Posted by: distributorcap | January 22, 2008

When expedience and fear triumph

Immigration is one of the hot button topics of 2008 America. The issue is extremely complex and emotional. Any decision that is worked out (and that is a big if) will have major implications economically, legally, sociologically and politically. The big open secret about immigration is that most of the underlying concerns wreak of racism, since a large majority of immigrants today are from Latin America. The Republican Party, led by such ‘warm and fuzzy’ assholes like Tom Tancredo, basically just want to shut the doors and deport all illegals – it is that simple to them. There is not one single thought as to the consequences of those actions. During this 2008 campaign season, most of the leading GOP candidates (except John McCain) are following lock, stock and goose step with Tancredo. However immigration policy, no matter your political beliefs, does have consequences. Just like it did in 1939:

The MS St. Louis

The MS St. Louis was a German ship that operated under the Hamburg America Line. In 1939 the Nazis used this ship as a major piece of propaganda to help justify their continued persecution of the Jews. In May 1939 the St. Louis set sail (with permission from the Nazis) from Hamburg with 936 Jewish refugees seeking asylum in Havana, Cuba. When the ship arrived in Havana, passengers were kept waiting while the Cuban government and ship officials discussed disembarkation. An armada of the Cuban military manned boats and watched the ship to prevent people from jumping and swimming to shore. The Cuban government declared the German landing visas invalid (which the Nazis knew would happen) and refused to let the passengers come ashore. After a near mutiny on the ship, 29 people were allowed to disembark and remain. The ship was then escorted out of Cuban territorial waters.

The ship was now a virtual international pariah. On June 4, 1939 the St. Louis was off the coast of Florida when the ship asked for permission to make port in Miami. President Roosevelt refused permission when his Secretary of State, Cordell Hull opposed. Hull was supported by several southern Democratic senators, who threatened to oppose Roosevelt in the upcoming 1940 election if he let the ship land. The ship left the coast of Florida and headed back out to the Atlantic. The captain also contacted the Canadian government – who also denied entry.

The ship was carrying stateless passengers – if no country would accept them it would be forced to return to Hamburg. Passengers said they would rather commit suicide than return to Germany. The captain even thought of running the ship aground near England. Eventually the 907 remaining passengers were given permission to land by the governments of England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Those who went to England found relative safety. The 619 passengers that went to other three countries were soon under Nazi control once again, as the German army invaded and conquered those nations less than one year later. The Jews of France, Belgium and Holland, now under direct control of the SS, were rounded up and deported to “relocation centers in the East.” Estimates vary as to how many of the St. Louis passengers survived the war.

The real winner in this incident was the German propaganda machine. The world played right into the Nazis hands. This gave Hitler and the Third Reich all the moral compass they needed to continue their legal and social discrimination against the Jews, which would inevitably lead to the Final Solution. Having been refused entry into Cuba, Canada and the United States – the Nazis bet the house, doubled-down and won a bonanza. It looked as if the world agreed with the Germans, that there was a Jewish ‘problem’. It also made it difficult for any nation to object to how Germany was dealing with their Jewish ‘problem’.

I am not smart or versed enough to know what this country should do about immigration. I am not advocating one policy over another. I am just saying that history has shown us that immigration policies rooted in fear and racism, and endorsed without considering all the outcomes, can have dire consequences — no matter the times, no matter the political spectrum.

The story of the MS St. Louis is dramatized in the 1976 movie, Voyage of the Damned, starring Faye Dunaway and Lee Grant.


  1. Fear, the one tactic that almost never fails to work. Look! The Other! It’s a fucking shame it so easily takes root when we should supposedly know better. I doubt we ever truly will.

  2. I sit here weeping and raging at once. What an amazing post you have here.I don’t know what else to say right now.

  3. Huckabee isn’t any better than Tancredo when it comes to immigration. He wants to round up the illegals and “deport” them back to Mexico. Not one reporter has bothered to ask him what he plans to do with the children of some of the legal immigrants in the US who are legal because they were born here. Sounds to me like Huckabee has taken a page from Hitler. He doesn’t care how he gets them out of here, just get them out and let someone else worry about the details. The Republican party is full of a bunch of sick assholes. Our history regarding the Jews in Germany was deplorable, as was our behavior of putting American citizens of Japanese descent in camps during WWII.

  4. children of some of the legal immigrants in the US who are legal because they were born here. Ooops…was supposed to say, “children of some of the illegal immigrants in the US who are legal because they were born here.

  5. The USA should be kicked in the ass and the head and the stomach for not allowing the US St. Louis safe harbor and giving its passengers entry to America.By 1939, the U.S. government was well aware of deteriorating conditions in Germany and the horrors being perpetrated upon Jews. American historians like to neatly give America a “pass” with “the U.S. had an official policy of isolationism pre-WWII.” But the fact remains the passengers were Jews and decision to let a mere 900 of them escaping certain death in Germany come ashore suggests a staggering degree of anti-semitism from on-high.The U.S. does not get a “pass” from me.If the manifest of the US St. Louis had been British, French or even Italian, you can be sure that the American government would’ve embraced the passengers with open arms.

  6. That was a shameful episode that should be more widely known. The Nazis got their idea for concentration camps in the first place from us, from our concentration the indigenous population.Huckabee wanted people with AIDS rounded up, too. What are these people thinking? Can they not see, in their mind’s eye, people being dragged out of their homes, the long lines at the train stations, the armed guards, the camps, the horror of what this would mean, and somehow fail to connect those images, that mindset, with Nazi Germany? Unfuckingbelievable.

  7. They keep trying to make immigration a hot button topic but voters keep rejecting it as one.

  8. I’d never even heard of this, DCap–thanks for sharing this bit of shameful history. Was there EVER a time, from the landing at Plymouth Rock all the way to now, that the American govt wasn’t full of asshole bigots?

  9. I’ve read about this ship before. Not one of FDR’s shining moments.

  10. Great post, Dcap.Have a think about this: that terrible story is from 1939. Up until last year, the Liberal Government here in Australia was treating refugees not a lot differently: their “boats” were halted outside our territorial waters by our Navy, and the people transferred to “co-operating” Pacific Island nations who were paid to build internment camps for them. Starting to sound scary? This was called “The Pacific Soloution”! Failing that, those who made it ashore were bussed to a detention centre in the middle of the Australian desert.I blogged about this (and the other injustices the Howard government was responsible for), just before the bastards were swept from power:, justice works a little better in 2007, and most of the people were ultimately shown to be legitmate refugees, and given entry to our country – some languished in those camps for years before they were accepted, however.I doubt America or Australia would be half the nations they are now without the intake of foreign nationals that we had in the 20th Century.

  11. Back when I was a pre-Bar Mitzvah boy my religious school teacher told us some of these stories. It was gut wrenching to learn about them as a sixth grader. But he also told of his first hand accounts of arriving at Buchenwald. (I have never been able to watch Schindler’s list).

  12. An appalling story which, interestingly enough, I just heard about a week ago. I knew that immigration to the US and western Europe was difficult, but I was unaware of the MS St. Louis. Thanks for the post. Have to add that I recalled hearing that if the pope had opened Vatican City to all the Roman jews, they could have easily been accommodated. Apparently Hitler was superstitious, so it was unlikely that he would have sent his army into Vatican City to get the jews. Naturally, the pope passed. I’m not surprised, just appalled.

  13. Turning away the MS St. Louis was a shameful episode in our history, as was our rounding up of Japanese-American citizens and putting them in detention camps.

  14. Again, with changing racial dynamics come additional problems, some we can predict and some which will be totally unforeseen. So latching down on immigration is not an option, since it doesn’t take into account the people who are here already. Instead, we ought to think beyond conventional wisdom.

  15. You know DCap, the whole immigration “issue” is bullshit as clearly illustrated by the fate of the St. Louis. Who among us — and I include those who claim lineage to the NY Dutch, to the Mayflower or even to Columbus — is not an immigrant? We seem to forget that neither English nor the Romance languages was spoken here until sometime in the mid-17th century. My question to the group is why should a Latino crossing the Rio Grande into Texas today be any different from a shoemaker stowed aboard an America -bound Dutch-East India cargo ship in the 17th Century? My answer – Racism

  16. This whole immigration debate seems like another shell game to me. As long as poor and middle class Americans are pissed about the brown boogie men, they are not pissed at the politicians that are actually responsible for their lives being harder.I live in Los Angeles and was raised in Orange County (only 1.5 hour drive from Mexico). I know a little bit about having a lot of immigrants around and you know what? Mexicans don’t bother me one bit. They have a wonderful culture that focuses on family and being a good neighbor. Their food is some of the best on the planet. They are hard workers and have amazing stories to tell. These “illigal immigrants” are good people and I have a lot more in common with “illegal” Mexicans that I ever could with greedy pieces of shit like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Nancy Pelosi, Diane Feinstein, or any other politcian we could name. You nailed it right on the head, DCap. The “underlying concerns wreak of racisim”. Add a bit of class-warfare and you’ve got your recipe for the immigration “debate”

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