By spring 1997 the pace of the project slowed; researchers had made their way through much of the available documentary sources. It was clear that the fate of all the passengers could not be traced by documentation alone. The direction of the St. Louis project shifted from traditional research to a broad-based search for personal testimonies on the fate of St. Louis passengers that might fill in or clarify gaps left by documents. Staff operated on the assumption that there were people in different parts of the world who knew St. Louis passengers, or who were themselves St. Louis passengers yet unfound, who could provide needed information. It was just a matter of finding them.
The search took on the following forms:
In Search of These Passengers
The Survivors Registry of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is seeking documentation on the fate of passengers from the 1939 voyage of the SS St. Louis. Anyone with information about a St. Louis passenger, particularly any of the passengers on this list, should contact the Survivors Registry.
This method of searching is an emulation and continuation of a process from the period immediately following World War II when newspapers and radio broadcasts publicized survivor "search lists." As with the searches of 60 years ago, the media coverage of the St. Louis project yielded a large number of responses from all over the world.
Immediately following the publication of each newspaper article, letters, e-mails, telephone calls, and faxes arrived from people coming forward, saying that they themselves, some family member, or someone they knew was on the St. Louis. As more passengers' stories were revealed, the number of unaccounted-for passengers dropped dramatically.
Most of the passengers whose fates were identified as a result of the media coverage survived the war, but have since died. They include individuals who arrived at destinations all over the world, migrating from Europe at different times and under different circumstances. They belong to one of the most difficult categories of people to trace: people who survived and who are thus not likely to appear on deportation or camp lists, but who are not alive today to be found in telephone books or electronic databases. Compounding the difficulty of locating individuals who fall in this category is the fact that it is common for refugees to change their names once they have emigrated.
There were cases of passengers for whom the staff had no documentation at all prior to the media coverage. In a number of such instances, researchers subsequently discovered that they were passengers who had survived in hiding, thus making sense of the lack of documentation found in deportation or prisoner lists. The following is an example of how the story of one such person emerged 60 years later. On August 9, 1998, researchers received the following e-mail message in response to the publication of the list of missing passengers:
The fate of such a passenger would not have been found in Nazi documentation.
In some cases the staff had just one clue, one lead as to what could have happened to a passenger family. For example, there were the three members of the Fink family on board the St. Louis: father Manfred, mother Herta, and son Michael. The only piece of information the staff had on any of the Fink family was a Red Cross document indicating that Michael Fink, born in Oppeln on June 21, 1935, was deported from the Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands to the Theresienstadt ghetto near Prague. The paper trail ended there. Then in 1997, following the publication of the unaccounted-for list in the Israeli German-language newspaper Israel Nachtrichten, the St. Louis project received the following e-mail message:
This type of testimony provides an epilogue to the paper trail left by documentation. The e-mail message served not only to provide abundant missing links in the story of the Fink family, but it transmitted information about passengers as well. And hence the human chain of connections enabled researchers to reconstruct individual stories one by one.
In an effort
to find St. Louis survivors who immigrated to Israel, researchers
sent the list of unaccounted-for passengers to the Search Bureau for Missing
Relatives of the Jewish Agency, which helped thousands of survivors locate
relatives after the Holocaust. The Search Bureau responded with information
that Richard and Betty Blum, a married couple on the St. Louis,
survived. Initially, researchers had inquired with the Neue Synagogue
Berlin, whose holdings include documentation on individuals affiliated
with the official Berlin Jewish community during the 1930s. The only information
they could provide follows, translated from the German:
Determining the details of the Blums' wartime experiences may require finding their apartment building in Haifa, Israel, via vintage Israeli telephone books, and inquiring of former neighbors what they knew of the Blum's story, and concurrently continuing to search for verifying documentation.
Richard Blum (Reuven the son of Abraham Blum), born August 28, 1886 [birthday matches] came to Palestine in October 1947 and died in Haifa in October 1979. His wife Betty, born 1891 [birth year matches], died in July 1975. No children located in Israel.
From the media
coverage and extensive community outreach project researchers learned that
St. Louis survivors did not just settle in the United States during
and after the war, but built new lives in Israel, Canada, England, France,
Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and Australia
and Neighborhood Search
As the numbers of unaccounted-for passengers dwindle, Museum staff are conducting searches for the former whereabouts of St. Louis survivors in ethnic neighborhoods where there is reason to believe they may have lived. The staff have surveyed New York City telephone books from 1940 onward. The names of a number of St. Louis passengers begin to gradually appear listed throughout the 1940s. Almost all show addresses in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan that had, and still has, the largest concentration of German Jewish refugees anywhere in the United States. The names continue to be listed at those addresses through the 1960s. The next step is for staff members to go to those apartment buildings and ask residents to help verify whether the names listed in the New York City telephone books are indeed former St. Louis passengers.
the staff plan to visit the synagogues and Jewish communal organizations
in Washington Heights to inquire about former St. Louis passengers.
At this juncture,
Museum staff turned to the passenger registration cards. Checking with
Brooklyn directory assistance, they discovered that the person who signed
an affidavit for Charlotte Atlas still has a phone at the same address
where he lived in 1939. It stands to reason that he may know what happened
Personal testimony must match the historical record. The project still searches for written documentation on every passenger, even though his or her fate may be accounted for in a personal testimony. Only following such verification do the staff make the determination that a passenger is accounted for. For example, following the publication of the unaccounted-for passenger list in Israel, the staff received a letter from a woman stating that her cousins, passengers Adolph, Bertha, Lutz, and Horst Grunthal, were in Holland during the war, and had obtained immigration certificates to come to Palestine. However, the Grunthals, knowing how hard life was in Palestine, decided not to emigrate:
. . . They were hoping for something better. Alas, they never achieved that, they were all deported to Bergen Belsen, as far as I know, all perished there.
This testimony was based on what the woman's other cousins, St. Louis passengers Bruno and Lici Dzialowski, who were together with the Grunthals in Holland, told her. The Dzialowskis also had immigration certificates and chose to use them to make their way to Israel. The staff are seeking written documentation to verify that the Grunthals were in fact deported and perished in Bergen-Belsen. That may prove difficult, as the Germans destroyed Bergen-Belsen prisoner documentation prior to its liberation by the British in April 1945. The Museum staff's process will entail contacting the Bergen-Belsen archives, as well as survivor organizations. It is conceivable that researchers may not find verifying documentation. In the period after the staff received the letter from Israel, they also received a document from Yad Vashem indicating that Adolph Grunthal, born in Gleiwitz, September 30, 1896 (place and date of birth match), was transferred from Auschwitz II to Golleschau, a subcamp of Auschwitz, on October 2, 1944. The document does not reveal his fate. It remains to be determined whether Adolph Grunthal was later deported from Golleschau to Bergen-Belsen.
In some cases, information from personal testimonies can be verified by Red Cross records held at Yad Vashem. For example, in response to the publication of the unaccounted-for passenger list in Aufbau, a woman contacted Museum staff indicating that during the 1960s her mother (now deceased) corresponded with Margot Leyser, another St. Louis passenger. According to the woman, Margot Leyser was able to get out of France during the war and immigrate to Montevideo, Uruguay. Unfortunately her mother had not saved the letters. The staff were not able to find a match with the name Leyser in the Montevideo telephone books from the 1960s. However, they subsequently located a Red Cross document indicating that Margot Leyser, born Margot Fraenkel, August 11, 1893, was interned in the Gurs internment camp in France but was able to immigrate from France to Montevideo, Uruguay in 1942. The document corroborates the personal testimony provided regarding Margot Leyser's fate.
In this and in
similar instances, the St. Louis project has merged traditional written
documentation and oral testimony, each one smoothing out the rough edges implicit
in the other, in attempting to tell a complete story. Human testimony has
supplemented written documentation in that it has been able to shed light
on wartime activities of passengers, pointing to the fact that the varieties
of their experiences, and fates, were a sort of microcosm of the Holocaust.
Passengers' stories run the gamut of Holocaust experiences from internment
in concentration camps and death in the killing centers of Poland to survival
in hiding and last minute escape from Europe. The written documentation has
reinforced the human testimony by providing exact dates and places, thus verifying
the accuracy of personal accounts. The utilization of both has served, in
many cases, to bring closure to a particular passenger story.
and strategies for the global pursuit of St. Louis passengers include
further media coverage and contact with Jewish communities and review of other
untapped resources: records of the U.S. Internal Naturalization Service, records
of organizations that conducted relief and refugee work after the war, membership
lists of Jewish and refugee organizations, Jewish genealogical records, obituaries,
cemetery records, population databases in other countries, and shipping and
immigration records for countries outside the United States. The list of unaccounted-for
passengers will be published in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, asking
people to come forward with information about St. Louis passengers
they may have known who disembarked in those countries. The list will also
be published in Germany, with a public appeal asking people if they know what
happened to their former neighbors. The search will be launched in unlikely
places as well; one can never know where a Holocaust survivor may have gone
after the war. The search for St. Louis passengers continues.
|Researchers found information that suggested passenger Evelin Greve had made her way from France to Italy where she was deported in 1944 at age 16. That documentation required additional follow up, but it enabled researchers to focus their efforts on Italy, a country outside the scope of the original research.|
Museum staff members also conducted extensive on-site research at two outside archives. They spent time at Israel's national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, where they reviewed records of the Red Cross's International Tracing Service, an organization established following World War II to help survivors locate missing relatives. The Red Cross records revealed some surprising documentation related to a number of passengers.
Researchers also worked at the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C., where they reviewed immigration records. Ship manifest lists revealed that many passengers were eventually able to make their way to the United States during the period of 1939 - 1942 as well as after the war.
Museum staff discovered that passenger Rudi Dingfelder, who they knew had been deported from the Netherlands to Auschwitz and subsequently had spent time in other camps as well, had in fact survived and come to the United States by airplane in 1946.
|When Museum staff inquired about passenger Erich Dublon, (brother of Willi Dublon mentioned above) who was known to have been deported from Belgium on August 11, 1942, the Auschwitz Museum provided a copy of an entry from a death book indicating he perished on September 3, 1942, three weeks after his arrival in the camp.|
In reviewing sources in the Museum's library and archives, the staff sometimes confronted conflicting information. For example, in the case of passenger Fritz Eichwald who went to France when the St. Louis returned to Europe, they did not find his name on the index to a published list of Jews deported from France. They then consulted primary sources for internment camps in France, locating a document from Drancy, the transit camp from which most Jews in France were deported to the East. That document, a list of internees arriving and departing the camp dated October 16, 1942, included the name and correct birth date and place of Fritz Eichwald. With that date in mind, the staff then checked the published source once again, focusing specifically on the convoys that left France in the fall of 1942. They found the name "Fritz Eigewald" with a birth date and place that matched that of "Fritz Eichwald" on a convoy that went from Drancy to Auschwitz, November 6, 1942. The staff later confirmed that "Eigewald" was a typographical error and, by crosschecking Red Cross documents held in the Yad Vashem archives in Israel, found that Fritz Eichwald was among the Jews deported from France.
From the Museum's holdings in Washington the search for documentation on the St. Louis passengers expanded to include major Holocaust-related archives in Europe and Israel. Contact with institutions like the Auschwitz State Museum in Poland helped the staff fill in gaps in what was known about various passengers.
Martin Rothmann arrived in Dachau concentration camp on November 10,
1938, the day following the German pogrom known as Kristallnacht
("The Night of Broken Glass") and was assigned prisoner number 19615.
For some Jews in Germany before World War II began, release from a concentration
camp was sometimes possible provided they were willing to give up most
of their possessions and leave the country. In Martin Rothmann's case,
Museum staff do not know the specifics of his release, but at least
as of May 1939 he was free and able to board the
For example, among the passengers who went to the Netherlands, Beate and Heinrich Gabel were deported from the Westerbork transit camp to the Theresienstadt ghetto with their son Gerhard. They subsequently were deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz in October 1944. Gerhard was seven years old at that time. Heinrich was sent on to Golleschau, a subcamp of Auschwitz, where his name is listed in the records of the prisoners hospital on a document dated October 28, 1944. He died on February 28, 1945. There is no record that Beate or Gerhard survived.
Among the passengers who went to France, Gunther and Charlotte Skotzki and their two children Helga, age 15, and Inge, age 13, were deported from the Drancy transit camp to Auschwitz in September 1942. Museum staff have found no record that they survived.
Among the Belgian passenger contingent, Willi and Erna Dublon were deported from the Malines transit camp to Auschwitz on Convoy 23 on January 15, 1944, together with their children Lore, age 16, and Eva, age 10. Sources indicate that there were only twelve survivors from that convoy at the end of the war. Again, the staff has found no record that the Dublon family was among the survivors.
Museum staff began their research by reviewing memorial books for Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. They also searched deportation lists, concentration camp records, displaced persons' lists, and other records related to survivors, as well as documents from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the relief organization that attempted to intercede with the Cuban government on the passengers' behalf in 1939. After about a year the staff found documentation indicating that approximately 200 passengers were deported from Belgium, France, and the Netherlands to the Auschwitz and Sobibor killing centers in Poland, only four of whom are known to have survived. They also determined that dozens more passengers had been deported to other locations including the Theresienstadt ghetto outside of Prague, the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland, and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, among others.
Looking deeper into the records, staff found that a number of children and even entire families were included among the deportees.
In the spring of 1996, Museum staff launched a project to trace the fate of the 937 passengers of the St. Louis. The decision to begin this project followed one week in which four St. Louis survivors visited the Museum's Survivor Registry independently of each other seeking to find out what happened to fellow passengers.
those four survivors locate detailed information about the wartime experiences
of family and friends on the ship, the staff realized that it might be possible
to do the same for every passenger aboard the St. Louis given the wealth
of documentation about the persecution of Jews in western Europe. Although
one historian in the 1960s asserted that it would be impossible to know what
happened to all of the passengers, during the last several decades, researchers,
filmmakers, journalists, and others have broadly speculated about the fate
of the passengers once they returned to Europe. However, until now, no one
has ever attempted to systematically document the experiences of each of the
passengers after they were dispersed to England, France, Belgium, and the
Netherlands in the summer of 1939.