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How Did The Voyage Of The St. Louis Fit Into Nazi Propaganda?


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Bunny Brodsky



The voyage of the St. Louis was a tragic event that took place during World War II and had significant implications in the realm of Nazi propaganda. In 1939, the German ocean liner St. Louis made a journey from Hamburg to Havana, carrying over 900 Jewish passengers seeking refuge from the horrors of Nazi Germany.


The voyage captured international attention and highlighted the desperate plight of Jews trying to escape persecution. However, to the Nazis, it presented an opportunity to further manipulate public opinion and reinforce their anti-Semitic ideology. The St. Louis became a tool in their propaganda campaign, serving as a means to portray Germany as a nation committed to ridding itself of the Jewish population.


In this article, we will delve into the voyage of the St. Louis and explore how it fit into the larger context of Nazi propaganda. We will examine the objectives of Nazi propaganda, the utilization of the St. Louis voyage as a propaganda tool, and the international response that ultimately unfolded.


Furthermore, we will discuss the lasting legacy of the St. Louis and the lessons learned from this dark period of history. By understanding the manipulation of information and the consequences of propaganda, we can strive to create a more informed and compassionate world.


Background on the St. Louis Voyage

The St. Louis set sail from Hamburg, Germany on May 13, 1939, with 937 passengers on board, the majority of whom were Jewish refugees. These individuals were desperate to escape the growing persecution and violent suppression of Jewish people under Nazi rule. The voyage was planned with Havana, Cuba as the initial destination, where many passengers hoped to find safety and build new lives.


The decision to flee Germany was not an easy one for these refugees. They faced numerous obstacles, including restrictive immigration policies and the looming threat of the Nazi regime. Despite these challenges, the passengers of the St. Louis clung onto hope, believing that the voyage would provide them with an opportunity for a fresh start, away from the horrors they had experienced.


As the St. Louis reached Cuban waters, however, their hopes were shattered. Despite holding valid legal documents, the Cuban government refused entry to all but a small number of passengers. This unexpected denial left the ship stranded, and as news spread, hope turned to despair among the passengers.


In a desperate attempt to find a haven, negotiations were made with the United States and several other countries, including Canada and Cuba. Yet, despite the efforts of the passengers and advocacy groups, the international response was mostly negative. The governments of these countries were unwilling to accept the refugees, citing various reasons such as economic concerns and anti-Semitic sentiment.


Ultimately, after weeks of negotiations, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe. The ship docked in Antwerp, Belgium on June 17, 1939. The passengers were subsequently dispersed among various European countries, with over half of them eventually falling victim to the Holocaust.


The voyage of the St. Louis did not only highlight the desperation of Jewish refugees, but it also exposed the indifference and complicity of the international community in the face of Nazi persecution. The tragic events that unfolded on board the St. Louis would forever be etched in the memories of those who survived, serving as a stark reminder of the consequences of indifference and the power of propaganda.


Nazi Propaganda and Its Objectives

Nazi propaganda was a powerful tool used by the Nazi regime to shape public opinion, promote their ideology, and manipulate the masses. Led by Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, the Nazis employed various tactics to gain support for their policies and create an atmosphere of fear and hatred.


The objectives of Nazi propaganda were multifaceted. First and foremost, it aimed to control and shape public perception, presenting the Nazis as the saviors of Germany and the embodiment of racial purity. The regime sought to create a sense of nationalism and generate a fanatic loyalty to Adolf Hitler.


Additionally, Nazi propaganda aimed to demonize specific groups, particularly Jews, portraying them as the enemy and scapegoats for Germany’s economic and social problems. Their relentless anti-Semitic messaging fueled existing prejudices and incited hatred, effectively dehumanizing Jewish people in the eyes of the German population.


Another objective of Nazi propaganda was to instill fear among the German people. This was achieved by exaggerating threats and highlighting the alleged conspiracies against the Nazi regime. By presenting themselves as the protectors of Germany, the Nazis sought to consolidate their power and maintain a sense of control over the population.


Furthermore, Nazi propaganda relied on manipulation and distortion of information. Facts were selectively presented, or completely fabricated, to support the Nazi agenda. This strategic dissemination of falsehoods aimed to legitimize the regime’s actions and ideologies, while discrediting opposing viewpoints.


Through the utilization of various media platforms such as newspapers, radio broadcasts, films, and public rallies, Nazi propaganda inundated every aspect of German society. The regime exerted strict control over these channels, ensuring that only pro-Nazi messages were disseminated. Any dissenting voices or alternative viewpoints were systematically suppressed, further consolidating the Nazi regime’s hold on power.


In the case of the St. Louis voyage, the Nazi propaganda machine saw an opportunity to exploit the situation to their advantage. By manipulating the narrative surrounding the Jewish refugees, the Nazis aimed to further promote their anti-Semitic ideology, reinforce the idea of a “Jewish problem,” and solidify their control over public opinion.


Understanding the objectives and tactics of Nazi propaganda is crucial in comprehending how the St. Louis voyage became entangled in this web of manipulation and hatred. It serves as a stark reminder of the power of propaganda and the devastating consequences it can have on innocent lives.


Utilization of the St. Louis Voyage for Propaganda Purposes

The Nazis seized upon the St. Louis voyage as a propagandistic opportunity to further their anti-Semitic agenda and manipulate public opinion. They crafted a narrative that sought to portray Germany as a nation actively working to rid itself of its Jewish population, both within its borders and abroad.


Nazi propaganda outlets, such as newspapers and radio broadcasts, were used to spread misinformation about the St. Louis voyage. False claims were made that the passengers were criminals and dangerous individuals, exploiting deep-seated prejudices and fears among the German population.


The propaganda machine aimed to create a narrative of Jewish exploitation, presenting the refugees on the St. Louis as unwilling to work or contribute to society. By portraying them as drains on resources, the Nazis sought to reinforce the perception that Jewish people were a burden on the German economy.


Furthermore, the regime sought to depict the denial of entry to the St. Louis refugees as an act of strength and righteousness. The Nazis spun the narrative to show that Germany was not interested in harboring Jews and, instead, was actively pushing them away. This propaganda served to reinforce the idea of a racially pure Germany, cleansed of what the Nazis deemed “undesirable elements.”


Through their control of information, the Nazis were able to frame the St. Louis voyage as a testament to their resolve in combating the supposed Jewish threat. They used the voyage to rally support, portraying their actions as necessary to protect German society from the influence of Jewish people.


It is crucial to recognize the deliberate and calculated nature of the Nazi propaganda machine. The utilization of the St. Louis voyage for propaganda purposes illustrates the lengths to which the regime would go to maintain control and further their toxic ideology.


The tragedy of the St. Louis, where desperate refugees were denied entry to multiple countries, was twisted and exploited by the Nazis for their own purposes. This example reinforces the importance of critically examining propaganda and seeking the truth behind the narratives pushed by those in power.


International Response and Implications

The international response to the plight of the St. Louis and its passengers varied, but the overall result was a profound failure on the part of the global community to address the humanitarian crisis unfolding before their eyes. This failure had far-reaching implications for the lives of the passengers and served as a stark reminder of the consequences of indifference and inaction.


Initially, the Cuban government’s denial of entry to the refugees set the stage for a series of diplomatic negotiations with various countries. Despite the advocacy efforts of organizations and individuals, the response from governments was largely negative. It became clear that economic concerns, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism influenced their decisions.


The United States, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, played a significant role in the international response. The U.S. Coast Guard was ordered to prevent the St. Louis from reaching American shores, despite pleas from the individuals on board and American citizens who wanted to welcome them. The Roosevelt administration’s stance was influenced by concerns about public opinion, economic strains, and fears of admitting large numbers of refugees.


Canada also rejected the passengers of the St. Louis, with the government expressing the view that it had “no Jewish problem.” Other countries, including Britain and France, were similarly reluctant to provide refuge to the Jewish refugees. The refusal of these nations to open their doors to those seeking safety had dire consequences.


As a result of the international community’s failure to offer sanctuary, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe. Most of the passengers eventually found refuge in Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, and other European countries. Tragically, with the onset of World War II and the subsequent Holocaust, more than half of the passengers were unable to escape the horrors that awaited them.


The international response to the St. Louis had profound implications. It demonstrated the deep-seated prejudice and apathy that allowed Nazi persecution to continue unchecked. It also revealed the inadequacy of global policies in providing protection and support to those facing persecution and displacement.


The tragic outcome of the St. Louis voyage serves as a reminder of the moral duty of nations to stand up against oppression and provide refuge to those fleeing persecution. The international community’s failure to respond effectively had devastating consequences for the passengers and highlighted the need for improved mechanisms to deal with refugee crises in the future.


The implications of the international response to the St. Louis resonate to this day, highlighting the importance of compassion, empathy, and decisive action in the face of persecution on a global scale.


Legacy and Lessons Learned

The legacy of the St. Louis voyage and its tragic outcome continues to serve as a powerful reminder of the consequences of indifference and the dangers of propaganda. This dark chapter in history offers several important lessons that must be learned and remembered to prevent similar atrocities from happening again.


Firstly, the St. Louis serves as a stark reminder of the human cost of prejudice and discrimination. The passengers on board were fleeing persecution and seeking safety. Their tragic fate highlights the urgent need for societies to reject hatred and embrace inclusivity, tolerance, and compassion.


Furthermore, the international response to the St. Louis demonstrates the crucial importance of countries opening their doors to those fleeing persecution. The refusal of multiple nations to provide sanctuary to Jewish refugees had devastating consequences. It is a reminder that nations must strive to create compassionate and inclusive immigration policies that prioritize the protection and well-being of individuals facing persecution.


The manipulation of the St. Louis voyage by the Nazi propaganda machine underscores the power and danger of propaganda. It serves as a reminder of the responsibility of individuals to critically assess the information they receive and to be vigilant in challenging and countering narratives that promote hatred and discrimination.


The legacy of the St. Louis also emphasizes the need for collective action against bigotry and persecution. Silence and inaction only serve to enable those who seek to harm others. It is crucial for individuals, communities, and nations to stand together in solidarity and speak out against injustice.


Lastly, the St. Louis voyage underscores the importance of remembrance and education in preserving the memory of past atrocities. By studying and reflecting upon the events surrounding the St. Louis, we honor the victims and ensure that the lessons learned are passed down to future generations.


The legacy of the St. Louis serves as a constant reminder that societies must remain vigilant in protecting the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their background, religion, or ethnicity. Through education, empathy, and a commitment to social justice, we can work towards creating a world where persecution and discrimination have no place.



The voyage of the St. Louis stands as a sobering reminder of the devastating consequences of Nazi propaganda, international indifference, and the failure of governments to provide refuge to those fleeing persecution. The manipulation of the St. Louis for propaganda purposes showcased the depths to which the Nazis would go to promote their anti-Semitic ideology.


The tragedy of the St. Louis highlights the need for compassion, empathy, and decisive action in the face of persecution. It serves as a solemn reminder of the importance of standing up against hatred and discrimination, and the obligation of nations to provide sanctuary to those in need.


The international response to the St. Louis illuminates the deep-seated prejudices and apathy that allowed Nazi persecution to persist. It underscores the critical need for governments to develop inclusive immigration policies that prioritize the protection and well-being of individuals facing persecution.


Moreover, the legacy of the St. Louis emphasizes the enduring power and danger of propaganda. It serves as a call for critical thinking, active resistance against manipulation, and the rejection of narratives that promote hatred and discrimination.


With the passage of time, it becomes even more vital to remember the victims of the St. Louis and the lessons learned from the tragic events that unfolded during their voyage. By educating ourselves and future generations about this dark period in history, we can strive to create a world where prejudice, persecution, and indifference have no place.


The legacy of the St. Louis compels us to work towards a more compassionate and inclusive society, where individuals are valued for their humanity, rather than subjected to discrimination based on their identity. By honoring the memory of the St. Louis and its passengers, we ensure that their suffering is never forgotten and that the lessons learned are carried forward to prevent such atrocities from happening again.


In our shared pursuit of justice, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to stand against hatred, promote understanding, and foster a world where every individual is free to live without fear of persecution. Let the journey of the St. Louis serve as a lasting reminder of the urgency to build a future grounded in compassion, empathy, and respect for all.