The Hamburg-American liner St. Louis sailed away from Cuba last week, returning to Germany with its unwanted freight, 907 Jewish refugees. For four days it had dawdled in the Straits of Florida and the Atlantic while refugee agencies desperately negotiated with the Cuban Government. Off the Florida coast at night its passengers stared long at the lights of Miami. After compelling the St. Louis to leave Havana harbor, President Federico Laredo Bru had offered a temporary haven on the Isle of Pines, pleasure spot and home of the Cuban national penitentiary, provided refugee agencies would post a $500 bond for each individual, a total of $453,500, and further guarantee the cost of Cuban hospitality.
A time limit of 48 hours was set for acceptance. When Lawrence Berenson, representative of American Jewish relief organizations, made counterproposals, the Cubans broke off negotiations. Then the original Cuban offer was accepted but it was too late. The Cubans, who felt that in receiving 5,000 German-Jewish refugees they had already done more than their share, declared the matter "definitely closed," refused to listen to further pleas. A young Jewess who crashed an official reception to appeal to President Laredo Bru on behalf of her parents on the St. Louis was hustled off by aides.
Basis of the St. Louis tragedy was a Cuban decree of May 5, requiring authorization from the Departments of State, Labor and the Treasury in addition to visas and landing permits. The Hamburg-American Line, according to the Cubans, was informed of this change in the immigration law before the St. Louis sailed for Havana, but chose to gamble on the chance that once the Jews were planted on Cuba's doorstep, formalities would be waived.
The St. Louis had to be back in Hamburg in time for a scheduled sailing on June 20. Back she started. The passengers tried to keep up their spirits with games, music, religious services; a patrol was organized to prevent suicides. The last slim hope of the refugees was to find a haven in the Old World. The Nazi Government, needled by the danger of mass suicide on the St. Louis, and the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees expect to find a refuge this week for her freight in Britain, France, Belgium or The Netherlands.