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United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Completes Ten-Year Search to Uncover the Fates of St.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — For ten years, beginning in 1996, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum researchers Sarah Ogilvie and Scott Miller have worked to uncover the fates of all 937 refugees aboard the MS St. Louis. The search is now complete and a book about how this incredible effort solved the mystery of the St. Louis—Refuge Denied (University of Wisconsin Press)—will be available on November 3, 2006. Unfolding like a detective novel, Refuge Denied follows Ogilvie and Miller as they scour archives in Havana, Europe, Israel and the U.S.; knocking on doors in New York City neighborhoods; and tracking down leads provided by friends, family members and others who knew these passengers to learn what happened to them after they were refused entry to Cuba and then the United States.

“While a tiny fraction of those seeking escape from Nazi Germany on the eve of World War II, the St. Louis passengers are representative of the world’s indifference to the plight of Europe’s Jews under Nazism,” says Ogilvie. “We hope our research will not only reaffirm the individuality of these victims, but remind us that the actions, and inactions, of governments and individuals have real consequences.”

The St. Louis departed from Hamburg, Germany, on May 13, 1939. The 937 passengers were mostly German Jews. After Cuba and then the United States denied these refugees entry, the St. Louis was forced to return to Europe on June 6. After difficult negotiations, initiated by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the ship was able to dock in Antwerp, Belgium, and the governments of Belgium, Holland, France, and the United Kingdom agreed to accept the refugees. By 1940, all of the passengers, except those who escaped to England, found themselves once again under Nazi rule. A number of these Jewish refugees, who had seen the lights of Miami, subsequently perished in the Holocaust.

The search for St. Louis passengers began in 1996 in the Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors. Four former ship passengers visited the Registry seeking information about others aboard the ship. Little information was available, but the curiosity of Registry researchers Ogilvie, and later Miller, was piqued. They began seeking out whatever information they could find in the U.S. and abroad.

The search developed into a much larger project than either of them initially anticipated. Over the course of ten years they traveled thousands of miles to access archives, developed an exhibition on the subject, spoke to audiences nationwide, and began writing a book about their research. (An online version of the exhibition is available).

“The publication of Refuge Denied marks the culmination of an intensive effort to uncover the fates of a group of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany who were literally within sight of freedom, but sent back to a Europe soon to fall under Nazi tyranny,” says Miller. “We hope its publication spurs renewed interest in the ship’s story and what meaning it has for us today.”

For more information on Refuge Denied please contact Andy Hollinger at 202-488-6133 or ahollinger@ushmm.org.

Situated among our national monuments to freedom, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is both a memorial to the past and a living reminder of the moral obligations of individuals and societies. The Museum fulfills its mission through a public/private partnership in which federal support guarantees the institution’s permanence and hundreds of thousands of donors nationwide make possible its educational activities and global outreach. More than 23 million people – including more than 8 million schoolchildren – have visited the Museum since it opened in 1993, and through its Web site, traveling exhibitions and educational programs, the Museum reaches millions more every year. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org.

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