activity, we will explore the experience of another young Jewish child on the St. Louis.