Julius Hermanns's family in Mönchen-Gladbach before the Nazis came to power. Above, right to left: Julius's sister Henrietta with her husband Sol Meyer, who emigrated to America in 1938; his wife Grete; his sister Sophie, and Sol Meyer's sister and mother.

During the 1920s and ‘30s, Julius Hermanns was a respected textile merchant in Mönchen-Gladbach, Germany. He was arrested in September 1938, transported to Dachau, then transferred to Buchenwald. In mid-April 1939, having agreed to emigrate immediately or face re-arrest, he was released. His brother-in-law in New York arranged the purchase of a Cuban landing certificate for $190. Julius, unable to pay for additional tickets and permits, was forced to leave his wife Grete and teenage daughter Hilde behind.
Julius Hermann's daughter, Hilde (on left), in Moenchen-Gladbach, Germany, ca. 1930.

 

 


Letter from Julius Hermanns to his brother-in-law Sol Meyer, written while the St. Louis sat in the Havana harbor.

[Translation]

Middle of the Harbor
Havana, 30 May 39
6:30 PM

My dear New Yorkers,

You can imagine the excitement on board because we have not yet heard of any results from the negotiations. Since 5 PM the committees are again sitting down at the negotiating table, but the Cubans have a lot of time. — An English ship, also with Jewish émigrés on board, also could not land and is on its way to Mexico and will try to drop them off here on the return trip.

An attorney, Loewy, from Breslau, who is traveling with his wife, 19-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old son, slashed his wrists and with lightning speed jumped over the railing into the water. The sailor who jumped in immediately after him had to exert all his strength to hold the resisting, life weary (nerve shattered) passenger until a boat, which just picked up garbage, could haul him on board. Even there he resisted and tore further at his wrist. — Hopefully, a solution will be found soon, where we can land, it doesn’t matter in which country. One already has to have nerves like a horse to be able to get through everything.

Paul Salmon came out 4–5 times with the boats and sends you his greetings. The many boat passengers come to reassure without being able to bring any news. Goodwill and tension shorten the time.

With 1000 greetings and kisses and stay healthy as will I.

Till we meet again.

Your Julius

Just now another boat comes, a man with a megaphone is speaking, everyone should remain calm, as soon as it is possible we will be able to enter Havana.—Sedatives.

When the St. Louis docked at Antwerp, Julius was selected to go to France, where he hoped his wife and daughter could join him. When France declared war on Germany, Julius, like thousands of other German refugees, was arrested as an "enemy alien" and later evacuated to the south of France. He was eventually taken to Saint-Cyprien, a squalid internment camp near the Spanish border, where he found some 50 former St. Louis passengers. Julius pleaded with his relatives in the U.S. to help him emigrate.

 

 

 

[Translation]

Camp St. Cyprien by Elne
(Eastern Pyrenees) Barracks 6/24

Dear Weiss:

This is where we now wound up, and at the present time there is no hope for any passage, only via Lisbon, and where am I to take the money, as there is no hope for any help to be expected from any Committee. All the clothing, linens, underwear, and other articles of use that were to come with us to the camp have all been lost. We had to throw them all away because we had to march more than 100 kilometers on foot, in the burning June heat, and we had to wait many weeks to get letter and package connection with Le Mans, to have them send us the most necessary items. Hardly anybody has any money left. You can imagine that the squalor that you see here makes the situation worse. Typhus and malaria as well as lice, fleas, and tremendous hordes of flies give you a sense of it. Sand is a foot deep, and we are dreading the coming storms which will blow the sand into the cracks of our temporary barracks, constructed of boards used for crates. Rats and mice also seek refuge in our housing when the weather gets colder, and you cannot imagine what will happen to us. Try there, at the Joint, to intervene for us. It would help to ask them for help. We have written hundreds of letters to all possible places, without having received one positive answer from anyone up to now. The [indecipherable code word] is probably pushed down from above, and one does not know what to make from the present situation. In any event, war wins in every court against defenseless refugees. Everything else is lost irrecoverably. I have not heard in months from either of my brothers-in-law or my sister who lives at 56 Ft. Washington Avenue. I beg you to tell them to send me some money. I wrote to my wife and daughter via Switzerland on 3/8, and I am waiting to hear from them any time now. These conditions are almost unbearable. One does not know how and when one will be reunited with one’s family. We are 10 from Le Mans and 6 from the Laval group. From the Belgian group there are also 50 men here who are locked up; they were moved before the invasion as enemy aliens.

When one read and heard earlier travel descriptions from prison camps, etc., about the conditions there, one viewed all this as impossible. Now when one has to experience this oneself, the question needs to be posed, how can this happen in the 20th century? We cannot call sufficiently for help, but those who have gone through this and gotten to know the situation, know that the only thing that we can lose is our health, otherwise nothing is left.

Right now we were just told that a discharge is only possible if you have a visa, passage, and transit visas for Spain and Portugal. How is this obtainable if all help fails from the outside, and 98% of us have no means? Besides this they are working very hard to get us out of this pest hole, but up to now nothing has been achieved, because, supposedly, no other camp is available.

Now I hope that these lines will be in your hands very soon, and you will be able to help to ease our lot, for which all of us would be very grateful. Please give my sincere greetings to my relatives and ask why I do not hear from them.

Many sincere regards,

your Julius Hermanns.

After transfers to camps at Gurs and Les Milles, Julius was sent with 235 other prisoners to Drancy, a transit camp in Paris, on August 11, 1942. Three days later, he was deported to Auschwitz, where he perished. His wife, daughter, and other relatives were deported on December 11, 1941, to the Riga ghetto, where they were probably killed.

 

 

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